Liz Feldman talks “One Big Happy” and Lesbians on Television

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The LGBT community was introduced to Liz Feldman through her show on AfterEllen, This Just Out, which aired from 2007 until 2010. Hosting celesbian guests at her kitchen table, the out and proud television writer and stand-up comic gained a massive following. People liked her irresistible charm, the witty banter and her fancy blazer collection. But prior to This Just Out, Liz worked with Ellen DeGeneres on her talk show, cultivating a relationship that has now offered up a primetime television show loosely based on Liz’s life, with Ellen as executive producer.

One Big Happy, which premieres tomorrow night on NBC, follows Lizzy (played by Elisha Cuthbert with a similar charm, wit and penchant for jackets) as she tries to start a family with her longtime best friend, Luke (Nick Zano). In what could be called poor timing for life but ideal for a sitcom, Lizzy gets pregnant at the same time Luke meets the love of his life, Prudence (Kelly Brook), and marries her.

The actual pregnancy part is where the similarities to Liz’s real life end, but the idea is based on her reality, prior to meeting her now-wife, musician Rachael Cantu. One Big Happy is the first network TV sitcom to feature a leading lesbian character since Ellen came out in 1997.

We spoke with Liz Feldman during NBC’s day at the Television Critics Association winter conference, and she shared her hopes for keeping the AfterEllen audience with her, and just as entertained as they have been with her web show.

2015 Winter TCA Tour - Day 10

 

AfterEllen.com: The premise of the show comes from your life, so how close is Lizzy to Liz?

Liz Feldman: Well you know, we have a few similarities. I mean obviously she’s a lesbian and I’m ready to come out and I’m going to tell you I’m a lesbian. You know, she’s uptight and Type A, which resonates with me, and she’s really dorky and kind of a nerd which hits close to home as well, I think. She’s certainly inspired by me but once we cast Elisha, it’s amazing how characters take on a shape of their own. She was so good at the uptight, buttoned-up thing that we leaned into that. Even though I like to think I’m not that uptight, my sister came to the pilot taping and I was like, “Well obviously the character’s a little more uptight than I am.” And she’s like, “You’re incredibly uptight.” I’m like, “OK cool, awesome, thanks!”

 

AE: [laughs] “Nailed it!”

LF: Nailed it.

 

 

AE: Is there anything that you tried to put into the show that is very you, specifically or is it more subconscious?

LF: You know, not to sound cheesy, but the whole thing is a piece of me and it really honestly comes from my heart. It comes from a place of this interesting thing that happened in my life that I didn’t really know how to deal with. And so the entire fabric of the show is me, but the people who are wearing it are the cast. It truly came from me having a lot of weird feelings and feeling really jealous of my friend’s new relationship, which I think is a really sort of relatable thing, and, you know, I wasn’t jealous because I wanted to be in a relationship with him—I was jealous because of his time and attention, and we also had this plan and I could see the plan was slipping away the closer they got. It’s such a weird feeling to be jealous of a friend’s relationship that I couldn’t even talk about it. I didn’t even know how to put it into conversation, so I literally wrote a pilot about it.

 

AE: Were you single at the time?

LF: At the time? Yes, I was.

 

AE:  So you felt sort of alone.

LF: Yeah, we had this thing going! We were everyday friends and we’re each others’ plus one, and things like that. You have that go-to person, and for me it just happened to be a guy. When he met her, it was love at first sight, so that is based in reality. But there was no way I was going to like her. It didn’t matter how lovely or awesome she was, my expectations, my bar was so high. Poor girl! We are now very good friends.

 

AE: And what does he think of the show?

LF: He’s a writer on the show and we obviously didn’t have a baby together. This show is the fantasy version. It starts from reality and then you want to make it interesting and dynamic and it’s my sort of fantasy version of what would happen if we had already been in that position of trying to get pregnant when he met her. But you know, my wife and he and his wife are really good friends, and they have a son. My wife Rachael and I, we’re his godmothers.

 

AE: Aw, great. So you have you’re one big happy, still.

LF: We literally have a one big happy with them.

One Big Happy - Season Pilot

AE: So what does the writers’ room look like? What kind of diversity is there?

LF: We have—it’s funny, I so wanted to hire lesbian writers but it’s sort of a long story. They wanted to surround me with incredibly experienced writers, because it was my first show. And all those incredibly experienced lesbian writers are hugely successful, and there’s no way they’re going to sit in my room with me. I have a lot of—there is diversity. I have a Persian-American writer in my room. I have a gay black guy. I have a straight woman. Isn’t that crazy? They exist!

 

AE: How familiar are they with lesbian jokes and things?

LF: Erin Foley is also a writer on the show and she’s specifically a joke writer on the show. I love having her there because all we have to do is look at each other and we know exactly the joke that’s there. And also my best friend is a lesbro. He knows lesbians as well as we do. He’s been dealing with one for most of his life. And obviously I write a lot of the jokes, too, so it’s all coming through my filter. Every single script was written through me, filtering and making sure it feels authentic and real. It’s real.

 

AE: But at the same time, you don’t want it to be too insider baseball for just lesbians since it’s on NBC, and you want all kinds of people to watch this. Were there ever points where you thought, “I don’t know if straight guy over here might get this joke?”

LF: Absolutely. And luckily my history in television is really mainstream. I mean, I’m coming from 2 Broke Girls, from Ellen’s talk show and from Blue Collar TV and Hot in Cleveland. These are really mainstream shows, so I have a pretty good sense of what a general audience will get, and what would then be called a 2%er, which is a joke that 98 percent of the people will be like, “Huh?” I would say every once in a while there are jokes on the show that a lesbian audience will understand on a much bigger level than everybody else. But of course, the show can’t be just for us. It has to be for everyone. It’s the only way it’s going to survive.

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