Groundbreaking Drama 'The L Word' Ends Its Run

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Showtime's series The L Word says goodbye Sunday night after six years as one of the few outlets for lesbian characters on mainstream TV. Ilene Chaiken, the show's creator, and actress Laurel Holloman talk to host Jacki Lyden about what they'll miss when the show is gone.

JACKI LYDEN, host:

Tonight we get the last word from "The L Word." Showtime bids its groundbreaking series goodbye after six years of lesbian drama. At friends' houses and in gay bars across the country, women are getting together to mark its passage. Here's Angela Lombardi, the manager of Phase 1, a Washington, D.C. lesbian bar.

Ms. ANGELA LOMBARDI (Manager, Phase 1): This is kind of the first show that was only for us. I would say very few things ever are dedicated to just this community. And this was one of those things that, if you love it or you hate it, you're still kind of inclined to watch it because you want to see how we're being portrayed.

(Soundbite of television program, "The L Word")

Unidentified Woman #2 (Actor): (As character) I don't know what I was thinking. There's no reason on earth that I wouldn't want to make a baby with you using a donor who's black. I think, I think I would really…

Unidentified Woman #3 (Actor): (As character) Don't think because I would love to make a baby with you.

LYDEN: You just don't see scenes like that anywhere else on TV. Laurel Holloman and series creator Ilene Chaiken came into our studios at NPR West the other day, and I asked how they were feeling about the show's end. Laurel Holloman answered this way.

Ms. LAUREL HOLLOMAN (Actress): I was being pretty tough. I'm like, it's okay, it's fine, it's fine. And no, it's actually really sad.

LYDEN: You know, for a lot of women, a lot of lesbian women, this has been much more than just a television show. It's been a six-year social engagement.

We stopped in at Phase 1 here in Washington with Angela Lombardi, used to tape "The L Word" on her VCR at home.

Ms. LOMBARDI: Then run the VHS tape over here, and then we'd show that, and we would call it The L Word Remix because we'd play last week's episode and then, immediately following, the new episode, but it would be like delayed time because we're bootleg, and so it involves some very fast driving.

LYDEN: Ilene Chaiken, why do you think that is? Why would people rather watch the show at a bar than just order Showtime and watch it at home?

Ms. ILENE CHAIKEN (Creator, "The L Word"): I think it was such a phenomenon for gay women to have our own show in the mainstream popular culture, and it became a communal event. It had that kind of "Rocky Horror Picture Show"-esque kind of participatory quality.

LYDEN: Walk me back six years. Tell me about why you created this and a little bit about yourself.

Ms. CHAIKEN: When I was an executive, I did some television, some series television, but I wasn't thinking that I wanted to make a television show. I just had an idea. I had a notion that the stories of my friends and my community weren't being told, and they were good stories and interesting and, indeed, juicy, and that I wanted to tell them.

LYDEN: And your community meaning you're a gay woman yourself, and you wanted that onscreen.

Ms. CHAIKEN: That is what I meant.

LYDEN: Kristen Biers(ph) works the door at Phase 1, and this is what she had to say about the show.

Ms. KRISTEN BIERS (Employee, Phase 1): I mean, like, I like rock and roll, and like, yeah, I'm like kind of dirty. And like, I like being like a normal kid. And these lesbians are like, you know, like, high-powered, like, movie producers or (censored) like that. Like, give me a break. Come on. Like - like do I know lesbians like that, like even in L.A.? No. I'm sure that they exist, but I don't identify with that.

LYDEN: Ilene Chaiken, what do you think?

Ms. CHAIKEN: There are all kinds of lesbians in the world, and we chose to make a television show about a particular group of affluent lesbians. I wanted to make a television show that operated on the same set of principles as many other serialized, mainstream dramas, and I wanted my characters to be every bit as attractive, sexy, glamorized and fabulous as the people, the heterosexual characters, that you see on other nighttime soaps.

LYDEN: How have these women's relationships changed and mutated over the years?

Ms. CHAIKEN: So vastly. And Laurel, what do you think about how your character has changed over the years?

Ms. HOLLOMAN: Well, I thought it was a wonderful, wild ride and a gift for any actress. I mean, it's amazing. My character went through so much from being a kind of a wife-like type of position to being abandoned to being cheated on to having a baby by herself.

She went back to a guy. She came back into the fold. I think when you hear a story about a couple that's been in the closet and been together, and they've been in the closet for 25 years, and they're talking to you, and they're crying, and there's tears coming down, and you realize that there's not going to be another job where you have this profound emotional effect on somebody. That gratitude is kind of mind-blowing.

LYDEN: Ilene, do you feel that you've left a lesbian audience wanting to see a series like this, and now that you go, a sort of responsibility, let somebody create one?

Ms. CHAIKEN: Yes, I do think that there's an unmet responsibility out there. I think that we sadly are leaving the television landscape no better represented than we were when "The L Word" began.

I'm not sure why that is. I think that the culture has changed vastly and progressively, and the entertainment culture is lagging behind.

LYDEN: Ilene Chaiken, creator of the Showtime series, "The L Word," and Laurel Holloman, one of the original cast members. The series ends tonight. Thank you both so much for talking with us.

Ms. CHAIKEN: Thank you.

Ms. HOLLOMAN: Thank you, Jacki.

(Soundbite of song "The Way That We Live")

Unidentified Women (Singers): (Singing) This is the way, it's the way that we live.

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