Despite the fact that as I write this we’re less than five episodes into watching the new dark comedy series from Starz, Gravity, I already feel a sense of loyalty tethering me to it. Fan dedication usually builds up at a slower rate these days because larger networks tend to slash, burn, and cancel some of their best shows just in the hopes of finding better ratings with another. In those cases, it’s hard to recognize any sense of loyalty from the networks to the viewers or the show. Starz is a growing cable network that seems to be taking a different approach. And because they’re willing to take a risk and let a show grow and be different, viewers are able to find shows that can really pull their weight in entertaining them. One of these shows is Gravity.
At first glance of the premise, you might shy away. The show is about people who have failed in their suicide attempts. And it’s funny. I see you stepping backwards! It’s not PC to talk about suicide, let alone humanize it like that. Suicide itself isn’t funny, the show doesn’t say that and neither would I. Death has to be the pits. Mental health still seems to be a very touchy subject on TV shows. For all of the medical series we’ve had, how many have been about the mental health world specifically? Gravity seems to be about finding hope and connections through your most dire moments in life.
I was lucky enough to have an exclusive interview with the co-creator and writer for Gravity, Jill Franklyn. I asked her seven specific questions about casting her dream doppelganger, the inherent freedom of writing for a cable network, and living in Dracula’s house.
Jessica Rae (JR): Before I even knew what Gravity was about, I was on board after hearing that Krysten Ritter was cast, and that it was on Starz. (Both have serious entertainment clout with me.) I read that you were very insistent about casting Ritter for the role of Lily, and I’m so glad that you did. I’ve noted before that Ritter seemed to be falling into the “Judy Greer template” of hilarious, talented actresses that seem to mainly get cast as the best friend or side kick because they have a quirky aura. You mentioned that there was heavy discussion about casting the role of Lily, and it came down to three girls. Do you think the other two actresses were safer “this is the typical lead template” choices in someone’s mind?
Jill Franklyn (JF): Because there were so many voices (both creative and corporate) it really was a mix of opinions. I won’t delve deeper into the imbalance but I will say I felt very secure in my choice. I will add that the other two girls were also really great and I would work with both of them in a heartbeat but I felt Krysten had an authentic brokenness about her that I connect with and that Lily had to have. A kind of broken that ultimately can work for her. I’ll elaborate. Because I personally had difficulty connecting when I was a teenager I spent many a day in my room writing poetry about death and sex. Some might think this would be to my detriment, when in fact, I am a writer now and value all that introspective time that typically you spend running around with boys and getting crazy. I did that all in my head. And then of course, later in life, and well, yesterday.
JR: Most people have lives that touch several genres, with a likely emphasis on drama (and hopefully very little on horror). I feel that self-insertion of a writer/creator happens very often in a TV series because the ongoing tone has to be consistently accessed. Did you gravitate towards a dark comedy for a series because of a reflection of your personal life’s genre?
JF: I do gravitate to it because it is like a purge of sorts. A kind of self recognition. It’s like money saved from therapy. But then my next project could be a family type comedy because my days/life are so up and down, you have to spend time in the laughter to survive the drama.
JR: Because the subject matter of suicide is touchy, and people can always find a way to take something personally… Do you ever make a conscious decision to self-edit what you write? Even if you don’t actually follow-through, do you ever feel the urge? Can TV writers afford to be self-conscious and somewhat paranoid about what other’s think if they’re going to be successful?
JF: Network yes. Cable has the freedom to just let go… So, at first you just write. Any editing is not going to be personal editing it’s going to be the call from the network. And then you try and balance out what you can talk them into getting away with. I think if you are honest, your audience will relate, the second you write inside the lines, you lose the whole reason for writing. At least for me. Some people need to be inside the lines.
JR: With a show about suicidal people, the options to kill off cast members is pretty high. Are you open to killing off any of your main characters?
JF: Open, willing and ready. I don’t mean to sound callous but I will say this, there are many ways to be killed off. No pun intended for that “cliffhanger”
JR: I cannot figure out Detective Miller! What was the inspiration for this character, and how did you know you needed him around? Will we ever know why he’s so fixated on Lily, specifically?
JF: Miller turned into a bigger character than originally planned because of a rearrangement of casting. It all got very complicated but then again so is he. And yes, most definitely. In every episode you will see a little more into who he is and the mystery. My personal focus was more on the group characters but where this storyline goes will never be on that “oh I saw that coming” list.
JR: What has happened in your house for you to believe it’s haunted? Have you ever considered hiring someone to sort of uh, usher the ghost out?
JF: I love my ghost. Or plural. And actually just because Bela Logosi lived here and I feel echoes of old souls and more, I will tell you that it didn’t just start here. Here I have a TV that goes on by itself, a bathroom light that goes on by itself. I have birds that appear only when a beloved animal or person dies and they stay for exactly nine days…I did live in an old duplex in Hancock park before this house and I had a different TV with the same experience. I’ve had many more experiences than just the above but won’t go into that or I will def see the inside of some institution (not that I would mind if I had a day pass and could keep my good purses)
JR: With several of the core cast members of Party Down all signed on to new projects, the likelihood of Party Down being renewed for season three seems slim. Because Party Down and Gravity were being billed together on Friday nights, are you now worried about getting renewed? What sort of show would you like to see Starz put on Friday nights alongside Gravity if they don’t have Party Down?
JF: My understanding is that when Party Down originated they knew going in the possibility of cast changes because of the premise of actor/caterers it was inherent in the idea, the change of characters. It wouldn’t make any sense if some of the actors actually didn’t get jobs. Okay, debatable but it makes sense. I hope that we see Party Down again. They have an ever growing audience…but since I’m not in control of the world, if I had to see another pairing, I would like to see something crazy funny and animated as our lead in. Oh, and I just happen to have that script right here on my desktop.
Gravity airs on Starz at 10:30 pm on Fridays