Marti Noxon Talks ‘Girlfriends’ Guide To Divorce’, Casting Lisa Edelstein, Bringing Back ‘Buffy’ & More (Q&A)

Girlfriends Guide To Divorce (FT)

Marti Noxon has had an impressive career.

Though best known for her time working alongside Joss Whedon on Buffy The Vampire Slayer and spin-off Angel, Noxon has gone on to work on a wide range of shows over the past decade including Prison Break, Point Pleasant, Greys Anatomy, Private Practice, Mad Men and Glee.

After working as a hired gun for so many years, and false starts in Still Life and Point Pleasant, the talented writer-producer recently turned her hand to creating her own shows with UnREAL and Grilfriends Guide To Divorce – the latter of which premiered on Lifetime UK just last week.

Somewhat inadvertently, UnREAL and Girlfriends Guide To Divorce have made Noxon something of a scripted brand for Lifetime UK, with the two shows being the A+E Networks UK backed channel’s biggest acquisitions over the past twelve months. “[laughs] I had no idea, maybe they should just call it the Marti network”, Noxon joked.

With Girlfriends’ Guide To Divorce currently unspooling its thirteen episode first season on Lifetime UK on Tuesday nights at 10pm, TVWise spoke with series creator Marti Noxon about what led her to create the series, the process of casting series lead Lisa Edelstein, working with Bravo on their first scripted show and whether she would want to bring back Buffy The Vampire Slayer.

TVWise: The show is based on the series of books by Vicki Iovine, what made you think they were ripe for a TV adaptation?

Marti Noxon: What’s interesting is there is no Girlfriends’ Guide To Divorce, that book doesn’t exist yet, although I think Vicki Iovine is in the process [of writing it]. A couple of people approached me after I went through a divorce and Meryl Poster, who is an executive producer on the show, kept saying to me ‘you have to write about this!’ But mine was just a garden variety divorce, it was just bad, there was nothing particularly unique about my situation. We kept talking about it and the she told me about Vicky Iovine, who had written Girlfriends’ Guide To Getting Your Groove Back and while she was on the book tour she found out that her husband had had an affair. For all intents and purposes she was going through a break up, but she had to pretend like everything was fine and I said ‘Ok, that’s a show’.

Marti NoxonTVWise: In that case, going forward how much is the series based on Vicki’s life?

Marti Noxon: In truth, it’s completely fictionalised. Vicki’s situation was very unique. She was married to Jimmy Iovine, who is one of the top music producers in the country and they were very well off. So they had a lifestyle that I couldn’t really understand and as much as the characters in Girlfriends Guide To Divorce are well off, they still live in a world where they have to worry about money and how getting divorced will affect them financially; all of that is very real to them. Also, something that reflected my experience and a lot of other women’s’ experience is that [Abby (Lisa Edelstein)] is the primary breadwinner.

TVWise: Can you talk about the winding path you took to get this show on the air? Wasn’t it originally set up at Showtime?

Marti Noxon: Yeah, actually Showtime bought it in the room. I wrote the pilot on spec, rather than going in and pitching it. I wanted to write it because I felt like you could pitch it and people wouldn’t understand that it was going to be as funny as it was or that it wouldn’t be too sad. It was a true dramedy, it wasn’t a big bummer. So I wrote it, we sent it to a couple of places including Showtime. We had one meeting [with Showtime execs] and they bought it, but I think in the end they were looking for programming that was a little more male. They ended picking up Penny Dreadful, so you can see they went in a very different direction. [Showtime] also had The Affair which they knew they were going to make and I think we were crossing over into some similar territory, although tonally we were totally different. One of the agreements we made with Showtime was that if they passed they would release us so we could shop it someplace else and Bravo stepped up right away.

TVWise: This was Bravo’s first ever scripted show, what was it like working with them as they made a move in that direction? Were there any growing pains?

Marti Noxon: It was a pretty fantastic [experience]. I didn’t know what to expect. At first it was a little bit of a struggle because a lot of the notes were the kind they were giving on reality shows. My favourite example of that was… one of the notes was “This shot looks so composed, can we cut it?” and I said “Actually, all the shots in this show are composed” [laughs] and of course they laughed and went “Oh, got it”. That was about it. Once we started getting past the notion of ‘This doesn’t work in the same way’, they quickly embraced that we were doing something different. They couldn’t have been more supportive and they’ve let us do some extreme situations, dramatically. They’ve been great, I’ve really never had a better experience.

GG2DTVWise: The first episode sees Abby come to terms with the fact that her marriage is over, leading to the breakdown in the bookstore. Can you tease what’s ahead for her in season one?

Marti Noxon: It went in a direction even I didn’t expect. Lisa Edelstein and Paul Adelstein have just tremendous chemistry together. We kept going “Can they fight again in this episode?” [laughs] because their fights are so epic, intense and emotional. I always knew that I wanted to have the men as dimensionalised as the women, but it really is a story about the two of them, and his life after marriage as much as it is about hers. It’s about them coming to terms with a long-term relationship that still has a lot of love in it. How do you navigate figuring out if you can live together after you’ve betrayed each other? There’s still so much hurt and in terms of their story it went in a direction I didn’t expect and that was really fun. There’s a lot of them doubting themselves, re-negotiating and trying to figure out if they can make it work. At the same time Lisa’s character Abby starts dating a much younger man in the pilot. He wasn’t meant to be just a one-off. He and she continue and have a relationship but it’s confusing for both of them because he’s so much younger.

TVWise: Let’s talk about the marketing. When this aired in the US last December there was some controversy around the poster (pictured, right). What was your reaction when you caught wind of that?

Marti Noxon: Oh, I was delighted! I couldn’t have been happier. At first some of the campaign [pitches] were like Abby with a butterfly on her shoulder – it was all girly. I kept telling people at Bravo “That’s not the show. [Girlfriends’ Guide To Divorce] has edge and it has attitude”. Lisa’s husband Robert Russell is an artist and had worked on the ad campaign for Orange Is The New Black and the one we went with was his campaign. We all just thought it was genius and when they banned us in a few places we were like ‘even better!’ We were really very happy about it.

Girlfriends Guide To Divorce - PosterTVWise: Was it difficult casting the lead or did you have Lisa in mind during the process?

Marti Noxon: It was really just fortuitous. [Lisa] was a mutual friend, I didn’t know her very well, but she read about it and came to me and said “When the time comes, if I’m not working I’d like to test for it” and I thought ‘God, that’s brilliant’. She’s a celebrity of note and usually in those situations they don’t audition. They’ll come in for the network at the very end and read and that’s it, so you really don’t know. We had two other actors, who were both strong contenders, and to be honest I kind of thought it was going to go to someone else. Bear in mind she hadn’t come in yet and on House she wasn’t necessarily that comedic, but she came in and just owned it and [the casting process] was over. I remember after Lisa was cast thinking we might have a shot, because she was so talented and so funny and so layered; and if you get that right everything else will fall into place. I’ve been in a few situations where I felt like we’d cast the wrong person for certain roles and it can really be the death of a show. And not because the person isn’t talented, but just because they’re not right for that part. I learned from [Mad Men creator] Matt Weiner, because apparently the network did not want Jon Hamm and Matt went to bat for him and said “Without Jon I’m out”. Now I didn’t have to do that here, but I learned from Matt that that choice is critical. [Lisa] was so perfect, so I knew that we were in a position that I hadn’t been in enough, where the lead was exactly right.

TVWise: There’s something of a reboot/revival craze sweeping through Hollywood at the moment. If it was on the table, how would you feel about bringing back Buffy The Vampire Slayer?

Marti Noxon: That’s a hard question to answer. I would only be up for it if it was Joss [Whedon] bringing it back. Someone actually approached me about doing a Buffy movie several years ago. Due to the rights situation… Joss doesn’t control the movie rights because he sold them to Fran Rubel Kuzui, who directed the original movie. So they approached me about [writing] the new movie. That is probably the worst possible scenario I can imagine, trying to recreate something that Joss did. I mean I’ve already been accused of ruining Buffy once, I certainly don’t want to do it again! [Laughs].

Girlfriends’ Guide To Divorce airs in the UK on Lifetime UK on Tuesday nights at 10pm