‘Divorce’ EP Jenny Bicks on Stepping in as Showrunner for Season 2

     February 5, 2018

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On Season 2 of the HBO series Divorce, Frances (Sarah Jessica Parker) and Robert (Thomas Haden Church) are learning to navigate the aftermath of their separation and rebuild their lives independently while they co-parent. Focusing on careers, new relationships and finding ways to be happy again, with some time apart, they can actually start to remember what it was that they liked about each other.

During this 1-on-1 phone interview with Collider, executive producer Jenny Bicks talked about what it was like to step in as showrunner for Season 2, being back at HBO and reuniting with Sarah Jessica Parker after Sex and the City, the shifts in the series’ tone, selecting the writers and directors for this season, what she most enjoys about watching Frances and Robert together, and what the future of the series could look like. She also talked about whether she’s felt like her own voice has been heard, in this industry, and what it’s like to be a showrunner, with everyone looking to you for the answers.

Collider:  How does it feel to be back at HBO and to reunite with Sarah Jessica Parker?

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Image via HBO

JENNY BICKS:  You go away from something and you do all these other shows and you write movies, and then you come back and you’re like, “Oh, hi, you guys!” It’s like going back to camp and seeing all the people that you grew up with, and some of them are different. The beauty of HBO is that the ethos of it doesn’t change, so you feel like you’re back at home. And with Sarah Jessica, it’s similar. We had a shorthand and we knew each other at very different points in our careers, and then you come back together and it’s fun. I also ended up hiring a bunch of writers that I’d worked with on Sex and the City, as well, for the second season. You get to work with the people that you work so well and easily with, in a whole new situation.

Is it easier to come into a show as the new showrunner when you have already collaborated previously with your lead actress?

BICKS:  Yes, totally! Sometimes that also complicates things because you both have worked together on a different show, many years ago. I still think, in the end, it’s better because you do have that shorthand, but you also have to acknowledge the changes, on both sides. This isn’t Sex and the City, and we aren’t trying to do another version of the same show. That was important for her and important for me, and no one said it should be. There wasn’t a mandate to make it that, which was nice.

Sarah Jessica Parker is not only your star, but she’s also a very hands-on producer. As the showrunner, how did you find your rhythm with her and what do you think works best about your working relationship?

BICKS:  I also worked really closely with Alison Benson, who’s her producing partner, so the three of us worked together. What ended up happening, in a good way, was that everyone found their strength. Everyone took a part of it that they felt the most strongly about, and did it. Because we all respected each other and trusted each other, there wasn’t a lot of duplication of work. I think it took a lot of trust, on her part, to have someone knew come in, in the second season, who had a different vision of where the show could go. It was not necessarily a different vision of where she thought it would go, but it was gonna be different than the first season. I came in with a really strong track record of running shows and knowing what to do, plus I know her and know the writing. It became quite collaborative. She was very involved on set, and I was on set a lot. She became the captain of the actors, and I became the captain of the writers. She would care more about something visual and I would care more about something in the writing, and we would end up batting the ball back and forth.

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Image via HBO

How was the process of putting together the writers and directors that would tackle this season?

BICKS:  I felt very lucky that I was able to hire all of these women from Sex and the City as writers, so that made a big difference. The first season was its own animal, but they didn’t have as many women and I wanted to introduce some more women into the process. There were some directors who had already been hired, who were terrific, and we had Adam Bernstein, who was our producing director. I had actually worked with Adam before, but he was brought on from the first season. So, we had some good continuity, and there was a good chance to expand on who was behind the camera. This was before the #MeToo of it, but we’ve been feeling the need, for a couple of years, to try to get more women involved, in every aspect. Any show that I run, I try, as much as I can, to keep us women at a parity that we should be at.

We’re finally talking about the lack of equality that still exists, and we know that it’s been an issue in the entertainment industry. Have you felt like your voice has been listened to and heard, in your career?

BICKS:  That’s a really good question. I started in the mid-90s, in sitcom. At that time, they were still doing these huge sitcom rooms of 15 people, and it would literally be 14 guys and me. It was good training ground for me, in that you have to understand what their misconceptions are about women and you have to learn to fight it. Nobody is going to fight that battle for you, so you have to fight it and stay in it and hope to change it. At that point, were people listening? No. But, I was a staff writer and I was just trying to get my jokes in. They had to realize that I wasn’t gonna cry. There was that thing, especially back then, of, “Whatever you do, don’t cry in the room ‘cause that’s the end of you. Don’t draw attention to yourself, in any way. Play along.” And then, as I got more credentials, my voice was heard, but Sex and the City had a lot to do with that. That show was very female-driven. Michael Patrick King ran it and he taught us all to have our own voices, and we came out of that feeling pretty confident. We all really learned a lot from that show. Had I not had that credential, I don’t know if people would have listened to me, in that way. It’s still a huge problem. In movies, it’s a huge problem.

As the showrunner of a TV series, you’re responsible for everyone and everything, and you’re ultimately the one who gets the credit or the blame for the finished product. What do you remember about the first day you were on set as the showrunner? Was there a sense of knowing it’s what you were meant to be doing, or did you feel like you had no idea what you were getting yourself into?

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Image via HBO

BICKS:  What an interesting question. The first time I ran my own show, I created a show in 2000 that was on after Friends, called Leap of Faith, and it was only on for six episodes. It was a great cast (Sarah Paulson, Lisa Edelstein, Regina King and Ken Marino) and, at the time, it got more viewership off of Friends than any other show after that, but it was 91% and they said that wasn’t enough. By the time you’re on set, you know who you are. You’ve had to be in production meetings, and you’ve had to convince the actors to do the show and deal with them, so by the time you’re there, you know who you are. When I stepped onto the set, I tried my best to not let them see my fear, but that’s whether you’re male or female. It was my baby, but they gave me a lot of money to make my baby, so my baby had to look really pretty in the clothes, or they’d never let me have another baby. I was always good at managing. I’m a good manager, so I knew I could do that. I could make people feel heard, but it’s a whole lot. I’ve learned a lot, over the years, about what to care about. At that time, I didn’t feel like I could give jobs to other people and I didn’t feel like I could trust other people. Now, I’ve learned that you have to hire good people and let them do what they do.

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