From its portrayal of eccentric nudity and millennial womanhood, to imbuing a deep fear of Q-tips in viewers everywhere, “Girls” has been at the center of the cultural conversation since its debut in 2012. To dig into why that was, creator and star Lena Dunham and producer Jenni Konner spoke at a keynote conversation, moderated by Slate’s Willa Paskin, at the New York Television Festival last week.
Dunham and Konner were joined by HBO vice president of original programming Kathleen McCaffrey, who connected Dunham with HBO as an assistant during the show’s genesis. During the event, Dunham, Konner and McCaffrey reminisced on the early beginnings of the show, the controversies its endured, and the upcoming sixth and final season.
When asked if the show would be possible to create in 2016, all three were unsure, likening the success of “Girls” to an aligning of the stars.
“The year that ‘Girls’ came out was the year that ‘New Girl’ came out and ‘Two Broke Girls’ came out, and then Mindy, and then Amy Schumer, and then ‘Broad City,'” said Dunham. “There was something that was going on, and then suddenly there was this amazing flood of female energy on television. It felt to us like it was all happening at the same time.”
“It’s just so much more competitive now,” McCaffrey added. “I think there’s more strategy and less ‘Let’s give this little thing a try.’ It’s a little more ‘How can this break through the noise?'” She also noted that the landscape of television has changed since “Girls” premiered.
And while the show has received fairly consistent critical commentary, both good and bad, Dunham herself has received attention for her provocative statements over the years.
“Her brand is live and learn,” said Konner. “She will say something and it might seem reckless, and people hear it and say ‘This is what was wrong with what you said,’ and she will thoughtfully consider it, ask other people in her world what they think, and then either apologize for it, or not apologize for it.”
“I really have to work hard to separate the natural criticism that I’m going to receive for daring to put myself forward with the body I have and the opinions I have as a non-traditional-for-Hollywood, pro-choice woman who’s politically active,” Dunham said. She is listening, however, for “what’s really valid.”
Regarding the show’s impact, the trio agreed that the fact that the show is still being talked about is a positive thing. Despite its comparatively low ratings, “Girls” has continued to stay relevant throughout its tenure on HBO. For Konner, the fact that people are sometimes furious with the show is better than no response at all.
“I said recently I never want to see a poster with four white girls on it again,” said Dunham when asked about the show’s lack of diversity, a critique that’s followed “Girls” since its premiere. “It’s something we really absorbed and care about and would do differently were we to make another.”
“Girls” began as a small production, and HBO wanted to maintain the integrity of Dunham’s story and honor her work without trying to impose on it creatively.
“One of your jobs as a storyteller is, in some ways, to move beyond the world that you see and to ask bigger questions and to try to reflect a world that you want to see,” added Dunham. Despite its criticisms, McCaffrey noted that “Girls” remains one of the few television shows with two female showrunners, and to have an HBO series starring, written and created by a woman is still an achievement.
Regarding the upcoming season, the main goal for Dunham and Konner is to wrap up each character’s story and deliver a solid conclusion to the series. When asked if they’re worried they’ll never do anything as good as “Girls,” Konner and Dunham said they felt like that after every episode.
“I’d be like, ‘We had a great day yesterday. Tomorrow is not going to go as well.’ That sort of doomsday mentality.” said Dunham. “I was never like, ‘We just shot three great days, can’t wait for three great more.””
“We just pray to God that we can be like Tina Fey,” said Konner.
The sixth and final season of “Girls” will air on HBO in 2017. The New York Television Festival ran from October 24-29 at various locations across New York City. Click here for more information on the festival.