Joanna Johnson is seen — though not often enough — as late-blooming lesbian Karen Spencer on CBS's The Bold and the Beautiful. But her main claim to fame these days is as writer-executive producer of the new ABC Family drama The Fosters (premiering Monday at 9/8c). The series stars Teri Polo and Sherri Saum as lesbian parents Stef and Lena who preside over a multiethnic mix of kids, one biological, the others from the foster-care system. TV Guide Magazine spoke with Johnson — creator of the hit Kelly Ripa-Faith Ford sitcom Hope & Faith — to get the scoop on her newest primetime gig, where she's sharing exec-producing duties with the one and only Jennifer Lopez. And, of course, we had to find out if Johnson will ever come back to her much-missed storyline on B&B!
TV Guide Magazine: Executive producer. Soap star. Lesbian icon. We love your life!
Johnson: It's crazy, right? My world is so wild these days. [Laughs] I'm definitely calling this "My Gayest Year Ever"! It was just over a year ago that you and I sat down and did the interview for TV Guide Magazine where I publicly came out. Then there was the lesbian storyline on B&B and then The Fosters shows up in my life. The same day my last show, Emily Owens, M.D., got cancelled I started getting emails from friends saying, "The Fosters is perfect for you!" They needed someone to help the creators, Peter Paige and Brad Bredeweg, run the show — and who better than me because this show is my life! I'm married to a woman and we have two adopted, multi-racial children. [Laughs] It's the same story!
TV Guide Magazine: Then why the heck didn't you create a series like this?
Johnson: Everyone is asking me that! I should have written it. It was pretty dumb that I didn't, but thank God somebody did. The truth? I never wrote it because I never thought anybody would buy it! But here we are and isn't it amazing? ABC Family has been so incredibly supportive. I did Make It or Break It for them and just love working with the network. And Jennifer Lopez has been awesome as an executive producer. She's one of the biggest stars on the planet, yet she's been so available to us, so devoted to giving the show the kickoff it deserves. I haven't been this excited in a long time.
TV Guide Magazine: Word is, you turned down another series hoping the pilot for The Fosters would get picked up. True?
Johnson: Peter and Brad made a beautiful pilot, which I had nothing to do with. I met with them after it had been filmed and got very excited, even though I had an offer to do another show that was all set to shoot. Since The Fosters hadn't yet received a pickup from ABC Family, my agents said, "You gotta take the sure thing." In this business, you don't say no to work, but I really wanted to do The Fosters. It was so worth taking the risk. I couldn't stand the idea that it would get picked up and I'd be working on some other show, playing it safe. I would have kicked myself forever. This show can achieve so much! It's a great opportunity to raise awareness and inspire people to open up their hearts and get into the foster-care program.
TV Guide Magazine: Even though The Fosters breaks new ground in family programming by having lesbians as its main characters, their sexuality is a total side note.
Johnson: As it should be. There are so many interesting issues that come up in this series, and Stef and Lena being a same-sex couple isn't a big one because the series is set in California where gay adoption is increasingly common. But in many other states this is an issue, because gay couples or single gay people are not allowed to adopt or foster, and that's a real shame. There are a lot of wonderful families willing and wanting to get into the program but the law in some places just won't allow it. Of course, with our show set in California, we have an issue some other states don't — gay marriage isn't legal. Maybe that'll change in the future and it will be reflected in our show. We'll see what the courts decide. Another theme we'll tackle is how a lot of people want to adopt or foster but they only want babies. It's a huge challenge for the foster system to place older kids. It's sad and really tough, but it makes good drama.
TV Guide Magazine: Speaking of that, are you feeling any guilt that you loused up some "good drama" on The Bold and the Beautiful by abandoning your storyline for these producing jobs?
Johnson: Yes! I do feel bad, even though [B&B exec producer] Brad Bell always knew that was the deal. My writing-producing always comes first. But it does look like I'll be going back to B&B pretty soon. Brad and I are talking about my returning for a really fun story in July when The Fosters has wrapped for the season. I really do miss B&B — both the people and the news. I went to the GLAAD awards a while back with Crystal Chappell [Dani] and Linsey Godfrey [Caroline] and found out that Karen's daughter has turned into a total badass crazy person since the last time I was on the show. I couldn't believe it! [Laughs] Clearly, I need to come back. That girl needs some mothering!