“Mistresses” at the TCA Press Tour


L to R: Sharon Small, Orla Brady, and Shelley Conn (1/10/09)

Mistresses is a six-episode British drama series coming to BBC America in February about a group of female friends with relationship problems — including Shelley Conn (Nina’s Heavenly Delights) as a promiscuous, commitment event planner who falls for one of her clients, played by Anna Torv, who is now the star of the Fox supernatural drama Fringe. (Americans who don’t mind some spoilers can read our review of the first season.)

The show is a hit in the U.K., with a sizeable audience of about
6 million viewers, according to Mistresses executive producer Douglas Rae — “mainly women, but men buy the DVDs, I
suspect looking for extras which aren’t on it.”

Most of the cast (minus Sarah Parish, who plays Dr. Katie Roden), creators, and BBC execs were on a panel on Saturday at the Television Critics Association Winter Tour in L.A. to promote the show’s debut on American TV. Since we weren’t able to send someone to the event this year, AfterElton.com editor in chief Michael Jensen kindly attended on our behalf and reported back.

S.J. Clarkson and Mistresses co-creator Lowri Glain were inspired by the question, “Does anybody actually choose to be a mistress?”

S.J. Clarkson“I
guess we felt that nobody did,” Clarkson continued. “But I said maybe
somebody would choose to be it because it would suit
their lifestyle. So that was really where the seed
was sown, I suppose. And from then, we just started
looking at the various sides of infidelity from the
mistresses’ perspective.”

There are no truly happy mistresses, said Clarkson, “because you’re only ever going to get half the deal, really.”

But I think what
we tried to show was the truth of being a mistress,
the fact that I don’t think it’s necessarily all
stiletto-heeled secretaries hanging around in hotel
bars. It’s often you meet somebody, you have a
connection, you fall in love, and suddenly you realize
they’re with somebody else and what do you do in that

You’re told follow your heart — or the
fairytale is, you know, you love someone, fall in
love, get married, have children, have a happy
lifetime together, but what happens if the person you
fall in love with is already married?

I think that’s
a real dilemma and a truthful dilemma for many women

Despite the inevitable comparisons, Mistresses isn’t a British Sex and the City.

“It’s not a fluffy show,” said BBC Worldwide president Garth Ancier. “It’s actually
fairly dark and complex.”

Sex and the City and Desperate Housewives are terrific shows,” Rae added. “But what we
wanted to do is, I think, reflect the kind of truthfulness
and honesty that women have between each other,
particularly at an age in their 30s when their families
may have moved to another city and the girls are becoming
family in a way that, you know, has moved on from the
’50s and ’60s.”

“So the girls themselves are a family and
they share the stresses and strains of everyday life with
each other. And the series is not about promiscuity.
It’s about how people can bond together and share secrets

Clarkson elaborated on this theme:

Mistresses was almost a working title that stuck
because we couldn’t think of anything else, I suppose,
that summed it up as much. And it’s a red-flag word so
it makes people sit up and take notice. But inevitably
it was always about truthful performances and to try
and — all the storylines, performances and the look of
it needed to feel truthful, cinematic and grounded … Films we looked at for reference was Three Colors:
and Unfaithful and L’Apartement which is a
French film. And we looked at a lot more films for
reference for it, rather than sort of lighter television.

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