[SPOILER ALERT: If you have not watched tonight's season premiere of "Drop Dead Diva," do not read ahead. Major plot points discussed in the following interview.]
When we last saw the "Drop Dead Diva" gang at the end of season three, Grayson (Jackson Hurst) and Stacy (April Bowlby) shared a kiss that prompted such guilt in Stacy that she told Grayson that Jane (Brooke Elliott) is really his former love Deb. Fred (Ben Feldman) was about to propose marriage to Stacy until he heard about the kiss. Parker (Josh Stamberg) was on a quest to find the son he didn't know he had. And Jane took a big step in her romantic life and left on a romantic getaway with Owen (Lex Medlin).
All that story provides a great jumping off point for season four, which aired tonight on Lifetime. Our Jim Halterman chatted with creator/executive producer Josh Berman about the choices he made moving forward with the new season of "Diva" as well as a peek into his just-picked-up new FOX series, "The Mob Doctor."
Jim Halterman: In general, since you've worked both on broadcast and cable in your career, is it as different as some people say? Do you need a different mindset?
Josh Berman: In the past, I think the notion was that in cable you were a lot freer to do what you want to do and network was more restrictive but I think that's all changed now. I think both network and cable just want great shows and they want to be distinctive. No longer is the idea just write a show for everyone. It's write a great show and the audiences will find it and that's cable or network. I love the fact that I'm able to be in both worlds but, quite honestly, I don't see that much of a difference.
JH: In the "Drop Dead Diva" premiere, we pick up three weeks after last season's finale. Why did you decide on three weeks in terms of that timing?
JB: Italy represented escapist paradise for Jane with Owen, the man that she was falling in love with and I liked picking up the reality of that three weeks later. For me, three weeks is when I start getting antsy on a vacation and I thought 'Okay, I don't need to see them in all their glory. I want to see what it feels like when they're beginning to get homesick.' It's also the notion that this is supposed to be the perfect vacation. When you're in love with someone, neither of you wants to say 'I think it's time to go home' so you dance around it until somebody says it.
JH: There is a lot of story to pick up in the cliffhanger. How do you navigate how quickly you want to get those stories to the next step or stretch them out across the season?
JB: I'm one of those writers who likes to chew threw story and although I like to tease and I like to titillate the viewers with the next episode I also like answering questions and I think in the first few episodes of the season we certainly answer the cliffhanger questions we've left with Jane and Stacy. Parker's tease with going off to see his son, that's something that actually resonates throughout the first six episodes. His storyline comes to a big crazy end in episode six when Brandy [Norwood, who guested last season] comes to town with Serena Williams as her lawyer and faces off with Parker in a big custody battle.
JH: Will Brandy be around for only a few episodes or more than that?
JB: She's definitely in a couple and she may be coming back. We've already shot two with her and she just loves the show. She wants to do as many as we can and we love working with her so it's a big lovefest there. Then, the way Serena Williams got on the show, and I haven't told anyone else this, I was on Twitter and saw that she was a big 'Drop Dead Diva' fan and she was congratulating Brandy for her great performance on an episode so we reached out to her directly and she jumped at it so that's how Serena ended up as her lawyer.
JH: It all comes back to Twitter, doesn't it?
JB: It all comes back to Twitter! It's hilarious!
JH: Grayson and Stacy shared a nice little smooch in the finale and it seems to have stopped there. Is it something that's over or will it pop back up?
JB: I think once Jane truly forgives Stacy they're able to move on but the notion that Grayson is now thinking Jane could be Deb still lingers and informs a lot of the moves he makes during Season Four.
JH: Even though he's on 'Mad Men' now, I was happy to see Ben Feldman back but then he's gone again after the season premiere. Is he gone for good?
JB: There's more to that but I don't want to give you any spoilers.
JH: Bringing Luke (new cast member Carter MacIntyre) into the show, talk to me about that character and how you created him not to be an angel carbon copy of Fred.
JB: Luke is incredibly different from Fred. Fred we like to think of as a man-boy, an immature spirit kind of finding his way in this world like a 25-year old who's just now going through puberty and that's how we always wrote Fred. Whereas Luke is a real man. He chose to come down here, he thinks life is fantastic, he does not understand why Fred would have wimped out and left this choice job when he's surrounded by beautiful women and a law firm. Luke comes down [from heaven] and unlike Fred who actually struggled to understand human behavior and struggled to make a living, Luke's got money, Luke's got sex appeal, Luke comes into a room and owns it so the characters could not be more different. And surprisingly, Jane likes Fred a lot more than she likes Luke at first, which is understandable For Jane, Fred was like a little brother whereas Luke is more of an equal and they spar quite quickly. I think the dynamic of going from Fred to Luke is a natural evolution for the show and if we did not age up the character of Fred, literally we've done it by coming up with an angel that's more appropriate for Jane's current journey.
JH: I like that Luke wants Jane to move forward and leave Deb behind but she doesn't want to do that which I think is a great conflict you're bringing back to life.
JB: That conflict really resonates throughout the entire season. By bringing back Sharon Lawrence in an episode this season - we're doing a 'Dance Moms' episode with Abby Lee Miller - and we're really exploring Deb and going to new character development for her. Not just for Jane but Deb as well.
JH: It's exciting to see Grayson get closer and closer to figuring things out with Deb and Jane. What's his journey there?
JB: Grayson's journey in the first couple of episodes, he really wants to ferret out the truth about Jane and to some extent he does but just when the viewers think he's giving up, he really doesn't. By episode 3 or 4 we realize that he has truly fallen in love with Jane. Not Deb as Jane but Jane. He does try to tell her how he feels but the repercussions of his honesty are not what the viewers will expect.
JH: What's coming for Stacey now that Fred is departing? Maybe sparks with Luke?
JB: I'm really proud of Stacy's storyline this season. For three seasons, she wanted to be a model and actress and this season she decides she's going to be an entrepreneur. She invents a brand new dessert called a 'pake,' which is half pie, half cake. With this new invention, she opens a 'Pakery' and that becomes one of our new standing sets on the show. This season is not about boys for Stacey, it's about business.
JH: Kim Kardashian is coming in for a few episodes. Talk to me about bringing her into the show when she's such a love her/hate her kind of personality.
JB: It turned out the Kardashians were big fans of 'Drop Dead Diva' and we were thrilled that [Kim] wanted to be on the show. We wrote her a very specific character for three episodes and I think if people are skeptical of that casting, I would urge them to watch that arc for the first three episodes and at the end see if they still feel the same way. I don't think there's anything wrong with drawing from all areas. I think the show is about acceptance and I love the idea that we take guest stars from all walks of life. She was so professional on the set. She showed up early. We told her she could stay anywhere she wanted in Atlanta and she chose to be at a small rinky-dink hotel because it was closest to the set and she wanted to be there bright and early. She was totally prepared so you have to appreciate that.
JH: Let's talk 'The Mob Doctor.' After watching the pilot, the first thing I thought was that people who only think of you from 'Diva' will remember that you have a background on darker shows like 'CSI' and 'Bones.'
JB: What I've loved about 'Drop Dead Diva" is that I have two women living one life. I essentially have Deb living in Jane's body and in 'The Mob Doctor' I have one woman living two lives. I love that dichotomy. I just so enjoy writing strong female characters and I love the idea that we all have secrets. The big secret in 'Drop Dead Diva,' of course, is that Jane is really Deb and the big secret in 'The Mob Doctor' is that a woman/doctor/leading cardiovascular surgeon at one of America's top hospitals is also moonlighting as a mob doctor and no one can know about that part of her life. I think to some degree we all have secrets. As a gay man growing up, I had my own secret and lived two very different lives and tapped into my own baggage and my own personal journey, I really used that to hopefully write these characters that all have their own secrets.
JH: How challenging was it to cast, especially the lead character played by Jordana Spiro?
JB: It was a real challenge. Casting wasn't easy. I'd been a fan of Jordana's comedy and when I saw her audition I immediately loved her. I sort of fell in love with Jordana the same way I fell in love with Brooke for 'Drop Dead Diva' but casting that role you have to get sign-off from Sony and Fox and we're lucky we got network and studio support quite quickly.
"Drop Dead Diva" airs Sundays at 9:00/8:00c on Lifetime.