Jennifer Hoppe-House and Nancy Fichman are writers and producers on the Dietland series. They wrote tonight’s episode, which is one of my favorites. I got to know them while working as a consultant in the writers’ room, and they are so fun to work with, and such great writers. They are writing partners (more on that below) who’ve worked together for more than 20 years. They started out writing feature films, and have written for television shows including Nurse Jackie, Grace & Frankie, Damages and Get Shorty.
SARAI: Episode four covers two of my favorite parts from the book: the makeover that Plum undergoes with Marlowe, and the Jennifer section that unfolds in London. The two of you did such an amazing job on the script, and the episode is brilliant. What were some of the challenges of writing this episode? What were the most fun parts?
JEN AND NANCY: It was fun writing the Marlowe scene that briefly turned into a sitcom. That was an unconventional scene and we enjoyed veering away from a traditional narrative. It was fun, too, breaking Plum down, calibrating her discomfort as we stripped her of hair, squeezed her body into Spanx, her feet into heels, her mind into a corner.
In all the episodes — but even more so in episode 4 — it was a bit of a thrill balancing the humor and the horror of this show. We open with the unsettling image of a child being kidnapped in London. The shot is through a window, and so we’re inside with a chatty British mother who’s on the phone, who’s waving to the boy as he gets off the bus, but as she turns, she misses completely that her kid is snatched because she’s preoccupied with getting to a restaurant safely. Call it terror with a light touch. And it launches us into this new, chaotic world. We get a sense of Jennifer’s danger and reach, which is ominous. We love the convergent tones of violence and comedy; the violence visited upon an innocent child runs parallel to Plum’s story and another kind of violence: the violence meted out by an unforgiving beauty/fashion world.
It’s always fun to write Kitty, especially when she’s wielding power in the boardroom. Every time we write a scene for Julianna Margulies, it’s like stepping onto a playground.
And we loved coming up with ways the world is changing. That scene where Dominic is walking down the street and he feels discomfited by “the female gaze” was cathartic to write.
SARAI: The two of you are writing partners. As a novelist, this concept was foreign to me until I came out to L.A. There are some novelists who work in pairs, but it’s pretty rare. However, in TV and film having a writing partner is much more common. What are the benefits of working with a partner?
JEN AND NANCY: Well, you’re in the trenches together; you have an ally. So, it’s not just an advantage in terms of bouncing ideas around or talking out story points or splitting the workload. You also have someone to talk you down when bone-crushing disappointment happens, as it will in a writer’s life; and you have someone with whom to share your victories. You can check your thinking, too: “Hey, did that sound weird to you?” or “Hey, do you think I’m being a jerk?” or “Hey, does she hate me?” We’re able to tamp down the typical paranoia that afflicts every writer in television (except for one or two, and they’re terrible writers). Meetings with executives are easier as well. There’s a synergy in conversation that happens right off the bat when you’re a team. If one of us were to go into a meeting alone, an executive could easily think we’re a little kooky, but we kind of vouch for each other’s sanity, which gives us license to have fun. We look at writers who aren’t on a team as “only children”.
SARAI: How was the experience of writing for Dietland different from other shows you’ve worked on?
JEN AND NANCY: Women, women, women (and a couple of men who could be women). You wrote the book, of course, and were frequently with us in the writers’ room, which was mostly women. Marti Noxon and Jackie Hoyt ran the room; Alison Kelly was our indomitable director of photography. And almost every director was a woman. That’s extraordinary. It doesn’t happen. And the cast was mostly comprised of fierce women: Joy Nash, Julianna Margulies, Robin Weigert, Tamara Tunie and Erin Darke are just some of the girls’ names on the call sheet. The heads of post were women, as were most of the editors. It was like that island in Wonder Woman. It was radical by its nature. The writers’ room was happy, the set was happy, and the editing bays were happy. Plus, we always had good food.
You can connect with Jen on Twitter: @Hoppe_House