New ABC sitcom uses husband's narrative
Guys have babies too. Not literally, but they’re involved in a big way.
That’s a fact of life ABC hopes will work to its advantage with “Notes From the Underbelly,” the skein whose premiere the network just moved into a plum timeslot following “Grey’s Anatomy” on Apr. 12.
Adapting Risa Green’s sugar-free “Sex and the City”-esque novel about a career woman who surrenders to the call of motherhood, showrunner Stacy Traub’s key gambit was to shift the work’s interior voice from the wife’s point of view to the husband’s.
Traub says she had good reason to expose more of the mind of the pregnant man, less than a year after she executive-produced her own first-born.
“I thought, ‘How can we also get men to watch this?'” recalled Traub, who previously wrote for Fox’s “Kitchen Confidential,” another series adapted from a book. “Just from my only experience, a lot of funny things that happened (during my pregnancy) were my husband’s reactions were to me. I just wanted to make sure we got both points of view in there.”
Green, a consultant on the show, said she and executive producers Kim and Eric Tannenbaum supported Traub’s suggestion immediately.
“I thought it was really smart, because part of the issue when we were conceived (the show) was that we didn’t want it to be this show that would only appeal to women,” Green said. “We wanted it to be a show that couples could watch together, and we all kind of felt like there had to be a way to achieve that.”
In addition to building up the presence of husband Andrew (Peter Cambor) alongside wife Lauren (Jennifer Westfeldt), Traub introduced a male best friend, Danny (Michael Weaver). Other changes to the book included softening Lauren’s harsher edges.
Nevertheless, Green said that the show’s tone remains “pretty faithful” to its source.
“I think the book is probably a little more sarcastic and biting,” she commented, “but I think you have to have to expect that (to change) for TV because you still want the characters to be likeable for TV. It’s easier in a book when you have 300 pages to explain what their thoughts are so they can say (unsympathetic) things — on TV you only have 22 minutes to flesh everything out.”
Traub dismissed the notion that in trying to serve both genders, the show could undermine itself by losing the book’s strong feminine voice.
“Since I am a woman, I don’t think that I could do that if I tried,” Traub said. “I just wanted to make sure that the male voices were heard. It’s an ensemble piece: We have three women, two men. I don’t feel that the female point of view is lost at all.”
Traub noted she would have approached the adaptation the same way even if the show were in a less ratings-sensitive locale such as HBO — except, Traub added with a laugh, she “probably would have had some more swear words, and maybe some nudity here and there.”
Ultimately, the core conflict present in the book — an adult pulled between her fun child-free life and her budding family — remains front and center in the series, and that’s what Traub and Green both hope will continue to resonate. With both genders.