While half a million viewers may not fly on the broadcast (and some cable) networks, those were numbers that SoapNet executives couldn't help but get excited about when they found out that's how many new viewers came to the network last summer to see the first season of the Canadian import "Being Erica." While not a soap in the true sense of the word, "Being Erica" focuses on 32-year-old Erica Strange (played by Erin Karpluk) who is given the ability to travel back in time and relive a regret from her past in order to make a positive change in her present. With the help of Dr. Tom (Michael Riley), Erica's jumps back in time are both humorous and heartfelt, which is a balance that series creator Jana Sinyor works hard to achieve. Sinyor talked to our Jim Halterman last week as a new crop of "Being Erica" episodes are set to premiere tonight on SoapNet.
Jim Halterman: Therapy and time travel don't necessarily seem like obviously elements to bring together for a television show. Can you tell me how the concept for 'Being Erica' came to you?
Jana Sinyor: Time travel has always been a real interest of mine, even when I was little. I always resented the fact that I couldn't travel back in time. I thought about it a lot. I talked about it a lot. I really liked books and movies that were about time travel so everything that I do seems to have some magical realism in it. In terms of how the therapy part came into it, it really just evolved from me looking around and noticing - I was in my late 20s - a lot of my friends were hitting 30 and reaching a place where they weren't where they thought they'd be in life. They didn't have the house or the kids or the marriage or the career and they felt that they were failing but of course they weren't failing. They were just on their own little path. So I started to think about people being hard on themselves and blaming themselves for where they were and having a lot of regrets so it kind of evolved from there. I know in real therapy people go back into their past and relive it and in this show Dr. Tom is literally taking her back.
JH: The relationship between Dr. Tom and Erica is getting more complicated in the season premiere when Erica goes back into the past and helps a younger Dr. Tom. Where is their relationship heading?
JS: Dr. Tom says something at the very end of episode one, season 2 that I think is quite interesting when he says 'When the student is ready, the teacher will appear and in this instance the teacher is you, Erica.' I think as Erica develops and moves more along her path, the lines do blur a little bit. Of course, Dr. Tom is still her therapist and he's going to be helping her plenty. Their relationship is getting a little more intimate in the sense that once she knows where he came from and knows some things about his past, a curtain has been dropped and she sees him as more flawed and human and he's evolved more in his eyes and in the audience's eyes, as well. I think that's a good complication and development for in their relationship.
JH: Because we're watching 'Being Erica' on a network devoted to the soap opera genre it's easy to wonder if the therapist and the patient are going to become romantically involved. Any chance of that happening?
JS: Right now, I can safely say no. Your characters have to have integrity in a sense that you have to understand what the relationship is and what drives it. I think there's a tendency to make everything romantic. When there are strong feelings and it's not between family members then there's a desire to make it romantic. There's definitely strong feelings between these two and I think the feelings are complicated but I feel if Dr. Tom or Erica were to ever cross that boundary it would destroy something wonderful that they have. It is a complicated relationship but I wouldn't betray them or the audience by breaking it.
JH: Erin Karpluk does such a great job as Erica both in the present and during the time travel parts of the show. How did you find her?
JS: I remember the day I was sitting at my computer and her audition came in an email. She was just wonderful and perfect for the role and when you watch the series you get that definite feeling that you can't imagine anyone else playing that part and that feels very true. We were very fortunate to find her. It was just kind of a last minute thing. We looked a lot and we hadn't found anyone and then we did!
JH: I hope this comes across as a compliment but the workplace scenes reminded me a lot of 'Ugly Betty.'
JS: The 'Ugly Betty' part of the show we feel is like 'The Office.' We do a really different tone at the office. It's over the top and not real and deliberately comedic. Everywhere else in the show, we really try to keep it as real as possible. We definitely use 'Ugly Betty' as a touchstone for the vibe we want in the office.
JH: SoapNet pulls in a strong female audience but there's a lot in 'Being Erica' for the guys, too. Is that something you make sure to include?
JS: We don't consciously put something in there for guys but where we start from is that we want to make the show extremely relatable to everyone. Yes, this is about a woman in her 30s but it's really been gratifying and surprising to us how often men who wouldn't necessarily gravitate towards the show on first glance end up really responding to it and relating to Erica. The things she goes through, whether it's losing her virginity or having someone she loves marry the wrong person or struggling with her sexual relationships or her problems at work... whatever it is, we strive from the get-go to make it very relatable. I do think that show in a lot of ways is not what it seems. That's the big challenge with it. You get the feeling that it can be a little bit silly but it can also be really, really heavy in other moments. It's not like a silly little girl shopping show. That's not what the show is. I think sometimes people are a little bit surprised by what the show is rather then what they were expecting it to be.
"Being Erica" kicks off its second season tonight on SoapNet at 10:00/9:00c.