Season 6 - Production Notes

Ever since THE L WORD® exploded six years ago into living rooms across the country, Showtime Networks’ landmark series has continued to take center stage in the hearts and minds of legions of fans. The groundbreaking series has become a pop culture icon that has put its indelible stamp on the political/social and entertainment landscape as it has brought the lesbian community into the fold of mainstream’s consciousness – eliciting controversy, pride, empowerment and conversation.

On Sunday, January 18 at 9 PM ET/PT, THE L WORD® begins its sixth and final season on SHOWTIME. For creator, writer and executive producer Ilene Chaiken, the direction and goal of the series has always been very clearly defined to provide the lesbian community a voice and sense of place in society at large.

“We set out to tell good stories, to entertain and to aspire to the same success that anyone else hopes for who is making a primetime television show,” says Chaiken. “In that journey, we found how the show became incredibly meaningful to a great many lesbians around the country and all over the world – to be represented in popular culture, to be represented as glamorous, as sexual, as affluent, as intelligent, as educated, as interesting, as romantic, as all of the things that heterosexual people have had role models for.”

As in previous seasons, THE L WORD® revolves around the lives of a tight-knit group of women living in Los Angeles, women who are all trying to navigate and learn from where life and love takes them. In its sixth and final season, if there has been any shift in tone from previous seasons, it may be that within eight episodes, the writers were able to capture and deliver the intimacy that fans may feel reminiscent of the pilot. Chaiken acknowledges the special relationship that the show has had with its fans. “We knew we were doing a final season and that was a real gift from SHOWTIME since a lot of times you are never given that opportunity, so we really thought carefully about what we wanted to say and how we wanted to go out,” says Chaiken. “We wanted to tell a story in which there was a real sense of ‘on-goingness’ because we wanted the audience to feel that these characters will live on beyond the show. I would say the biggest difference between Season 1 and Season 6 is that in this last season, we never stopped thinking about the integral conversation that we are having with the fans of the show and the world at large. They have an impact on us and we wanted to keep reflecting that dynamic.”

Rewarding fans this season is the highly anticipated reconciliation between Bette (Jennifer Beals) and Tina (Laurel Holloman), an intense relationship that has been as turbulent and troubled as it has been loving and nurturing. “It was really important to us to get it right,” exclaims Beals. “Getting the depth of that reconnection between Bette and Tina was everything and we really wanted to honor the fans who have been so passionate about Bette and Tina and who have waited so long to see if they would get back together. For many of the show’s devotees, Bette and Tina’s relationship hit a deep emotional chord and the characters became the quintessential couple that everyone rallied around and looked up to.”

Actor Rachel Shelley, who plays Helena Peabody, understands the appeal, “It has to be Bette and Tina, their relationship with all the ups and downs, their love for each other and the undeniable chemistry between them.” she contends. “Everybody can see they are meant to be together – they really were the orbit that the rest of us all revolved around. I think in real life we look to those kinds of relationships because they make you optimistic, because when you’ve met your soul mate, you’re meant to be together and that is Bette and Tina.”

As in previous seasons, humor and drama envelops the core cast of characters. Alice (Leisha Hailey) and Tasha (Rose Rollins) test the boundaries and frailties of love; Jenny’s (Mia Kirshner) tangled web of complexities unravels which leads to her ultimate demise; Shane (Katherine Moennig) tries to change her life-long behavior of breaking hearts; Max (Daniela Sea) comes face to face with parenthood; while Kit (Pam Grier) and Helena (Rachel Shelley) forge a new friendship that transcends their business venture.

Striking a balance between the serious elements of the larger political and social storylines that the show tackles and the comedic situations can be tough. But just as much emotional investment came into play knowing that this was the final season. THE L WORD® will deliver what is bound to be one of the most memorable scenes to date – one where Alice (Leisha Hailey) heads up a dance marathon to benefit the Los Angeles Gay & Lesbian Center. With each character teaming up with a partner to perform specific dance routines from past eras, the cast quickly discovered they had an appetite for strutting their stuff.

Hailey, as with all the cast, says the dance numbers are high on everyone’s “Top Ten List” of favorite L WORD® moments. “Alice throws a giant party where it’s a twelve-hour, stay up as long as you can, dancing competition and all of us dress up in costumes to match our routines. Soon after we started practicing in front of each other on set, all of a sudden there was all this whispering going on like, ‘Oh my God, have you seen Jennifer and Laurel? They are so good!’ The last two days before we started shooting the episode, we all became seriously competitive and it became incredibly funny.”

Rising to the challenge of learning the samba with Holloman, Beals says the rigors of daily rehearsals with the choreographer was soon outweighed by the magic of the getting the steps right and being totally in the groove. “It’s one of my most favorite episodes of the whole six years and it was nothing short of hilarious,” says Beals. “Some of these girls can really dance and I think we all started thinking about taking up dancing careers because we all loved it so much. [Series guest star] Marlee Matlin of course pulled the rug out from under us, as she’s phenomenal. It was so much fun to watch everybody practice their dances and to see how deep they got into it.”

Just as in real life, THE L WORD® has proven that art does imitate life more often than not. After six years of being together, the real life experiences of the core cast sometimes spilled over into their characters’ story arcs and vice versa with marriages, deaths, births, break-ups and falling in love all being part of the experiences.

Katherine Moennig, who plays heartthrob Shane, feels that THE L WORD® resonated with audiences because of the closeness that developed between the cast members, who many times lived next door to each other. “The chemistry that fans picked up on between these characters is reflective of our relationships off-set because we became really close friends,” she says. “That camaraderie isn’t fake and it transferred onto the screen. What’s cool is that our friendships happened very organically – six months of the year we were on location in Vancouver, so we really depended on each other a lot as we didn’t have family and friends from home around.”

THE L WORD® is undoubtedly a history-making endeavor that has broken down barriers and put another few thousand cracks in the glass ceiling. Chaiken shares her feelings on being behind the helm of one of television’s most successful shows. “This show has been a huge piece of me because it consumes your life, but THE L WORD® has been more meaningful than it might have otherwise been because of the numbers of people who have come to us to tell us that the show has made a positive difference in their lives. It’s been a big job, a consuming job, an exhausting job but it’s also been the most gratifying experience that a writer or creator could ever want.”

Pam Grier who plays Kit Porter, Bette’s half-sister, feels that it’s been very humbling and special to be part of something that is much bigger and broader than just another television show. “I think all of us feel so honored to have been a part of something that will go on and continue to influence generations and is recognized as a pop culture icon,” Grier says. “THE L WORD® really is an exploration of relationships and it hopefully opened people’s hearts and eyes up to what really matters in life and that is the way you love someone unconditionally and in turn are loved for yourself. I have learned so much from being involved in this show and I’ve met friends for life – I am so much better informed than I was when I came on to do the pilot so it’s had a huge impact on me personally, as well as professionally.”

Rose Lam, executive producer for THE L WORD’s® whole six-year run, says it’s those Sunday night “L WORD® parties” and conversations around the dinner table that she finds the most rewarding part of the journey. “I’m so thankful that I’ve been involved in a show that has brought people together,” says Lam. “Whether it’s my husband and I talking to our young sons at dinner about what does ‘gay’ mean or all those fans [gay and straight] that get together on Sundays to watch the show. THE L WORD® has provided a platform for dialogue and that’s incredibly exciting.”

Just as THE L WORD® tackled serious issues such as breast cancer, the Army’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy and transgender surgery, the show also hit a huge note in the fashion world. By the second season, THE L WORD® became synonymous with the term “Lesbian Chic.” Costumer designer Cynthia Summers feels that the series tore down old stereotypes and exposed the fashion world to a new and affluent consumer, as well as offering style tips to a new generation of lesbians. “It’s so great and unique when you get to work on a long-running series because you get the time to offer different things to audiences. Obviously there are political/cultural reasons why some people watch the show, then there are others that love the humor and drama of our characters and other viewers want to see what the girls are wearing this week.”

As the characters evolved and matured, so did their fashion sense and, as Summers explains with some characters, fashion became an integral part of self-expression and empowerment. “I think in Season 2 we started to challenge the way lesbians think they should look or a need to look a certain way to be identified as a lesbian,” she reveals. “We brought all of those views to the table and said ‘Okay, let’s take this and run with it.’ Instead of dressing Bette as the stereotype butch professional, we thought of showcasing other possibilities because there’s a whole world out there of professional lesbians that are dressed to the nines. First of all, Bette is a woman and why not bring in some masculine and feminine aspects into the way she dresses? So Jennifer Beals’ character gave the ‘power suit’ a whole new meaning.”

Beals says that there is at least one piece of wardrobe that holds special nostalgia for her: “The white suit from the pilot will always live in my memory. “That suit was the first send off to Bette’s suit-land and those wonderful cufflinks will stay dear to my heart. All the clothes were really gorgeous, but that suit really was a defining look.”

However bitter sweet the cast may feel about wrapping up six years together, there is one thing they are eagerly looking forward to and that is buying up all the pieces of wardrobe that they’ve had their eyes on all season. “Oh my God, the clothes!” gushes Grier. “At the end of every season, we all make a beeline to Cynthia’s office to see what we can buy up so one way or the other, my character, Kit, is always with me and she’s had some wild outfits over the years!”

When the pink curtain finally closes on one of television’s most groundbreaking series, one that permeated America’s cultural narrative, Holloman sums up the sentiments of all those who felt privileged to be part of this extraordinary experience. “I get blown away when I think of how far this show has gone around the world, how many people have been affected by the stories we’ve told. THE L WORD® has been my life for six years and the ‘L’ word means a lot of things for different people, but for me it’s LOVE – it has always been and will always continue to be about love!”

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