How watchable would Sex and the City have been without the city? With its iconic skyline and ultra-trendy aura, Manhattan was as much a character as Miranda, Samantha or Charlotte. Many television shows rely on a specific city to give their series depth and dimension, whether it's Hollywood (Entourage), Miami (Dexter) or Chicago (Happy Endings). Now, veteran producer Larry Kennar (The L Word, DEBS) give this paradigm a queer twist with his newest gay drama, DTLA. Continuing this issue's theme, Kennar spoke to Frontiers about Los Angeles' Downtown scene, his upcoming show and the challenges of gay television.
What made you choose Downtown for the setting?
Downtown Los Angeles has been a neighborhood that has experienced a huge transformation in the last 10 years, and it continues to grow today. Unlike other gay areas of Los Angeles, DTLA is by far the most eclectic when it comes to the types of people who work, live and play here. I felt that this was the type of energy I was looking to tap into when creating the show. There is a huge gay subculture there.
How does DTLA differ from Queer as Folk, The L Word and other gay shows that precede it?
I am a huge fan of those shows, and am grateful that I had the chance to help bring The L Word to viewers.
With DLTA, I wanted to bring different types of gay characters together—and have them reflect what I think is the new reality of LGBT life for 20-something-year-olds. Many LGBT people in that age group have friends who are more ethnically diverse. Some no longer find the need to live in one 'hood.' While some gay people may have mostly gay friends, others don't separate themselves that way. Believe me, we have plenty of gay friends in my show, but one of our main characters is a straight woman and another a bisexual man. We have an interracial gay couple playing the lead, and one of our other ensemble cast members is Asian-American. I wanted to represent Los Angeles and explore various points of view in our show.
Most of our characters fall into the mid-20s demographic because I wanted to explore that moment in our lives when we start to see our dreams take shape. Some of us are lucky enough to realize them, some of us are not. Some of us realize them only to find out they are not fulfilling—and then must find out what would fulfill us. During this time, we also start to see who we have been trying to be—in order to win at the game of life versus being our authentic selves. These are all themes that we showcase via our characters.
What do you feel is the biggest challenge for gay television at the moment?
Given the fragmentation of viewers across multiple devices, distributors are seeking to find a financial model that makes sense for them and for advertisers. My producing partners and I believe that in DTLA, we are delivering that new model. I think this is the case with any type of 'niche' demo programming.
What inspired you to create DTLA?
I've been living in DTLA for a few years, and I am always captivated by the diverse group of characters I have met. Moreover, I wanted to create content for the new generation of LGBT viewers who have not had the chance to see themselves reflected in dramatic storytelling since QAF, Noah's Arc or The L Word.
If you only had one day to experience L.A.'s Downtown, where would you have to visit?
Wow—there are so many components of DTLA that I love, and it's such a different place depending on the time of day and/or whether it's a weekday or weekend. My favorite spots are The Old Bank District, The Flower Mart, having a Spanish wine and cheese at The Lazy Ox Canteen or getting 24-hour late-night grub at The Downtown Standard hotel.
From a producer's perspective, how was the DTLA experience different than say The L Word or DEBS or even something more mainstream like 50 First Dates?
The style in which I directed and shot this series is infinitely more intimate than the others. Unlike the other shows, viewers watching DTLA will have a sense that they are sitting next to or with our characters—the viewing experience is heightened. Another component is that I chose actors with strong improvisational skills. Though the show is scripted, I wanted our cast to make the characters, the dialogue and the situations their own.
Whats the best part of collaborating with a gay cast? What's the biggest challenge?
There is a shorthand that you have and an understanding of where you are trying to go. I should say a couple of male cast members are not gay, which hasn't been as much of a challenge as I initially anticipated.
Any final words for our readers?
I'm very excited to bring this series to Frontiers readers—and hope that we do right by them. Please follow us on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. We can be found at DTLA The Series.