Here’s a little bit of inside baseball: Interviews conducted at the Television Critics Association press tour — a glorious two weeks straight of discussions and presentations dedicated to all the new TV we’ll be watching soon — can take on a lot of different forms. Sometimes you’ll find yourself alone in a silent hotel room having a very intense and in-depth conversation with a goddamn television legend like David Simon. And sometimes you’ll be sitting in hastily arranged armchairs in a busy hallway, chatting with two very funny women who will take the opportunity to say hello to an attractive fellow wandering by.
That was the scene last week during Viacom’s TCA presentation, when Indiewire sat down with Jillian Bell and Charlotte Newhouse, the creators of “Idiotsitter.” The series, which premieres on Comedy Central Thursday, January 14, stars Bell as Gene, an extremely rich trainwreck, and Newhouse as Billie, the woman hired by Gene’s father (Stephen Root) to keep her under control.
As Bell (“22 Jump Street,” “Workaholics”) and Newhouse (“The Big Bang Theory”) explained how their new series came about, including its transition from Comedy Central’s digital platform to its new home on the network, we also caught glimpses of people from Viacom’s other programming nearby. This included MTV stars as well as actor Ignacio Serricchio, who I recognized from earlier in the day after he appeared on the panel for Brandy Norwood’s new show “Zoe After Dark.” Below is a transcript of our conversation. It has been (lightly) edited.
Talk to me a little bit about how the show came together, because I know it started for the web, but now you’re getting to make the TV transition.
BELL: We actually wrote it as a pilot and pitched it to Comedy Central, and they wanted to start us out as a web series. I think that’s a way for them to test some things. As opposed to just doing a pilot you get to put it out there and see if it gets an audience And see the world and the characters.
NEWHOUSE: Get more into the world than just a first episode.
NEWHOUSE: So we already had it as a TV show.
BELL: And then we made it into a web series.
How did it change from one transition point to the other?
BELL: I guess it was a little bit more difficult to turn it into a web series because you have like five minutes to grab someone’s attention, make them care about the world, and the characters. Us as people. And do something with the writing that captures their attention, but also is true to what we would write as writers.
NEWHOUSE: It was sort of like if you have six episodes, what do you want to hit? Because each one, it’s sort of like what of this world do you want to show? And what can you show in five minutes? It was as difficult as writing a TV show.
BELL: And I think the hardest part of writing anything is getting exposition out easily, without hitting people over the head with it.
NEWHOUSE: And we didn’t really do that. So, hopefully, next time.
I know that not everything from Comedy Central’s digital network goes onto TV. Do you have a sense of what Comedy Central found in the series that they wanted to keep exploring?
BELL: I don’t know. That’s a great question. Congratulations. I’m sure you’re in the right profession.
NEWHOUSE: Didn’t it just sort of happen? I think they tested it–
BELL: –with two other shows.
NEWHOUSE: I think they had a pilot and then a pilot presentation and they wanted a third thing to test them against and so they used our show. And I don’t think they actually were– Maybe they were. I’m not in their head. But it tested really well. I think that kind of helped it.
Do you know what kind of audience they were testing with?
NEWHOUSE: Just me and Jillian.
BELL: We were the test audience and then we said, “That one was really good.”
BELL AND NEWHOUSE: Those girls have got something.
Do you have an idea in your head what the target audience for this show is?
BELL: I’m being optimistic, but I think it’s wider than what normally is, the 18 to 35s, because we’ve shown it to some people–
NEWHOUSE: My dad–
BELL: We showed it to your dad and your dad is a harsh critic, but he enjoys it.
NEWHOUSE: That’s true. My dad does not like anything. And just because I’m in it doesn’t mean–
Everyone laughs as Ignacio walks by, singing to himself.
BELL: We’re doing an interview.
IGNACIO: Oh, for real?
BELL: Do you want to say something?
IGNACIO: Hi. This is Ignacio. Peace and love.
NEWHOUSE: Thank you.
Laughter. Ignacio leaves.
NEWHOUSE: I shouldn’t have done that.
Honestly, it’s what makes this event fun — things like that. Did you know him?
BELL AND NEWHOUSE: No.
BELL: No, she just likes to shout at strangers.
NEWHOUSE: But she’s banking on the demographic being pretty wide because my dad likes it.
BELL: Only because your dad likes it and he hates us as people.
NEWHOUSE: Yeah. Especially Jillian.
So, you feel like an older audience will get hooked in?
BELL: I think so. I’m just hoping people in general like it. Like one person is like, “That’s a good show.” That’d make me happy.
You have Stephen Root on your side. America has been loving Stephen Root for decades now. He’s America’s Sweetheart.
NEWHOUSE: Yes. That’s what’s always said.
BELL: He’s in every single show, doing the best job on the show.
NEWHOUSE: We know so many funny people, so we could write for some people. But of anyone we cast, he does the most surprising things with lines. You’ll write something a certain way and he’ll say it another way.
BELL: Or he’ll add a little something weird and you’re like, “That’s so much weirder than I imagined, and I like that.” And he asks a lot of questions about his character and he cares. Which is really wonderful.
Did you find yourself, on the spot, trying to create backstory out of nowhere?
BELL: Yes. We’re like, “Yes. Exactly what you said. That’s why we wrote it that way.” No. But he does. He cares about the character, which is a nice change. I feel like we work with a lot of comedians who are like, “Let’s say something funny.” Or “This’ll be the weirdest way I can say it.” And he actually cares about the backstory of the character and why we wrote it that way.
It marks for an interesting difference — not that actors and comedians can’t be the same person — but it’s a different approach. For you guys, do you feel you come at it from the comedy angle or the acting angle?
BELL: Probably mostly the comedy for me.
NEWHOUSE: For you. My character you have to actually feel like because she’s not — she’s funny, but she’s just– I feel like I have to work on my acting in the future. I do approach it from both because she is very sincere, and you don’t want to just joke about her because she’s sort of naive.
BELL: I guess you’re right. Both characters have a certain vulnerability that you have to be very careful with. We have a whole episode where I meet my mother — my original mother — and it’s kind of an emotional episode.
NEWHOUSE: You do have to because Gene could easily dip into obnoxious and Jillian never does.
BELL: Hopefully. People may think I’m wildly obnoxious.
By the way, I wanted to ask if there is a backstory with the names Billie and Gene.
NEWHOUSE: Yes. Well. I know Michael Jackson. Or I did.
NEWHOUSE: We wanted a name that was very upper-crust-y and, if shortened, was a dude’s name. Genevive to Gene. So that we came up with first. And then it was just funny
BELL: To do Billie.
NEWHOUSE: And then to do boys’ names. And Willimina is very proper. So we sort of mirrored it.
We’re in this grand, golden age of female-lead comedy, which means that for you, as a comedy duo, there are comparison points between “Broad City” and what other women are up to. I’m wondering, for you guys, is there any sort of pressure as you feel in regards to that?
BELL: Charlotte said this before and I think it’s totally accurate. Comedy Central does a really good job of finding totally different comedies. We’re completely different from “Broad City.” We’re completely different from “Another Period” and Amy Schumer. I just think that the only thing that is the same is that we’re women.
NEWHOUSE: I think Comedy Central shows what a wide array of things we can do, so hopefully there won’t be pressure. Hopefully, it will be eventually just like anything else.
BELL: I think it might be the one network that has this many shows now featuring women in totally different situations. I may be wrong.
NEWHOUSE: Which is what’s so great about it. You have a satire, a “Keeping up the Kardashians”-type period piece. You have girls playing heightened versions of themselves like in “Workaholics.” “Broad City.” And then you have us, which goes back to “Mr. Belvedere” or a “Nanny.” This really broad sitcom.
What’s really cool about what women in comedy are getting to do is that they’re able to not look great. Is that something you approach consciously, or is it something that just sort of comes out naturally?
NEWHOUSE: We just don’t look great naturally.
BELL: Naturally, we’re not good-looking people. They have us very glammed up right now, but you should see what we usually look like. No I mean, it’s funny we met in the Groundlings and before you get into the Groundlings as a company member you have to go through Sunday company and do shows every Sunday and the Groundlings vote whether or not you get in. And I remember my director coming up to me and two of the other girls that were in my class and said, “Guys we have to sit you down and talk to you. You have to start playing attractive people. You guys always play unattractive people.” But it’s the most fun–
BELL: [laughs] Our friend is back.
IGNACIO: Are they really this interesting?
Yeah. They’re fun.
BELL: We’re still here.
IGNACIO: Whatever you’re doing, good luck in 2016.
BELL: Enjoy your motorcycle.
IGNACIO: I do have one. How do you know that?
BELL: Because look at you, sir.
IGNACIO: I didn’t bring it today, but what’s your name?
IGNACIO: Hi [Indiewire]. Nice to meet you. See you around.
BELL: He definitely has a motorcycle.
I believe he is one of the co-stars of the new Brandy Norwood show.
BELL: No way. He’s an actor.
NEWHOUSE: Wait. Wait. Wait. Wait. Wait. Wait. Time.
BELL: Wait. Brandy from the ’90s.
NEWHOUSE: Oh. Yes. I was thinking–
BELL: Brandy Norwood is Brandy from the ’90s.
NEWHOUSE: “The Boy is Mine”
BELL: One half of “The Boy is Mine.”
NEWHOUSE: The other was someone else.
BELL: Monica from the ’90s.
NEWHOUSE: It’s Monique.
BELL: No, it’s not Monique.
Is it Monica?
BELL: You guys. Know your ’90s. [singing] “The Boy is Mine…”
NEWHOUSE: Don’t sing it. We all know who it is. She doesn’t need you to sing it for her to know what you’re talking about. Just because she doesn’t know if it’s Monica or Monique.
I thought we were all unclear if it was Monica or Monique.
BELL: Yes. We were a little bit.
NEWHOUSE: I am still.
It would totally not be Monique.
BELL: It’s Monica.
NEWHOUSE: Why would it not be Monique? I still think it’s Monique. Anyway…
Anyway, Ignacio has a steady job for right now. That’s why I brought it up.
NEWHOUSE: Who’s the guy with the long, blonde hair?
BELL: Nobody knows who you’re talking about.
NEWHOUSE: She just knew who [Ignacio] was. I bet she knows who he is.
I’d guess he’s the star of “The Shannara Chronicles.”
BELL: Wait. Is that on MTV?
BELL: That’s a big show.
NEWHOUSE: He looks like he’s 12 years old.
I think he plays a character called Shannara? [Note: This turns out not to be true. Austin Butler plays a character named Wil.]
NEWHOUSE: Wait. So it’s his chronicle.
BELL: Sorry, were there other questions?
Well, when I was talking about not looking great, I meant it less in physical appearance and more in bad behavior. That sort of thing. But why is it more fun to play unattractive?
NEWHOUSE: It’s comedic. Being nice and pretty and good isn’t exactly as funny as being flawed. That’s what we laugh at. That’s what we connect to in people is their flaws.
BELL: I won’t speak for you, but my goal is to always play interesting and very odd women.
NEWHOUSE: That’s not my goal.
What is your goal?
NEWHOUSE: To find a husband.
“Idiotsitter” premieres tonight at 10:30pm on Comedy Central.
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