Blogging the TCA, Part 3: “Cashmere Mafia”

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This is a live blog from the bi-annual Television Critics Association conference. See previous TCA posts here.

It’s time for the highlight of the conference, for me at least: the panel for Cashmere Mafia, the only new show next season with a prominent lesbian character, played by Bonnie Somerville (pictured below on the far left).

The cast — Lucy Liu, Miranda Otto, Frances O’Connor, and Bonnie Somerville — is joined on stage by writer Kevin Wade, executive producer Darren Star, and some exec named Jeff (didn’t catch his last name).

All four of the women look great, although Lucy’s wearing a bright pink number that’s the same color as a prom dress I wore in high school, with some kind of red mock scarf thingie.

The Q&A kicks off with a topic that will prove to be a popular one at the session: Sex and the City, and how it relates to this show. Darren Star insists, “I wasn’t thinking of Sex and the City when I sold this idea.” He says he initially got the idea for Cashmere Mafia when Gail Katz talked about women she went to business school with at Yale.

A reporter comments that he was disappointed there was only one scene in which someone was actually wearing cashmere. Bonnie jokingly asks the reporter to marry her (because he knows what cashmere is), but he says he has to go pick up his wife at the airport. Bonnie quips back, “That’s okay. My character would probably like that.” Five minutes in and already with the lesbian jokes? A good sign!

Now there’s a bunch of talk about costume designer Patricia Field‘s fashion choices on the show, most of which I don’t follow because I don’t really care that much about where the clothes come from, but I give a silent cheer for Patricia (if you don’t know, she’s openly gay and best known as the gay costume director for Sex and the City).

A reporter asks Lucy how she got this role, and whether it will interfere with her movie career. Lucy talks about what a special character Mia is, and says it won’t interfere with her film schedule, and she’s already done a movie while she made the pilot. “A lot of people like me doing action movies,” she adds, “and this gives me a chance to do some acting, since I don’t think [my Cashmere character] Mia Mason’s going to be doing kung fu anytime soon.” Okay, that was funny.

Someone asks about Lucy’s character Mia (previously named Dylan) being so career-driven. Somehow this turns into a discussion about gender roles — because what better place to ask and answer the deep, complicated questions about gender differences than a TV conference? “It’s a different time now,” Lucy says, adding that “men are a little bit confused” because they don’t really know what to do about opening doors for women, etc. “Are they supposed to be men and pay for dinner, or should we let the woman pay for dinner?”

Another Sex and the City similarity question. Darren points out the obvious: Sex and the City was about women and sex, Cashmere Mafia is about women in business. To quote Willow, “Bored now!”

Miranda answers a question in her fantastic Australian accent about why she loves New York, and it’s something to do with it being a mixture of people and industries, but I’m too distracted by her voice to pay attention to what she’s saying. Then Frances chimes in with her sexy British Australian accent about how she grew up fantasizing about New York, and now I’m really not paying attention.

A reporter asks what initial feedback they got from the network that caused them to retool the pilot. Kevin responds that they were told to add more humor, to give the women more of a smart sense of humor about themselves. Not bad advice — there’s nothing sexier than a woman whose smart and funny.

Now a question about whether there’s a trend towards more Europeans and Australians being cast as Americans. Miranda responds that “American television is so interesting right now it’s attracting more women from overseas.” Frances chimes in, “I don’t really look at the location I look at the project.” Bonnie jokes that the execs are just seduced by Frances and Miranda’s accents. Aren’t we all?

Oh goody, yet another “Can women have it all?” question. C’mon, people, didn’t we beat the gender differences issues to death during the Women’s Murder Club panel? Lucy says it’s a great question (clearly she wasn’t at the Murder Club panel), and she says yes, but no, but yes, our dreams change, etc. Bonnie interrupts Lucy and asks what “having it all” really means, and answers her own question by saying that it means something different to each person. Lucy jumps back in to say her character gets what she wants (the promotion) and then wonders if it’s really what she wants.

It’s all so much clearer now.

The panel’s lone female exec adds, “We want what men want. We have different challenges and assets, but basically we just want the same opportunities…It seems to be shocking to some people, though.”

Someone wants to know about the cast’s friends. Bonnie says, “We met and we had all this chemistry and we actually liked each other.” Darren quips, “They always like each other in the beginning” to big laughs from the audience. Bonnie, determined to make her point, continues, “Women do love each other, this whole women-against-each other, Dynasty thing…we’re not all after each other.&quot A refreshing perspective.

A reporter asks for more background on Bonnie’s character. Finally, something about the lesbian! Kevin explains his philosophy to writing, saying, “when you create characters its best to find them at a crisis point in their life.”

As to why Caitlin’s crisis is specifically around her sexuality, Kevin says that when he ran the show concept by a friend of his who is a top female executive in New York, “she said ‘you have to make one of your characters gay.’ When I asked why, she said ‘It wouldn’t be realistic not to.'” Amen, sister! A legion of lesbians thank you.

More questions about New York and casting actresses with accents. The reporters seem fixated on this topic. Bonnie switches to a New York accent and says no one asks she and Lucy, who are both native New Yorkers, about their accents. Everyone laughs.

Jeff fields a question about whether men can have it all. It’s a universal struggle that crosses genders, blah blah blah.

A reporter asks why all the women on the show are rich, and whether a show about a woman who’s a Burger King manager wouldn’t be more realistic (okay, he doesn’t say it exactly like that, but that’s the gist). Bonnie talks about most TV shows are about middle-class women, and goes on an interesting tangent about how her mom pulled herself up from Flatbush. Then there’s a free-for-all of responses from the cast about how it’s inspirational to see women striving for success and still dealing with many of the same issues as less conventionally successful women, etc.

Bonnie gets back on her soap box: “I’m just happy to see a show where women are loving each other, and being friends.” She complains about all the women backstabbing each other on reality shows, saying “my friends aren’t like that, my managers are women, I love women, I’m tired of that depiction of women.” Me too!

Darren gets the inevitable question about the similarities between Cashmere Mafia and Lipstick Jungle, and dismisses them as coincidental, adding “to say that there can’t be two shows about working women on TV is absurd.” Hmmm. I’m not sure I buy that it’s entirely coincidental, but I don’t even really care: the more strong female lead characters on TV, the better!

There’s another Sex and the City question, and I tune out. Then a question about how Darren’s going to balance this show with making the Sex and the City movie, and I tune back in because hey, Cynthia Nixon, but it’s for naught. “I’m one of the producers, I’m not directing it,” is all Darren says about that. The reporter is persistent, though, pleading for some kind of teaser about the movie, but Darren will only say “it features four women.” Mild laughter.

When asked about whether it’s tricky writing for four female characters at one time (would anyone ever ask if it’s difficult to write for four male characters on a show?), Kevin says no and elaborates, “There’s something about writing women in circumstances that are usually the province of men that gives is an underdog situation that I have a lot of sympathy for.” Or something like that. I like this guy.

A reporter asks another question about “that other show about four women you worked on,” and Kevin jokes that it’s the show that “dares not speak its name.” Darren steers the conversation back to Cashmere Mafia by saying women over 30 are all struggling with the question, “am I going to be a working woman or not?” Cashmere Mafia reflects this and “what my peers are going through” so it’s easy to find stories for. “I’m living in a world now where the heads of most of the movie studios are women,” he adds.

There’s more waxing on about women, including his mom, but I’m getting hungry now and don’t really care about hearing gender analysis from TV producers, I just want to open my granola bar without making too much noise.

The last question is directed at Bonnie: what she going to miss about L.A., and does shooting in NYC makes a difference? Bonnie says yes to the latter, and then talks about how, “my mom’s a working woman, she works on Wall St [and] I’m really proud to be working on a show that represents that.” It’s an oddly touching moment.

But Bonnie’s not done yet — she talks about how much she loved filming scenes on Madison Avenue for the pilot, saying “I dreamt about being an actress my whole life and I’m with these famous actresses and everyone’s yelling Lucy” and then she makes a reference to Mary Tyler Moore throwing up her hat in a “we’re going to make it” way. As her words tumble out excitedly, a hint of her New York accent starts to come into her voice, for real this time, and I’m officially won over by her.

Now we’ll just have to keep our fingers crossed until the show premieres in December that they don’t screw this show up!

(Read more TCA blog posts)

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