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‘I definitely feel like we have another season ahead of us,’ the creator of the Sutton Foster-starring series tells The Hollywood Reporter.
on the horizon — previews a “grounded” season (the 12 episodes premiere June 12) while talking about the future of
(“I definitely feel like we have another season ahead of us,” says Star) and sharing why he’s happy the empowering TV Land series is staying put.
beyond an age secret. In the first episode of season six, guest star Laura Benanti (a new author and investor in Empirical) says, “We’re launching a groundbreaking publishing company run entirely by women — let’s not turn it into a pity party about ageism.” Was that your way of setting that tone?
is always about the relationships, but [this season] is more about the reality of the business, with Kelsey [Duff] running this company, and what all the other characters ambitions are and how they contort and intersect sometimes, which has nothing to do with Liza’s age. Although, I do think [the secret] still plays an unexpected role in the show down the line. But it’s more about the ramifications of it.
Particularly, with Liza and Charles?
The first episode explores this glass cliff phenomenon, where women are being given leadership positions during periods of crisis and when the chance of failure is highest. This is exemplified with Kelsey, who takes over after the “scandal” with Charles. What will you expose about this modern plight facing working women?
We did research — we didn’t invent it — and it felt very apropos and timely to Kelsey’s situation. It’s this idea that if you look at women in positions of power, sometimes they have the opportunity because men have screwed things up and people are saying, “Ok, it’s time to give a woman a chance!” But really, they are coming at this at a more precarious or difficult juncture. With Kelsey, it’s dealing with the reality of the stress and the pressure of what she’s stepped into. And I think it’s not only about women, but it’s also about people who have ambition and who sometimes, you don’t really know what you’re taking on until you do it. Kelsey has always been an ambitious character. I really don’t think that has anything to do with her gender. It’s just about who she is; she’s driven. And [we explore] what it means to take on that much responsibility and pressure.
The beginning of this season has this feeling of taking on the patriarchy. What will you show about the post-#MeToo world of publishing?
The characters are in this situation in part because of [Charles and Liza; Charles knows the truth about Liza’s age and picked their relationship over his job in the finale]. It was easier for Charles to have the relationship with Liza not under the circumstances that developed earlier. The idea that Charles is having a relationship with a lower-level employee at the firm, it just doesn’t fly today. Charles decided he would step down from day-to-day at the company and become chairman of the board so he and Liza could pursue the relationship in an unencumbered way. I think that shows we need to change the way we look at relationships in companies. But beyond that, it doesn’t come into play in a big way because it already has in such a big way.
At the Tribeca Film Festival, you teased there are heavy things ahead. What is this season building towards?
There’s two tracks. One is the corporate, which is what it means for Kelsey to be running this company. What are the challenges? And is she impervious to mistakes of her own? That’s number one. And then in terms of the relationships: Liza and Charles enter a whole new phase. They’re very out and open. Sometimes secrecy adds a jolt of excitement to a relationship and now there’s something about it that becomes more ordinary. Not in a bad way, but at the same time, there’s always that undercurrent of what Charles did to Liza and how that affects his professional life going forward.
Now that you are in season six (and
doesn’t have a renewal yet), are you approaching finales like they could be the end? How many more seasons do you want?
We decided not to make this a series ender, for sure. As long as we have this really wonderful cast and we still have stories to tell, I definitely feel like we have another season ahead of us.
What are some of the challenges that come with making a sixth season of a show — in what ways do you reinvent the wheel and what do you hold onto?
We have characters that are still growing in their personal and professional lives. It’s kind of like you are going along with the ride, because you feel like there’s wind in the sails of these stories and these characters, in their personal lives as well. And then you look to where you are likely to be in the future. But also, what kind of stories do we want to be telling about these characters? And this season certainly sees Kelsey take on that new level of responsibility. Charles and Liza have their relationship out in the open and still, at the same time, are dealing with the professional fallout of how that happened. There is Diana’s (Miriam Shor) relationship with Enzo (Chris Tardio) and the fact that there is finally love in her life and what that means for her. And Josh (Nico Tortorella) is still in the canvas and there’s what that represents for Liza. It felt like there was a lot of story to tell in this season and next season becomes something different. We sort of set the table for what that is at the end of this season.
How would you describe this season when looking at the series as a whole?
The characters are operating at the top of their game. I think it’s more grounded, in that the lie is not what is driving all these stories. It becomes so much about what it’s like to be in a relationship where you’re working in the same business, and there are things with Charles and his business that come into conflict with Liza. How do couples manage their personal-professional relationships? There’s a lot of comedy and fun in the season also.
Miriam Shor (Diana) returned to direct this season. She steps behind the camera for the fourth episode, “An Inside Glob” (airing July 10). As you elevate women onscreen, are you trying to do the same behind the camera?
I do think it’s important, absolutely. We’ve always looked to have a mix of male and female directors and we have a lot of women on staff. Miriam as a director is terrific. When she puts on that directing hat, you wouldn’t know it’s her. She looks like a different person directing. We also looked to give her an episode where her character isn’t so heavy so she doesn’t have to be on camera the same time she’s directing.
Is there a favorite storyline or character that you highlight this season?
I can’t play favorites! But I will say that I’m very excited that we finally have an unexpected dance sequence with Sutton Foster that I love. I’m so happy that I got her to not only sing but also dance in the series. We did a musical number last year and we do it this year also. It’s about finding ways that organically work with our story. If anything, this season we have so many characters to service that people always ask, “Can this be an hour show?” This is the first season that we could have done an hour every episode. But we’re basically able to pack an hours-worth of material into a half-hour format, which keeps the show moving. A lot of times, there are storylines that end up on the cutting room floor.
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