Every day of Pride Month, Mashable will be sharing illuminating conversations with members of the LGBTQ community who are making history right now.
Ilene Chaiken, the creator of The L Word stood on a parade float during LA Pride earlier this month, waving as thousands of people lined the route. As the float rolled through the crowd, she noticed multiple age groups shouting as they saw members of the show’s cast.
There were women who looked like they watched the genre-defining show during its Showtime run from 2004 to 2009 and there were also teens and fans in their early 20s who were just as excited.
“That actually moved us all to tears,” Chaiken said, referring to herself and actors Jennifer Beals and Leisha Hailey (Bette and Alice, respectively). “We just weren’t expecting it.”
The L Word, which followed the career and love lives of queer women in LA, has had a resurgence as a new audience watches it on Netflix and Hulu. In the fall, Showtime will also reboot it with a few original cast members — Beals, Hailey, and Kate Moennig (Shane) — joining a new crop of characters in The L Word: Generation Q, with Chaiken executive producing.
Chaiken talked to Mashable about why we should watch a reboot a decade after The L Word‘s finale, the need to tell diverse stories about the LGBTQ community, and what drives her to produce shows like The L Word, Empire, and The Handmaid’s Tale.
The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Mashable: It’s been 10 years since The L Word finale. Why do we need a reboot now?
Ilene Chaiken: I think we’ve always needed The L Word. I don’t think that there was ever a time when we didn’t. We went off the air 10 years ago after having made a show that we all felt passionately about and that we think made a difference in the world in some ways.
I thought, and a lot of my colleagues thought as well, there would be a lot more representation over the course of the next 10 years and there would be more programs, more television shows that told LGBTQ stories, in this case, particularly lesbian stories, in different ways. Although there has been some more representation, there hasn’t been nearly as much as we expected. There isn’t another show that fills the deficit that was left when The L Word went off the air.
Then we found ourselves not too long ago in a political moment where a lot of the gains that we’ve made over the last decade feel threatened, feel more precarious. Although I don’t think that we ever felt that our struggle for equality would be over any time soon, we feel a little bit more urgency now.
Jennifer, Kate, and Leisha have been talking with me about it for awhile. They were feeling it acutely, and saying, ‘I think we should bring the show back.’ I feel like it wants to and needs to be on television still and again. I mentioned it to Showtime and they agreed. They felt much the same.
Mashable: You were mentioning that there hasn’t been anything to fill the deficit left by The L Word. I was looking at some statistics and last year LGBTQ representation on TV was at just under 9 percent, which actually was the highest ever, but it’s still quite small. I’m wondering what you make of that statistic?
IC: It speaks for itself. It’s inadequate to say the least. We’re underrepresented, barely represented, and also not represented in our diversity, in the diversity within our communities. It seems to scream out for something that takes on the mission of telling our stories again in a big way.
Mashable: What do you mean by the diversities within your communities?
IC: The gay community, LGBTQ community, the lesbian community, which there’s a subset of that, none of us are monolithic communities. We’re not just one thing. In order to really feel that we’re represented, we need to be represented in all our diversity, as a lot of different people that live in different ways.
Mashable: I’m curious about the title of the new show, Generation Q. What are you trying to say with that?
IC: Not something specific. In the same way that years ago when I first started doing interviews about The L word, I would get asked often, ‘Well, what does the “L” stand for?’ It’s kind of obvious. But, at the same time, I always kind of balked and said, it means many things. It means love, liberal, it means Los Angeles. It can mean anything you want it to mean as well as obviously referring to lesbians.
Generation Q means to me, first and foremost, that we’re telling these stories 10 years later, and therefore we’re encompassing a new generation. The Q obviously is going to invoke queer. Queer means many things to many different people. As a word it’s had its moments. It’s had its moments of having a negative connotation, and right now I think it has a proud connotation. I think it suggests that, once again, we’re representing the diversity within our communities. This show isn’t just about one group of people. It’s about any number of people whose lives intersect and who are part of our cohort.
Mashable: How hard was it to sell the idea of the reboot compared to the first time around?
IC: It was very different. It was certainly met with a more receptive response this time around. When I first proposed the original show, it hadn’t been done in the way we were doing it. It wasn’t an obviously successful proposition. It wasn’t met with a very warm and welcoming response initially. It was kind of kindly laughed at at first. Then there seemed to be a moment when there was a little bit more fertile ground for this notion. And ultimately, probably about a year after I proposed it to Showtime, they came back to me and said, ‘You know, let’s try it.’ I didn’t fight. I didn’t bang my fists on tables saying, ‘You have to do this; it’s gonna be a big show.’ I just kinda let it happen. I let it take its own course.
But this time, more than 10 years later, when I proposed it, the person I proposed it to worked on the original show, but is now the president of Showtime, he knew exactly what I was talking about. He didn’t have to say, ‘What?’ Two days later, after I proposed it to him, he said, ‘You know what, let’s do this.’
Mashable: So from a year to two days, a much tighter time period.
IC: Yea [laughs].
Mashable: I read in an interview from earlier this year that your daughters are in their 20s and told you that their friends are just discovering The L Word, because of streaming networks bringing back old shows like The Office and Friends, too. What do you think about this younger generation reconnecting with this show that’s been off-air for a decade?
IC: It’s incredibly gratifying to me. It makes me an interesting mom [laughs]. Obviously, when you make something like this and then it lives on beyond its obvious natural life that makes you feel like you’ve really created something of enduring value and meaning and that’s thrilling.
We saw concrete evidence of this the other day. Not that I didn’t believe it or trust it. We did Los Angeles Pride. Jennifer and Lisha and I rode on the Pride float. As we rode down that street crowded with LGBTQ friends and allies, there were lots of women who were of the generation who watched the original L Word who were thrilled and who cheered. When they saw Jennifer and Leisha, they got really excited. There were also a lot of girls and women who were 10 to 20 years younger, in their teens, in their early 20s, who had the same kind of crazy, passionate fan reaction. That actually moved us all to tears, I have to say. We just weren’t expecting it. We were really taken by how important the show seems to be to that new generation of women, and men, by the way.
Mashable: You also executive produced Handmaid’s Tale and Empire. Very different shows, but the throughline between them and The L Word seems to be this focus on pushing boundaries to tell diverse stories. What draws you to that?
IC: That’s all I’m drawn to. What draws me to it is the power of doing that. As a storyteller that’s what I care about. That’s where I live.
I had a scary realization as I came to the end of The L word. I started thinking about what I was going to do next. And I said to myself — and I never would have said it out loud at the time — I’m not interested in making television that doesn’t change the world.
“I’m not interested in making television that doesn’t change the world.”
It’s such a powerful medium. It reaches so many people in such profound and powerful ways. We spend so much time, and a vast amount of money, and put so much of ourselves into it, that it doesn’t seem it’s something we should be doing unless we’re doing it for a real purpose.
Mashable: I’m also wondering what’s something either political or cultural that’s been on your mind lately? What have you been thinking about? What’s been bothering you?
IC: I’m thinking about the stuff a lot of people are thinking about. What’s happening in our country? What’s happening in the world? The borders, what I feel are false borders among us. The exclusion of entire populations from the bounties that some of us enjoy. Those are the things I’m thinking about right now.
I still think all the time about telling gay stories, about representing gay experience in storytelling. I’ll never stop wanting to tell those stories.
Mashable: In the spirit of Pride Month, what are you most proud of when you think about the LGBTQ community?
IC: I’m proud about our lives. I’m proud about all our individual accomplishments. I’m proud of the gains that we’ve made that we all joined together and worked so hard to make. I’m thrilled by the fact that there’s a candidate for president who is openly and proudly gay. This is an enormous step and something we couldn’t imagine happening some years ago, I mean even barely a year ago. I’m thrilled and proud about all of those evolutionary things.
I’m proud about my daughters’ generation. I’m thrilled by how evolved and conscious and wise and sensitive they are.
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