The wonderful Jane Espenson has a new project. A brand new web series called “Husbands.” I’m going to pause here for the squeals of delight and spontaneous applause, because I did both of those things when she told me about it during our interview for The Huffington Post. I’ve been a fan of Jane’s work for years. And really, who hasn’t? I mean, writer/producer for “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” “Caprica,” “Battlestar Galactica,” “Dollhouse,” “Warehouse 13,” “Torchwood: Miracle Day” … I know, I know. You’re running to your DVD/Blu-ray collection right now so you can re-watch the goodness.
HusbandsTheSeries.com. We’ll also have my exclusive interview with Cheeks, Hemeon and Torresani for you next week here on Comediva.com.Espenson is teaming up with actors Cheeks, Sean Hemeon, “Caprica’s” Alessandra Torresani and director Jeff Greenstein for the project. I got to chat with Espenson (who was on the Girls Gone Genre panel I moderated at this summer’s San Diego Comic-Con) and Greenstein, who executive produced “Desperate Housewives” and “Will & Grace,” recently about the web series, how gay relationships are portrayed in the media and what happens if this ends up getting picked up as a television show. You can get more info on the show’s website:
Espenson gave us the basics. “This began as a project that Cheeks had conceived for himself and Alessandra — a sort of ‘Will & Grace’ meets ‘Ab Fab’ project. I came on as co-writer and as we talked about it, we realized that the current climate could actually support something a little more of-the-moment, and the project morphed into a gay marriage comedy. The original Cheeks/Haley friendship was still in place, but now there was Brady, the new husband. The idea of the show is that Cheeks and Brady are both public figures — an actor and an athlete — who get married on drunken impulse and then don’t want to hurt the cause by admitting that and having to get a quick and public divorce. So they decide to make a go of the marriage. Like the couple on, say, ‘Mad About You,’ they have to navigate normal newlywed crises as they get to know each other better. It sounds at first like it might be a daring show, but it actually has a very sweet, very mainstream heart, which is kind of the point. This is just a marriage.
“We decided to do it as a web series because I honestly didn’t really think it would sell as a network show — not quite yet. A network will want this premise eventually — but we’re getting there first and doing it our way. Which I like to call the RIGHT way. And once we committed to doing it this way, I realized that the control we’re enjoying is a precious thing for these first 22 minutes of content. If a network wants to pick up the show, I hope they would allow us to keep making THIS show, because this is exactly the show I want to make … heck, it’s the show I want to see.”
I asked Greenstein the difference between directing a web series versus series television. He said that it was surprisingly no different. “The script is brilliant,” he said. “Our young cast is terrific. And there’s certainly no diminution of talent behind the camera, as a cursory look at our crew’s IMDB pages will attest.”
“The major difference, obviously, is one of scale. We’re making a 22-minute show for an amount roughly equivalent to the ‘Desperate Housewives’ Evian budget. So we’re shooting on practical locations, not sound stages. There are no showy crane moves or ‘CSI’-style ‘let’s go inside the character’s lungs’ shots. And for me, as a director, I have to think out as much of the show as I can in advance. On ‘Housewives,’ if you suddenly decide during shooting that you’d like to have Tom and Lynette folding laundry during a scene, an entire prop department mobilizes to find you a basket of Scavo-appropriate laundry. On ‘Husbands,’you don’t have that luxury, so we spend extra time prepping and rehearsing so we can do our best work once the cameras roll.
“And, regarding those cameras, one thing that’s amazed me is the quality of the relatively inexpensive tools we’re using to make ‘Husbands.’ We’re shooting with consumer-grade digital SLRs, cameras not all that different from what a suburban dad might take on vacation, and they produce gorgeous broadcast-quality high-def video … when you have a DP as good as Ben Kantor, that is.”
“We knew we were following in the wake of ‘Ellen.’ But in the wake of ‘Will & Grace,’ there’s been … well, not a whole heckuva lot. I know, ‘Glee,’ people always bring this up to me, and their portrayal of LGBT characters is admirable. But at the same time, the show often seems to repeat basic lessons about tolerance that I thought we were kind of past by now.
“Which brings us to ‘Husbands.’ Jane and Cheeks have sketched a wonderfully contemporary take on a gay relationship that is both fresh (gay marriage is in the headlines virtually every day now) and timeless (it’s Barefoot in the Park with two guys!). Sure, you could do this on a network. This show wouldn’t be out of place on ABC or NBC or Fox or even CBS. But I think they’ve chosen to bypass the often denaturing, diluting effects of the network development process in order to make a show that retains its quirks and distinctive voice.”
So, what happens if this gets picked up? What would the studios do? What would they change? There is certainly no shortage of web series that become TV shows. Greenstein had this to say, “No question: ‘get us some names.’ Get us Paul Rudd and Jonah Hill. Get us Russell Brand and Bradley Cooper. Get us Kelsey Grammer and Tim Allen. The networks often forget that TV is a medium that doesn’t re-purpose stars, it makes them, as every hit show I’ve worked on — ‘Friends,’ ‘Will & Grace,’ ‘Desperate Housewives’ — can attest. I think in Cheeks and Sean and Alessandra, we have a distinctive, fresh-faced ensemble bursting with talent, and I’m glad Jane has chosen to steer clear of anything or anyone who might change that.”
“Husbands” will premiere on September 13. Don’t miss it!