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Remote Controlled: ‘2 Dope Queens’ Jessica Williams and Phoebe Robinson, Plus Alan Cumming on ‘Instinct’

Welcome to “Remote Controlled,” a podcast from Variety featuring the best and brightest in television, both in front of and behind the camera.

In this week’s episode, Variety’s executive editor of TV Debra Birnbaum talks with Jessica Williams and Phoebe Robinson, who’ve turned their hit podcast “2 Dope Queens” into a series of specials for HBO. And then in the second half, Alan Cumming talks about making history with his new CBS series “Instinct.”

Williams and Robinson have found success with their podcast because of their unbridled honesty, celebrating female friendships and the lives of black women, as well as discussing the latest headlines. “Avoiding the news and what’s happening in the world is not an option for us,” says Williams. “It gives the show a bit of an edge.”

Adds Robinson, “If you’re listening to ‘2 Dope Queens,’ you’re going to hear us talk about celebrities we have crushes on like Michael B. Jordan and some sexism that we may experience in the workplace.”

Once the two of them met, they immediately hit it off, because of their backgrounds in Upright Citizens Brigade, and decided to try doing stand-up together. “Each show was another date,” says Robinson. “Our chemistry is unlike anything else we have in our lives with someone else.”

Nothing is off-limits between the two. “That’s what makes the show really fun and really dangerous,” says Williams. “It makes it feel electric and it translates on stage.” (That is, except for Robinson’s boyfriend, who doesn’t want his name used: So he’s been dubbed “British Bake-Off.”)

HBO approached them about turning the podcast into the series of specials, promising “And we’ll give you money for wigs,” they joke. The specials feature guests like Jon Stewart, Uzo Aduba, Tituss Burgess, and Sarah Jessica Parker, who got quizzed on her knowledge of black hair. “When they realized what the interview was going to be like, they realized it wasn’t going to be work for them,” says Robinson. “Everyone was down to play.”

In the second half of the podcast, Alan Cumming opens up about why he signed on for CBS’ “Instinct,” where he plays a “quirky” professor who gets recruited by the NYPD to help solve crimes. The drama is based on a James Patterson book, which Cumming calls a “real page-turner.” “I just thought it would be really fun to do a cop show and solve crimes,” he says.

But more important to him was the history-making nature of the role. “This is the first network drama on American television to have a gay character in the lead,” he says. “I think it’s shocking that it’s taken this long.”

Now he feels the show’s timing is even more important. “When I took the job, I didn’t know that Donald Trump was going to be president,” he says. “But I’m really glad I am doing this, because in this time, when we are seeing LGBT people’s rights being removed, and their safety threatened and this air of lack of kindness and empathy for all sorts of people who are seen as different, the fact that we are for the first time showing loving supportive same-sex relationships on network TV, I think it’s really so timely. This is the time when you should be challenging people’s prejudices.”

You can listen to this week’s podcast here:

New episodes of “Remote Controlled” are available every Friday, and you can find past episodes here.

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