[01/16/09 - 12:01 AM]
Interview: "The L Word" Co-Creator Ilene Chaiken
By Jim Halterman (TFC)

The landmark drama about the lives and loves of a group of lesbian friends living in Los Angeles, "The L Word" embarks on its final season on Showtime beginning this weekend. Creator Ilene Chaiken recently shared the reasons behind killing one of her main characters, the possible "L Word" spin-off and what gay writers need to keep doing.

Since the Showtime promos have been shouting it from the proverbial rooftops, it's no shock that controversial character Jenny Schecter (Mia Kirshner) has been murdered in the first two minutes of the new season. We then flash back three months to walk through the events that led up to Jenny's death. "Our intention and the real challenge of doing this story for us was that we wanted it to frame the season without dominating the season," Chaiken explained. "We still think that we're telling stories about a bunch of characters who are living their lives, having their romances, nurturing and blowing up and managing and mangling friendships. That's what 'The L Word' is primarily about and we wanted it always to be about that while at the same time we put forward this larger than life story that posits a murder mystery."

Chaiken also said there were two factors that led the writers to decide that Jenny would be the one to bite the dust. "The first was recognizing that over the last several seasons Jenny has become more and more of an aggravation to more people. She simply provokes people. I think not intentionally. I think that Jenny... I don't think she has a malicious streak I think that she has an inquiring mind and a kind of interest in seeing where people go in the face of challenging emotional provocations but I don't think of it as malicious... but she's pushed a lot of people pretty much to the end of their nerves. And the second factor that played into it is that she's obviously has had this same effect on the audience. There seem to be many people who love and adore Jenny as a character but possibly, even a few more, who occasionally call for her to be drawn and cornered in the public square."

Beyond this Sunday's season premiere, the writers created a storytelling device that would keep the whodunit mystery going all season long. "We tease every show with another motive," Chaiken said. "There's one character at the beginning of each show who comes forward with the motive of the moment. This would be my reason for killing Jenny."

One of the biggest draws of "The L Word" has been the cavalcade of guest stars that have adorned the series in the last six years. Annabella Sciorra, Bruce Davison, Jane Lynch, Holland Taylor, Alan Cumming, Rosanna Arquette and Sandra Bernhard are only a few of the big names that have appeared on the series over the years but, as Chaiken revealed, it wasn't always the show that did the pursuing in landing noteworthy guests. "It happened occasionally that people would come to us and there might even have been an instance where we created a storyline for someone in particular," she said. "But more exciting was that whenever we created a major guest-starring role we found someone wonderful who wanted to come and portray that character." The guest stars continue to pop up in this final season when, in the second episode of the new season, Elizabeth Berkeley shows up as a former college friend of Bette (Jennifer Beals). Also, Cybill Shepherd and Marlee Matlin continue with characters that began a few seasons ago.

While the creator admitted to being ready for a break from the hectic schedule of a long-running series, she doesn't think her relationship is over with any of the ladies she created. "I don't know exactly what that means. I'm not suggesting that 'The L Word' will be back on the air but I just feel like these lives are on-going and whether that comes to pass in a literal way... in other words, we do an 'L Word' movie or a spin-off or something like that or whether it's just that somehow these characters live on in our hearts and minds and we can talk about what might happen to them and somehow make that concrete, I don't know."

While gay issues such as the passing of Proposition 8 made waves in the mainstream press, Chaiken said the writers usually steered clear of the headlines. "With the exception of the don't ask/don't tell story - and I believe even that story was one that grew organically out of character - we haven't pulled from the headlines. In fact, we didn't even touch Prop 8 this year because it was so in flux and we knew that when we were shooting we wouldn't know the outcome and I certainly didn't want to guess... but we haven't looked to do headline stories. We've looked to tell stories about the issues that effect the lives of gay people."

Chaiken has been very vocal in the past about the importance of gay stories being told. While a show like "The L Word" obviously appeals to both gay and straight audiences ("'The L Word' wouldn't be a hit if we didn't have a great many straight fans," Chaiken stated), the work is far from being over. "It definitely is still an uphill battle to get our stories told, be represented as whole and complete human beings. It's disappointing to me that it hasn't moved beyond where it was some years ago with a few exceptions and 'The L Word' certainly was an exception. We just haven't come that far yet in terms of the representation of our lives and stories on television and in film." As she said at last year's GLAAD (Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) Media Awards, Chaiken reiterated her stance on gay writers continuing to write gay stories. "The only way we'll ever get our stories told is by writing them and by having someone see what you've written and say, 'Oh, well, actually I think that a lot of people would want to see that story, it's not just a gay story...' it's really essential [and] it's the only way that we're ever going to move that forward."

Looking ahead to her post-"L Word" projects, a spin-off is in the works but Chaiken was tight-lipped about many details surrounding it. "There's nothing yet to talk about," she offered. "We're developing a spin-off in which Alice (Leisha Hailey) will be one of the stars. It's a pilot and we're not going to be ready to talk about it until Showtime takes a look and decides whether or not it will go on the air." Undoubtedly, "The L Word" fans will be anxiously waiting for word that at least one of their favorite characters will live on.

The final season of "The L Word" debuts this Sunday at 9:00/8:00c on Showtime but check your cable listings for multiple airings next week.

  [january 2009]  


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