James and Cyrus are part of a recent trend on TV, along with "The New Normal" and "Modern Family." There's this real push in portraying the domestic lives and families of gay couples.
When I moved to Los Angeles there's no way that I would have imagined that I would be an out actor in a marriage with two kids, writing a book about and playing that kind of character on television. It was far from what I thought was possible. It feels like we're part of something that is not finished but has definitely hit a point where you have to stand, close your eyes and take stock. The fact that the African American president of the United States in the inaugural address of his reelection spoke about freedoms of same-sex couples and parents, it's mind-blowing. You can't underestimate the power of every single cog in the wheel that made that happen, not the least of which was the media, "Will & Grace" and Ellen Degeneres and Rosie O'Donnell and Jane Lynch and Neil Patrick Harris.
I love the fact that there's a trend now to include domestic life of families of all kinds of patterns and designs. I will say that I think that we can move beyond humor just in the fact that there's two guys and they're dads. On the comedies, I'm noticing that a lot of the jokes are about being gay -- even on "Modern Family," and I'm a huge fan, but those gay dads are Gay Dads, capital letters. I'm excited to be involved in a drama where occasionally it comes up as a natural obstacle but my fatherhood is just a fact of wanting to become a parent. The gayness is becoming almost the least relevant aspect of our characters, and that's something that I think is really forward-thinking.
Shifting over to "Web Therapy," I know that you've worked with Lisa Kudrow for a while, how did that begin?
I met Lisa on the set of "The Opposite of Sex" and we became friends, Don and I and Lisa and Michel [Stern], her husband. I wrote, produced and I starred in a movie called "All Over the Guy" and Lisa appeared in it. I was writing a lot of pilots and she was being offered what at the time was considered a vanity deal with a production company -- she asked me if I wanted to partner up with her, and I did.
This year will be our tenth year as Is or Isn't Entertainment. We produced "The Comeback" for HBO and "Who Do You Think You Are?" which was nominated for an Emmy this past year and "Web Therapy," which is beginning it's third season. "Web Therapy" has been this little passion project that started on the web, then, because of an interesting idea, got licensed in a half-hour format for Showtime. It's been really fun, very time-consuming, not that lucrative but we all love it.
As you said, "Web Therapy" was initially made for the web, both in how it was structured and conceived. What was the process of shaping it into more traditional linear television like?
We really did design it for the web -- by every definition. Each of these sessions with a patient was designed to be just long enough to be web content. When it was suggested to us that sessions stuck together could create a longer form of content, we put three of them together and it by itself did not feel like it would sustain a half-hour show. How could we create a storyline that would have an arc to a half-hour but also an arc to the season? How could we put titles and moments that Fiona has by herself and reorder the sessions with people so this could play out in longer format? We continue to make the show primarily in its first incarnation, playing them out as webisodes. Then for this half-hour format we create graphics and moments to tie together these webisodes, these sessions that Fiona has, and created a world where we meet her mother, her sister, her husband, her husband's boyfriend.
The show ultimately is less about therapy and more about one really fucked-up woman. It's hilarious to watch how this very narcissistic self-serving woman calls herself a therapist and then drags every single person in her life down. It's just become something bigger, but we really enjoy seeing how it shapes and bends as time goes on. We keep surprising ourselves. It's outlined heavily, we do a lot of story meetings, but all the actors improvise so when we're shooting we just have a good time. We shoot over weekends, so each actor comes to play with us for just half a day. Luckily the cameras don't move because we're recreating the notion of a webcam.
I'm sure some of the guest stars you've had have been more comfortable with improv than others -- how do you go about finding them and working with them?
We've never had a casting director. Our joke about the show, which isn't really a joke, is that you bump into somebody in the valet line at some party and they're like, "Oh, I love your show!" and you're like, "Great! Want to be in it?" Meryl Streep was at a commencement at Vassar and Lisa also went to Vassar. Meryl was like, "I love that 'Web Therapy' show," and [Lisa] was like, "Do you want to do one?" It led to a couple of emails and our being a little aggressive and making it really easy on the talent, which we always do, and we booked her. It was just a miracle.
Alan Cumming, Jane Lynch, Bob Balaban -- a lot of those are well-known improvisational actors, but even people like Courteney Cox, Natasha Bedingfield, this season we're doing Nina Garcia... It's fun to see an interest mix of comedians, people in the music industry -- we've had Rosie O'Donnell on, we shot Meg Ryan for this season. Regardless of their improvisational background, it really is just talking and listening. Don's a good director, and we have earwigs, so we're listening to each other and Don as well. We make it as user-friendly and fun as possible, and so far, so good.
Both "Web Therapy" and "The Comeback" have these protagonists who are not likeable at all the traditional sense. Is there a particular draw for you in these characters who challenge our sense of empathy?
We live in a business that's sort of misogynistic and tends to shy away from these sort of female protagonist that may have unlikeable qualities. I think Lisa is attracted to them, finds them interesting and layered to play. I think it challenges her as an actress, and for us as writers its a lot of fun. Plus, sitting in a room where Lisa is improvising, she literally can channel a different character. You just watch the hilarity come out of her in such a smart way -- it inspires both me and Don.