The 10-episode Comedy Central series Idiotsitter follows Billie (Charlotte Newhouse), a cash-strapped, straight-and-narrow Ivy League grad, who reluctantly answers a babysitting ad to make ends meet, only to find out what is actually needed is a court-appointed guardian for Gene (Jillian Bell), an heiress under house arrest in her daddy’s mansion. The show also features Stephen Root as Gene’s oblivious dad and Jennifer Elise Cox as her stepmother, and a line-up of great guest stars.
While at the TCA Press Tour, show creators/writing partners/actresses Jillian Bell and Charlotte Newhouse spoke to Collider for this exclusive interview about how the idea for Idiotsitter came about, starting as a web series and then making the transition to TV series, making sure the arc of the show is focused on the friendship between Billie and Gene, why this is a relatable concept, cracking up while shooting, and their fantastic Labyrinth recreation with a major guest star.
Collider: Idiotsitter evolved from a web series, but how did the original idea come about?
JILLIAN BELL: It’s unfortunate that we don’t have a great story for that.
CHARLOTTE NEWHOUSE: We met at Groundlings and wrote sketches together, and we wanted to write a TV show. We wanted to write something that, if we shot it ourselves, would be cost effective, so we decided that it should be something that’s one location. And then, house arrest became the idea to keep it in one spot, and everything came from there. It’s not a sexy answer, but it’s the truth.
BELL: I feel that we’re so sexy and sexual that it makes up for it.
How did it first become a web series, and then how did you make the transition to TV series?
BELL: We pitched it to Comedy Central as a pilot for TV, and then they said they’d like to see it as a web series. That gave us a chance to show what we could do together, as writers and as actors, and show the world the show and the kind of people we could get to be on the show. Stephen Root doing a web series was insane.
NEWHOUSE: It’s a smart way to incubate shows. For one, it’s low pressure. You have full creative control. But, it also gives you such a breadth of the world because you get to dig deeper into it than one episode.
BELL: You get more out of doing a web series than a pilot, in some ways, especially when we were interviewing for writers. They had already seen what our show looked like, rather than something that we wrote that doesn’t get picked up and they never see it.
Did you guys always want to start over with the TV series, rather than just building from where the web series left off?
BELL: We knew we had to get out the premise of the show.
NEWHOUSE: The pilot is actually very close to the original pilot we wrote, even before the web series, because it was written originally for TV. We basically just used that, but changed it a little bit.
BELL: We just updated it a little, and maybe added one more joke.
Since this is your first TV show, did the experience making the web series allow you to be more confident in doing the shoot for TV?
NEWHOUSE: It did. It gave us a look into it. And we didn’t change that much, but we did change some stuff. We made Billie a little weird because we wanted to avoid the trope of straight man/funny man. We wanted it to be two people who really saw each other as lacking and in need of help.
BELL: It also gave us an opportunity to try some weirder ideas out, and then see what didn’t quite work. It was good to have that in the web series, as opposed to trying that in the TV series. We still may have fails there, but we got to be a little bit weirder.
NEWHOUSE: There were certain things we didn’t like, in the web series.
BELL: And we established those boundaries in the writers’ room.
For people who haven’t seen the web series, what is this show about and who are these two women?
NEWHOUSE: It’s a high-concept that harkens back to The Nanny or Mr. Belvedere. It has an ‘80s sitcom vibe. The characters are just two women who see each other as fundamentally flawed, and they see it as their duty to fix that in the other person.
BELL: It was really important to us that the arc of the show was their friendship, how they become friends, how they lose their friendship, and where they go from there. That was the main focus when we were writing.
NEWHOUSE: The teacher-student relationship with Billie as the teacher and Gene as the student goes the opposite way. Gene’s version of being a teacher is getting Billie drunk. It’s the flip side of it.
When Billie is presented with the rather ridiculous idea of babysitting a grown woman, she’s desperate enough to agree to do it. If you were going to have a concept that out there, was it important to you that it still be relative for audiences, especially for those who have had to do some crazy things for a paycheck in desperate times?
NEWHOUSE: Yeah, and I know people who spent eight years in grad school and have tons of loans. They’re studying the anthropology of South Dakota and you’re like, “What are you going to do with that?! I’m sure you know everything and you’re very smart, but you’re not equipped in the real world.” It totally happens like that. So, even though it’s wacky and gets crazy, everything comes from a real place.
BELL: And everybody has had a terrible job that they’ve had to do for money when they’re struggling, so that’s relatable.
You guys do and say some pretty outrageous things on this show, which is where a lot of the comedy comes from. When it comes to comedy, is there anything you won’t do, if it’s for a laugh?
BELL: I think everybody has a point where they’re not going to cross that line. There were a couple of things with Comedy Central that we had to fight for. They were pretty cool about everything. I don’t think there was anything we really fought for that didn’t happen.
NEWHOUSE: If they disagreed with us and we were really passionate about it, they were like, “Okay.” I don’t have experience with having a television show on other networks, but Comedy Central just seemed really great about everything.
This is the first TV show that you guys have had complete control over, so now that you’ve done it, do you feel like you could do it again?
NEWHOUSE: It was such a trial by fire. We learned so much that I feel like we could totally do it again.
BELL: You can’t not learn so much doing that. Now, we want to do it so badly, again and again. This was our first thing as a writing duo, putting everything out there, that we just hope that people don’t hate it.
NEWHOUSE: It’s interesting ‘cause you make a lot of creative decisions, and then you go home and go, “I don’t know what I’m doing. I have no basis for any of this. I’m just going with my gut.” Having a writing partner is such a false sense of security because we agree on basically everything. For us, it’s crazy to be any other way. But then, we go home and realize that we don’t know what we’re talking about or if we’re right.
BELL: If somebody has a question, they only have to ask one of us because we share a brain. We seriously have never said something different than the other one.
Do you guys ever crack yourselves up while you’re shooting?
NEWHOUSE: I am very bad at that. I think I’m notoriously bad at that, and I’ve always been. Even at Groundlings, I was known as a breaker, and it’s really embarrassing. There were a couple of people on the show that made me break. There was one scene with Sarah Baker that I really ruined. She had so much funny stuff that we didn’t use because I laughed over everything, which is sad. She’s still funny, but I killed most of her jokes.
BELL: There was one scene in the pilot that we could not get through. Our poor crew was holding heavy cameras and boom mics, and we were just laughing. [Charlotte] literally had to leave the room, so I could [do the scene by myself]. I think it’s super important for our crew to see that we’re just doing something silly and it’s not so serious, and that we should have a good time.
How was it to have Channing Tatum on the show, doing a recreation of Labyrinth?
NEWHOUSE: That’s the personal top.
BELL: That’s the cake, the ice cream and the cherry.
NEWHOUSE: And the plate and the napkin.
BELL: And the confetti.
NEWHOUSE: It was amazing! It was the first thing he shot and he was sick. [Jillian] knows him. She’d worked with him on 22 Jump Street. I’d met him. Literally, it was our first week of shooting and they said, “You’re going to go do a Labyrinth scene and dance with Channing Tatum.” It was an out-of-body experience. I don’t remember it.
BELL: We have a lot of great guest stars. I know people say that all the time, but it’s bullshit.
Are people pretty game to just come and have fun on this show?
BELL: I don’t think we have a lot of issues convincing people to do things.
NEWHOUSE: Even Channing Tatum was like, “Can’t wait for this to ruin my career!,” but he basically did anything we asked him to. People are game. I find that they’re just happy that you want to work with them.
Because you’re the ones writing and creating this show, do you write stuff that specifically pushes you out of your comfort zone, or do you go easy on yourselves?
BELL: We probably baby ourselves a little bit. We did write a scene where we get stuff dumped all over us, and we had to shoot it at 5 am, after a full night shoot outside and it was freezing. We will remember that for Season 2.
NEWHOUSE: Because we started in sketch comedy, and because of what we like and what our comedy brain likes, we would write ourselves into these sketches that were just beastly with $1,000 worth of props. We were like, “What are we doing?!” So, we’re conscious of the fact that our imaginations go beyond what’s fun.
BELL: We come up with an idea, and then we think about the day of and whether or not we’ll enjoy it, and if it’s really the funniest we can do.
Idiotsitter airs on Thursday nights on Comedy Central.