For 'Hung' Team, Offbeat TV Is A Growth Industry Colette Burson and Dmitry Lipkin are the writers behind HBO's series Hung, about a hapless schoolteacher — with one substantial asset — who finds an unorthodox way to make ends meet.
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For 'Hung' Team, Offbeat TV Is A Growth Industry

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For 'Hung' Team, Offbeat TV Is A Growth Industry

For 'Hung' Team, Offbeat TV Is A Growth Industry

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. My guests are the creators of the new HBO comedy series, "Hung," the husband and wife team, Dmitry Lipkin and Colette Burson. Lipkin also created the series, "The Riches."

"Hung" stars Thomas Jane as Ray Drecker, a former high school sports star who's now a high school basketball coach. He's had a rough couple of years. His wife divorced him, then there was his kidney stone and the prostate scare, and on top of all that, his house burned down in an electrical fire and he's trying to rebuild it. Meanwhile, he's camping out in his backyard, which is why his twin teenaged children decided to leave him for their mother's house.

Ray's job doesn't pay much and he's desperate. He eventually figures out he has something he can market - himself as a prostitute because he's very well-endowed. The idea comes to him at a motivational seminar led by a speaker who says he can help you become a millionaire by finding your winning tool.

(Soundbite of applause)

Mr. STEVE HYTNER (Actor): (as Floyd Gerber) What about you Ray? Have you considered your winning tool?

Mr. THOMAS JANE (Actor): (as Ray Drecker) Yeah. I've considered it. I think I know what it is. What I'm trying to figure out is how to market it because what I'm discovering is that...

Mr. HYTNER: (as Floyd Gerber): Tell you what: slow down, Ray. Before we can help you with your dream, we have to know what it is. You have to pitch it to us.

Mr. JANE: (as Ray Drecker) I'm not in the mood to pitch tonight Floyd and I really don't think it's something for the group.

Mr. HYTNER: (as Floyd Gerber) Now, what Ray is going through is very normal. Fear. It's a common stumbling block. But the way to overcome it is to acknowledge it. Validate it, and keep on going. Damn the torpedoes. Now, without thinking about it, tell me Ray. Say it. What is your winning tool? Yeah, no, without thinking about it, say it. My name is Ray and I...

Mr. JANE: (as Ray Drecker) I've got a big (censored), Floyd.

Unidentified Woman: Ooh.

Mr. JANE: (as Ray Drecker) All right. I've got a big (censored). Now what the hell do I do with the damned thing?

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. JANE: (as Ray Drecker) I'm not that smart. I'm not that talented, anymore anyway. I wasted my youth and now I look around and everybody seems to have accomplished something but me and I don't have anything. I got a burned out house and a job that pays (censored). Can't afford to pay my taxes on time, so I'm pretty much at the precipice here. Got any advice for me?

Okay, I didn't actually say that. I said I was good with old cars, wanted to be a mechanic. What a crock.

GROSS: So that's a scene from the new HBO series "Hung." Dmitry Lipkin, Colette Burson welcome to FRESH AIR.

In the story you know it's the guy who's the prostitute because he's really down on his luck and he's well-endowed so he can sell himself. And Tanya, the Jane Adams character, who's also attending the self-improvement motivational seminar, she becomes the pimp. She's actually a poet who's made a little bit of money working in the Poets in the Schools program, but that's not very lucrative so she wants to use her abilities as a writer to help him market himself and, of course, keep some of the profits.

So this is a story in which it's the guy that's the prostitute and the woman that's the pimp. So what kind of opportunities does that create for you as writers?

Ms. COLETTE BURSON (Creator, "Hung"): I think a lot of what "Hung" deals with is men's view on women and women's view on men. Many times I think of it as men and women staring at each other across a room and what they think of one another. And that was also a very interesting point that we would discuss at length with Alexander Payne, just the male...

GROSS: Who directed the pilot.

Ms. BURSON: Yes - the male perspective on the situation and the female perspective on the situation. And every time that we're shooting a scene where Ray goes into a room and shuts the door and he's there alone with a woman, I'm always reminded of how electric that situation is. Like at the end of the day it's a man and a woman alone together in a room and what they think of each other and what they think of one another sexually, and there's something very charged about that before they ever open their mouths.

GROSS: One of the basic things that I think you had to ask yourself in writing "Hung" is how important really is how well a man is endowed for women? Do women really care? Does it make a difference? Did you talk about that and did you agree on that when you were starting to write the series?

Mr. DMITRY LIPKIN (Creator, "Hung"): I think we agreed on the idea that it - that Ray thinks it's fairly important to be well-endowed, to be - to, you know, to please women...

Ms. BURSON: And then as time went on, we made the decision that for each woman who encounters Ray's penis, it is the perfect member for her. Any woman who sees it really loves it. We don't think of Ray as being some gargantuan sized guy, not like some Guinness Book of World Records freak show. We think of him as being the most hung guy in the room, the most hung guy in his high school, the most hung guy on the basketball court, and that that, you know, imbues him with a certain confidence. At the same time we do feel part of what goes on in the show is that Ray -that's not enough. You know, Ray has quite a lot to learn about the...

Mr. LIPKIN: That's what I was going to add that it's - we make it pretty clear that that's just a very small aspect of his sexuality and he's got a lot to learn about women.

Ms. BURSON: As Tanya says to him, you, you know, you could learn a little more about foreplay. Like she gently suggests to him and other women also suggest that he has a lot to learn.

GROSS: I'm wondering what the auditions were like for the Ray character, the character who is hung and decides that that's the part of him that is most sellable. Did people show up wearing like real stud clothes...

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: impress you?

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: What did it look like?

Ms. BURSON: Well, we had a lot of auditions. Alexander...

Mr. LIPKIN: Four hundred people. That's a lot. Yeah.

Ms. BURSON: So many people. Hundreds. Alexander's a real believer in the audition process and so we sat through a whole lot, I mean, literally hundreds of versions of that monologue that you see in the make money seminar. And I remember being quite interested about how different male actors would deal with it. Like some would spread their legs and kind of point to their crotch.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. BURSON: Some would just sit in a chair with their legs spread in this very sort of cocky way. Others would be very sort of insecure and, you know, take that aspect of it. It was quite fascinating to watch the different male takes on that audition process. And...

Mr. LIPKIN: But almost none of them did it simply. They, you know, they had to do something with it. You know they couldn't - somehow they couldn't take the lines for what they were, which is a kind of a matter, it's a simple statement that he makes which I think is the most moving choice of all. Yeah.

GROSS: How did Thomas Jane do it?

Mr. LIPKIN: He did it simply. It's who he is. It's what he has. It's...

Ms. BURSON: He also interrupted himself during the monologue and would stop and start again and he really kind of felt his way through it as an actor. And I think Alexander and we were all quite drawn to how he kind of stopped when it didn't feel true and then just sort of felt his way through it in a very honest, simple way.

GROSS: I feel like I should say to our listeners like, in spite of the fact that there's a lot of sex, this is a TV series that's really about characters and it's really about people and motivations and their inner lives and desires. Do you always feel like you have to make both of those things straight when you...

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: ...when you describe the show to potential viewers?

Ms. BURSON: We don't feel like we have to make it straight. Well, we feel like - how do we feel Dmitry?

Mr. LIPKIN: We...

Ms. BURSON: We don't often find ourselves explaining the show to viewers. Well...

Mr. LIPKIN: Yeah. We feel like we have these very unique and peculiar characters that we follow truthfully. And yes, they - Ray does fall into having sex with women for money.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. LIPKIN: But I don't know. We feel like we don't - we...

Ms. BURSON: We feel like it's not cheese ball.

Mr. LIPKIN: Yeah.

Ms. BURSON: Like we feel like if someone turns on the TV and watches our show that there's a lot - that they'll be drawn in. That like we'll grab the Rays. We'll grab the Tanyas.

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guests are Dmitry Lipkin and Colette Burson. They're co-creators and writers of the new HBO series, "Hung." Let's take a short break here and then we'll talk some more.

This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: My guests are the co-creators of the new HBO series, "Hung." Dmitry Lipkin and Colette Burson, they are also writers for the series, and Dmitry Lipkin also created the series, "The Riches."

Dmitry, since this is the second show that you've pitched to a network, tell us a little bit of what the pitch process is like? Maybe let's go back to "The Riches," which was the first time you had a successful TV pitch. Were you prepared for it? Did you know what to do?

Ms. BURSON: Well, you know, in the pitch process it's - you really want to connect with your executive that you're trying to sell it to by telling a story that they - ideally something they read about a couple years ago and have mostly forgotten. And so I remember...

Mr. LIPKIN: So I started talking about this woman who was caught on tape beating up her daughter at a Kmart parking lot. It's a story that came out, I don't know, maybe about seven years ago.

Ms. BURSON: And the woman was a traveler.

Mr. LIPKIN: And it turned out that the woman was a traveler. So that's how I started. And then I linked it to myself. I linked it to my experience as an immigrant. I came here from Russia when I was 10 and I grew up in Louisiana. And you know, I always looked at America through that prism, through the prism of being an outsider and I wanted to write a - have a television show that looks at America, you know, from the outside in. But at the same time had a more, you know, not just an immigrant story but also a story about you know people who do illegal things and try to kind of steal the American dream. So that's, I did approach it from that kind of thematic point of view as well.

GROSS: Dmitry, describe what it means to be a traveler - what a traveler is.

Mr. LIPKIN: A traveler is an Irish gypsy who, it's a very small, very kind of insular clan of these people who travel around the United States in RV's and very little is known about what they do. But they it is said that they rely a lot on conning, on scams and cons to make their money.

GROSS: Now Dmitry, you grew up in Russia. You're Jewish and when you immigrated with your parents - when you were 12 was it?

Mr. LIPKIN: Ten.

GROSS: Ten. You moved not to a place like Brighton Beach, which has a really large Jewish-Russian emigre community. You moved to Baton Rouge. Not famous as far I know...

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: ...for its Russian-Jewish immigrant community. Why Baton Rouge?

Mr. LIPKIN: There was absolutely no reason for it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. LIPKIN: We had no relatives at that time in the United States. We were the first ones to leave Russian and my dad is a chemical engineer. So what happens in that - what happened in that process in the late '70s is that a Russian-Jewish refugee family would get matched up to -matched with a Jewish community somewhere in the States. And it was -there was some reason to it because you know my dad is a chemical engineer they thought perhaps Louisiana, oil, he can get a job there, which he did. But it was also a bit of a fluke. I could've been anywhere and we were the second Russian Jewish family in Baton Rouge at the time.

GROSS: And Dmitry, did being Jewish mean any more or less to you when you left Russia and moved to the United States?

Mr. LIPKIN: Well, I was vaguely aware of the fact that I was Jewish in Russia, just because there's no opportunity to go to have any kind of a religious freedom. When I, you know, when I came to the States I - part of the reason for coming was sort of to - was to embrace your new identity. And so yes, we did go to - I became very aware that I was Jewish once I got to, you know, to Louisiana. I had a Bar Mitzvah. I was actually circumcised. And I was yes, I for a while I was actually quite, you know, I was - it was a reformed temple, but I did definitely embrace that identity.

GROSS: Now Colette, before doing "Hung" you wrote and directed a kind of neglected comedy called "Coming Soon" and it's like a teen sex comedy. But most of these teen sex comedies are from the boy's point of view. This is from the girl's point of view. From the point of view of girls who are with boys who have no - who know how to get pleasure themselves but have no idea how to give it to the girls they're with and don't seem to really care either. And I'm wondering what gave you the idea of doing, you know, a kind of teen sex comedy from the point of view of the girls?

Ms. BURSON: You know, probably just conversations with women that I'd had, you know, from in college and moving into graduate school, and I was also very struck when I came to New York City to go to NYU at how different the adolescence of my peers at school had been, the ones who grew up in Manhattan, compared to my own sort of 1950s high school experience in a small town in Virginia. And so I was drawn to that difference and drawn to just how they dealt with sexuality in high school. And you know, it's funny because "Coming Soon" has sexual content and "Hung" has sexual content.

And I don't really think of myself as being obsessed with sexual content. Yeah, if you, you know, there's all these works of mine that has it, and actually just when you posed that question, I thought, you know, it's interesting, maybe the link is the female point of view. Because I do think that's something that I really think of a lot in "Hung," and that's definitely something that was going on in "Coming Soon."

GROSS: And so what's the connection in how you think about it? Are you thinking about, like…

Ms. BURSON: Well, just the female, the female point of view - I mean I felt that when I was dealing with the teen comedy genre that there were so many teen comedies from the boys' point of view and that no one was really dealing with what it was like to have sex when you are in high school, as so many teenage girls do, and I think they're left in this state of confusion and thinking that being left completely unfulfilled as a natural state of being. You know, that's just sort of how it is. I think that's the discovery. And so I really wanted to just speak to that. And then in terms of "Hung," I feel like, again, like I am bringing a certain female perspective.

I mean, you know, I'm fascinated in that I feel like when men watch episodes of "Hung" and when women watch of episodes of "Hung," I've come to realize that they're watching very different things. When I watch "Hung," I'm watching Ray and I'm thinking of Ray's experience as he goes through it. And I was surprised to realize, talking to Dmitry and the male writers and others that they're watching the different women that Ray encounters. So, they're very aware of which women he is about to have sex with or thinking of having sex with and what it would be like to have sex with her, and I'm not thinking about it at all.

I'm really focused on the man in it. And someone told me that that's a lot like old romance novels when they're written for men, that a romance novel that's written for man goes through many women, and the classic Harlequin romance that is written for women focuses on one male character that, you know, the woman is trying to get the attention of. So it's interesting.

GROSS: So, Dmitry I'm not sure if I should be asking you this or not, but if you got circumcised after you moved to the United States…

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Yeah. Its not something probably a lot of boys would want to go through. Was it alright?

Mr. LIPKIN: Well, our playwriting mentor, Eduardo Machado, keeps saying that that's the reason I became an artist. I don't know. It was - I guess it was fairly - it was a bit of a shock to go through - perhaps somewhat traumatic.

Ms. BURSON: Yeah, wasn't there a rabbi there and there's was this whole ceremony? Like I always think of it as Dmitry sort of feeling like he was stepping up to reclaim his Jewish ancestry from, you know, the ash heap being lost in Russia. It seemed like a noble act for a young man to do.

Mr. LIPKIN: Yeah. I was out for that whole - when the rabbi was there. When I was reclaiming my Jewish identity I was…

Mr. BURSON: But nevertheless didn't you tell me…

Mr. LIPKIN: (Unintelligible)

Mr. BURSON: But nevertheless, Dmitry, didn't you tell me that you volunteered?

Mr. LIPKIN: I did volunteer.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. LIPKIN: Yes, I - no, I really did embrace my Jewish heritage when I came from Russia to the States.

GROSS: Do you think that it affected you as a writer to grow up with one language and at the age of 10 start learning a second language, the language that you ended up writing in?

Mr. LIPKIN: Absolutely. You know, because I think for years, I was, you know, all I had to do was observe people who are surrounded by - I think - who are very much within the place where they are from. They are not quite as self-conscious, so it doesn't, they don't nurture that quality of observation as much as I think with people who are who grew up as outsiders.

GROSS: Dmitry Lipkin and Colette Burson created the new HBO comedy series, "Hung," which is shown Sunday nights.

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