It’s not every day you get to have a conversation with the person who played a key role in some of the most important television characters of your generation. If you grew up on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, there’s a good chance the show changed, saved, and/or amplified your life in some way or another. And I once declared that we did not need more women on television—we need more Peggy Olsons, from Mad Men. As a writer and producer for both of these shows, Marti Noxon played a key role in redefining characters on TV, especially for women. She’s back at it this year, as the creator of Girlfriends’ Guide to Divorce, Bravo’s first scripted series. And if you’ve any reservations about turning to the home of the Real Housewives for good TV with compelling female characters, allow us to persuade you otherwise.
The show was created by Marti Noxon. That is all.
Noxon opened up with Paste about her new series (Starring Lisa Edelstein as lead Abby McCarthy, and Janeane Garofolo), and learning from the greats—Joss Whedon and Shonda Rhimes.
Paste Magazine: I was watching an interview you gave many years ago, and you talked about how, when you first started writing, you were too agreeable to be a director. Now that you’re the creator of your own show, have certain aspects of your personality shifted over time?
Marti Noxon: Oh my gosh, yes. I sort of did an episode on that evolution, which is part of Abby’s journey. I really had to work hard on the fact that, partly as a woman and partly because of my own personality, I really want to make everyone happy. And I don’t like it when people don’t like me. (laughs) But I went on to work for people who were making really good television, and I had to give up that notion. You have to protect the work above all else. So, I had to stop with the, “Do people approve?” question. That really helped me.
And people respected me more in the end, because I was willing to stand up for what I believed in. I now feel more than ready to direct, when the time is right. And I’m excited for that.
Paste: You’ve written so many of my favorite Buffy episodes—”I only have eyes for you,” “Prom,” and of course “The Wish.” As you were working on this new project, did any old Buffy moments come to mind at all?
Noxon: Absolutely! So much of your whole body of work informs everything that comes after it. I wrote an alternate break-up scene for Buffy and Angel (laughs), and I feel like the thing that I learned from Joss [Whedon] was that, as much as we want to try to entertain and be funny, the most powerful things just come from when you’re very honest. From the time I worked on Buffy, I always remember that the personal is universal. You try to put yourself in the position of this character and ask yourself, “Well, what would you say?” So yes, I’ll write things now, and say, “Oh, this reminds me of Oz.”
Paste: As Bravo’s first scripted show, Girlfriends’ Guide to Divorce will change the perception of the network. I imagine it will change a lot of things. Why did you see Bravo as the right place for your show?
Noxon: First off—and I don’t think Joss would mind me saying this—but at one point the network was really pushing to call the show Slayer, because Buffy the Vampire Slayer sounded a little B movie-ish to them (laughs). And I asked, “Why didn’t you call it that?” He said, “Well, I kind of didn’t disagree. It reminded you of a movie that hadn’t been successful. And there’s something very liberating about coming in with slightly lowered expectations.”
I love Bravo. I watch a lot of the programming. So when Bravo expressed interest in the show, I was really excited. But I think that, even with something scripted, there’s still an assumption that Girlfriends’ Guide is going to be just like their reality shows. Being able to come in and deliver something that has a lot of the same elements—but also surprises people—will be good for us.
Paste: You’ve got a great cast here— Lisa Edelstein in the lead role, Paul Adalstein, and I also saw that Bernadette Peters will guest star.
Noxon: We were so thrilled when she said she’d do it!
Paste: That’s going to be amazing. Did you play a big role in choosing the cast, and what was that experience like for you?
Noxon: We were really fortunate. Because of Lisa and Paul and some of the other actors on the show, other actors were excited to work with them. And we were able to draw much more interesting talent than we might have been as a first season show. So I was involved in most of the casting choices. We have a wonderful producer/director who did a lot of the casting. But when it came to the key roles, we all discussed and put forth names. Carrie Fisher was my first choice for Abby’s editor, and we were thrilled when she signed on.
Paste: Humor has always been such an important tool in your work. But I imagine it’s different with every new project—how it plays out on Buffy is different from how it is on Mad Men, obviously. What’s unique to you about the humor on this show.
Noxon: I’ll tell you, when I go back and watch Buffy now, I’m always surprised, because I forget about how we kind of created our own language. That show has such stylized dialogue. We made up words all the time.
Paste: “Slayage.” Yes!
Noxon: (laughs) We reveled in the language of it, and we didn’t grapple with the language feeling grounded in anything people would really say, but it was sort of like Gilmore Girls, where you’d be like, “Oh, I wish I had said it that way.” For Girlfriends the humor for me hasn’t really had the test of “But can they really say this?” I want it to be based on people who happen to be funny, but not about jokes.
Paste: You’ve described divorce as “the Trojan horse” into the bigger issue of sexual politics. Shows like The Good Wife, Transparent, and of course Shonda Rhimes’ shows are definitely taking on sexual politics and certain feminist issues in a big way right now. How does Girlfriends’ Guide to Divorce speak to these bigger questions?
Noxon: Shonda’s tackled these kinds of things from the beginning with Grey’s Anatomy, and my time with her there was also really informative. But the thing we’re tackling head-on is this question about what the ramifications and effects are for women and men swapping roles in partnerships. When the woman makes more money, or is the sole breadwinner, we all want to believe that it shouldn’t change the central dynamics between a man and a woman, but time and time again we find that it’s not true. We still want “men to be men” and “women to be women.” So much of the appeal of Mad Men—even though it wasn’t better, back then the rules were qualified. You kind of knew what you were supposed to be doing (laughs). And now it feels like all of that is up for grabs. So we’re dealing with this, but using work and family as the main compass. And the story’s told as much from Abby’s perspective as it is from Jake’s.
Paste: This has been such an honor, and I’m excited about the show. Thank you so much!
Noxon: Thank you!
Girlfriends’ Guide to Divorce airs Tuesdays at 10PM ET on Bravo.
Shannon M. Houston is Assistant TV Editor at Paste, and a New York-based freelance writer with probably more babies than you. You can follow her on Twitter.