Half hour sitcoms used to be the most popular “short” narratives in Tinsel Town. That is, until the Internet came onto the scene and our attention spans went from concentration to cloudy. Nowadays, it seems viewers are interested in entertainment that’s funny, attention-grabbing and most of all, quick. TBS is taking advantage of the market for shorter narratives by producing a new kind of television – the microseries. These short TV shows are sponsored by advertisers and air between the commercial breaks of other popular shows on the network. Case in point: Gillian in Georgia. The two-minute show is about a city girl who moves south to live with her sister’s family after getting laid off from her high-powered job. Viewers can watch the show on TBS during commercial breaks of Tyler Perry’s Meet the Browns. With DVRs on the rise and the fast forward button a fingertip away, is this the future for network TV? Script sits down with Jenna Milly, co-creator of Gillian in Georgia (and Script contributor), for some insight into how these microseries work.
SCRIPT: If Gillian in Georgia airs during Meet the Browns, how does that work? I can’t find it listed in my TV guide.
JENNA MILLY: That’s the genius of microseries programming! Not only do viewers get to enjoy episodes of Meet the Browns, but they also get surprise episodes of Gillian in Georgia during the 8p and 8:30p airing of Meet the Browns, Wednesdays in May on TBS. You’ve got to tune in to discover the series within a series!
SCRIPT: How did you come up with the idea for the show?
JM: I am a self-proclaimed city girl, so I thought it would be fun idea to imagine what it would be like if I was forced to live in the country for a while – not my first choice! Kind of a Green Acres meets Sex in the City but with kids. When you’re addicted to fashion, shopping and $5 cappuccinos, it can be quite a change to have to slow down for a while. That was my first inspiration for the show. I became connected with TBS through my writing partner and co-creator Angela Gomes. She is the writer/director/creator of another microseries on TBS called My Manny. That show is about to enter its fourth season. Off the success of My Manny, Angela was able to pitch other ideas for new shows, so she asked me if I had any to throw into the mix. I told her about Gillian in Georgia, and she liked it. From there, we developed the series together, working out the character arcs, subplots and 10-episode season arc. Our different writing styles and the mix of humor we bring to the scripts contribute to the quirky feel of the show. I’m very proud of the characters we created. I think it turned out really great!
SCRIPT: What is it like to see the actors embody your characters?
JM: My favorite part about the show is watching how Jill Marie Jones embodies the character of Gillian. Her acting style is so subtle, yet so funny. She seems to be having so much fun in these wacky situations, that by the end of each show, I feel the audience will want to come back just to see what happens next. Not only is she a great actress, but she’s so down to earth. She’s someone you’d want to spend every week hanging out with in your living room.
SCRIPT: What was the writing process like? How do you fit so much into two minutes?
JM: Very carefully. The series runs for 10 episodes. When plotting out story beats, we paid careful attention to the fact that we only had 2 minutes to tell each story. Sometimes we’re faced with very difficult decisions. How do you set up character, conflict, locations and subplots in literally half a page or less, so that the rest of the episode can play out each scenario? As I said, very carefully. We quickly learned, and Angela was much more attune to this than I was, that each episode has to be about one idea, one thought or one situation. Any more, and it’s too much. At the same time, each episode must connect to the next and at the end, create an arc that tells the story of Gillian coming to the South. It’s challenging, but for me, that’s the most exciting part about writing – how to make it work.
SCRIPT: What was it like on set?
JM: A rollercoaster ride! I loved it. We shot for five days on location in Georgia. Angela directed half the episodes, so I was there to help her with any scene work that was needed while she was behind the camera. Production went smoothly for the most part until Mother Nature decided to throw us a curveball. Normally, Georgia is sunny and warm, especially in March. But not the week we were shooting. It snowed the second day of production. That morning, episode 7 was scheduled to shoot. The episode called for exterior shots of Gillian walking around in the small town. Unfortunately, a blanket of white snow was not what we had imagined when writing about a cute country town in springtime. Angela and I had to rewrite the scene minutes before we started shooting.
SCRIPT: Could the series become a full fledged show?
JM: Currently, the show’s format is such that it works well in a two-minute time slot. Each episode features a new situation Gillian must encounter as she braves the South with her New York attitude. The characters, however, are built as such that a half hour show would be entirely possible.
SCRIPT: What's next for you?
JM: I am knee deep in writing a new romantic comedy. Feature writing is my first love. As for TV, Angela and I are currently working on another comedy microseries in development at TBS. We're also working on an original pilot. Stay tuned!
For more info on the show, check out the TBS website.