In a new interview with XFinity, Ilene Chaiken reminisces about The L Word, which she first pitched to Showtime back in 1999. The show creator, who is now working as showrunner of the ABC series Black Box, said it was the only network she thought possible for the racy series about L.A. lesbians.
“Well, that depends on how you tell the story. Initially, I pitched the idea before Queer As Folk. It was an idea that I had had and it was kind of whimsical. I knew it was a long shot but I had written an article for Los Angeles Magazine – this would be 1999 – about the gay baby boom. And then I said, ‘I want to write this. I’m a screenwriter, I want to write this.’ And I pitched it to Showtime right after the movie I did for them, Dirty Pictures.
And at that time, I pitched it to some executives whom I worked closely, and they said, ‘We think that’s a wonderful idea, but what network will be able to sell it?’ They literally said, ‘We’ll never be able to sell it to the guy in the corner office who wears the suit.’ I believed them, because clearly, it was true, and I let it go. I didn’t know. I’d never written for television before. I’d written movies. I’d done television as an executive, but I just wasn’t thinking in those terms, but I just said, ‘I want to do a series about a group of lesbians, like my friends.’
I kind of wrote it up in a very rough way. I never even pitched it further. I kept casually pushing them. They said, ‘Oh, it’ll never happen.’ I let it go. Then they did ‘Queer As Folk,’…it was always easier when you have a board of people who can see what it is, sell something, especially a challenging concept. ‘Queer As Folk’ goes on the air. It’s quite successful for them, and ‘Dirty Pictures’ won the Golden Globe.
Just before ‘Dirty Picture’ won the Golden Globe, I wrote back to Showtime. I remember that I called an executive, a new executive, who was more senior, who had just started at Showtime, and I did a formal pitch. I pitched my idea, and I pitched it on the premise, ‘You’re doing ‘Queer As Folk.’ The guys have their show. What about one for the girls?’ And I pitched it to them, and I knew that the pitch had gone really well, and that already the attitude had changed quite a lot, just the fact that “Queer As Folk” was successful for them.
And then, a couple of nights later, I went to the Golden Globes with the president of the network, a couple of other executives. And Jerry Offsay, who was then President of the network, walked up to me right after we won the Golden Globe, and whispered in my ear, ‘I think we’re going to do the lesbian show you pitched.’”
More than 10 years later, The L Word has, for better or for worse, Ilene still doesn’t want to say how she thinks her show has affected LGBT representation on television.
“I think that all of the gay characters on television and all of the shows that really feature gay characters in a significant way, I believe that every one of those creators would have told that story anyway. We have so many stories and there are so many people out there who want to tell their stories. I certainly don’t take credit for it and I know we would have gotten here nonetheless. I’m still really proud that The L Word took its place in that canon of television shows that really feature gay characters in a significant way.”
And as for if there will ever be an L Word reunion? Ilene says:
I think fans should never give up.
Read the rest of the interview for some intel on the upcoming L Word: Mississippi: Hate the Sin documentary coming in August and more.