“Nikki & Nora:” Evolution of a Lesbian-Themed Series for Network TV

 
 

Liz Vassey as Nikki Christina Cox as Nora

AE: Was there much concern from the actresses about kissing another woman?
NM:
During the early casting sessions we never asked the actors to kiss, although it was always the topic of conversation and a good ice-breaker. And some women were actually disappointed that they weren't going to be making out at the session — some had even been sizing up the other women in the waiting room. And several actresses said that their boyfriends had begged to come to the audition just to "watch." But when we got down to the tests where the actors have to audition in front of the studio executives and then the network executives — we had them do a scene where they kissed. Everyone was very comfortable doing the scene.

The truth of the matter is that the studio and network cared about the chemistry the women had together, but more importantly how credible they would appear as cops and detectives.

And Liz and Christina hit it out of the park, chemistry and credibility. You believe them as a couple and as cops. In fact, Liz and Christina ended up doing most of their own stunts. They are such studs!

AE: What convinced you to cast Liz Vassey and Christina Cox?
NM: Liz Vassey was on the top of our list from day one. Everyone at the studio and network were big fans. And she had read the script and really like it. But early in the process she was testing for another show and had to pass on our project. But when the other project went away, we circled back to Liz and begged her to re-consider.

By that time, we had already narrowed our "Nora" search to Christina Cox. From the moment she walked in the door, she was my Nora. She became the watermark for all others who read the role. She went through a studio and network test with 3 other actors as Nikki. A trooper, for sure. And she was great every time. Studio and Network tests are really tough, a lot of pressure. I've seen actors completely tank at the network after being great in the room ten times before that. I so respect actors, it's an insane way to make a living.

When Liz and Christina met at the network and read together for the first time, it was magic. Everyone could see them as a couple. They were fantastic together. I saw my Nikki & Nora. I've been known to cry at moments like that…I will be forever in their debt for making these characters come alive above and beyond my imagination.

AE: How did the pilot turn out?

NM:
Great! Christina Cox and Liz Vassey were amazing as lovers and cops, and the city of New Orleans was a fabulous location to shoot: production-friendly and gay-friendly. The network has been very supportive of the show. There were very few things that they asked us to tame down, and most of those discussions happened during the script development process and long before we ever went on location.

In fact, most everything we ended up putting in the final shooting draft got shot and ended up in the pilot. So the rumors about a tamer version of the show are really not true.

We did some testing during our post process and ultimately decided not to include one kiss we shot for the opening of the show, but only because it was not appropriate for the scene, not because it was too racy. I am very happy with this intimate look at a lesbian couple — after all, it is a prime-time network show, and this is ground-breaking on all fronts. Gotta start somewhere.

At any rate, it was a great experience. The show is fun and sexy and has something to say. We explore universal themes like love and relationships, family, careers, empowered women working in a man's world, couples working together, etc.All while letting America know that there is nothing scary or different about same sex relationships.

Come on, it's just a couple of girls living together with a bunch of pets.

AE: Why do you think UPN didn't pick it up for their fall schedule? What are the chances it will get a mid-season pickup?
NM:
So many things beyond making a good show come into play when a network is setting their fall schedule. Advertising dollars, marketing, affiliate stations, cost per episode, research testing, demographics, international sales, not to mention what space or real estate is available on a network schedule to place dramas, comedies, reality, etc. You really just have to make the best show you can and bless it and pass it.

The good news about developing with UPN this season is that the odds of getting on the air were better than at any other network. They shot 7 pilots and put 2 on the fall schedule, and may pick up another one for mid-season. I like to play the ponies, and that's damn fine odds anyway you handicap it.

Nikki & Nora may be a long-shot, but the race ain't over yet. Either way, at the end of the day, bravo to UPN for rolling the dice on Nikki & Nora.

AE: If UPN passes on it, can another network pick it up?
NM:
I really haven't gotten into the possibility of the show going elsewhere at this point in time. Trying to stay focused. Shows getting picked up by other networks does happen, but it's rare. Lots of players, contracts and money involved. It's not like selling your great used car to a friend.

AE: Do you think America is ready for a prime time network TV show with two lesbian lead characters?
NM:
Yes! Thanks to successful shows with gay characters on cable and prime time, the door has been opened. I don't take any responsibility of representing the lesbian community or any agenda with this show. I'm just trying to entertain and tell stories about one couple. But hey, if along the way it tears down some walls and dispels some fears, right on.

On the show, our fabulous costumer Janie Bryant (Deadwood) gave Nikki and Nora matching St. Christopher medals to wear. Liz wore hers around her wrist and Christina wore hers around her neck in the pilot. It was their secret "were going steady" jewelry. After we wrapped the show, Janie gave St. Christopher necklaces to the team that put Nikki & Nora together. We are all wearing them for good luck until we hear about the pick-up.

Guess we're all going steady with Nikki & Nora until we absolutely have to break up.

June 2005 Update: Nikki and Nora was not picked up by UPN for a fall or mid-season slot, and the actors were officially released from their contract for the series. Myatt has moved on to other projects, including devloping a sequel to Wave Babes called Babes Go West, and co-producing the upcoming series South of Nowhere, which features a lesbian teen.

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