“Husbands” is an online comedy series about a gay baseball player named Brady (Sean Hemeon) who wakes up after a drunken binge in Las Vegas married to Cheeks (Brad Bell), decides then to stay together to try to make the marriage work. The series is getting ready to start its third season on the new CW online platform, CW Seed, and just happens to be produced and co-created by Bell and legendary television writer Jane Espenson (“Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” “Battlestar Galactica,” “Once Upon a Time”). “Husbands” starts Wednesday August 15th.
I talked with Brad Bell and Jane Espenson this summer at the ATX Television Festival in Austin, TX. ATX Television Festival Website
Hi guys, great to see you. So, tell me how you came up with the web series, “Husbands”
Espenson: It was an idea that Brad brought to me.
Bell: Yeah, it seemed like a series that should have been done already. Newlywed comedy has existed for so many years, really since the invention of television. I love classic sitcoms and I felt it was the new wave of what I wanted to see as a television viewer. I wanted to see something that was more authentic to my experience, something that I could relate to, bringing comedy into the 21st century.
Espenson: You always want a show to have something to say. And this show felt it was the perfect combination of a classic thing that television does really well, but saying something totally contemporary and relevant.
Did you always envision this as a web-series?
Bell: We always saw it as an online series because it was a project that we wanted to do on our own. We had a very specific vision that we wanted to execute. I don’t really use the word “web-series” because online and television are beginning to merge together. In taking on a topic like marriage equality, we wanted to be a part of the evolution of technology that this is part of television now. And plus, we are our own executives.
Espenson: And in making it television for the web, as opposed to a “web-series”, we wanted to make sure it really looked like a television show. So right from the beginning we want to make it clear that this was a TV show that you just happened to watching online. We strove right from the beginning to have high production values and have the look and feel of TV. All the way through the series we look like television, we reference television, to where it just comes down to the fact that it is television.
Yeah, because it does have the look and feel of a TV sitcom. Tell us how you financed the series when you first started.
Espenson: Well, the first season was financed by me. But we couldn’t have done the second season without Kickstarter. We loved that the fans stepped up. They had seen season one and they were excited and eager to give money to shoot season two. And because of Kickstarter, we were able to make season two bigger and brighter than we could have without all the help.
What do you feel about the controversy of all the big Hollywood Kickstarter campaigns that have been in the news lately.
Bell: I think it makes sense when you have a product that has spent years being marketed on traditional broadcast platforms that have audiences built in. It’s really no surprise that things like “Veronica Mars” and other successful Kickstarter projects are making the money that they are because they have spent years being developed. There is already awareness of those shows who have a legion of fans that are just waiting for more content. I think it’s great because it’s still “micro-budget” by Hollywood standards.
Espenson: I think that anything that leads to more high quality content is a plus.
Tells us about the two main characters of “Husbands” and the concept of getting these very two different characters together who happen to be gay. Where Cheeks is very flamboyant and Brady is more strait laced, someone who can function in the heterosexual world of baseball .
Espenson: Well, you always want contrast.
Bell: Yes, exactly, you want contrast. It’s the classic dynamic. It’s an effective way of showing the spectrum of gay life because these two people functioned in the world a little differently. Brady’s character had the “straight male privilege” and has been able to move about the “boys club” unnoticed. Whereas Cheeks has never had that option. It gives them very different approaches to the world. I think it’s the best way to show the opposite ends of the spectrum in the gay experience.
Espenson: And as Brad has pointed out, it’s the way that these characters have reacted to their backgrounds makes it true to life. Because Brady had that “straight male privilege” he never developed that hard shell, the way that Cheeks has. Cheeks is much more defensive and keeps his emotions in. Whereas, Brady is much more openly affectionate and more vulnerable this highlights some really interesting differences in their characters.
Yeah, it seems that Cheeks kinds of rolls with the punches and Brady has a tendency to take everything to the heart when they have a conflict from the outside world.
Bell: Exactly. Brady has never seen conflict from the outside world and Cheeks has always seen conflict from the outside world. So what you see is that because of Cheeks femininity, Cheeks is strong despite it. That’s exactly what gave him his core. And Brady has never had to be anything but good looking and athletic. Brady is not quite as bright as Cheeks and isn’t used to dealing with judgment.
So Brad, is it hard keeping a straight face when you’re saying lines as Cheeks?
Bell: The other actors we bring in crack me up a lot more than my own character.
Are any of the scenes improved or what we see is from what you two have written?
Espenson: There is very little improvising. Pretty much the actors are saying what’s scripted. The fact that is sometimes sounds improved is a credit to them.
I love Alessandra Torresani on your show who plays Cheeks best friend, Haley. I love her character, how she always has a drink in her hand looking for mischief. That must be a fun character to write for.
Espenson: Yes, she is wonderful and a blast to write for.
Tells us about the character Cheeks.
Espenson: The character of Cheeks predates this show. It’s sort of a whole persona that Brad developed and was making short form YouTube videos based around this character Cheeks, even before we came up with this show. So, part of the reason the character of Cheeks is so fun to write for is so real, that he lives and breathes.
The first season of “Husbands” was really about how they got married and whether they could survive it. The second season you start dealing with a few more things, like the fact that Brady is an openly gay athlete. And not only that he is an openly gay athlete but is married to a very flamboyant husband. It kind of mirrored what Jason Collins went through this past summer, as far as coming out being a gay athlete. Is this an important aspect to explore in the series?
Bell: I do and in fact instead of mirroring it, we kind of foretold that storyline.
Espenson: Even anticipated it.
Bell: Exactly. I think that it’s something we will see more of. It’s really important to explore all the different angles of that conversation because there are a lot of gay people in sports. Let’s be honest about that.
Espenson: Yeah, this wasn’t the only time we anticipated something that then really happened. We made a joke about Anderson Cooper coming out, which he then did. We referenced the ongoing Civil Rights conversations that are going on in our country in season two. So we keep being right in the middle of the stories that are hitting the headlines or in some case before they become headlines. That’s something that we are really proud of, that we seem to be right on top of the pulse points of what is going on in the U.S..
I saw your panel last year at Dragon Con and it was one of the funniest panels that I have attended in recent years. Is it fun going to things like Dragon Con or the ATX Television Festival?
Espenson: We are having a great time at the ATX Television Festival and really looking forward to coming back to Dragon Con this year. It’s great because you get to meet the fans and screen stuff for them, then see their reaction to it. You get a sense that what you are doing is not just entertainment for them but are also watching your show to feel validated or feel a part of your world. Which is just amazing.
So what’s the plan for season three?
Bell: We will have more “Husbands” goodness. We have a couple of stories planned. One is very personal and intimate. It feels very much like a universal relationship story. Another story we will be doing is a little more political and is about gender roles in a relationship. It’s a story that straight people can absolutely relate to but could only be told through a same-sex relationship.
I love the cameos that you have had on the show. People like Emma Caulfield as a reporter or Jon Cryer, who was great in season two. You had Joss Whedon appear as Brady’s agent. Are you going to continue to that with season three?
Bell: Oh yeah!
Espenson: We are bringing in some guest star roles, though there won’t be any roles where if you blink you will miss them, like the Felicia Day appearance we had last season where if you aren’t looking carefully you would miss them. The people we have in season three, like Amy Acker, will be on for the entire season.
Thanks so much for talking with me and we look forward to season three on CW Seed.
Bell: Thanks for talking to us.
Espenson: Thanks so much.