What does Ilene Chaiken have to say for herself?


Now that The L Word is about to take Jenny’s last breath, interviews with Ilene Chaiken are coming fast and furious.

This week, MediaBistro.com, a career site for media professionals, took its turn. This time, the focus is less on The L Word and more on Chaiken’s career and process. (Granted, Ilene always talks about herself, but in this case, the interviewer wanted her to.)

Although some of the ground was familiar, I had forgotten tidbits like the fact that Chaiken got her start working on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. That explains so much. In fact, if you play The L Word theme backward, you hear:

I looked at my kingdom,

I was finally there

To sit on my throne as the Prince of Bel-Air.

Here are some highlights from the interview:

On how television’s receptivity toward gay characters has changed:

[It’s] So much less than I would have liked. Receptivity, yes, there is tremendous receptivity in the culture. Audiences are interested in gay characters and welcome and embrace gay characters and gay stories if they’re good. But it’s no easier to get a gay character or a gay themed story on television now than it was when I first sold this idea to Showtime seven or eight years ago. There are limits to how sexualized a character can be on broadcast television, but with gay characters in particular, the idea is still largely taboo and met with horror.

Of course, in the case of The L Word, most of the horror is self-contained.

On pitching “The L Word” to Showtime:

I pitched it to a couple of women at a VP level that I had worked with before. They smiled politely and said, “It’s just not going to happen.” One of them actually said, “We could never sell it to that guy down in the corner office.” [After the success of Queer as Folk] I pitched to a more senior-level executive and he took the pitch, stood up at the end and said, “This is great. We’ve got to do this.”

No, Ilene. They didn’t mean this.

On how broadcast TV has portrayed gay characters:

My impression is that they are largely token characters. There have been some exceptions, but for the most part, gay people are underrepresented on broadcast television or represented in a token way. Characters are still not sexualized — there are limits to how sexualized a character can be on broadcast television, but with gay characters in particular, the idea there might be a kiss or anything that suggests more sexual intimacy is still largely taboo and met with horror. One hears all kinds of stories about why this or that gay character goes away. We really don’t exist on broadcast television in any measurable way. In fact, across the board we’re less well-represented than we were five years ago.

Good to know that Chaiken doesn’t believe in token representation.

On where she gets her ideas:

I keep a little catalog of ideas that I’ve always wanted to do, and in the rare moments when I have downtime, I go back to them and look them over. Every once in a while, I wind up pursuing one, but I usually find myself distracted by something that came out of nowhere.

Or someone.

Admittedly, as much as I make fun of Ilene Chaiken and scream at the TV during The L Word, I’m very grateful to have something that I relate to enough that it can make me insane. And after all, I haven’t poked my eyes out — yet.

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