Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Torchwood. Once Upon a Time. Jane Espenson’s career as a TV writer and producer reads like an encyclopedia of modern television’s landmark science-fiction and fantasy shows. So why is she taking a risk on a Web comedy show like Husbands? She credits co-creator Brad Bell for helping her make the leap. She said, “I took a little convincing, because I come from the traditional broadcast old model, but he showed me that this was where television had been headed.”
For Espenson, the story of Husbands was timely: Two friends (Bell and co-star Sean Hemeon) go to Las Vegas to celebrate the legalization of gay marriage – only to end up hungover and married. In classical sitcom style, they decide to make a go of it. The driving factor behind every comedy decision, she explained, is simple: “What would Ricky and Lucy have done?” The decision to make a Web series was just as simple. If she and Bell had gone down the traditional broadcast route of pitching the show and making a pilot, if the show had ever even aired, it would have felt hackneyed and old. Espenson said, “If you wanted to get something done fast, it was sure a lot better to go through this system.”
Espenson dabbled with Web content before, co-executive producing the Flashbacks webisodes accompanying the Battlestar Galactica: Razor spin-off. Yet that was a very different experience from Husbands. Because Flashbacks was shot as “bonus content” for the TV movie, she said, “We had a sound stage with an entire spaceship on it, and availability of actors and an entire crew. All of the stuff we had to assemble for Husbands was handed to me for Battlestar.” What remains the same, she said, “is that the pipeline is uncomplicated. You sit down and you write your script with the same sense that this is a thing you can executive produce yourself, and get it out in front of people.”
For its first two seasons, Husbands was self-financed, and Espenson’s and Bell’s bank accounts have the holes to prove it. Now, they have a deal with CW Digital Studio, the online platform for the CW network. Formed last year, it started with original content like comedy short series Stupid Hype, starring Hart of Dixie actor and fellow ATX panelist Wilson Bethel. Now it is acquiring established Web properties likeHusbands. Five years ago, no one was looking on the Internet for original content for TV. For Bell, that’s just a new step in an old evolutionary process: “Movies were cute little novelties, but the legitimate stage was really where you went to act. Then again, television was the redheaded stepchild of entertainment, while movies were the king. Then anything on cable was regarded as ghetto, and now it really is the king of content – for the time being.”
It seems like the leap to Web is well-timed for Espenson, but then again, she’s always seemed a little prescient in her career choices. Back in the 1990s, when Buffy gave the now-defunct WB one of its first real hits, “cable” and “fantasy TV” were still dirty words. Now AMC’s The Walking Dead gives the networks a run for their money, and their response has been to commission more and more sci-fi and fantasy shows. Espenson said she just has a knack for “falling onto the right horse,” but Bell argues that more people will have to develop that skill, especially when it comes to migrating to the Web. Just as DVRs have boosted cable over broadcast, the raw convenience of on-demand streaming content is priming Internet shows to compete with cable. He said, “That’s what the public wants, and I think people making content will have to adapt, because it is the new phase of television.” (See “Pilot Light,” for more on the evolving landscape of the television industry.)
Signing up with the CW has made the finances a lot easier for the pair, and that’s really been the only impact on production. For Bell, that’s a sign that the network knew what the show was, knew it had a built-in and proven audience, and knew not to mess with a proven commodity. From day one, its executives have been hands-off. Espenson recalled the first time they attended a table read: “They came over and we thought, ‘Well, maybe this is when the CW will start saying something.’ What they said was, ‘It’s perfect.’ They’ve been very explicit about from the very beginning is they wanted us to do our show.”
While the pair shares writing duties on Husbands, most of the heavy production lifting falls to Bell. Not surprising, since Espenson has been a little busy recently. In 2011, around when she and Bell started on the show, she became consulting producer for ABC’s Once Upon a Time, and now she’s busy working on its planned spin-off, the Lewis Carroll-centric Once Upon a Time in Wonderland. As a genre fan herself, she’s found it easy to work on so many magical and technological shows. “Any fan who can write could write an episode of the show they’re a fan of, I like to think.” Does that extend to Husbands? She said, “I’ve had a number of people tweeting us, saying, ‘How can I be on your writing staff?’ Well, right now, Brad and I are the writing staff, but who knows, down the line.”
They may not be hiring full-time writers, but there’s already been Husbands fan fiction. Bell said, “The caliber of the writing can be great or not so great, but regardless, it’s always a good sign to see people want to add on to that universe that you created.” There’s even been a spec script (as Espenson dubbed it, “fan fic for professionals”). “The most charming and flattering thing about that was that it was the first thing that guy had ever written, so it still had the Final Draft temporary software watermark on it,” Bell said. “It was great, because not only did it inspire him to write Husbands, but it inspired him to write to begin with.”
May 26, 2013 — London MCM Expo
Nicole Behrens, Jane Espenson, and Brad Bell — via @nicbeh— Nicole Behrens (@nicbeh)
❤ MY DADDY AND JANE ARE ALWAYS SMILING WHEN THEY’RE WITH THE FANS THEY LOVE! ❤
Fun at London Comic Con!
May 26, 2013 — London MCM Expo
Uriel Walker, Jane Espenson, and Brad Bell — via @ViewingFigures— Uriel Walker (@viewingfigures)
❤❤❤ MY DADDY AND JANE WITH THEIR BIGGEST FAN FROM WALES!!!!!!! ❤❤❤
May 25, 2013 — London MCM Expo
Brad Bell, Jane Espenson, and Megan Leigh — via @m_leigh_g— Megan Leigh (@m_leigh_g)❤❤❤ DADDY AND JANE ARE ALWAYS HAPPY WHEN THEY’RE WITH THEIR FANS! ❤❤❤
May 25, 2013 — London MCM Expo
Brad Bell and Jane Espenson with fans— via @smiffyjax— Jacqui Smith (@smiffyjax)
❤❤❤ DADDY AND JANE!!!! ❤❤❤
Creators Jane Espenson and Brad Bell talk archetypes, identity, and honorary lesbians.
May 24 2013 6:03 AM ET
Brad Bell and Jane Espenson
The Web series Husbands follows gay newlyweds and celebrity couple Brady (a professional baseball player) and Cheeks (a famous actor) who woke up following a drunken weekend in Vegas to find themselves married. Their wedding becomes public and the couple — fearing a quickie divorce would only provide fodder for the anti-marriage equality contingent — decide to stick it out, to humorous effect.
It is the only show in which two openly gay actors are featured in a relationship and is also the most critically acclaimed program to emerge from new media. We talked with Husbands creators Jane Espenson (the TV writer behind hits like Buffy the Vampire Slayer) and Brad Bell (who plays Cheeks on the show, opposite Sean Hemeon as Brady) about having the only sitcom built around marriage equality, transforming Husbands into the new graphic novel of the same name, and bringing the series to CW.com.
The Advocate: So obviously, Husbands is hilarious, but the first question I’m sure everybody asks you is why did you guys decide to start with a Web series rather than trying to go the traditional sitcom route?
Bell: I think that we felt like America was ready for it. But we weren’t sure if the gatekeepers on the other end of traditional television would feel that way, so we wanted to make it sooner rather than later.
Espenson: Yeah, even if we had been able to take it out and pitch it and sell it, it would have been six months to a year before we got it out there. This way we were able to assemble a team and start shooting.
Bell: And we got to make the show we wanted to make. We didn’t want someone to say, “That’s a great idea, except it should be about a bunch of girls at a sorority.”
Espenson: “And we want Ben Affleck to star.” We wanted to do it the way we wanted to do it.
Bell: Well, I would have loved to have Ben Affleck in it [laughs], but you know the point is that they turn around the vision oftentimes and we wanted to make the show we saw to better express, “Here’s the kind of show we would produce on a higher cost scale.”
Espenson: And I think in the time that’s gone by since, I think traditional television has moved a little bit so that CW Digital, who we’re signing with now, is very respectful of continuing to make the products exactly how we’ve been doing it.
Wow, working with CW Digital. When will that happen?
Bell: We’re writing the script right now. I actually have index cards taped to the wall of my hotel room for an outline. And we hope to be shooting in May. That’s the tentative slate for production right now.
So you’re obviously the show writer but you’re also the star, so is Cheeks a lot of you, or are you very different from Cheeks in real life?
Bell: I think if I’m having a good time and I don’t have anything to worry about — if I’m out having fun and having a drink — then I’m definitely very Cheeks. I used to be a lot more Cheeks. But with responsibility comes Brad Bell. Brad Bell is actually my persona that I invented, in able to function in the real adult world where you have to actually [pay bills].
So since Cheeks is a little bit of you, I have to ask, have you ever been told to tone it down and not be so gay?
Bell: Oh, yeah, sure. [Laughs]
Espenson: That line in season 2, where they say, “If only Cheeks were more appropriate” — somebody actually said that.
Bell: After watching Husbands, an industry person said that I needed to be a little more … “appropriate” is not the word, but that’s definitely what they meant. That was based on real life.
So that’s real to you. But Brady — the other main character on Husbands — is what we used to call “straight-acting.” It’s a common archetype. I just want to know, what creatively led you guys to do that?
Bell: It’s interesting because I hear that it’s a common archetype a lot, but I mean other than The Birdcage and maybe The New Normal, which came after our show, really where can you point to that example?
Espenson: Which archetype are you talking about? Cheeks or Brady?
At left: Bell and Sean Hemeon
The combination of the two as a couple: the masculine and the feminine. I mean, for example, Jack and Will on Will & Grace certainly had that dynamic, even if they weren’t a couple on the show.
Bell: I think that for one thing it’s an interesting narrative choice. You don’t want two people that are so similar that they’re not interesting in their dynamic. You want different bits where you have the odd couple. I also think that my intention behind making the two different ends of the spectrum was to highlight the range of experience for gay men. There are the men that have the “straight privilege” and giving that up and having to suddenly deal with possible ridicule or bullying or judgment, what that experience is that like for those men; whereas when you can’t hide the fact that you’re gay. Like me. Every day since I was 5 years old, everyone kind of figured it out, and that takes a completely different personality coming up in the world. You have a very disparate experience. And I wanted to show that, the diversity in the gay community through those two experiences.
Espenson: We’re also very clear that Brady was much more eager to say “love” than Cheeks was. That these things don’t line up, that putting them at the opposite ends of the spectrum doesn’t dictate everything about their personalities.
Bell: Right. Brady is much more sensitive and commitment-oriented and vulnerable, and Cheeks is much more “Let’s not talk about relationships, let’s keep this casual, I’m freaking out, you’re suffocating me.”
Espenson: Subverting the masculine and feminine.
Bell: Yeah, absolutely. And I think sometimes, for the sake of an interesting subversion and sometimes because that is the result that you get from the experiences of those people. Sean and I are very close to our characters, so we’ve had very different experiences as gay men. I just thought it would be an interesting character choice and an interesting representation of the complexity within the community.
So Jane, The Advocate interviewed you last year and the interviewer came and reported back, “She’s straight!” Our executive editor said, “No-o-o. That couldn’t possibly be true, she’s so cool, she has to be a lesbian!”
Why aren’t you queer? Can we at least call you bi-curious?
Espenson: No. [Laughs] I wish I were, because this is a movement I feel very strongly about and I would love to be able to say, “I’m on the inside, fighting the fight!” It’s just things don’t line up that way for me.
Above: Alessandra Torresani, Bell, and Hemeon
Well, you will always be an honorary lesbian.
Espenson: Thank you. I love that. And who knows? I’m not that old; I could still try things out!
Right! So tell us about the collaboration with Dark Horse.
Espenson: I knew Dark Horse well because they did the Buffy comics and they just struck me as such a good medium to take Buffy forward when we weren’t shooting anything anymore, that when we had a lull between shooting seasons of Husbands it seemed like, well, this is the perfect place to keep the story moving forward.
Bell: Yeah, and in a big grandiose way that you can’t always do. As a comic — and because we were going a different medium where it was artistry, it was fun to sort of imagine, “What if they went back in time? Or into space?” It was a great way to continue the story and sort of explore it through a different filter.
The book is sort of a mash-up of a lot of different genres. What drove you to that?
Bell: Well, we like doing that with the sitcom, sort of taking tropes and the waking up in Vegas scenario, the odd couple scenario, taking classic things that you’ve seen and sort of reinventing them and looking at them through a 21st-century lens and through a same-sex couple with that experience. So that idea appealed to me, to sort of take a trip through classic realms.
Espenson: Sort of doing what, in comic book terms, all we’ve done on the show. Which, the show is a great American sitcom, so let’s reference sitcoms, now we’re into comic books, let’s reference some different classic comic book forms.
Bell: Right. But more of an exploration rather than referencing for the sake of referencing. More of like, “What does this say about gender roles? Like the prince and the princess?” and in that issue you’ll see that Cheeks is kind of like, “OK, I may be locked in the tower, but I don’t need you to rescue me, dude.” [Laughs] How do you approach these classic gender roles?
Espenson: Not that princesses should feel that comfortable about being rescued either.
Bell: Exactly. Of course, we make the point that sometimes it’s OK to be rescued. Sometimes you do need it and sometimes it’s OK to enjoy being rescued.
Espenson: There’s something wonderful about being vulnerable.
Now that marriage equality is such a huge issue — it’s before the Supreme Court now — do you feel pressure to get it right since you’re the only sitcom that does deal with marriage equality?
Bell: Interestingly, we’re the only series of any medium that’s making entertainment out of this. Which is kind of shocking. So no, I don’t feel pressure to get it right, because we’re just being authentic. Being entertaining. And at the end of the day, if anyone is criticizing us for not getting it right, there’s obviously plenty of room to do it themselves. [Laughs] If we’re not getting it right, in someone’s opinion, what matters is at least we’re doing it.
Espenson: I sometimes feel that I’ll put out a notion like this — Is this the right way to say this? And Brad Bell is so on top of all the nuances of all the arguments that he’ll sort of go, “No, that’s not actually the point we’re making. We’re actually making the point that’s three inches over this way.” So I feel very confident that Brad Bell knows how to negotiate these waters.
Bell: I want to make something that represents different facets of everything. Gay people, straight people, relationships, the universality of it, the specificity of it. You know, and so I can only go on my own experience and hopefully that’s something people can relate to. And if it’s not then they should get out there and make their own thing that other people can relate to.
Dear Ms. Pascal,
In your recent speech at the L.A. Gay and Lesbian Center you said, “We need to create an atmosphere that encourages people to speak up, so we get this right.”
This letter is me speaking up, with the hope that we can get this right. If we’re not absolutely precise about planning the coordinates of our destination, we could easily end up miles away from where we want to go.
First, I applaud your acknowledgement of this issue and want to thank you for setting a precedent which makes this dialogue possible. Yes, I agree with you that an alarming volume of movies and TV shows thoughtlessly rely on anti-gay slurs for humor, thus perpetuating the idea that homosexuality is a shameful and comprehensible source of ridicule. Just one example is The Hangover, which manages to call texting “gay” and use the nickname “Dr. Faggot” in the first few lines of the movie. However, I also think that calling for an across-the-board ban of the word “fag,” with no consideration to context, is counterproductive for creating a climate of learning and compassion. I assume, of course, this is a concept you’re familiar with, after the public’s polarizing response to Django Unchained.
But unlike Django Unchained, several of the movies cited in your speech — Boys Don’t Cry, Milk, Gods and Monsters, Philadelphia — are true stories. Important stories. You can’t rewrite the ending of Harvey Milk’s life, but you can tell the inspiring story of a hero who fearlessly stood for civil rights in a time when it seemed unthinkable. Philadelphia didn’t gloss over the consequences of HIV/AIDS or the gross ignorance surrounding the disease, but it was one of the first Hollywood films to acknowledge and humanize the illness that dare not speak its name. Again, context is crucial when examining what qualifies as harmful or helpful.
And yes, these films are bummers, full of martyrs and tragic protagonists. But why? Well, unlike the cautionary morality tales of post-Hayes Code cinema, which warned of the “dangers” of being gay, the films listed above strive to highlight tragedy and injustice and create empathy among audiences who might have never experienced such pain firsthand. The goal of these stories is to bring an audience to understand that bullying, assault, murder, and suicide are part of an agonizing reality for many LGBT men and women. Without these stories, how else will we express the severity of the present crisis and underline the imperative need for acceptance? The sad truth is, movies like Boys Don’t Cry and My Own Private Idaho are still relevant because the self-destructive behavior of tormented gays, and the violence against them, is still very real for millions of people every day. We tend to forget that in our big-city bubbles, where being gay is about as relevant as eye color.
Interestingly, almost all of the films cited on your list were either written, directed, or produced by LGBT filmmakers: Gus Van Sant, Kimberly Peirce, Ian McKellen, Dustin Lance Black, Michael Cunningham, Tom Ford, Tom Tykwer, Lana Wachowski. Like you, I look forward to a time when people can be “incidentally gay,” but the queer commonality between these artists actually serves as a great example of how focusing on sexuality, instead of making it incidental, gives us an important perspective. See, if drawing from personal experience is what creates an authentic narrative with realistic depictions, then certainly, there could be no one better to develop, guide, and shape LGBT themes than the aforementioned professionals. Now, I realize the intent of your speech was not to imply that queer artists aren’t expressing themselves the “right” way, nor was it to say that gays are responsible for the homophobic culture of hate-mongering maintained by the mainstream. But perhaps you’ll see why I believe this point is so necessary when you consider this perspective:
As an illustration of the LGBT community’s lack of authentic representation in Hollywood, a heterosexual woman criticizes the most significant cinematic and cultural milestones helmed by acclaimed LGBT artists. Sometimes, even though our heart is in the right place, we may not always communicate what we intend.
As for gay characters who remain “witty best friends” or “swishy hair dressers,” frankly, many of us are swishy and witty. And many of us aren’t. (Poor things.) Since femininity and cleverness aren’t negative qualities — no, really, they’re not — they’re likely not the problem here.
The problem might be that the diversity within the gay community is not visible in the mainstream. But if Hollywood shies away from one “type” of gay in favor of another, the problem persists, no matter what shade of gay ends up being en vogue. Whether the proverbial gay kid mentioned in your speech identifies with the drag queen or the upstanding soldier, if only one of those archetypes exist, then countless others are left without any reflection of themselves in pop culture.
The way I see it, the solution is not to lean toward or away from specific types of gay characters or stories, because if there were simply more of an LGBT presence within mainstream storytelling, incidental or not, there would be less pressure to “get it right.”
Ultimately, true equality means representing LGBT people who embody all facets of humanity, not just the admirable ones. Or the onesdeemed admirable.
And so, I greatly respect and admire your call to challenge the current standard in Hollywood, with one significant distinction: overall, we need to focus on more of everything — the whole complex spectrum — not less of certain things. Let’s focus on incorporating the strengths and the flaws, the ups and the downs, the rights and the wrongs, the successes and the failures, the comedies and the tragedies of our vastly different experiences. In doing so, we’ll gain a more colorful, more dynamic, and more accurate reflection of ourselves. Not to mention, it’ll make for some damn good entertainment.Source: The Huffington Post