Stacy Rukeyser Named Showrunner of Lifetime’s ‘UnReal,’ Reveals What’s Ahead for Season 3

Debra Birnbaum

Stacy Rukeyser has taken over the reins of the Lifetime drama “UnReal” for its third season, Variety has learned.

Rukeyser, who was promoted to executive producer last season, is taking over for Carol Barbee, who ran the show last season. The series, which begins production in February in Vancouver, will air in summer 2017.

“Stacy has been an invaluable member of the ‘UnReal’ creative team since its inception,” said Barry Jossen, exec VP for A+E Studios. “I am thrilled to announce Stacy will be the showrunner as we head into the third season.”

Marti Noxon, who co-created the show with Sarah Gertrude Shapiro, left the show early in its second season. She now has several other projects in the works, including Bravo’s “Girlfriends’ Guide to Divorce,” CBS’ “Code Black,” and the upcoming “Sharp Objects” on HBO.

“It takes complicated women to make a show about complicated women,” Rukeyser told Variety, acknowledging the drama’s behind-the-scenes conflict. “I include myself in that description. Complicated women are having a moment right now because one is even running for president, as uncomfortable as that seems to make a lot of Americans. But it’s exciting to be part of a cultural moment in that way.”

The writers’ room for the third season is already underway, and Rukeyser promises an entertaining run full of the “truthful, character moments” that characterized the show’s critically-praised freshman outing. Here, she previews what’s ahead for Season 3.

Congratulations on the promotion. How does it feel to now be running the room after two years?

It feels amazing. I’m really thrilled. From day one, working on “UnReal” has been one of the best creative experiences of my life. To get to write truthfully about these complicated, damaged women who are full of contradictions and ambition, as we all are, has been a dream come true and to do so in a way that is hopefully still incredibly entertaining and with tons of humor, lots of twists and turns, and oh-my-god moments is just really exciting after two years of being on the front lines. I feel like I know our characters and our show so intimately. It’s exciting to have the opportunity to lead the charge into the new season.

What are your creative goals for the show?

Most importantly, we always start with Rachel and Quinn. I want to go even deeper into Rachel’s character and her emotional journey. For both of them, we left them in a pretty dire spot at the end of the last season. I want to be truthful to a lot of the things that happened last season. There’s a lot that came out that wasn’t dealt with fully. There’s a lot that was put out on the table that we now need to deal with the ramifications of — emotionally and psychologically, as well as just in terms of how do you continue to produce “Everlasting.” So that’s what we want to do. We’ve talked about slowing down a little bit — there was a lot of plot and story in the second season. We want to make sure we have time to have those more emotional character moments as well, to have the balance of both of those things.

The second season had some bumps creatively and critically. What did you learn from that experience?

It really is to me about this pendulum. Both things are part of “UnReal.” The oh-my-god twists and turns, the incredible moments, you can’t believe they actually went there. And the completely dark, personal emotional moments which are sometimes private moments for Rachael and for Quinn — without dialogue, even. It’s making sure you find the balance between the two. On the one hand, you have those big twists and turns that are really fun — we had those even in the first season. Mary jumps off the roof in the sixth episode, it’s not even the season finale. She’s dead. That was thrilling when we came up with that in the room and decided to go for it. So just to really balance it with the character moments for Rachel and Quinn. And also overall we are making a statement about reality television. The show came along at a time when people were ready to peel away the layers of illusion in their entertainment even if they were still consuming that entertainment. We were pulling back the curtain. We will continue to do so. We will continue to say what we feel like those shows are doing to not only our characters but to our culture. There’s a lot more to say about that. We’re exploding the princess fantasy and how these shows teach women that there is a Prince Charming out there, waiting for you and he should arrive in a helicopter with a huge diamond ring and roses. And if you look a certain way and act this way and compete this way, you will get him. That’s crazy time.

Season 2 tried to get political with the police shooting episode. Is that something you’re going to lean into again?

We took some big swings in Season 2. I’m proud of that. And certainly what’s most important to the show is to engage with the journey of the characters. But yes, there was a desire to engage with the cultural moment. I would say we’re definitely going to continue to do that in Season 3. We’re not saying what’s new in our culture and what should we be exposing that kind of thing. We’ll be doing it from within our characters. Rachel and Quinn starting from where are they and what would they want to be doing on “Everlasting.” Certainly it’s a goal of the show to always be telling stories that are relevant. But it’s not like we’re making an issue piece — last year was race, and this year is I don’t know what. We’re not starting from that place.

It’s been rumored that this season will be your take on “The Bachelorette.”

We’re not confirming anything about whether we’re doing that or not. But I think it’s a very interesting possibility, I’ll put it that way. Everything I said about exploding the princess fantasy and what these shows put out there and what they tell women about the way they need to be and what they should expect, you can get it from either side. It’s interesting what different aspects of that you get from different sides, for sure.

What homework have you been doing? Have you been binge-watching reality TV?

I don’t. [Co-creator] Sarah [Gertrude Shapiro] worked on “The Bachelor” so I feel like I get such the inside skinny from her, and not just what America sees on TV but also what you have behind the scenes. So I feel like we’re never lacking for that. What I do more in preparation and homework is sitting with these characters. We left them in such a crazy place at the end of last season. What is that like for Rachel? Coleman and Yael were in this terrible car crash. And everything that happened with Jeremy, and the fact that he maybe was responsible for this. Everything that happened with Coleman and Rachel. That’s so much more important to have a truthful emotional journey with these characters rather than this is how it works on “The Bachelor” or “The Bachelorette.” That’s just set dressing.

Can we expect all those cliffhangers to be resolved?

We’re absolutely dealing with all those cliffhangers. What I feel is that they’re so essential to where Quinn and Rachel are emotionally. The implications and consequences of that need to be dealt with and we need to take the time to deal with them in a real way. That’s something we didn’t get as much of a chance to deal with in Season 2. A character would have a big episode and then would get voted off so you didn’t have as much time to live with the repercussions of the things that happened to them. And the things that have happened to Rachel and Quinn were huge. And I don’t want to pretend that they weren’t huge and that they could be wrapped up in the first act of the first episode. They’re part and parcel of what Quinn and Rachel are going to be dealing with all season.

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