July 14, 2008

Interview with Nancy Miller, Creator and Executive Producer of Saving Grace

Nancy Miller has worked on some of the most female-centric shows on TV. The list includes Profiler, Any Day Now (which she created) and recently The Closer. Last year her newest creation Saving Grace premiered on TNT. Grace is one of the most interested and wild characters ever to appear on TV. She sometime looks like a train wreck waiting to happen but always manages to pull herself together. What's also interesting about Saving Grace is that Miller really questions issues of spirituality, in some ways challenges the audience to think uncomfortably about God, which is so rarely seen on TV. I love this show, and I love the incredibly honest and revealing answers that Miller has given below. This is one of the best interviews we've had.

Women & Hollywood: There has never been a character quite like Grace on TV before. The only other character in the same ballpark to me is Christine Cagney from Cagney & Lacey. Why did you want to write a character that threw out all the illusions and stereotypes so much so that some people have a hard time relating to Grace.

Nancy Miller: I think, I hope, that there are parts of Grace that people can relate to. I came very honestly to this character...not thinking about what she "should" be...not thinking about what Hollywood has often deemed female roles to be.... not thinking politically correct or any of that crap -- just total raw honesty, about a woman who leads her life with no illusions of perfection about herself - or anyone else. If there are extreme sports...Grace leads an extreme life... right to the edge of all those places most of us are too afraid to go. I well understand this show is not for everyone.
W&H: Did you create the character with Holly Hunter in mind?
NM: I did not create this role for Holly. I could never have dreamed so big. But what Holly has brought to Grace, has made her better, stronger, smarter, than anything I could have ever done alone.
W&H: Grace is clearly in pain on so many levels particularly related to the death of her sister in the Murrah Building bombing. What is it about the pain that fuels Grace?
NM: Yes, Grace feels pain in different areas of her life. If it fuels her, she does not run on this alone. Love, sex, humor, danger, fun, are all aspects of Grace's life that fuels her as well. The pain in her life hurts - but it also helps her to see the flip side of that, and crave the fun even more.
W&H: It's very rare to see a woman so comfortable with her sexuality. Have you gotten any push back on the starkness of Grace's sexuality?
NM: Grace is a very sexual creature. Again, not a show for everyone. But Grace, and I, make no apologies about Grace's sex life. Should she have an affair with a married man? In my opinion, no. And we may address that at some point. But Grace is a sexual being because of who she is -- not because of what happened to her by Father Murphy. Is that all mixed up in there? Sure. But it does not define Grace, or her sex life.

Grace is not a one-man woman. She doesn't lie about it, she is honest about it -- it is the men who can't handle that. People have said some stuff but I usually shut 'em up fast with something like: "Well, I never heard anyone talking about Tony Soprano and all the women he slept with." It is still a double standard in this and many things in our country when it comes to men and women. But Grace loves sex. Period.
W&H: I love the relationship between Grace and Rhetta. They love each other completely and are not in competition. You also created another female friendship in Any Day Now. As a person who writes women's relationships so well why are there so few series that show true female friendships?
NM: There are few shows about the friendships between women because mostly men buy the shows who get on the air. I don't think it's deliberate, I just don't think they realize the dramatic relationships between women, how much fun they can be. I also blame women writers.... We need to write more about this kind of stuff. Add it to our scripts, don't make it an afterthought that can be cut. Make it central to the story you are telling.
W&H: Why is cable so welcoming of female led shows?
NM: I think cable is much smarter on the whole about everything. Cable trusts the writers and creative talent they have hired. Cable allows us to bring more of our vision to the screen, without a ton of interference. Cable is much much braver. They know that their numbers, ratings, can be smaller, and that it may be easier to find that audience with women. I really don't know -- I just thank God for cable!
W&H: Women writers still make up less than a third of TV writers. Why do you think that the numbers are still so low and what can be done to improve the numbers?
NM: Women have to keep fighting and keep writing. Keep banging and knocking down doors. And when you get the chance to hire somebody -- remember diversity in color, religion, gender. When I watch the Emmys and a show wins a writing award and a bunch of white men get up there to accept the award - I am embarrassed for them. It tells me immediately that their show is very narrow-minded, and honestly -- run by some very insecure white guy. Until I had my own show, I was always the only woman in the room. Things are changing slowly. But women should not be given a freebie either -- work hard, prove you are as good as the boys, make them have to hire you because you have talent and a work ethic that will make them weep.
W&H: You are the creator, executive producer and writer of Saving Grace. What advice would you offer to women who have a perfect idea for a TV show and want to get into TV.
NM: You have to go for it -- and never give up. When people tell you no, keep looking until you find the person who will tell you yes. Build relationships. Nurture them. The assistant today is the studio executive of tomorrow. Know your craft. CRAFT. Different from talent. I didn't know story structure until I had my own show on the air...which is not a good thing. To sum it up: if you know you have a good idea, don't quit until you find a home for it.
Amazingly helpful insights.
photo credit: Erik Heinila