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'Weeds' creator Jenji Kohan lobbies for 'Orange Is the New Black'

June 19, 2013|By Yvonne Villarreal
  • Jenji Kohan on the set of the new Netflix series "Orange Is the New Black."
Jenji Kohan on the set of the new Netflix series "Orange Is the New Black." (Ursula Coyote for Netflix…)

There's something to be said about being a walking billboard.

Jenji Kohan, best known for being the creator of Showtime's "Weeds," fully embraces the task. Her nails — hands and toes — are coated in an orange hue. Her short hair is dizzied up with orange streaks.

"I don't know how this Netflix promotion works," Kohan joked. "I'm just trying to spread the word anyway I can."

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The 43-year-old writer-producer is at the helm of Netflix's latest commission to roll out this year: "Orange Is the New Black." The 13-episode series, based on Piper Kerman's memoir, hits the Internet July 11.

The drama stars Taylor Schilling ("The Lucky One") as engaged Brooklynite Piper Chapman, whose life gets thrown a curveball when she must serve time in a federal women’s prison for a past deed of running drug money. Jason Biggs ("American Pie") plays her well-to-do, long-suffering fiancé.

We spoke to Kohan this week in Santa Monica during a junket for the show. Here's what she had to say about getting the post-"Arrested Development" rollout, letting go of traditional episodic habits, and her longing for more sex on TV.

Does it feel like it’s almost time now? We're getting closer to the launch date.

Oh my God, it’s felt like it’s "almost time" forever. It’s like the end of a pregnancy. It’s like, "Come on already! I want it out of me! I want it out!"

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You had time to see Netflix roll out its other series earlier this year (“House of Cards," "Hemlock Grove," “Arrested Development”). Have you been analyzing the whole process and nagged Netflix about what you wanted to do differently with “Orange Is the New Black”?

I was a little worried about a summer release. I still don’t know. I mean, it’s dead. It’s a dead zone. 

But that’s when people binge-watch the most, no? And when they try out new shows?

Hopefully.

It's still weird to me. There was some talk initially about not releasing them all at once. There’s part of me that still loves that anticipation and longing. But there is something great about getting what you want, how you want it. How often in life do you get that? So give the people what they want, I guess. The thing is, we spent a year making this thing and then someone watches it in a night and is like “Gimme more!” It’s like, “Ugh!”

Right. And it must make for a precarious situation, promotion-wise. So much goes for the pre-launch, then it gets murky in how you promote it once it lands. You don’t really know who to spotlight or what areas to discuss more fully because people watch at different times.

Definitely. I don’t know how it all works yet. I keep my head down and make the shows. I can’t control everything — as much as I want to. It’s been a lesson in just watching how things fall where they fall.

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Is this coming from a person long tired of the network process? What sort of sparked your interest in collaborating with Netflix?

It was a dream. They pay full budget. They’re nice. They’re smart. They’re supportive. They’re enthusiastic. They openly say, ‘We’re not quite sure what we’re doing. You seem to know; we trust you.” I pitched the show and they bought 13 in the room. It’s a dream. Beyond that, honestly, it’s the future. I love being first. I love being on a new frontier. It’s how my kids watch TV. There was a moment when I was on “Weeds,” one of my baby writers got a new house and I bought him a TV as a housewarming gift — he didn’t get cable and he didn’t get a dish.  He hooked up his computer. I was like, "Whoa! This is it."

I read the book. I lobbied for the book. I got the book. I was finishing up “Weeds” and it was all happening really fast. I was launching this at the same time. I had two writers rooms. One upstairs, one downstairs. And I was running up and down. It’s like your grandfather dies while you’re giving birth, you know? I couldn’t really process the loss, which is good, because it was very emotional and I was all of a sudden, right into this. I believe in this and I love it. And I’m not good when I’m not working, so it was good. Although, I’d like to test that because I could use some time off.

How did you come across the book and why did you think it would work in a TV format?

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