Hillary Atkin

‘Not Really Just a Chick Show’: The Inside Story on ‘Girlfriends’ Guide to Divorce’

Dec 2, 2014

In the past decade or so on cable television, Bravo has launched many popular shows that have become part of the pop-culture zeitgeist, from “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” to the “Real Housewives” franchise to “Inside the Actors’ Studio,” “Top Chef” and “Watch What Happens Live!”

Yet one thing it has never done is aired its own original scripted series, until now, with tonight’s premiere of “Girlfriends’ Guide to Divorce.”

The new program gained notoriety recently when its slightly risque ad campaign was pulled from city buses and subways in New York and Los Angeles for being “inappropriate.” It showed series star Lisa Edelstein displaying her wedding ring finger, sans ring, with the slogan, “Go find yourself.” The campaign ended up running on tour buses and in phone kiosks.

Edelstein plays Abby McCarthy, a self-help author whose career crumbles as she navigates a separation from her husband. Seeking advice from others who have gone through similar situations, she confronts unexpected and life-changing experiences.

Created by Marti Noxon, whose credit list includes “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” “Angel,” “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Mad Men” and “Glee,“ the series was inspired by Vicki Iovine’s “Girlfriends’ Guide” books.

Noxon and Edelstein dove into the show’s elements in a recent phone call with television reporters. Here is an edited version of their conversation:

Q: Is it meaningful to you both that this is Bravo’s introduction to scripted television as an original scripted television show?

Lisa Edelstein: They picked a great project and that was the first sign that it was a great network to be on. And because they’re so excited about it, they have really put everything into it. They’ve given us a lot of love and a lot of freedom and I feel really very trusted by the network and the studio, which is an unusual place to be. So we’re very fortunate. Very, very fortunate.

Marti Noxon: Yes. I agree. We’ve had an incredible amount of support from Bravo and it’s exciting, I mean obviously if we fall flat on our faces, that will be a bummer, but if the show works then we’ll feel like it’s a fit with the network. It feels exciting to be able to set the tone and start a conversation that I think a lot of viewers will be interested in.

Q: Lisa, what was it about the premise of this show in general and about your character in particular that made you want to do this?

Lisa Edelstein: During “House,” that was seven years of playing a very balanced woman. I mean from clothing to her ability to respond to things. So it was really exciting when Marti sent me the script because, here was the woman who seemingly had it all together and was actually falling apart. All the scenes were opening and I really looked forward to being able to explore that and I love that it’s funny and dramatic at the same time. It’s so smart and Marti is an amazing boss, so that was also a plus.

I love that Abby is so vulnerable. That’s she’s very smart and very successful but also a little bit like a little girl. She’s a little lost. I love her struggle and I love her sense of humor. I mean — she’s a great, really, really, great, well-rounded character.

Q: Do you guys think that Abby will be considered the next Samantha?

Marti Noxon: No. I think there’s an obvious comparison to “Sex and the City” and I’m flattered by those because that show obviously was a phenomenon, but I think that if we had a hope in terms of comparison, Abby is the new Carrie because it’s not about age anymore, it’s about the quest.

Lisa Edelstein: Right. Yes. Our show isn’t so much about the romping – the romps, the sexual romps. It’s a little bit more of a raw exploration of what it means to find yourself in the world again.

Martin Noxon: Right, Abby’s not a cougar. And she’s not all that sex in the way that Samantha was, but I think that sex is part of her discovery and figuring out what feels right and what doesn’t.

Lisa Edelstein: She’s not searching for her boys again. I mean, she’s searching for everything. Every way that she’s defined herself up to the point of the pilot is now taken away.

Q: Marti, where did you get the inspiration for some of the supporting cast as well as for Abby?

Marti Noxon: One of the things that I found really fun and unexpected about going through a divorce was that you end up being friends with other people going through the same thing. And that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re people you would have been friends with, so I ended up in one instant hanging out with a much younger woman who I always thought was sort of a trophy wife. I judged her because she was so beautiful.

And we do that sometimes. We just think well, she’s been taken care of and so I can’t relate to her and of course because you’re both going through a similar thing when someone introduced us, I realized, no, she’s a person just like me and in a way, knowing helped me get rid of my assumption about what it is to be an extraordinary beautiful woman. I learned a lot more about the pitfalls and my assumptions were blown away and that was really the inspiration for Phoebe. Let’s take a look deeper into what we think about these women and men, what is the reality. They have all kinds of issues of their own.

And the Lyla character was based on a friend of mine who’s just going through a really, really ugly divorce and I always feel like she’s my rage.

She’s the voice of vengeance. But also the vulnerability underneath that. Because underneath that anger you’re still a little bit, you’re still a lot attached. A lot of characters came from those kinds of people and feelings inside of me. And then of course Abby is the person I wish I’ve been. She’s braver and more open to having more feelings than I did. And she also gets to say the things I wish I’ve said in a moment but only later that I regretted.

Q: Some viewers maybe expected a comedy in the vein of “The Starter Wife” and may be surprised at how serious the show is.

Marti Noxon: I think there’s a lot of lighter moments in the show but it was never intended to be a comedy first. I wish that we could be in the same world as some of the Richard Curtis Working Title romantic comedies that have a lot of funny people in them but they’re not — but I would say that they also feel relatively grounded and you kind of want to be with those people and they’re not afraid to dip into the much more serious side. I would think about that scene in “Love, Actually” where Emma Thompson has to excuse herself from opening presents and she goes into her bedroom and just weeps. Because she knows the truth about what’s going on with her and her husband and that’s just a funny, delightful movie in so many ways, but there’s a woman who realizes her husband is cheating on her. We wanted to have that time where we can shift tones readily and some of the episodes are much more romp-like.

Q: Tell us about Paul Adelstein’s role on and off camera.

Marti Noxon: He wrote episode four and he’s a consultant. He and I have been friends ever since we did “Private Practice” together and I always thought since that I wanted to work with him again. He’s such as a deep and talented actor and I wanted Jake not to be just an obvious person you could write off as the bad guy. And I think as the show progresses, you’ll really feel the complexity of two people who’ve grown up together, trying to figure out if they really do want to do this or if they don’t want to do this and in a way rediscovering each other through the process.

Marti Noxon: And a lot of where the story went was unexpected for all of us I think because once we saw how Paul and Lisa worked together, it encouraged me to push the story more into the direction of both Jake and Abby’s journey. So it’s not really just a chick show. A lot of men have come up to me and said, “I would watch the show.” It was full of surprise, you’re actually giving the guy a voice and he’s not just an asshole. I find that very gratifying.

Q: How did you collaborate with Vicki Iovine, and tell us about that part of the creative process going back to her books.

Lisa Edelstein: Well, there’s no real book “Girlfriends’ Guide to Divorce,” to be clear. I think Vicki was more of a leaping off point. The idea of a person who writes — because she did write a “Girlfriends’ Guide” series and she did have a really public messy divorce.

Marti Noxon: Meryl Poster, who’s the sort of instigator, she’s a producer on the show — we had lunch and she said, “I wish you would write about divorce, so many of my friends are going through it.” In this day and age, it’s so different than it used to be for a lot of us where women might be the bread winner or it’s not uncommon for women now to pay alimony and for the men to have raised the children and all that. This was so compelling, but I said I thought divorce as a concept sounds like it’s such a bummer, then she thought for a second and she said, “Well, did you ever read the Girlfriends’ Guide to Pregnancy?”

And I was like, “Of course, it’s one of the books you get when you’re pregnant.” I mean you get, “What to Expect” which I always say is sort of how to kill your baby, terrifying. It’s just a book of all the things we might do wrong, and then there’s “Girlfriends’ Guide” which is chatty and forgiving and genuine and very honest and it kind of relaxes you and makes you feel like you’re not alone. So she said Vicki had just gone through this divorce while she was writing “Girlfriends’ Guide to Getting Your Groove Back,” she found out that her husband — and this is not the scenario on the pilot — but her husband was cheating on her and her marriage fell apart. She still had to go on a book tour, for “Getting Your Groove Back.” And I was like, “Well that is a show.”

And she literally texted her that moment and said, “What do you think about doing a show “Girlfriends’ Guide to Divorce”? And immediately, Vicki texted back, “Yes. ” And that was the beginning. But the show is not Vicki’s life, Vicki is already remarried.

Lisa Edelstein: Right, I’m not playing Vicki or trying to portray Vicki in any way.

Marti Noxon: Yes. She’s remarried. Her ex-husband is Jimmy Iovine.

Lisa Edelstein: And she’s got a lot of enthusiasm and a great sense of humor. She loved the full process.

Marti Noxon: You know she’ll tell the truth, even when you don’t want to hear it. But I would also say it’s just a very unusual thing we’re doing, which is we’re creating a fiction from a life that is well known in public. Like it’s true up to this moment and now we’re creating a fiction around the book that’s from an existing series of books and in real life, and everything from that point on is made up. So, I don’t know that that happens very often but Vicki is working on a “Girlfriends’ Guide to Divorce” and I think she’s getting it right out there.

(“Girlfriends’ Guide to Divorce” premieres Tuesday, Dec. 2, at 10 p.m. ET/PT on Bravo.)

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