Monday, August 11, 2008

And Now, a Word From...

Craig Wright
Executive producer, ABC’s Dirty Sexy Money

When you think of all the people in Hollywood to make a show called Dirty Sexy Money,” Craig Wright told me, “why would they say, ‘Let’s get this guy who used to be a minister in the Midwest, who writes plays that are really arty.’”

“It’s so weird,” Craig, the former playwright and clergyman in the United Church of Christ, added as we sat down together at ABC’s party for the Television Critics Association conference late last month in L.A. But actually, if you watch the hit primetime soap, you know that such a contradiction between the show and its producer’s pedigree is actually perfectly fitting. It’s all there in the title: Money is not presented as merely Sexy, as it was two decades ago on ABC on Dynasty, but Dirty, too. This is a show that has it both ways.

I had seen Craig a month earlier, when he appeared on a panel celebrating depictions of the GLBT community at the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences. He was joined by a member of his cast: Candis Cayne, the transsexual performer playing, as far as I know, one of the first and certainly the most positively portrayed transsexual character ever on primetime. Now, at the TCA, I asked Craig all about Cayne’s Carmelita and every other element that makes Dirty Sexy Money’s core family so much more Darling than those Carringtons of yore.

Must-Hear TV: You were on the TV Academy’s June panel about gays on TV, and were one of very few panel members who is not actually gay. As a writer, how did you learn what makes us tick?

Craig Wright: I was actually really proud to be on the panel and not be gay. I was like, “Guess what? I’m doing this audacious thing [depicting a transsexual character] and I’m not even on the team!” I recently got divorced after being married for 20 years, and have a 19-year-old son. I came to [HBO’s mature-themed hit] Six Feet Under from playwriting. That show had gay characters, and I just wrote them as human beings.

MHTV: On the panel that night were people who had played or written gay characters, starting with Billy Crystal from Soap and going all the way to the present day. In your opinion, how much have things changed for depictions of GLBT characters on TV?

CW: You watch that footage of Billy Crystal all those years ago -- it was so shocking and so innovative then. And yes obviously our culture and cultures all over the world still have a long way to go in terms of understanding and accepting differences in lifestyle and sexuality. But quite a bit of stuff has happened. It was really inspiring to see the clips from Soap because it makes you realize that probably twenty years from now we’ll be looking at a world where transsexuality is as much a part of the daily life of the average person as homosexuality is now. I think cultural innovation is like water. You can build all kinds of things to keep it out, but it seeps in. It’s a universal solvent. Everything that can be imagined will occur. So the whole impulse to slow things down and stop them – I’m just not into it.

MHTV: How do you think Dirty Sexy Money fits into that process of innovation? Twenty or thirty years from now, will we be hailing your show as a pioneer?

CW: Along with Greg Berlanti, with whom I spawned this show, I would be very proud if that were to happen. I just think if you’re going to have access to this much audience, you have to make the world a better place. I’m for development. I’m for advancement. I want to move the conversation forward, whether it’s about homosexuality, transsexuality, race, or economic injustice. On Dirty Sexy Money, while we’re telling great stories, we try to as often as possible have people say a few things every episode that are the kinds of things people think but never say.

MHTV: What reaction have you gotten from the GLBT community?

CW: We went to the GLAAD awards, having been nominated because of Candis. It took about three minutes of sitting at the GLAAD awards for me to realize how not gay this show is. It’s very telling actually. That we have a transsexual character on the show, Carmelita, who’s a woman engaged in a heterosexual relationship [with Billy Baldwin’s politician character Patrick Darling.] The show is totally straight, except for the transsexual.

MHTV: Again, there’s that contradiction: straight, except for the transsexual. Are you trying to sneak something by the average American – and to use that water metaphor again, erode their prejudice?

CW: Not really, because Carmelita stands for so much more than that. When I looked at the clips that they showed of Candis at the GLAAD Awards and at that TV Academy panel, I was surprised each time that they didn’t choose a certain moment from episode 6 of last year, which I always thought was the best. It’s where Tripp [Darling, Donald Sutherland’s character] says to her, “This relationship with my son is impossible.” And she says, “Mr. Darling, I am living proof that nothing is impossible.” That to me is the essence of the character’s place on the show. Carmelita doesn’t stand for transsexuality; she stands for courage, audacity and imagination, and the application of all those virtues in the living of one’s life. It isn’t about the fact that she’s a transsexual, but about what she’s doing with it.

MHTV: What do we know about Carmelita’s back story? Do we know when she went through her transition? How far back does the character’s background go in the show’s “bible?”

CW: We know that she went through her surgery in a community near Lake Champlain in Vermont. It was sort of based on similar community in Colorado, which is all built around a clinic there. We also know that when she feels she needs to get back to her center, that’s where she goes. She goes back to that town, and now that she has her cosmetology degree, she does hair and makeup with people who are in transition. That’s about it so far.

MHTV: You’ve been talking about some pretty liberal ideals of social justice, on a show built ostensibly around a capitalist family. Is that a conscious choice?

CW: Yes, and that’s what’s so special about the show. And I think that’s why the people who like it like it and the people who believe in it believe in it so strongly. They know that it’s attempting to be a really unique thing: a totally populist, totally sleazy, funny, sexy show, which is also very literate and has truly well-rounded characters. I was just talking to the people from ABC tonight about it. We all know what a special dare it is that we’re trying to make this show. And it’ll go as long as it goes -- long or short, I don’t know – I don’t care. I just love that we’re all trying it.

MHTV: In the '80s, Dynasty didn’t seem to have much of a sense of humor about itself -- we were supposed to take those characters seriously, and aspire to be them. Dirty Sexy Money seems to play on a deeper level. How do you make the Darlings so appealingly both dirty and sexy?

CW: Because of the structure of the show, where the way in is through an outsider, the tone is written into it already. We’re going to be looking at these people from outside. But to me, what makes the show so interesting is Donald Sutherland. [His character, Darling patriarch] Tripp is so compelling, so sensible and so charming that even though the show views these people so ironically and satirically, he makes the best argument for them. You start to think, “What’s the matter with that?” There was a scene in the original pilot that got cut where [Peter Krause’s outsider lawyer character] Nick quits the job. He walks through Central Park, and sees all these cars gathered around a komodo dragon which has escaped from the Central Park Zoo. And as he looks at that komodo dragon encircled by cars and horns and lights, he sees the Darlings. He understands that they’re this antique sort of dinosaur in a world that they view as dangerous. Everybody thinks the Darlings are dangerous, everybody thinks the Kennedys are dangerous, but they feel immensely encircled by danger.

MHTV: The scene sounds perfect – why was it cut?

CW: It just seemed too weird. But we’ll get the komodo dragon on there someday.

Dirty Sexy Money
Season 2 Premiere
Wednesday October 1
10 PM Eastern


  1. Andre on Long IslandAugust 12, 2008 at 11:54 AM

    I absolutely love this show and can't wait till Oct 1st now. Thanks Jim!!


  2. Great interview. Very thought provoking. -- B