"I would never just describe this show as a lesbian comedy. [It's] a comedy about people who are choosing their own version of family," Feldman tells TVGuide.com. "I didn't set out to create a groundbreaking show. I set out to be honest and tell an authentic story that felt really true to me. ... Of course, I made her a lesbian, because I'm a lesbian and I know how to write that."
Still, it's easy to bestow that knee-jerk summary on the show, which stars Happy Endings alum Elisha Cuthbert and is produced by Ellen DeGeneres. It is, after all, the first comedy to feature a lesbian lead character (Cuthbert) since DeGeneres' own show almost 20 years ago.
"It's not like I formed a production company and said, 'Bring me all your lesbian scripts," DeGeneres said at the Television Critics Association winter previews in January. "Yes, there's a lesbian character, but it's a really funny show. That's all I wanted to do ... put out really funny material that's smart and thought-provoking."
The basic premise: Lizzy (Elisha Cuthbert), a lesbian, and her best friend-slash-roommate Luke (Nick Zano), a straight guy, decide to have a baby together. As luck would have it, no sooner does Lizzy get pregnant than Luke meets the woman of his dreams, Prudence (Kelly Brook), and quickly proposes (due to equal parts smitten-ness and citizenship issues). The show is based on Feldman's own experience with her straight male best friend.
"He was my go-to guy, my plus-one for everything. ... In 15 years, we never lived more than two blocks away from each other, literally," Feldman says. "One day, he met the love of his life and they fell in love at first sight. And what that did to me surprised me because I was jealous. And I felt really weird about the fact that I was jealous because obviously I'm a lesbian. But what I kind of realized later was that's a really relatable thing. Everybody has a friend or a sibling that brings someone new into the fold, and then you kind of have to, like, deal with it."
The hope of everyone involved with One Big Happy - including NBC executives, who have made it clear that they're trying a new approach with the network's struggling comedy lineup - is that the show will be judged on its humor rather than its premise. (Based the first few episodes, it's still finding its footing in that regard.) But at the same time, it is, if not groundbreaking, at least notable to have a prime-time sitcom that features a lesbian at its center.
"We've come such a long way since Ellen came out on her sitcom," Cuthbert tells TVGuide.com. "To get to a place now where we don't have to do a show about her coming out, just her being, that says a lot about where television is at. And to be a part of that is really exciting."
Times certainly have changed since DeGeneres made national headlines when she came out to Time magazine in April 1997 and had her character do the same on Ellen. Today, the majority of states have legalized gay marriage (and the Supreme Court seems likely to follow suit), and an overwhelming majority of Americans say they support LGBT rights. But Feldman and DeGeneres still know that there will be some viewers who will be turned off by a — for lack of a better term — lesbian sitcom. And they're not particularly interested in converting that portion of the audience.
"I'm not in the business of changing people's minds," Feldman says. "I can't make them watch the show. But what I will say is that I'm more interested in the people that are willing to give it a shot, even if they might be a little uncomfortable with the idea. Maybe they go, 'Well, I like Ellen. She's funny.' Or, 'I liked Happy Endings.' I'm interested in people who are willing to give it a shot."
The casting of Cuthbert - a straight actress who is married to hockey player Dion Phaneuf — might also draw a different kind of skepticism, despite her comedic pedigree. Feldman says she's not turning a deaf ear to the criticism, and initially set out to cast a lesbian actress in the role.
"I would have loved that," she tells TVGuide.com. "I would love for you to tell me who I should have cast. There just aren't that many out lesbian comedic actresses in that age range who a network would put in their lead spot. I can't honestly think of one. I did audition lesbians that I knew of - which were not that many - and for whatever reason, they weren't the exact right person for the show. But what was more important to me, honestly, was to cast somebody that I felt was relatable and likable."
"I'm not, truly, shying away from the fact that she's a lesbian. Obviously I'm super excited about that," Feldman adds. "I think it's really important for people to turn on their TV and feel represented when they watch. For me, being a gay, closeted teenager in the '90s, I had no one to look [up] to, and then Ellen came out and it did literally change my life. It opened up a conversation that I didn't feel that I could have before that. So, yeah, on some level, if this show inspires any kind of conversations like that, then I would feel incredibly proud."
One Big Happy premieres Tuesday at 9:30/8:30c on NBC. Will you watch?
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