“Nikki & Nora:” Evolution of a Lesbian-Themed Series for Network TV

Nancylee Myers, creator and executive producer of "Nikki & Nora"Although it didn’t get a pickup when UPN announced its fall lineup last week, Nikki & Nora, a series about two lesbian private detectives, is the first lesbian-themed drama series in serious consideration for a network TV slot. Nancylee Myatt, the Creator and Executive Producer of Nikki & Nora, tells us about her inspiration for creating the show, how the network responded to it, and how viewers can help convince UPN to pick it up for a mid-season slot.

AfterEllen.com: How would you describe Nikki & Nora?
Nancylee Myatt:
It’s a cop show with a twist, a procedural show which also let’s us take a break from the crime-of-the-week to spend time with a complicated and sexy couple. Crime, action, romance and the Big Easy, what more could you want?

AE: What inspired you to create the series? And why now?
I had developed several projects with Regency TV and they came to me with the idea of a modern Nick & Nora only they’re a lesbian couple, Nikki & Nora. And that was all they gave me. I had a reputation with them for creating strong female characters and voices. And they knew that I could write this from a personal POV, as well. I then began developing the show, the characters, their backstory, and put them in New Orleans — a great city where nothing is what it seems. Very layered, full of secrets, not unlike Nikki and Nora themselves.

When Maggie Murphy, the Sr. Vice President of Drama Development, left Regency to become the head of Drama at UPN, she took several projects with her that she had developed at the studio. Fortunately, Nikki & Nora was one of those projects. Regency then released the project and Warner Bros. studio picked it up. So that’s how a project that began at Regency studio for FOX, eventually ended up at UPN with Warner Bros. as the new studio.

I’ve been with the project for what will be 2 years this coming August — and have also been through two other writing partners along the way. In its early stages it was much more light-hearted, more comedy, more like Nick & Nora — a retro kind of feel, a la Moonlighting. But when it moved to UPN and they wanted a more procedural show, their CSI or NYPD Blue, if you will, the show took a more serious tone.

But now it’s back to just me and Nikki & Nora — hoping to get on the air. Usually, projects and pilots come and go and we writers move onto the next one. But this project has survived and I’ve become very attached to these characters and their voices. And now, the cast and amazing team of people who put the pilot together. I hope we can continue in series. And I believe this show has some important ground to break and stories to tell while it entertains.

AE: How did the network and production company react to a series with two lesbian lead characters?
Nikki & Nora were always a lesbian couple. I never heard anyone say, do they have to be lesbians? Or can’t they be aliens? Or let’s make them men who are just best friends? The discussions were usually about the balance of character beats vs. the procedural beats in the script. And how intimate do we get with the characters when we go home with them. And again, it’s network TV not cable, so we do have some rules and standards to adhere to, beyond the discussions about making the main-stream audience feel comfortable with the couple. And at the end of the day we all believed that if you could relate to the situation and the characters and cared about them, no matter what their sexual orientation, you would watch the show.

We ended up with quite a bit of gay-themed conversations and conflict in the story about the couple — Nikki is out with her family, Nora is not. And they are both keeping their relationship a secret from the police force at this time. And there are some intimate moments in the pilot, as well. There is a bath-tub scene that is not only beautiful but sexy for network TV.

With regard to the procedural side of the show — let’s face it, there are only three crime stories to tell. It’s all about how you tell the story. What is your show’s unique voice, how can you tell the same story in a way that can only be done on your show. And in our case it’s with a New Orleans POV as well as through the eyes of this couple who live and work together.

AE: Did you encounter any resistance from actresses who auditioned to the idea of playing lesbians?
We had an amazing casting director, Megan Branman, who was incredibly bold and clear with the agents in town. We didn’t want to see anyone who would have difficulty playing a gay character. And the script was available for everyone to read, there were three kissing scenes, and the infamous bathtub scene, so it was pretty clear that we were going to be showing them as a couple.

There were a number of women who passed on the project before they ever came in the door, and we were never really told if it was because of the gay content, or whether they wanted to do a half-hour instead of a drama, or didn’t want to do TV at all, etc. Pilot season is a cluster-fuck with so many projects and everyone fighting for the same talent. It’s a wonder that anything ever gets cast and on the air.

What ever the case, we didn’t really get the feeling that playing a gay character was a issue, and honestly, the amazing amount of talent that walked through the door was awesome. People really responded to the script. I think The L Word may have helped us with that. Those women have been on the cover of every magazine and newspaper across North America. And it sure helped that we were shooting in New Orleans and not Canada.