There’s no question cable has changed the creative landscape of television, and ABC’s “Red Widow” is just one of the latest shows with ambitions to bring cable style storytelling to network TV.
That means morally complicated characters, edgier content and — at least for Season 1 — a shorter episode order. The first season of “Red Widow” will unfold in a single arc over eight episodes. During the show’s panel at the 2013 Winter TCA Press Tour, showrunner Melissa Rosenberg (the “Twilight Saga” screenwriter who also worked on “Dexter” and “The O.C.”) says more time to work on fewer episodes was the biggest benefit of all.
“This is a very character driven show, it’s not something that lends itself to 22 episodes,” Rosenberg says. “The one advantage cable has over network, it has nothing to do with violence or sex or language or censors, it’s time. You have time to develop a story. That’s exactly what I wanted. I had as much time to write and develop this show as I did on ‘Dexter.’ I’m more proud of this show than anything else I’ve done in my career. So much of that has to do with ABC giving me the time with a great group of creative people to craft stories and bring these actors together.”
“Red Widow” is based on a 2010 Dutch TV series called “Penoza,” and Rosenberg says she sparked to the source material’s complex lead character, who will be played on “Widow” by Radha Mitchell (“Pitch Black,” “Finding Neverland”).
“This is a flawed female character, as all human beings are. A very human character,” Rosenberg explains. “That’s exciting to bring to network television. We’ve had on cable these male characters who are very flawed and complex — Tony Soprano, Dexter Morgan, Vic Mackey. We’ve just begun to have that on cable for women in ‘Nurse Jackie’ and ‘Weeds.’ This is a very tricky character to sell to an audience because women are held to a higher standard. But as played by Radha you have compassion for her.”
While Rosenberg credits her time on “Dexter” with helping to learn how to make an audience have compassion for a potentially unlikable character, she also points to AMC’s “Breaking Bad” as an influence. “That’s one of my favorite television shows ever,” Rosenberg says. “It is the model. I don’t know where [Radha’s] character could go, she could be as bad as Walter White.”
“We don’t go that far in the first series,” Mitchell chimes in. “There’s definitely room to evolve. The balance of what we’ve shot so far is a woman living in two realities. One is the crime reality and the other is a mom dealing with all these mundane maternal issues. I think there’s something beautiful about that maternal energy and seeing that not as the back-up to a male lead. We don’t often see mothers as leads.”
While Rosenberg seems intent on pushing the material as far as she can, she admits there’s one area she had to scale back on from the Dutch original.
“With ‘Penoza’ they thought they had an eight episode run and they killed everybody. Then it was a huge hit,” Rosenberg says with a laugh. “I can’t imagine what those showrunners were going through! So we don’t kill everyone. It’s all about building characters and relationships you want to stay with for five years or seven or however long we can. There may be some subtle shifts to the original, knowing that that’s the goal, to continue on with the characters.”