By: Amrie Cunningham, My Take on TV
We’ve all heard it said a million times before, every TV season. There is that awesome show that no one is watching. The show that you immediately hook onto, and can’t stand the thought of losing it because people are just not paying attention, and it makes you sad when people don’t catch on. For me, this season, it’s PRIVILEGED on The CW.
Based on the book “How to Teach Filthy Rich Girls,” the show is about Megan Smith (Joanna Garcia, REBA), a recent college graduate who, through a comedy of errors including fluorescent red hair, and a slight house fire, ends up in Palm Beach as the tutor to two heiresses, Rose (Lucy Hale) and Sage Baker (Ashley Newbrough). Her mission is to help the two underachievers get college-worthy grades. Along the way, while she meets hot guy after hot guy, she wades the treacherous waters of her terribly embarrassing family and she tries to figure out who she really is.
PRIVILEGED harkens back to the days of The WB glory when DAWSON’S CREEK, GILMORE GIRLS, EVERWOOD, JACK AND JILL were all on. They were these glossy romantic worlds that you could fall into every week. The reason it resembles those shows so much is that the creator and executive producer of the show is none other than the brilliant, and funny, and charming Rina Mimoun, who had more than a little something to do with all of the above (not to mention writing the script for my favorite season 1 PUSHING DAISIES episode, “Pigeon”).
We had the chance to spend some quality time with Rina last week on a very small conference call to celebrate the brand new episode of PRIVILEGED airing Tuesday. Among the things we discussed – how the show got started, where it’s going next and what other EVERWOOD alum (Sarah Drew is guesting in one episode this November) we should expect to see if the ratings perk up and they get their back nine!
In terms of adapting from the book, how much were you able to pull from the book when you were starting out, and how much kind of ventured off and grew when you were looking at the book?
The things that we obviously kept form the book and what I loved about the book was the character of Megan and the setting of Palm Beach and it felt like a great thing that hadn’t been on TV. Obviously, like, her relationship to the girls. The logline of the books was very much the tutor who comes from the other side of the track to tutor these heiresses. The two main things that I think changed were the tone, like in reading the book. It has this fantastic, real snarky quality to it, which felt a little more along the lines of GOSSIP GIRL. When I spoke to the people at Alloy and WB, I was like, you know, I’m not going to do Gossip Girl better than GG does GG. And I didn’t want to sort of try to be in that world, so the first thing felt like, how do we flip this. The girls became a little less cruel. Even Megan in the book was more sinister, so the first thing was capturing the tone that wasn’t already on the network. When I read it, I thought, there’s a way to do this that’s more like Cinderella, that’s more like a fairytale, that felt like Clueless, you know where we get to use more comedy and sort of play it on that end.
So tonally we shifted it a little. From a story perspective, the main thing that wasn’t in the book at all, but has become really helpful as a story engine is Megan’s family. In the book, Megan’s family, she doesn’t have any problems with them. They seem delightful. Her parents are married, she loves her sister, they’re all in NY. That was the thing that we got to create from scratch in the writers’ room. The broken home, the alcoholic father, the mother who left them, the fractured relationship with her sister. Because it felt like things that were going to emerge as we kept telling stories was stories about family, stories about sisterhood specifically. I wanted to play up the notion of these two spoiled girls who seem like they might be the worst people in the world except that they’re maybe the best sisters ever and Megan who seems like she’s actually the savior and the saint, except when she’s with her sister and that’s when all her flaws come out because no one is really perfect all the time, and she does have sort of the damaged relationship and those are my favorite stories that we’re getting into now. Taking Megan’s family and learning about her background and where she comes from and playing it against Palm Beach.
Every year there seems to be the show that gets christened the best show that people aren’t watching.
I think that show is PRIVILEGED. It’s the best show that more people should be watching.
As the executive producer, if you were talking to a prospective viewer, what would you tell them if they ask you “why should I watch your show?”
I honestly think they should watch our show because there’s nothing on TV like it now. Initially, when all of the fall premieres were coming out, and it’s sort of a mass of people coming at you, saying, oh no, 17 shows about rich people, and I can’t stand it, and I’m sick of it, and I don’t need that one. We’re so not that show. We’re so…it is truly a feel good fairytale. If you want 1 hour of escapism every week, or 42 minutes to be precise, 41 minutes, 53 seconds, this is definitely the place to go. We’re just trying to make you laugh, and maybe give you a little heart break, and a little romance. There’s so little romance on television right now,. There’s a lot of violence and sci fi and a lot of dark, dark things. I think romance is missing and we’ve got it.
I’ve loved the shows that you’ve worked on in the past, and they all have a similar feel to them. How have the other shows influenced what you’re doing with Privileged?
OH MY GOD. Completely! I’m so excited about the show, and I’m so desperate for people to find it. I feel like I had the most amazing training ground. Working for Greg Berlanti for so many years, from DAWSON’S to EVERWOOD and starting on JACK AND JILL and GILMORE, what I really learned, especially in my four years at EVERWOOD because I had so much time there, is how to arc a season, how to tell stories. It’s like, you have to give the audience just enough that they are interested and wnt to come back but it’s a dance in terms of figuring out, well how much is too soon. It’s like dating. You don’t want to give up too much too soon, or they will probably dump you. Or hate you for it, or something horrible will happen. It’s all about just enough and a slow build and planting the seed. From every perspective. Because also, certain things happen.
On EVERWOOD for instance, one of the most amazing lessons I learned there. When we introduced a new character in season 3, actually 2 new characters. We had Scott Wolf and Sarah Drew come on in our third season. We really didn’t know what to expect and our initial idea was for a much smaller little arc. But you give them their time, and again plant the seed, and they became so much more. Even just watching, as the writers, we were like, oh my god, he’s hilarious, and she’s amazing. It’s sort of the same thing now. We’re trying to take our time and see who are the audience veering to, who are people loving. We’re seeing so much love for Marco. We’re finally now in our story breaking process, we’re like okay, we’re breaking the last episode of our initial order, and it’s like, now you get to meet Marco’s boyfriend. It’s like you’ve earned that time, you’ve set up enough. It’s really about letting the audience fall in love with your world and it takes time, and I learned that a lot, all over the place. I think Greg did it and Amy Sherman-Palladino obviously did it. It’s a skill set that I will never forget, I will be eternally grateful.
For me, I think the biggest draw for the show is Megan and that character and I was wondering how you found Joanna, what made you go “That’s Megan”?
The Megan drama is so hardcore. We could not find a Megan. Joanna didn’t come in, I didn’t know about Joanna Garcia. I was not a fan, I hadn’t seen REBA. Of course, now I’m catching up on it because she could not be cuter. We were looking for Megan and we were literally at the point where it was a Friday, I will never forget this, we were in casting forever and going through it, and sending it up the ranks, but no one had really landed. It became really clear, if you don’t fill this role, you don’t have a show. So they weren’t going to allow us to make the show if we didn’t have a Megan and the cut off time was right after the strike, so it was all this crazy timing stuff. It was on a Friday and my casting director Patrick Rush was like, Joanna Garcia can come in at 6:00 tonight.
We knew that if we didn’t find someone to deliver, we were going to be shutting down production and potentially not making the show at all, so I just remember, I was there with Michael Engler, who is our other Executive Producer, and I looked at him, I’m like “I don’t know who this girl is, but she better be Jesus”. She walked in, and she was so funny. So immediately Megan because she was just winning and klutzy, and self deprecating in ways that I love. As soon as she got into the sides, she was so real and genuine and you just wanted to give her a hug and I was like, that’s who we need. You need her to be someone, I think it’s so important that the character have flaws and be like all of us. There is something about Joanna that you forgive her anything. She is so honestly such a good person, it radiates out into your television, so yeah, it was a thank God moment!
For the twins, how important was it that you found two actresses who had the chemistry that they have?
That was sheer magic, because we never even met Ashley in person. We met Lucy very early in the process and the second you meet Lucy Hale, it’s like, oh she is a little movie star so we have to book her immediately. She just got Rose, and it was no contest, it was a no brainer, so we had Lucy, and the challenge was finding sage. It’s such a tricky character and you don’t want someone who’s just going to be cold, who’s just going to be like the bitch with nothing underneath. It doesn’t live in the right world of our show. Leighton Meester is the best bitch ever, and we needed to find a different way to do this role. It required a confidence that a lot of young actresses don’t have yet. People were coming in and coming in and coming in and I finally got a tape of Ashley, and she was in Canada. I knew her manager because her manager represented Emily Van Camp, so I had had a relationship with him from EVERWOOD. He called and was like, I have this girl, she’s in Canada, can I put her on tape. I was like, eh, sure, I’ve seen everyone, put her on tape, and when I saw her, it was that same thing. It was like, oh, she’s really special. Ashley Newbrough has such a true vulnerability going on in those big big big blue eyes, that when she delivers the snarky stuff, you also feel that there’s something behind it, that there’s something going on underneath. It’s important for the character.
The miracle was that Lucy and Ashley are seriously best friends. They came up to me the other day, they were wearing these little matching rings and they were like, we just went to Nordstrom’s and I’m wearing the green one and she’s wearing the red one for Rose and Sage. I wanted to cry they were so cute. And they spend every minute together. It’s so adorable. You know, it could be the other way. They literally are like little besties. They have completely taken it on. Lucy takes Ashley everywhere, because again, Ashley isn’t from here, and we sort of just plopped her at the Palatso, over by the Grove, and Lucy picks her up and takes her to work and they go shopping. They couldn’t be cuter.
I was wondering, if you could take a little bit about how the project as a whole came about.
I was working on PUSHING DAISIES last year. It was about this time last year that I got the book. I had just shot a pilot for ABC that didn’t go. I was happily working on staff at PUSHING DAISIES and enjoying the magic that is Bryan Fuller and Pete Occo and that whole staff. My agent sent me the book How to Teach Filthy Rich Girls and at that point, I wasn’t even sure that I wanted to develop again because going through the process of making a pilot is a really intense, and it’s emotional, and then it’s so sad when it doesn’t happen and I wasn’t sure I was like ready to rev back up again. When I read the book, I just loved it, and I really wanted to write some girl power. I’ve been talking about it forever, and I was like, this is the opportunity and it felt like the right project for the right network. I just dug this book. I’m a total sucker for Chick Lit.
Can you give us a little hint about what’s coming up in the next couple episodes?
As I was staying, it took a little time to set things up. Now that we’re in the flow, we have a lot of our bigger secrets that are starting to come out. In this next episode, we finally get a little bit deeper into Laurel and her relationship with the girls and Megan’s, how she’s considering herself in that. Also, on the romance side, we’ve seen Charlie be all puppy dog and be in love. That’s about to take a dark turn left as he tries to get over Megan before Megan has any understanding of what is even going on. Their relationship hits a bad bump right around the time her relationship with Jacob completely explodes into a new direction, which is exciting. We’ve got deeper issues for the sisters, and they start to encounter their first real problems with each other and where their lives are sort of going and how the introduction of Megan into their world has caused a divide.
We’re going to meet a lot more of Megan’s family. We’re first going to meet her dad. Of course we have ramifications for Lily the thief. I was surprised, people totally didn’t get that. I was like, oh really? People were like, did Sage plant the bracelet in Lily’s purse? And were like, No! Lily stole the bracelet. To clarify, Lily stole the bracelet. So we’re finally at the place where a lot of things are going to pop. The first big one is the big discovery of what Laurel’s been keeping from her girls, which Megan’s going to find out. And then, just the romance. All those things start popping like popcorn. It’s all about to get a lot juicier. The next three really, in a row, kind of explode.
Now we know Sarah Drew is coming on – that’s just a one-off right now, right?
For right now, it is, but of course, you guys know that I’m clearly, weirdly obsessed with Sarah Drew, so I have a tendency to bring her back as much as I possibly can. In her role on the show, she plays Megan’s best friend from Yale and she lives in New York, but it’s one of those parts if the audience loves her as much as I love her, then there’s certainly room for her.
And I’m still trying to get Gregory Smith on this show. If I get the back nine, he’s coming!
That was my next question – can we get as much of the EVERWOOD cast as possible? That would be great, because we love EVERWOOD!
I know! I did just talk to Gregory, who I love, and I think he’s so talented, I was like listen, I know you’re busy and you’re doing all your cool indie movies now, but would you maybe consider doing this part, we had a small part that we thought might work for him, because he is shooting a lot of movies right now. He was like, yeah, let me see the script. And when I showed him the script, he’s like, I wanna be something bigger. If I’m coming, I wanna come for a few days to hang out. It was like Done and Done! It’s just a matter of finding the right part for him. I would love, love, love to get him on because he’s so amazing and I miss him!
One of the things that I really like about Megan is that she’s sometimes klutzy, she doesn’t have a filter, but she’s also really smart, and grounded, and I think a lot of people would say the same thing about the GILMORE GIRLS and I wondered if you could talk a little about what it’s like to write a character like that and how you kind of internally tweak the balance so she’s really relatable but doesn’t go too far.
It’s so interesting because that’s always been, I really do feel like, especially when it comes to women on television, it’s so hard to get those roles and find that balance. Finding actress who do what Lauren Graham did, and what Sarah Jessica Parker does, there are not that many of them out there. It is that ability be funny and laugh at yourself, and not take anything too serious, but at the same time know when things are important and know how to make the turn.
I always joke with Joanna and she’s got her Cuban flair that fires up every once in a while, and you see it in the pilot when she goes off on Sage in front of Laurel, and it happens again in this next episode with Laurel. What’s coming up this week is that she and Laurel have a massive blowout where it’s like a screaming match and it’s so awesome, because you just feel like, oh my god, don’t yell at your boss, don’t yell at your boss, how are you yelling at your boss, and you see Joanna as Megan just going for it because she so believes in what she’s saying and then the second that she finishes it, she has that moment of Oh shit what did I just do, and you can’t do that. I think that’s so real and I love how well she plays it. But we are always sort of trying to figure out what’s too far. Some people are like, “oh isn’t that too cutesy, should we pull it back”
I get really protective of certain elements. I remember in the pilot, the moment when she says “Woo” after she gives the big speech. I’m a big “Woo-er” and I remember there was a point when we had our first notes and the network was like “do people really say woo” and everyone at the studio who I’ve known for like two years, were like “she says Woo all the time” so I was like, you’re kind of dissing me right now if you don’t let her say woo. Then when we feel like we’ve gone too far, we pull it back in editing. It is a balance, but it’s absolutely my favorite part of the show because I think it’s real. The only other person right now who I think is sort of like that on TV is Tina Fey. She does that same thing, and she’s brilliant with it.
In the recent episodes, they’ve seemed to focus on Megan’s love life and her taking care of the girls. Is part of the story going to come back with what she’s writing and her pursuing her writing career?
Absolutely!! That is the episode, in fact, where everything goes off the chain. In part of her writing pursuit, I’m so glad you remembered, actually. It doesn’t show up until our 7th episode where you sort of see it all come to fruition. What she started in the pilot, she’s been continuing under wraps and it comes to a head in a most unfortunate way in episode 7. It’s also the sort of thing that allows us to bring up our first big moral secret. We’re definitely still focusing on her writing and her aspirations. It’s an ensemble and it’s all these people’s lives, but if you look at Megan as a 20 something girl who recently graduated college, it’s like what are the three things that you’re dealing with? You’re dealing with your job, you’re dealing with your love life, and you’re dealing with your family. We try to circle out to all those three points in her life, and we definitely don’t want to lose track of any of them. I think anyone at that age in your life, that’s what you’re freaking out about. It’s like, what am I doing, how am I going to get to the next stage?
Robin from WB: That episode airs on Nov 4th!
I know, on the election, and they’ve all voted! They’re all wearing their “I voted” stickers. Of course Megan votes, for God’s sake! I can’t say who she votes for, but I know that she votes.
I don’t necessarily have a question but a comment on Megan seems to meet hot guy after hot guy, I would like to know what she’s drinking to get the guys to fall.
[Rina laughs out loud]
Are we going to keep seeing, every guy she meets is a little bit cuter?
I’m telling you. Listen, that’s what happens when you get a chick executive producer. I’ve been on a lot of shows where it’s like, let’s get a lot of hot girls! Finally, I’m in the seat people, and I’m like, let me see some hot boys. When I was on JACK AND JILL, and that was Randi Singer was the executive producer on JACK AND JILL that was like the biggest smorgasbord of hot guys I had ever seen on television. When this happened, she emailed me on Facebook. I was like, my mission is to get the same level of hotness that you got on JACK AND JILL and I feel like I’ve succeeded. There’s another one in fact coming. Ignacio Serricchio, who we just hired from GENERAL HOSPTIAL fame, who is coming in as a potential love interest for Sage, so there will be more!
You talked a bit about shows that you’ve worked on, but I’m wondering if there are other influences that you’ve kind of pulled in as you’re shaping PRIVILEGED.
I say it all the time, I love television. That’s why I’m in it. I love watching it, my TiVo is always full. When I was trying to develop this project, it really was thinking about, weirdly, the stuff I was watching most on my TiVo were reruns of FRIENDS and my SEX AND THE CITY DVDs and I love 30 ROCK and I love THE OFFICE. Comedies have always gotten me. It’s funny, I’ve been in the 1 hour world on the WB for so long, but especially with GILMORE, there’s a combination to it. And then in terms of movies, it’s absolutely romantic comedies. Cameron Crowe and the early Nora Ephron stuff is what I love and what I love writing. It’s a little bit of realism mixed with a lot of wish fulfillment, hence, Megan being surrounded by the hottest guys ever, it hasn’t happened to me in real life. That seems like the kind of stuff that you love seeing on TV. SEX AND THE CITY and FRIENDS were like the biggest voids when they vanished from my world; it felt like there was an opportunity to do that type of show at a different age. With Megan, you can look at her and say, maybe this is what Carrie Bradshaw was like in her twenties. I thought that was like a fun possibility to explore.
I can’t thank you enough. We are in such a state of desperately begging the network for our back nine so we can keep going. And you guys are really what keep hope alive. I can’t thank you enough.
Robin: Just so you know, we have Kathy Najimy coming up, playing a publicist that the girls want to hire so they can get started on their career. We also have Perez Hilton in our November 11 episode, he’s playing himself. Also, Rina do you want to tell them about Lucy in that episode?
Oh my God, yes. The surprise about Lucy Hale is that she’s freakishly talented and can sing. If anyone is a Lucy Hale fan from when she was younger, I guess she started on a variety show when she was younger. Her voice is outrageous so we had to capitalize on that immediately, so we have her singing. Part of the episode where Perez is there, and publicist is involved, we see Lucy Hale performing her own version of Fever. It is mindblowing. She is so good. And so cute, so we’re looking forward to that.
The October 21st episode is the numbers that they’ll all be looking at. I beg you all to TiVo the other things. They already got their back nine, they’re done. FRINGE, THE MENTALIST, DANCING WITH THE STARS; it’s all coming back. You can TiVo that.
She is so proud of her show (rightly so) and I want desperately to see it succeed; please do your part to help make sure that this show gets the support it truly needs!
Photo Credit: Colleen Hayes/Warner Bros. Television