An interview with Ilene Chaiken 'L Word' creator dishes on the show after its final episode

By AMY CAVANAUGH, Washington Blade | Mar 9, 12:20 PM "The L Word," a television show about the lives and loves of a group of lesbians in Los Angeles, ended its six-season run on Showtime last night. Ilene Chaiken, the creator, writer and executive producer of the show, chatted with the Blade this morning about how the show got started, the finale and what die-hard fans may be able to look forward to in the future.

Washington Blade: Where did you get the idea for the show?

Ilene Chaiken: It came from my wanting to tell some of my stories for a change, stories that came from my looking around at my life and my friends and people I knew. Our stories were unrepresented in popular culture and I think they're good stories that deserve to be told.

Washington Blade: How did you get Showtime to approve it at the beginning?

IC: They didn't approve it at the beginning. I had been working for Showtime on other projects, and had written a movie for Showtime that had some gay themes. It was about the work of Robert Mapplethorpe, the photographer… Showtime didn't shy away from our stories and our issues in the way that other mainstream broadcasters did.

I brought it to the executives at the vice president level … back in 2000 and they said that this just isn't going to happen here. A prime time, nighttime drama about the lives of lesbians — no, I just don't think we can sell that to the guy in the corner office. So I went away, and I wasn't surprised but was testing the waters.

I decided to leave it be, and a year later Showtime picked up an English television show called "Queer as Folk." They bought the format and remade it as an American show, and it was a success for them. So I went back and said, “You've got the boys, what about the girls?” They said, “Yes, you're right, we should do your show.”

Blade: How much, if any, backlash was there at the beginning?

IC: There wasn't political backlash and the right wing backlash we were used to seeing didn't happen. My theory was that this was premium cable and not on their radar, so they didn't notice. The backlash I got at the beginning was from lesbians, who said that it didn't represent their lives, and that the lesbians on “The L Word” were too pretty, too glamorous, too affluent, and that it wasn't telling the story of their lives.

My response was that this was a TV show, firstly, and … most television is glamorized … My secondary response was that we're just getting started telling the stories about people I know, and that the representation is not far off from reality. It's slightly elevated, but here in L.A. I know a group of women who are quite like the characters portrayed on the show. If the show is a success, if you enjoy it over the course of time, we'll get to represent a lot more women, and indeed that's the case. We've broadened the scope of representation over the six years on the air.

Blade: What were some of the issues and topics you wanted to address? Did you meet them all?

IC: There were not issues and topics that I wanted to address. I just wanted to tell good stories and tell the stories of our lives, make them entertaining and tell them with depth and detail. If there were issues we talked about on the show, they were the issues of our lives and the issues that touched our lives.

Blade: Season six seemed to be modeled on "Sunset Boulevard" and season five on "All About Eve." What was the reason for this?

IC: I've read that [it was modeled on “Sunset Boulevard”] and it never occurred to me. “Sunset Boulevard” is probably in my blood, and as an avid student of cinema history, I'm sure that it was in me.

But there are other stories I've told on “The L Word,” like “All About Eve,” which we did boldly and unashamedly. Love me or hate me, that's what we took on. But I never said let's do “Sunset Boulevard,” and it never occurred to me that Jenny is found in a swimming pool. It just happened, and I guess my point is that this story grew organically out of the character's stories that we had been telling these six years. It wasn't just another riff on an old, great Hollywood convention.

Blade: Why did you leave so many unresolved plotlines — Jenny's death, the situation with Max's baby, Helena and Dylan's relationship?

IC: Those are not unresolved plotlines. I was not interested in wrapping up the show neatly and tidily. I wanted to end with a sense that life goes on. It would have been much more false to have resolved everything, to conveniently have Max have his baby before the series ended. This is just a day in the life, and life goes on. Who knows if we'll revisit [these characters] in fiction or reinvent them on TV or in a movie, hopefully we will. I simply thought that the appropriate thing to do was to tell a story that had some satisfying conclusions and said many of the things we wanted to say, but not [where the stories were ended].

Blade: Do you have any regrets with various plotlines over the seasons?

IC: I don't believe in that. Sure there are things that we could have done better. Some stories were successful and some less successful, but you don't get any do-overs. I just stand by the stories we told, and the most important thing I can say is that we did our very best. We were always trying to do our best and tell good stories to be true to the characters and entertain the audience.

Blade: A spin-off series is in the works. Can you talk about that?

IC: Alice is the character from “The L Word” who takes us into the spin-off and her participation qualifies it as a spin-off. It's called “The Farm,” and the status is that we made a pilot for Showtime and delivered it to them. They are going through the process that networks go through in deciding what to air. We're waiting to hear if they'll put it up. Alice is the only series regular from “The L Word,” and I hope that if the series goes forward that some of the other “L Word” stars will make guest appearances.


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