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Jane Espenson and Cheeks Talk about Their Web Series Husbands

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Web series are still in their infancy—and a web series created by a well-known (and personal favorite) television writer like Jane Espenson (Once Upon a Time, Torchwood: Miracle Day, Buffy) would be a rare treat, indeed. So, needless to say, I was excited to discover Husbands, an 11-episode comedy about the foibles of marriage.

Clocking in at two minutes per episode, Husbands is directed by Emmy Award winning producer/writer Jeff Greenstein (Dream On, Friends, Will & Grace, Parenthood, Desperate Housewives). It stars the multitalented Cheeks (also known as Brad Bell), who created the series with Espenson (his moniker was bestowed by Paris Hilton!), as well as Sean Hemeon (True Blood) and Alessandra Torresani (Caprica).

Husbands begins as boyfriends Cheeks and Brady awaken after a drunken night in a Las Vegas hotel. So what else is new? It is Las Vegas, after all! The pair are shocked to learn that they’ve gotten married. Oops!

Although they’ve been dating each other, the very much out of the closet actor Cheeks and the just-barely-out-of-the-close star athlete Brady aren’t quite sure at first just what to do. And then of course, there’s Haley (Toresani), Cheeks’ best friend. But they decide to make a go of it, encountering all the comic twists and turns to a newlywed marriage with a twist of its own. Called by the creators, a “marriage equality comedy,” the series finale airs tomorrow morning around 10 a.m.

I had the pleasure of catching up with series co-creators Espenson and Cheeks via phone while they were promoting the series at Comic Con New York.

Tell me about Husbands. It’s been a really short time from concept to execution. I think it must be a record for television comedy.

Jane Espenson:   Yeah. I think making [the series] for the web gave us that ability, but we were actually talking originally to get this series done by May. And then it turned into this, like, huge, much bigger thing that we had even thought it was.

Cheeks:  Yeah. It got bigger in what was going on and we realized it was going to take actually, I think I originally wanted it to get out by, like, July or August.

JE:  Maybe that’s what it was.

C:  Yeah. We realized that we were going to really take the time to get it bigger and better than we initially planned. And we did, and I’m really glad we did because, yeah. It’s still a relatively short amount of time, and that really allowed for momentum to build, and for buzz, and it’s really taken off.

JE:  Yeah. You’re right. It’s much faster than TV. That’s one of the reasons we wanted to do it. There was a sense of immediacy about it. It just felt like we just want to do this—we want to do it now.

How did the series come about?

JE:  Well, Cheeks, do you want to say it?

C: Well, [the series] developed from a smaller idea I had about a web series in which Allessandra Toresani and I were friends, and the more Jane and I talked about it, we realized that it should evolve into a newlywed comedy. And that that hadn’t been done with two guys yet. So we added that role, and kept Allesandra as my best friend in the script. And just took it from there.

When I saw Allesandra in the first episode, I kept thinking, “Gosh, her voice is really familiar.” And then I said, “Wait a minute. Isn’t that Zoe from Caprica?”

C:  Very good.  Because, yes. With the hair (Zoe had dark hair, and Haley in Husbands is a blond), the voice is really the thing that people hook into it.

And a very different role, too, because Zoe was so serious…

C:  She’s very versatile and she’s very funny. So it was great. I was really happy that we’d actually put her in it, something where she could really shine.

JE: And the thing is, she’s a natural blonde—and she’s a also a natural comedian. So we really found a role that suited her so well. 

She’s really, really funny. In fact all three of you [including Sean Hemeon] are hysterical in it. Did you experience any downside to doing a web series as opposed to pitching it to, say, a cable station? I’m not sure it would be ready for network primetime—at least yet. 

JE: Well, there’s one major downside, which is just the number of viewers. This will probably change in the future, but right now, you get more eyeballs on the TV than on the Web.

C: Then there’s that relationship [between] the money and the marketing. And I think the main downside is that you have to do all your own marketing because you don’t have millions to spend in the network would to plaster your face all over a city. And I think it’s a shame, because I know that this show would have an even bigger audience than it already does. It doesn’t have any shoddiness. It has a very mainstream audience. It’s really resonating for the demographics from 13-year-olds all the way to 54-year-olds. So, yeah, I think the downside of having to basically be in charge of your own marketing and not getting millions to make sure that everyone who would love it gets to see it. 

And how have you gotten the word out?

JE:  Well, you know, we’ve been tweeting (on Twitter) like crazy. We’ve been doing some of our PR in terms of social media things. And reaching out, you know. I think trying to reach out to people like you; we’re sort of trying to find people who are open to discussing this. A lot of my fandom is sci-fi, so I’m actually getting a lot of sci-fi publications and blogs involved and so sort of, through that odd passageway, we’re also connecting with people.

C:  We’ve been really lucky. We’ve been getting some incredible press. I mean, I think that we’ve had one of the biggest openings of any web series, because when we launched, we had a huge amount of press. We had a livestream with Streamingarage and Mike Rotman. And 27,000 people tuned in for that. That was really incredible. [We’ve had coverage in] The Atlantic and USA Today and Huffington Post. We really just put the word out there, and pretty miraculously, you know, it resonates with people, with entertainment journalists and bloggers. And they want to talk about it. We did an interview last night with Sirius XM [Radio], who contacted us with Derek and—

JE: Derek and Romaine. So it’s going to get, our views are good. Like, we’ve got something, like, 200,000 views now on [unintelligible].

C:  Yeah. Actually, we’re pushing, like, 250k and we’ve been online less than a month? No, a month and, like, three days.

JE:  So, yeah. So it’s getting out there. And we’re very proud of it. So it’s nice to see people responding. And in all the reviews that have been written, we have yet to see a pan. We have only seen raves.

Which is great, which is great. I that know that during the 2007-2008 Writer’s Guild Strike, there were a lot of webisodes and Web series cropping up. Is this sort of like the natural extension of that in a way? Or at least inspired by that in a way, even though that was few years back?

JE:  Yeah. Felica Day starred in Joss’ [Whedon] Internet-only Doctor Horrible [during the strike], and [this] definitely grown out of that. The fact is that I’ve had friends who have enjoyed this medium so much, was one of the reasons that I wasn’t terrified of doing [Husbands]. Also, Cheeks was already such an amazing, established success as a YouTube star. The fact that he had done this before helped me not to be afraid, too. He told me that it would all be all right.

So you’ve got an eleven-episode season. Yeah? And all but the last are up on the site… So it’s finale time, right?

JE: Yeah. So the next one, the last one will go up Tuesday morning (October 18, around 10:00 a.m.).

Can you tell me how it all ends? Are you going to give me a spoiler? 

JE: Well, we can tell you that in the last episode, Brady issues a challenge to Cheeks. And it’s about whether Cheeks is going to do what he’s being asked to do.

Are you guys going to do a second season, or a second run of the webisodes?

JE: We would love to. We’re sort of going to take it out now and see if there’s anyone in the bigger world of the Web, or the world of mainstream TV who is going to help us, help us step up and do some more. We’re going to find out.

Anything else you want to share about the series? And where can people find it? Tell me where people can find it, the best place?

C: The website is husbandstheseries.com And [viewers] shouldn’t feel like if they go there, there’s only going to be the last episode up. All the episodes are there all the time, 24 hours a day, any nation in the world. You can, you can go there right now and watch all the episodes of Husbands—and they’re only two minutes each, so you can catch up on your lunch break. You can see the whole thing and get a whole joyful story.

Stay tuned, because later in the week, I’ll be recording a video interview with some of the cast and creative team of Husbands. What do you think of the series? Let me know in the comments thread below!

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About Barbara Barnett

Barbara Barnett is publisher and executive editor of Blogcritics, as well as a noted entertainment writer. Author of Chasing Zebras: The Unofficial Guide to House, M.D., her primary beat is primetime television. But Barbara writes on an everything from film to politics to technology to all things pop culture and spirituality. She is a contributor to the book called Spiritual Pregnancy (Llewellyn Worldwide, January 2014) and has a story in Riverdale Ave Press' new anthology of zombie romance, Still Hungry for your Love. She is hard at work on what she hopes will be her first published novel.
  • xof1013

    What do I think of the series? Instant LOVE!!! I synced in with the humor, the story, the couple, all of it – faster than even I expected. I have recommended it six ways from Sunday to everyone I know, and will again. :)

    Thank you Barbara for the interview. I loved reading it. And I look forward to seeing the video follow-up soon!

  • http://barbarabarnett.com Barbara Barnett

    I love the series. It’s great. Thanks for stopping by!

  • needacoke

    A great interview. You asked some great questions. Thanks so much!

    “It’s really resonating for the demographics from 13-year-olds all the way to 54-year-olds”

    Cheeks: what about us 65 year olds! :D

  • Quinn_Art

    Thqnks for the interview, I love this series!

  • Nina

    I ADORE this series. It’s my “Go To” link for instant happiness. Wonderfully written, and the cast has impeccable comic timing. Just wish each episode was longer.

  • ziam

    LOVED LOVED LOVED it! I haven’t laughed so much at scripted comedies in years. It is quick witted and rapid fire, like ‘mad-cap’ ‘screw-ball’ comedies of the 1930s, but updated for the 21st century. And that is the best part – the way it assumes a reality as part of the premise (a reality in fact we have shared in this Canadian Province for 10 years), that is just so refreshing and new and relevant – I don’t see how American TV Networks with any creativity wouldn’t want to pick it up. But then again, I am bored with 99% or the rehashed drivel on American TV Networks, so what would I know?

  • murly

    Husbands is so funny! There are literally as many laughs (if not more) in two minutes of Husbands than in some sitcoms currently on TV. And it’s a smart comedy. The humor comes across as a natural expression of the characters’ personalities; it doesn’t seem written. I love this show and want to spend more time with these characters.

  • karen

    I’m with @needacoke on this one Cheeks….many of us baby boomers are now in our 60’s and we also love Husbands! Don’t limit that age range so much! ;D

  • Sherrie Richey MD

    This is a groundbreaking series; hilarious, timely, well-acted, thoughtful. Everyone should go watch it, and recommend it to others. I would love to see this on television.

  • Sandra

    This series is so much fun – it just makes me smile. Sad that the final episode is this week; I need more Brady and Cheeks!

  • Lisa

    Thank you for a great interview. This series isn’t a niche comedy for people who are gay. It is a great show for anyone who enjoys good comedy, gay, straight, alien. The series is well acted and well written. There are little things going on around both with scene and in body language beyond the dialog. Check out the series. It reminds me of an update of a classic comedy you would see on TVLand. I don’t see two men when I watch. I see two people in love, but not having a clue about relationships.

  • http://barbarabarnett.com Barbara Barnett

    Lisa–I agree with that assessment. I’m looking forward to talking with Cheeks (and possibly the other cast members–and Jane) Wednesday. The video of the interview will go up on Thursday.

  • fan

    Hey babe I know you’re so young you can’t even imagine very old, but I’m 62 and love your show.

  • Ghazal

    Thank you so much for the interview. I’ve loved this show since the very first episode. It’s funny and clever. The writing is fantastic, the characters are believable and the storyline is anything but cliché; all the right elements for a great webisode. :)

  • Maya

    I love Husbands, it’s so funny and new.. I’ve never watched anything like it. And the big thing about it is that I can watch it with my mother. She’s 60, learned English when she was 55, is usually skeptical about US series but likes this particular story. The episodes are short enough that she can follow and rewatch each episodes as many times as she needs to understand.