Clay Aiken, Ben Feldman, April Bowlby, Josh Berman and Jamie Babbit
When I asked Berman why he thinks the show is so appealing (even to someone like me, who regularly watches Toddlers and Tiaras just to have something fun to be angry about) he said, “Drop Dead Diva is a feel-good show. It’s also about a woman who feels like an outsider for the first time in her life. I think all of us, for some reason or another, feel like an outsider at some point. Jane, played by the amazing Brooke Elliott, is a lovable hero who fights for the underdog and doesn’t let anything get her down. She’s relatable because I think there’s a bit of Jane in all of us.”
Director Babbit added:
A lot of women who live in the “fly over” states are all different shapes and sizes and I think they can really relate to Jane (played by Brooke). Josh Berman, being a gay man and creating the show, I think is intrinsically, going to create something that’s interesting to gay people. So I think it’s a nice mix because we’ve got Brooke, who is basically the poster child for these women who feel like they don’t see themselves reflected in media. She’s such a great role model because she’s a full-sized woman but she’s also really pretty and guys are always after her on the show and she’s got a lot of boyfriends on the show.
She deals with being heavy and feeling sort of “other” because she’s trapped in this body she wasn’t born with, but she’s come to kind of celebrate and recognize it. And I think the show does that too and that’s really empowering with women who are big. Brooke really is a great role model for them because she’s so sexy and smart and such a great dancer and singer. She’s really bold and full of life and vivacious. You just don’t see characters like her on TV, usually it’s the heavy fat friend that’s just kind of sad.
True to her character, Jane’s moral and work ethics come together when she takes action against a school system that won’t let two girls go to prom together. There are scare tactics used and a fair amount of bullying, but even when all seems to be lost, she won’t back down.
Babbit shared another interesting take on the impact of the show. “The nice thing about Drop Dead Diva is that very rarely do I work on a show that is really big with red state women. I think Lifetime in general is really big with red state viewers and Drop Dead Diva is really popular with them. So it’s great to have a storyline that’s all about tolerance and acceptance and is a show that these people actually watch. We can show the episode to all of our gay and lesbian friends, but it’s nice to get the message out to a different group of people.”
Actually, you know that’s also why it was great to have Clay Aiken on this episode because he is really popular with red state women. He said, “You know a lot of my Claymates are these conservative women who would definitely have a problem with their sons coming out — but since [I] came out, now all they still follow me to Outfest and the GLAAD awards and all these gay events that they never would have even known about before but because they’re there to support me.” At this panel at Outfest, it was a full house, which I was surprised about — and all of these women were there for Clay, and I’m sure a lot of them are these red state women.
So what’s so great about Clay coming out is that he’s educating his groupies. It’s awesome. And now that he’s appearing in “The Prom” episode, they’re going to watch because he’s in it and love it and get educated and then maybe they’ll think, “Wow, maybe I shouldn’t discriminate against that girl in our tiny little town who wants to go the prom.”
When I asked Constance what she hopes viewers will take away from watching this episode she told me, “I hope that they’re inspired and I hope they understand what people go through who are discriminated against and are put in these positions — how it makes them feel. And I hope that the people who have been and who are now and who will be discriminated against will decide to stand up for themselves. I hope they’re inspired to make a difference and make a change — not just take no for an answer. I just hope the story reaches a lot of people and helps them.”
Watch a preview of “The Prom” episode of Drop Dead Diva here:
Drop Dead Diva‘s “The Prom” airs this Sunday on Lifetime (9 p.m.). Check back later for our full interview with Constance McMillen, which I think will inspire you as much as it did me.