Interview With Eileen Gallagher

 
 

I don’t think it really
works — and no one would ever suggest — that we Americanize the actual, same
scripts. That doesn’t work. I think as long as the soul of the show is there,
with the main characters and stories, and the tone is right, then I think that
Nancy and Raelle will put their own great spin on it.

AE: You’ve said before that Shed has "a moral edge." What
does that mean, and what in particular does it mean in relation to Bad Girls?
EG:
Well, it was very important to us that we portrayed two things. First,
there’s a prison issue, and our political view is that there are far too many
women in prison. Most women are not in for violent crimes. Most women are
victims of their partnerships, their often-violent partnerships with their husbands.
I’m not saying they’re all great, good girls, but they’re generally more
victims than male prisoners. So we try to humanize the women and portray them
with their good and bad sides.

Our ambition was to give
people a more enlightened view about the imprisonment of women. I don’t think
it particularly worked, because in our country we’re imprisoning more women
than we’ve ever imprisoned, although I think the sentiment is growing that it’s
probably a daft thing to do; it’s not sensible. But still at this stage we can’t
claim to have changed anything.

So there was that and
also, obviously, the lesbian agenda for us is very important — the fact that
the love story was one where any audience would like Nikki and Helen. You have
to be very prejudiced not to like them and their story and feel for their
predicament. That was very important to us, and we felt really proud that we
had a lesbian love story on for 39 hours in peak time. I like to think it
changed attitudes.

AE: At the same time, you’re the CEO of a multimillion-dollar
organization, and you’re responsible to your shareholders. You must struggle at
times to balance those two things. You have a profit-making agenda, and yet you’re
also pursuing creative work that has a moral agenda.
EG:
There’s no conflict there at all, really. We make programs that we like
to watch, and I think as long as you continue to do that, there will be an
audience there. That’s a commercially smart thing to do, as well as emotionally
and morally smart. As soon as you start making programs you don’t like yourself
— as soon as you say to yourself, "I won’t watch this, but they will"
— then you’re down the right track. It won’t be good. The chances are it will
be rubbish.

AE: I want to back up for a minute: I understand the initial idea for Bad Girls was yours. Is that right?
EG:
I think Maureen Chadwick and myself kind of share the honors in terms
of the original idea. I started work as a broadcaster, and I don’t know if you
remember there was a drama called Prisoner
Cellblock H
. Do you remember that?

AE: I didn’t see it, but I’ve heard of it.
EG:
It was very Augustinian. Even 20 years ago, it was 20 years old
[laughs], but when we moved it in the schedule, it caused a huge outcry, and
this was a late-night program. It lodged in my memory that there’s a great
demand and following for prison dramas. It had lesbian story lines and it was
really in many ways was ahead of its time. I watched it, and all my university
chums watched it, and I always thought when I was working that I’d love to make
a really good women’s prison drama.

AE: And then the four of you came together to work on the show.
EG:
Right, Ann McManus, Maureen Chadwick, Brian Park and myself invented
the characters. You’ve probably heard or saw it on the website that we went to
Italy together, and the first week we drew up the characters, and the second
week we drew up the main story arcs. Those initial ideas are very close to what
eventually came on stage. It’s amazing, really.

The cast of the British Bad Girls

AE: Do you ever sit back and laugh, thinking
of how far you’ve come and how far Shed has come?
EG:
We are very, very proud. We’re a profitable company with offices in L.A.
and London, and we’re about to open another office in Scotland. We’re making a
new drama up there called Hope Springs, which is another female-led drama, and
there’s a lesbian character in it — not that we’re obsessed [laughs].

So, do
we ever sit back and laugh? Yes, we do. We sit back and laugh with a glass of
wine and think, my God, how did we manage this?

But you
know, there’s nothing I’m prouder of — it’s great building a company, it’s
great employing lots of people, it’s great floating it — but when you get right
down to it, what I’m really, really proud of is entertaining people in a way
that means something. When I was a child, I loved television, and I really
looked forward to seeing certain dramas. Sadly, there were never any lesbian
characters in them [laughs], but some dramas kind of spoke to me. I watched Lou Grant, and I became a journalist
because I loved Lou Grant.

I just
really like the idea that people look forward to our dramas coming on-screen,
and they settle down and watch them. I’m so proud that we can entertain people
— that’s certainly worth a glass of wine.

Nancy Oliver and Raelle Tucker are expected to write the pilot episode
for the American version of Bad Girls
later this year. The original British version of Bad Girls can currently be seen in the U.S. on Logo.

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