An interview with Ilene Chaiken

Like her shows or not, Ilene Chaiken has done a lot for lesbian visibility on television. Regardless of whether you loved or lambasted The L Word and its reality series offspring The Real L Word, Chaiken continues to bring our stories to mainstream audiences in ways few others have. When Season 2 was renewed, Chaiken – who serves as an executive producer on the reality series – “fought” for that as well.

With an almost entirely new cast for Season 2, The Real L Word returns Sunday with Whitney at the center and a slew of lessons learned. caught up with Chaiken to discuss what didn’t work (the cast), what makes this season different (more sex) and what she hopes the community walks away with (representation). How is Season 2 of The Real L Word different than the first?
Ilene Chaiken:
It’s better. I’m at a loss as how to put this out here because it was new to me: a new genre, new kind of casting. And though I felt it was interesting and some of what we did was very cool, it didn’t ultimately say what I wanted to say. Season 2 absolutely felt it. It felt it in a way that I’m excited about and I feel proud of it.

My greatest hope is that we can get people to come to the show and look at it fresh. It feels real and authentic. The women who participated and generously shared their lives with us did it with a lot of openness. They weren’t trying to do anything, not trying to control the story or put something out there that conveyed an imagery of who they were, but simply letting us into their lives and living their lives in front of the cameras.

AE: Do you think the cast from Season 1 wasn’t real wasn’t open?
I think that the cast from Season 1 — it’s not criticism of the people, I actually adore all of them and I’m grateful to them for participating — but they were a different group of people. In some ways it’s just the luck of the draw. In some ways it’s things that we learned from experience. They were people who, in their lives and careers, are used to trying to tell a particular story. I think that they went into it with an idea of what they wanted to say. We worked with people this year who were simply more open. We made a decision to choose cast members who were more beginning their journeys.

AE: It sounds like you’re a lot more involved this year than last year.
I was pretty involved last year. I’m not looking to shirk responsibility. I’m more involved in that I know more now and I understood more about what this particular process is as opposed to the process of making a scripted show. I feel like I know what to look for.

AE: We’ve seen the first two episodes and there’s more nudity and sex, especially Romi. Were you looking for cast members who were more forthcoming in that area?
They are all more forthcoming, not just Romi. I love Romi in the way that she sets the tone and I love her for her openness. There’s nothing censored about her.

AE: There definitely is more sex.
I hope there is because I like sex. I think that one of the reasons for doing this kind of show on premium cable is so that we can put everything out there, including sex. I came away from the whole season knowing that the whole thing feels more honest and open in a way that I’ve always tried to say; sex is just a part of the story and I want to be just as vivacious about things I felt that make it emotionally as sexually and physically. I feel like the show does that.