'Apt 23' Producers on Sex, Drugs and James Van Der Beek
If the title of ABC's upcoming comedy Don't Trust the B---- in Apt 23 is any indication, producers Nahnatchka Khan and David Hemingson are prepared to push the boundaries of what's acceptable on broadcast television.
In a bid to portray what Khan calls “real life,” the network’s ensemble comedy will not shy from showing a twentysomething's world of drugs, alcohol and one-night stands. Proof: In the show’s very first episode, series bad girl Krysten Ritter is caught messing around with her roommate’s (Dreama Walker) fiancé -- on her birthday cake.
The series, originally developed at Fox in 2009, is part of the Modern Family network’s growing push into comedy. When it bows April 11, the Khan-created half-hour will join The Middle, Suburgatory and Family in ABC’s increasingly valuable Wednesday night lineup.
Khan (American Dad!) and Hemingson (Dad!, How I Met Your Mother, Traffic Light) sat down with The Hollywood Reporter to discuss the thing that makes executives at Disney sweat, the backstory on getting James Van Der Beek to play a version of himself and the lesson Seth MacFarlane taught them about being funny.
The Hollywood Reporter: You have Ritter's Chloe coupling with June's fiancé on her birthday cake in the pilot. Where is the line?
Nahnatchka Khan: ABC's sweating a little bit.
David Hemingson: To [ABC Entertainment chief] Paul Lee's credit, he has been great about really wanting to validate that vision, Nahnatchka's voice. Modern Family made the world safe for comedy, but Bridesmaids -- with women behaving badly -- made that acceptable.
What kind of pushback have you received from ABC?
Khan: I am trying to do something boundary pushing and you have to have somebody pushing back on you, otherwise it's the Wild West. You need that person to be like, "Here is far enough."
Hemingson: Then we go, "Can we move that line a little more here …"
Khan: Right. I said I'd rather go too far and be pulled back than not go far enough and be boring.
What would you like to do that you haven't been able to because it's “too far”?
Khan: In terms of story lines, ABC has been super supportive; nothing has been thrown out or questioned. It's really more about the specifics, like nudity: What can you show? And occasionally language. There is a lot of drinking and recreational drug use. Look, it's Disney so you have to be mindful. They are also respectful of the fact that we are that kind of show. These girls exist in the real world. That's my whole thing. I just want to be authentic: girls drink and they behave badly. That happens.
Hemingson: They've reinforced and celebrated the tone of the show. We really haven't had any story areas vetoed, which is amazing when you get to see what we've done: being true to the tone but being oblique enough to get on network TV. Sometimes those boundaries challenge us to sort of write around it and get it on the air and I think we've succeeded in doing that. ABC has been shockingly supportive to the point where, after the script had been in Carbonate for two years, Paul Lee said after the table read, "You know what? No, no. Shoot the show." We were like, "No notes?" I've been doing this for 16 years and have never seen anything like it.
Khan: This was my first pilot and so I was like, "Great." Dave was like, "This never happens. This isn't normal." (Laughs)
Within the show, you have Van Der Beek’s character will be competing on Dancing With the Stars. How did that come about?
Khan: We were with the cast at NAB and James said, "Do you know what I think would be really funny? If I try to go on Dancing with the Stars." I was like, "That's genius." I pitched it to Dave, took it back to the writers' room and we thought it was so funny that we made it a season-long arc for him where he gets on the show and then he's got to meet his partner and prepare. We're building to the premiere.
Hemingson: He has these setbacks, then he triumphs a little bit and then there is another setback. We wanted it to be like Odysseus, this guy is going to go on a journey. He's taking it so seriously.