Ten years ago, Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer wrote themselves a web series about their close friendship and the glorious paradox of being dirtbag ladies in New York City. With Jacobson playing the game Mary Tyler Moore character to Glazer’s wilder Rhoda, “Broad City” was frank, incisive and, most of all, funny as hell. But it still took years for the idea of a TV version to catch on at a network that understood their vision and the apparently confusing concept that there could be more than one show about women on TV — or per broadcaster.
“We were forever compared to ‘Girls,’ which is understandable if you haven’t seen either show,” Jacobson deadpanned recently over breakfast in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn, tucked in a booth alongside Glazer. “At Fox, it was like, ‘We already have “New Girl.”’ That was a real sentence!”
But the two knew they had something special. So, backed by exec producer Amy Poehler, they persisted despite development setbacks that would have killed most projects. Now, five years after “Broad City” launched on Comedy Central, Glazer and Jacobson’s particular brand of spiky feminist wit is in exceptionally high demand. With the show’s final season set to premiere Jan. 24, Glazer and Jacobson are moving into the next stage of their careers — becoming power producers for the company that gave them their first big platform, and navigating a television landscape far different from the one they worked to break into.
“It’s an honor, but it’s also scary,” says Glazer, describing the way that the industry absorbed their success, then tried to replicate it with myriad female friendship stories that, to their eyes, missed the point. “I can’t believe we’re distillable, or big enough to be derived from.”
“Right,” Jacobson agrees. “Because we get derived from in this bizarro way to go back to the way things were.”
“‘Victoria’s Secret presents “Broad City”!’” Glazer offers through a grin, which quickly turns into a joint burst of laughter.
Glazer and Jacobson are more guarded and focused than their unfiltered characters, but their closer-than-close dynamic remains the same. They instinctively finish each other’s thoughts, lift each other up with thrilled awe and are perfectly comfortable owning their successes, joint or otherwise. And they aren’t done working together now that “Broad City” is ending. In fact, they’re quietly building an empire of talent in hopes that they can change TV for the better.
In 2018, Glazer and Jacobson signed a first-look deal with Viacom that will keep them on as producing partners for Comedy Central and other Viacom-owned networks. Looking over Comedy Central’s roster of upcoming series and pilot commitments, it’s rare to see one without Glazer, Jacobson or some other “Broad City” alum producing. Currently, they’re prepping “Mall Town USA,” an animated project from “Broad City” writer Gabe Liedman, and “Young Professionals,” a semiautobiographical comedy from former Obama speechwriter David Litt. Arturo Castro, who has recurred on “Broad City” since the pilot, is shooting his own sketch show (“Alternatino”), helmed by “Broad City” director Nicholas Jasenovec. Chris Kelly, who wrote for “Broad City” before becoming co-head writer of “Saturday Night Live,” created “The Other Two” with his “SNL” writing partner Sarah Schneider. The pilot, helmed by “Broad City” director Lucia Aniello, debuts the same night as the final season of “Broad City.”
“Creating a show, I’ve taken a lot from Abbi and Ilana,” says Kelly. “They’re open and collaborative, but they also know what they like and what they want.”
Those sharp instincts were what Comedy Central president Kent Alterman always expected out of the pair, from the time he first saw their web shorts to when he picked up “Broad City” after FX dropped it at the end of a tortuous, ill-fated development process. Glazer, paraphrasing Poehler, likened the FX experience to trying to please a “bad boyfriend”: “You were never really sure if he wanted to commit to you — and by the end it’s just like, f–k you, I don’t want you either.” But Comedy Central was and remains an enthusiastic partner.
“They were such quick studies,” Alterman says of Jacobson and Glazer. “By the end of Season 1, we knew that they could do this on their own and gave them the keys to the car.”
While there were some growing pains and learning experiences associated with showrunning for the first time, Jacobson muses that watching “Broad City” evolve over the years means watching both “the show and us as creators grow up.” After all, with the web series that started it all (and got Poehler’s and Alterman’s attention besides), the two friends were used to multitasking and continued to do as much as they could for their TV series.
“We built a vertical skill set,” as Glazer puts it. “Creating, starring in something, writing, rewriting, directing, editing, producing.” They enjoyed the challenge, but express frustration that such expansive commitment seems to be more the norm for female creators. “So many of them have to do it all themselves,” Glazer continues, “because no one’s going to do it as well for you.”
Alterman, whom Glazer and Jacobson consider a business mentor, is unsurprised that they’ve become a cornerstone of Comedy Central’s programming. “It was clear that they were really smart, talented and funny, but also that they were really ambitious,” he says. “We could see their drive, and that they had producer minds to back it up.”
Glazer puts it more bluntly: “Producing’s fun, and we’re really good at it.”
That, in large part, is why the two felt ready to put “Broad City” to bed — and why Comedy Central was willing to let it go, even though Jacobson and Glazer were contracted to produce more of the show beyond five seasons. “It just would’ve felt like we were forcing it,” Jacobson explains, “and it’s so much better for good content to end just a little before it expires.”
So now, the two insist, they’re ready to pass that knowledge on to new and diverse creatives. “It’s fun to help someone else try to figure out their voice in this medium when they haven’t written for it before,” says Jacobson, pointing to her own developing TV project with essayist Samantha Irby and Glazer’s with stand-up comedian and “2 Dope Queens” co-host Phoebe Robinson. It’s this instinct to lift up talent and share their wisdom that they and Comedy Central alike hope will result in a new generation of more inclusive shows.
“Every big career decision I’ve made so far, I call them first,” “Broad City” alum Castro says. “They’re my mentors in this sort of thing, and what I’ve learned from them is that you have to have a point of view. If it comes from the heart, it goes to the heart. And they’ve set an example for me on how to be true and protective and specific about what you want to say.”
So while making the final “Broad City” season was certainly bittersweet, neither Glazer nor Jacobson is mourning it as a loss when so much is waiting on the horizon.
“Not only can we make double the content, but we can usher in more people,” Glazer says. “I want us both to bang out business, get shows and movies going that have other voices. I want to get the next generation of talent going. Like, ‘Broad City’ is so f–king good, but we did it, and now we have other skills. Women need to be in more decision-making positions, and now we are.”