Liz Brixius on her clean slate with NBC’s “Bad Judge” and Kate Walsh

Nurse Jackie has been a hit for Showtime since it premiered in 2009, winning praise from fans, critics and the television academy for its brilliant characters and storyline that delicately straddle the lines between drama and comedy. The show was developed by Liz Brixius and Linda Wallem, who served as co-showrunners of the first four seasons, both after the show moved shooting to New York and before the fifth season went into pre-production. Since then, Liz has written for NBC’s Go On (including a lesbian wedding episode) and signed a two-project deal with the network. Now she’s the showrunner on a new fall series starring Kate Walsh called Bad Judge, and she was specially requested by creator Anne Heche.

NBCUniversal Events - Season 2014

“I live somewhere between comedy and drama and to be able to just play with comedy right now with some dramatic underpinnings feels like a gift from heaven in the form of Kate Walsh and Anne Heche,” Liz said during NBC’s day at TCA in Los Angeles. “Anne Heche godfathered me. She’s the one who said, ‘It’s gotta be Liz Brixius.’ She wanted Liz Brixius to run it and she wanted Kate Walsh to star in it.”

With Liz at the helm and Kate as the star, Bad Judge is charming and progressive, with Kate playing Rebecca Wright, a lawyer appointed as judge in an L.A. small crimes court room based on her non-traditional but ultimately successful style. In her off hours, Rebecca enjoys drinking, casual sex and playing drums in her all-girl band, which means she’s frequently hung over at work, but that doesn’t affect anything other than giving her the occasional headache, at least not in the pilot. Kate Walsh gets to show her comedic chops after several years of more serious roles in shows like Grey’s Anatomy and Private Practice and in films like Angel’s Crest.

“She’s just fantastic,” Liz said of Kate. “Everything about her is–whether you’re male or female, straight or gay, you want to sit next to her and you don’t know why. You just do!”

Bad Judge - Season Pilot

Judge Rebecca Wright’s idea of punishment to a cheating womanizer (played by Chris Parnell) is to take a women’s studies class with feminists while wearing a shirt that says “I’m a convicted bigamist.” Rebecca is unapologetic about her sexual freedom, which Liz said could very well have included women in her past.

“There’s been no talk of it in the writers room but that is a character without horizon,” Liz said. “And Kate’s so game. I’d be shocked if her character hadn’t, let’s put it that way. I don’t know what she’s going to do on primetime.”

There are plans, though, of LGBT characters, as Liz noted that otherwise, it wouldn’t be the real world and justice system without that kind of diversity

“And I don’t want it to just be, for example, cases parading through,” she said. “We’re in the beginning stages. We’ve outlined five episodes. This is a show that really embraces diversity.That’s just a non-issue. That’s just episodes waiting to happen.”

Bad Judge - Season Pilot

Liz said that NBC is a very gay-friendly environment, mentioning Liz Feldman‘s One Big Happy with a lesbian lead coming mid-season, as well as their having been home to LGBT-themed shows like The New Normal and Sean Saves the World.

“I think if you were to redesign a show with a gay center at it, a lesbian center in it, there would be no problem,” Liz said. “I think it’s the most gay friendly network. Much of the brass at NBC is gay. It’s the most diverse place to work ethnically, queer gender, sexuality wise. It is limitless. If it had been conceived that way, I don’t think there’d be any problem.”

The appeal of working on Bad Judge, Liz said, was to take on the challenge of running a network comedy after coming from a half-hour dramedy on premium cable.

“We always had to justify why Jackie was in the comedy category,” Liz said. “And that was painful because we worked really hard. And it’s not like we chose that — it happened to be a 30-minute show and that’s where they put it. It straddled the line, the way that Girls does now and the way that Louie does now but Jackie really got there first. [We thought] ‘We’re going to call ourselves a comedy, but we’re going to go down some really dark paths.’ And we took bullets for it that those shows don’t take. Lena Dunham can like have a nervous breakdown and it’s not funny but she still gets to have a comedy. Louie can be hallucinating a vision of another sadder Louie, tragic things in his life and ponder them and it still gets to be considered a comedy and Jackie still gets spat on every Emmy season, when in writers rooms in LA, whenever it’s nominated for a comedy and that hurt. So I guess the invitation to come just be part of something that is a straight up comedy but does have a moral compass at the center, that doesn’t quite jive with everyone else’s moral compass. Because that’s familiar to me, in the Jackie character.”

NBCUniversal Events - Season 2014

Liz said she’s also happy to come to NBC with a clean slate after exiting Showtime with some gossip regarding her and Linda’s departure.

“There was speculation in the press — I remember there was an article in The Hollywood Reporter that said that the showrunners were being replaced because they couldn’t get along; former partners, former lovers and it broke my heart and I thought it was sexist and homophobic,” Liz said. “Because Linda and I got along perfectly. We shared those duties 50/50. We loved each other and that it was just a story. And it was sexist and it was homophobic because neither of us knew the commitment to being in New York would be 10 months a year. Linda was the beginning of her relationship and now marriage with Melissa and the kids, it was so hard on her going back and forth. She wanted to be in Los Angeles, I told the stories I wanted to tell. I wanted to be back in Los Angeles. And NBC had already offered me a deal and I was so happy to come home and so landing and getting the news and seeing an article — and you know they last for 30 seconds, nobody cares, it discredited four years of excellent work. A show that Linda and I created — with Evan Dunsky, but Linda and I carried, for four years, and has now had over 25 Emmy nominations. ‘Oh gee, two dykes couldn’t get along so they got thrown out. We put the guy from Dexter in!” I’m like, ‘That’s not how it went down.’ So this feels, to have such a clean slate and to have no speculation or homophobia or gossip around it, feels like such a gift.”

Liz hasn’t watched an episode of Nurse Jackie since she left the show, saying she doesn’t mean any disrespect, but she considers that story over.

“Because that part of my life, that was also my first TV show. I was very attached to every word and every part of it and so identified with the character in so many ways that I was done,” she said. “When I started Jackie, Edie said, ‘What is your for the character?’ And I said “Deliver Jackie safely through this part of her life. This part of her addiction, and this part of her marriage.” And at the end of Season 4 she’d had one clean season, and she didn’t use and she’d gotten out of her marriage and her last words were, ‘I made it. I fucking made it.’ And those were really my last words because i knew that I was coming back to L.A. I didn’t have any more story in me for Jackie. I did what I wanted to do. I was just done. Like I did it, I fucking did it. And I flew home.”

Liz said the biggest change from Nurse Jackie is that there are more laughs in the Bad Judge writers’ room.

“The best way to put it,” Liz said, “is this is just a wide open frontier.”

Bad Judge premieres on NBC Thursday, October 2.