An interview with “Rizzoli & Isles” creator Janet Tamaro

AE: When you saw their chemistry together on screen did you change the way they interacted at all?

JT:
No, but the honest truth is you get better at it as you see them. Regardless what you see or read about Hollywood television writers, I have to write for myself. I have to be interested and I have to really love the characters and if I don’t it shows. So it wasn’t a question of, how do I put these two together and get people to watch? It was, what’s interesting about the two of them? And what makes you like them? What is unexpected?

I’ve been writing television for the last 10 years and I’ve often been the only female on the staff. It’s not to say that men can’t write women, because then women couldn’t write men. But I think there are shades and flavors and complexities to women that only other women are privy to. And I really wanted these two women when they were together to have that safety and trust. Where they just dropped the mask and they could just be who they were.

So as I saw them together and enjoyed them and saw how they played off each other and realized they both were good physical comedians and both had this lovely chemistry together, yes, obviously that shapes and changes what goes on the page.

AE: Why do you think there are still so few shows centered around female leads, female friendships like Rizzoli & Isles?

JT:
You know what is funny, I was sort of down on my knees yesterday because I made the mistake of signing up for Google Alerts and reading reviews of the show. My husband keeps saying, “Stop reading the reviews.” I read a really nasty review. My life before this was as a journalist and I think the thing that critics forget is people create this stuff. And I’m not out there writing just nasty, snarky articles about their abilities as writers when they criticize their critics. Because some of it is so nasty.

But to answer your question, I thought – not that other shows aren’t under attack, and I have seen really wonderful writers get hammered in the press – there is this cultural thing that says if it appeals to women then it is less than a show that appeals to men. And I think we still think that. So if you have a largely female audience, as does TNT, well then that couldn’t possibly be as good as HBO or Showtime. Never mind the fact that HBO spends $20 million on a pilot and I have $3 million.

I sound like a lot of sour grapes today. But as a reporter I used to think, “Oh, I have to do the male story.” I have to be the one raising my hand and saying, “Oh, I’ll cover Iraq.” I finally got comfortable in my own skin, I’m raising two daughters, and I said, “To hell with that. That’s bulls–t.”

This is as important and I am not slumming by writing a show that appeals to women – all women. I love that your audience loves this show. I am delighted. It sincerely, makes me happy, because I love women and I write for women. I don’t give a crap if they are straight or gay. I just like that they like this show and see pieces of themselves in it.

And that’s what got me up this morning. I read that review and got up this morning and thought, “Oh, s–t, I’m a hack. I don’t want to do this.” But then, yes I do. I think eventually if enough of us hear this and if I can help enough women get into this business and raise their voices, eventually people will say, I am going to stop approaching this material with this prejudice. Oh, it’s about women. It’s not going to be as interesting.

What is funny to me is I now have film producers calling me: “You write women so well.” There is this dearth of female leads out in the film world. And you think why is that and you look at the percentages of male writers, male producers, male directors and they far outnumber us. I have to tell you I think this business, I shouldn’t say this, I felt like gender wasn’t nearly as big an issue in journalism as in this business.

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