Interview with “Nurse Jackie” creators Linda Wallem and Liz Brixius

AE: When you’re pitching lesbian characters or storylines, is it different pitching to the networks versus pitching to a cable entity like Showtime?
LB: I hope I don’t offend anyone when I say that I never work with a lesbian agenda in mind. I just pitch the characters that are in my heart. If they’re gay they’re gay, and they’re not, they’d better be gay-friendly or I’m going to kick them out of my head!

That’s why I loved that picture when I was 18-years old and why I love Blythe and Swoosie. We’re all just people. We all have the right to fly our freak flags, or just put them in our purse. We need tolerance for all of us.

LW: Bob Greenblatt is gay, so there’s never any fear about pitching anything gay at Showtime. It’s so gay friendly.

I’ve had it in the past though, it’s been tricky.

I wrote a sitcom for Melissa Etheridge about five years ago. We’re pretty good friends and we’d sold it to ABC, and then unfortunately she got sick with breast cancer. But then we came back and she was doing better, but they ultimately passed on it. It was always a little tricky, with the gay part of it. Everyone always loved Melissa, but it was always like “(nervous laughter) I don’t know…”

But they were very enthusiastic about it…and had she not been sidelined with the breast cancer, we would’ve shot it. But Melissa and I look back and realize it was a blessing we didn’t do it. She won an Oscar and had twins. And my road led me to Nurse Jackie.

Melissa Etheridge

AE: When you say it was tricky, can you tell us more about what it was like for you?
LW: It did come back to me at one point that ABC thought it was “too gay.” And I was like, “What is too gay?” I don’t get that. And I think it was okay when it was Will and Grace, and its two guys and it’s a little clowny.

But what we were doing…It was as if Melissa hadn’t left Kansas and hadn’t become famous. Because I asked her one day, “What would have happened if you hadn’t become famous, and you hadn’t become a rock star?” And she said, “I would have probably been a music teacher and stayed in Kansas.” So it was based on that.

It was great, and I was really proud of that. And the good news is that we’re still really good friends and we’re working on other stuff. But at the time, I can remember pitching it at the networks and there was just this nervousness. They all wanted to meet Melissa, then it was just (laughs nervously), you know, that kind of laugh?

AE: Do you ever see yourself trying to resuscitate that project, if not for her then maybe for someone else?
LW: Yeah, possibly. But I think it would be really hard for me to go back to doing sitcoms after doing The Comeback and this show, because it really is like doing a mini-movie.

I had a blast doing Cybill and That ‘70s Show, but it would be hard to go back to that format for me because now its much more cinematic and much more…I don’t know…maybe it’s a movie now. Now you’ve got me thinking!

I thought it was great though, and Melissa and I laugh about it. We were meant to be friends and we’re working on a musical for Broadway for right now.

AE: Can you tell us more about that?
LW: It’s still top secret. I can tell you that it is going to be fantastic. But you will be the first to know!

The other great thing is that she’s a big fan of Nurse Jackie, I show her episodes before they air and she just loves the show, and that makes me really happy.

AE: do you ever feel that you faced discrimination or even just disinterest professionally because you’re an out lesbian?
LW: You know what…it’s funny. I started 19 years ago, and my wonderful agent, Joe Cohen. I was one of his first clients and I hadn’t come out to him then, because it was the early ‘90s and I was so nervous about it all. So I finally came out to him and it was so great. He said, “Linda, use it to your advantage. I think people in TV will love that.”

And I love that he told me that. I was new in Hollywood in the early ‘90s and there was still some homophobia, and there were some guys I had worked with that I didn’t care to share that with because, you know…

I don’t know. Maybe being a lesbian in TV, people look at you like you fit into the boys club a little. Actually, I think it’s an advantage because it is such a male-dominated industry. I think that’s why straight men love lesbians, because we can be great friends. And I think the crews really respect that. The people I’ve worked with, I’ve been really lucky. I have not felt the discrimination…at least not that I know of. Oh God, maybe people were talking about me! (laughs)

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