For over a decade, writer/producer Jane Espenson has been celebrated among television nerds; her IMDB profile includes work on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Gilmore Girls, Battlestar Galactica, Warehouse 13 and Game of Thrones, just to name a few. Right now, she’s co-executive producer of ABC’s Once Upon a Time — and creator of an independent web series about gay marriage.
The premise of Husbands, co-created by Brad “Cheeks” Bell and premiering Sept. 13, is reminiscent of romantic comedies like What Happens in Vegas: An out baseball player and his flamboyant boyfriend of six weeks wake up after a drunken night of celebrating the passing of gay marriage to discover that they themselves are now married — and have to stay together for fear of damaging the cause. While the concept is familiar, Espenson said via phone, “The fun is in the execution.”
“The show has a political point of view, but not a strong one,” Cheeks said via phone. “The setting itself is the political point of view — but the point was to be funny and be true to human emotions.”
Written by Espenson and directed by Jeff Greenstein, the series stars Cheeks and Sean Hemeon (True Blood) as the accidental newlyweds, with Alessandra Torresani (Caprica) appearing as their ditzy but supportive friend.
Husbands will first be distributed via Blip.tv as 11 two-minute episodes (with episodes syndicating out to Cheeks’s YouTube channel, where he has nearly 10,000 subscribers). In addition, the show will also eventually be available as a 22-minute pilot — which will double as a spec pilot that can be pitched to traditional television networks. While the Blip.tv release will include lower-third and post-roll ads, the point is to release the series and, according to Espenson, “prove that there’s an audience for this show.”
While there might be a perception that the fanbase for Husbands would be limited to gay men, both Cheeks and Espenson believe that there’s a real audience for the show among women and young girls. “Look at who’s been the Glee audience,” Espenson said. “It’s largely women and girls — it’s the same audience for us. And there’s something very romantic about this couple overcoming the obstacle of getting married too soon.”
Here are some fun things to know about Husbands!
- The story of how Cheeks and Espenson met is very “new media” in nature: A few years ago, Cheeks began producing topical YouTube videos on a variety of issues — one of which, a response to Miss California 2009 Carrie Prejean’s statements about “opposite marriage (no longer online), got Espenson’s attention. “Cheeks had such a funny rebuttal to it that I wanted to know how I could have lunch with this person,” she said. The two connected over Twitter, leading to an ongoing friendship and a desire to work together at some point.
- For advice on launching a web series, Espenson turned to Felicia Day, who knows a little bit about that. Day’s tips included the importance of working with unions and paying the cast and crew — in addition, she said to avoid bulk emails and reach out to people personally, to emphasize how invested she was in the project. “The promotion is as important as the content,” Day reportedly told Espenson.
- Should Husbands remain a web series, Espenson said that a second season would be similar in its approach — two minute episodes that work as a complete series.
- Espenson declined to give budget specifics, but said that the project cost “between one to two script fees.”
While Espenson’s no stranger to digital content — she won a Streamy Award for the Emmy-nominated Battlestar Galactica web series Face of the Enemy — Husbands is her first experience creating an independent web series. “Speed and maneuverability — being able to be very hands-on, without having to guess what the powers above me might want,” she replied when asked what she likes about creating web content. “I’m used to being on a cruise ship — now I’m the captain of a speedboat.”
The trade-off for that kind of creative freedom, of course, is money and exposure, which is why Cheeks and Espenson are pursuing TV distribution. “We felt that there were things we could have done bigger if we had more money,” Espenson said, “and this is a show with an important message to get out there. Right now, as huge as the web is and as powerful as web series might be, more people will see it on television.”
The gap between web and television distribution, however, may be shrinking — which could potentially lead to a happy medium for creators like Espenson. “Something intermediate sounds pretty good,” Espenson added. “People have been calling the internet the wild west for like twenty years — it’s got to calm down at some point.”