Take a Midwest transplant named June (played by Dreama Walker) who moves to New York City, have her move in with a wild-card roommate, Chloe (Krysten Ritter) and add a TV star (James Van Der Beek) and you've got the makings of the new ABC comedy "Don't Trust The B---- In Apartment 23." From the creative mind of Nahnatchka Kahn ("American Dad") comes a 21st Century 'Odd Couple' where despite their differences, two roommates will end up living together, get involved in each other's lives and, perhaps, form a friendship. Of course, as we see in the pilot, this is the kind of comedy where Chloe's seducing of June's fiancé actually ends up helping June out so the off-kilter actions of Chloe does not always end up badly.
Our Jim Halterman rang up Kahn and Executive Producer David Hemingson ("Traffic Light" earlier this week to talk about launching the new show, making Ritter's character likeable even when she's doing unlikable things and what fun story arc is coming for Mr. Van Der Beek.
Jim Halterman: The trend for new shows now is to premiere an episode or two well before the premiere date and your show has been available on Itunes for a few weeks. Are you both fans of that trend?
Nahnatchka Kahn: I think it's so awesome. The difference between now and five years ago... remember when networks were taking all the pains to make sure their stuff wasn't leaked and really cracking down on sites that leaked anything? But that's so great they've embraced the medium and you can use the Internet and it's not your enemy and it can help spread the word on shows. I think it's fantastic. I'm a huge fan.
David Hemingson: I totally agree. I think it's not the future, it's the present and the fact that they're not running away but running toward it is brilliant.
JH: Did you two know each other from your time on 'American Dad?'
NK: We've known each other since back in the day. We met right when I graduated from college and David had just started working after being a lawyer. We had known each other for awhile and we worked together on 'American Dad' on staff and then David left to do his own show, 'Kitchen Confidential' but when I had the chance to do this, I had a couple days to come up with who to supervise and it was cool because we knew each other as friends for so long. It's fun to work together.
JH: Because you worked in animation and there's a crazy, no holds barred feel to it, does that give you a different perspective in doing sitcom work?
NK: I do think so. I think working in animation, especially working with someone like Seth MacFarlane, you're encouraged to think irregularly and just having that freedom and being able to pitch stories and jokes and being sort of free really does inform when you go into live action. Why not use some of that in a script and rethink the things that are acceptable and possible even?
DH: In animation you don't have any constraints to the sets and location or what you're doing and I think what's been great about this show is that ABC has not shied away from us experimenting.
NK: Ideally, you take the best of both worlds. You take the freedom and irreverence of animation and then combine it with this amazing cast. Krysten and James and Dreama infuse these characters with a realism. They're so magnetic and you don't have that in animation because, well, you're drawing. It's cool to come up with a great hybrid. That's the idea.
DH: I think they also manage to bring this emotional reality to it, which is kind of lovely.
JH: Talk to me about casting. How difficult was it to cast the roles, especially getting Krysten and Dreama in there?
NK: Dreama was actually the second person to come in and read and she came in and I remember she was wearing this sweater with big flowers on it, like yellow flowers on it. She was June.
DH: It was perfect! I was like 'Oh my God. This person seems to have the exact physical attributes!'
NK: That was extremely lucky but with Krysten, that was the more challenging role, obviously, because that's everything. I know David and Jeff Morton, our other Executive Producer, knew Krysten from 'Breaking Bad' but I hadn't seen 'Breaking Bad' and I knew her from her feature work. But then I met her and she walked in with a coffee and I was like 'You exist in the world! You drove here and you walked in and you bought a coffee... ' She was everything! She was so magnetic and appealing and then when she read the lines for the first time I was looking around at whoever was next to me, the hairstylist, and was like 'That's it! That's it!' She made it even better than I thought it would be.
JH: Do you attribute the magic of Krysten Ritter to the fact that Chloe is likeable even though she doesn't always do likeable things?
DH: Yes. Krysten can do things that other people could never get away with but there's something extraordinarily glowing about her that just makes you go, 'Oh, yeah! Okay!' She's just that person.
NK: For me, I'm a writer and I love the page but there's something theoretical about it until you get the right person. In theory, I knew the pilot worked on the page. In theory, I thought this should work and you should like [Chloe] in the end but if you don't have the person, you have nothing. Krysten came and not only pulled it off but made it better than I thought it would be and that's how she is in every episode going forward. In the first 13 that we've done, she's always surprising.
JH: With James, did you know you wanted him originally or was it an open 'which celebrity could we get for this' kind of thing?
NK: No, to be quite honest, when I was first writing the script in my apartment, in my pajamas, and I was like 'Who could be a best friend for Chloe?' I knew I wanted someone playing themselves, somebody famous, because to me I thought that added the mystique of the Chloe character. How is this girl who's running this Craigslist grift also a best friend with a famous person. Originally, I thought Lance Bass and I just wrote in the very first draft 'Lance Bass' but once it became a reality and once we got the green light to make the pilot and once we got Krysten we said we had to have someone who could hold the screen with her and someone you would buy as her best friend and that target is very small. It has to be someone who is known, ideally, for playing one specific thing and it would be in their wheelhouse and who has the comedic chops to do it and our casting director, Lisa Miller Katz, has a very short list and James was at the top of it and we were like, 'Yes!' I rewrote the part for him, he came in and I handed him the script and he called me an hour and a half later and said 'I love it. I want to do it.'
JH: I thought it was interesting that in the episodes I previewed, Chloe seems to help June in different ways and situations but will we see June help Chloe?
NK: We eventually get there and that is something that happens. It takes a little while for Chloe and June to get to a place where Chloe becomes vulnerable enough for June to even know that she needs to help her. It's a really good episode and really satisfying, I think. It's coming up, for sure.
JH: Will June ever be able to fully trust Chloe or is that part of the fun of the show that Chloe will always be pulling something?
NK: I think that's a little bit part of the fun. We all have friends and you want to trust them, you know they are good people and you know something's going on around them that you're not quite sure [and] they're capable of everything. I think that's what we're doing with Chloe. She's capable of everything at any time. You can trust those people to a certain point and then there's a questionable moment of doubt.
JH: June has such a sunny outlook and even says in a voiceover that she sees the good in everything but how long will that last not only because she's in the presence of Chloe but also in New York City, which is a hard place to live in. Will she maintain that?
NK: We're getting to the episodes pretty quickly when she starts to question. To Chloe she says, 'being around you is making me a better person.' Ultimately she has this strength to her. Even if she gets knocked down she's still who she is and I think that she realizes that being in New York and being with Chloe won't really change who she is inside but it all comes full circle for her.
JH: I love that you mention the movie, 'Bowfinger,' which I think is one of those underrated movies that exists out there. When you bring up those pop culture references, do you just have a pool of them to refer to whenever you need something?
DH: I think it's more organic. I think we come up with it on the fly. In the writers' room we have a fantastic staff and people will just riff off those and we'll go 'Oh yeah, put that in.'
NK: It's a specific tone, too. We've all worked on shows where you would pitch 'Bowfinger' and people go 'What do you mean? What are you talking about?' But your response of 'Bowfinger' is very satisfying to me because it's just a tone thing. There are pop culture references where you can go all over the place with it. It would be way easier to go with something more common or relevant but the fact that it's the obscure movie that doesn't really get its due made me laugh.
JH: Any future storylines coming up that you can tease?
NK: I think we're cool to tell you that the series arc for James is that he gets on 'Dancing With The Stars' so he's trying to figure out what his second act is and there are a lot of ups and downs with that. His nemesis on the show is Dean Cain, who's playing himself, and he and James have this rivalry over everything from dressing room sizes to dance partners to costumes. It's so funny. I'm so excited for people to see it!
JH: Were you able to shoot on the 'Dancing With The Stars' set?
DH: They strike the set immediately so we didn't get to.
NK: But they gave us access to footage and things like that so we could be creative there. We had a blast doing it.
"Don't Trust the B---- in Apartment 23" airs Wednesdays at 9:30/8:30c on ABC.