Fortune Feimster has been bursting with good news for weeks now, but she wasn’t able to say anything until yesterday, when it was first reported that ABC had picked up a new pilot based on the out comic’s life. Not only that, but the still-untitled show has Fortune working with Tina Fey. The two first met on a pilot for Fox called Cabot College, which surprisingly didn’t get a pick up despite its likable cast (including Margaret Cho) and highly sought-after production team.
“Essentially we got the news that Cabot wasn’t going, which was really sad because it was such a funny idea and show, and it was kind of the talk of pilot season so when it didn’t get picked up it was tragic,” Fortune said. “And I was sad because Tina and [Cabot writer] Matt [Hubbard] had put together this amazing team of people and thought it was a crime for this team not to be doing anything together. I had just gotten the news that it wasn’t going and it hit me like a ton of bricks five minutes later. I thought, ‘Oh my god! What about a story about my life growing up in the south?”
Fortune said she knew it was a “long shot,” but she pitched the idea to Matt, and he was interested.
“It’s based on me just coming out of the closet, and I live in the South and my parents are divorced but still friends,” Fortune said. “My brother is a Republican in the coast guard. There’s all these different facets of life that people can relate to. I thought those people are often in one family, so how great would it be to do the modern day Roseanne, where you have this middle class family who is on a journey with me coming out, but also on a journey as a family and kind of growing up together?”
A Skype session with Tina Fey later and the show was officially being worked on.
“Getting Tina was a little tougher because she’s a busy woman,” Fortune said. “At the end of the Skype meeting she says, ‘OK, get to work!’ so I kind of had a heart attack. I thought, ‘Does this mean what I think it means?’ but I didn’t want to ask her. And that was it. We started working on it, we pitched it to three networks and they all wanted it. We ended up picking up ABC because they seemed the most excited and it was a great fit.”
Fortune is currently writing the pilot with Matt Hubbard, which will then get turned into ABC and hopefully given the greenlight to film. It’s a long process and viewers won’t see the show until it’s officially picked up after the pilot season, but Fortune acknowledges she’s made it over “the first big hurdle.” The show itself is set in North Carolina, where Fortune grew up and where her family still lives. It will follow her life as she realizes she’s a lesbian in a small Southern town.
“I came out after college while I was living in LA, so I never experienced coming out while living at home,” Fortune said. “But I go home a lot, and I still have some hometown situations about me being gay, etc. It’s always an interesting topic of conversation for people. So it’s a more interesting story for it to be set in North Carolina rather than LA. I have a Southern accent, I mean, how am I going to say I live in LA? People will be like, ‘No, no you don’t.'”
It’ll certainly be hard for a lesbian to find a girlfriend in that kind of situation, which Fortune said is destined to be part of the comedy.
“Now that I’m gay, I have to find the lesbians,” she said. “One of the characters we’ve written—I go find what I call the village gay, and she kind of opens my world up to ‘Here’s the lesbian community and I’m gonna show you the way./ Of course I get all kinds of terrible advice. But the nice thing about my hometown is that its 15 minutes from Charlotte. It’s a more diverse area, so that’s part of the story, too—I can go to Charlotte. I can have a small town situation but head to a bigger city for the more gay friendly situation. “
The show will be done multi-cam style in front of a live audience, which Fortune said she prefers after coming from the stand-up world and her time writing and appearing on Chelsea Lately. Her biggest hope is to show a family that is “middle class” and “normal people.”
“Not everyone lives in a nice house with a rich dad and your moms a therapist or whatever!” Fortune said. She also plans on having a diverse writers’ room to write to those kinds of varied experiences.
“The show is not about me being gay,” Fortune said. “That’s part of my story, but the show is a family show. And that’s the journey my character is on when we start the show. But we definitely want to have some gay writers so we can do justice to my story. And also we want Southern people. Because one thing that I’m adamant about is that I want this to be a clever show. Anything that has Southern people in it, they’re not portrayed as the brightest people. And I love Tina and them because they are so smart and they can bring that to my show. it’s not as how about Honey Bo0 Boo’s family; it’s a show about people in the south in a more accurate light.”
Fortune said her experience with Tina Fey on Cabot College solidified her want to work with the 30 Rock creator.
“When we filmed Cabot she was so much more hands on than we ever expected,” Fortune said of Tina. “She comes and she’s so nice but she’s ready to work. She sits and watches video screens and gives notes on episodes. She is legit. She does not put her name on something and say good luck to people—she is on it. So far with this show, Matt and I were on the phone with her and Robert just a few days ago. I feel like I’m in such good hands because they’re filling all these holes and giving great notes and really filling out this world that we’re creating. “
In the meantime, Fortune can be seen guest starring on Fox’s sitcom Mulaney, playing an ambiguous androgynous character written specifically with her in mind.
“John [Mulaney] is a super awesome guy and wrote for SNL when I tested for the show in 2010, and he wrote this part for me on his show,” Fortune said. “It’s super flattering that he would think of me and remember me all these years later. So they had already filmed most of the show and I got to come in for a couple of episodes and yell at people and have some fun. I got to work with John and Martin Short so it was super cool. This show, who knows what’s gonna happen with it because its so hard with shows to stay on the air, but it could not be a nicer group of people.”
Fortune is also hosting a GLAAD event in Atlanta on October 29, which is the organization’s launch of a new initiative to create visibility in the South.
“They’re starting this Southern stories program … to introduce programs to the community that bridge gaps between the gay community and straight community and not make that a scary thing,” Fortune said. “They’re having their first big Southern event, so its super cool they’re asking me to host it because I am a Southern lady and I get to represent my people: gay and Southern.”
Mulaney airs Sunday nights on Fox. Follow Fortune on Twitter @fortunefunny.