Video and photos courtesy of Lifetime/A+E Networks
“Drop Dead Diva” is about a woman who gets a second chance at life, and now, coincidentally, the show too has cheated death. The fifth season premieres Sunday at 9 p.m. ET on Lifetime after a surprise (and disappointing) cancellation at the end of season four last year. Series creator Josh Berman sat down with Instinct to talk-shop about resurrecting his TV show, what to expect in season five and revealing why he believes he has the best fans in the world.
When the show was initially cancelled, what went through your head about what to do next?!
I was really disappointed and really surprised that we were cancelled because we were one of the few cable shows that actually went up in ratings year to year. None of us saw it coming and I was really bummed out and sad. But immediately we started trending on Twitter and that was the first time the show had ever trended on Twitter. And then a couple of days later these videos started popping up by fans demanding that the show come back. After that, within a week, we had tens of thousands of signatures on petitions that were user generated to bring the show back. So I went from despair to joy by seeing how hardcore our fans were.
At this point you were optimistic that the show would indeed come back?
I was! I was very optimistic once I saw the fans rally to support the show because it’s so hard in a very cluttered universe of TV shows to stand out. I’ve had the privilege to work on such shows as “CSI” and “Bones” that have huge fan bases but I’ve never seen fans as vocal and loyal like “Drop Dead Diva” fans.
What I love about our fans is that they watch the show when it airs; they can’t wait. They get really excited. And each season we seem to gain more fans through Netflix and people watching the DVDs so when we come back each season there’s an even larger group of Divas watching the show and we’re counting on that!
I’m really glad the show is back on Lifetime. But when we were cancelled within a couple of days there was serious interest from other networks as well. So, I pretty quickly felt the show was going to be back.
What is it about the show that connects and resonates so deeply with the fans?
It’s truly a feel good show and there’s not much of that on TV right now. There’s a lot of crime and a lot of murder—and I’ve written for a lot of those shows—but this is a show that at the end of the day, you feel good about yourself and I think that’s why we have such a loyal and vocal following with the fans and attract such amazing guest stars as well. People want to be a part of something that makes them feel good. We air 9 p.m. ET on Sunday nights at the end of one week and the beginning of another—why not go into the new week smiling? The show is contagious.
I was able to get a sneak peak of the first episode of the fifth season, and I won’t spoil anything for our readers and fans, but what I can say is that it doesn’t disappoint! Did you already have the storyline of season five ready to go?
Because I never thought we would be cancelled, I absolutely knew where I wanted to go with the storyline and where things would pick up in season five. I love TV and watching TV and nothing would piss me off more than a show being cancelled after a great cliffhanger like we had in season four. I love season five and it’s my favorite season yet. I think our cliffhanger at the end of the first episode of this season is better than our cliffhanger at the end of last year and really leads up nicely to the second episode. And just like the fans I’m very excited! I can’t wait to watch with friends and hear the gasps at the end of the first episode.
Can you give us any ideas of what guest stars are appearing this season or returning from past seasons?
We do have people that I’m confident are coming on as guest stars that I can’t quite release yet because the deals aren’t done, but I can say we have Sandra Bernhard and she’s one of the big gay icons that we have this season. And we’re continuing to get our dream list. Again, I think it’s because these actors don’t want to go on a murder show where they’re the victim of the killer of the week. So, if they get to come on our show and play a quirky little character, play in our sand box and go home, they love to do it.
I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t already thinking about season six. What are you thinking about season six and are you nervous about it being renewed?
I’ve been thinking about it too! I really feel confident that the show will continue on after this season. We have a model with Lifetime and Sony that makes this show very produceable for a couple more years to come. So I don’t see the end of "Diva" in sight. It’s going to come down to ratings and I hope that viewers will tune in for the season premiere. I’m definitely not ready to write the end yet!
Do you see the show ever being turned into a movie?
If I were ever approached by somebody who wanted to turn this into a musical, I would be all over it! I think that "Diva" is such a natural for a Broadway musical or a movie. And Brooke Elliott (Jane) has such an amazing voice, I bet she’d want to star in it.
On that note, we’ve seen Brooke Elliott and Margaret Cho sing in past episodes. Do you see more singing happening this season?
Absolutely! There’s always going to be a musical element to the show for sure.
Do you see yourself producing a musical outside of “Drop Dead Diva”?
Ya know, I’m totally tone deaf so I probably wouldn’t be the best person to produce a musical. I watch “American Idol” and I think everyone sounds amazing, but if the right person came along I would certainly want to write the book or something like that.
What’s the set like compared to some of the other sets that you’ve worked on?
It is the most fun set to be on. Hands down. This is not the set where the actors disappear to their trailers between each take. These are the actors that continue to kid with each other, play jokes and really have a good time. Especially this season where we all look at it as a second chance at life coming back. On top of that, our sets are gorgeous. We shoot the show in Georgia and there are just no sets like this in L.A. We’re like a kid in a candy store out there where we get to build the sets that we want and really make everything look and feel wonderful and just enjoy ourselves.
I’d be a very bad fan if I didn’t say I want to see Grayson and Jane finally get together and live happily ever after. Will you be granting this wish for gays and girls around the world this season?
I’m getting to do everything I wanted to do this season. I’m getting to introduce everything that I wanted to introduce and we have a big gay episode this season. I think this is the year. If new fans haven’t seen the show this Sunday is the perfect time to tune in. If you’re a longtime fan of "Diva" this is the season where the cards get turned over. So all I can say is all of your questions will be answered this season.
How many more seasons do you think you have left?
I do think there has to be an end point and I would love to be able to write to that end. I know that I have at least two or three more seasons in me that I want to write. It will ultimately be Lifetime’s decision but I’m not ready to go away.
What advice would you give to those in the LGBT community aspiring to achieve your level of success?
That’s a great question because of the way that I came up with “Drop Dead Diva.” The character of Deb was named after my grandmother whose name is Deborah and I wanted to write a show about the essence of my grandmother who was this 4-foot-11, chubby Holocaust survivor who instilled in me the belief that I could do anything I wanted to do. She was a lady who carried herself like a supermodel. She always walked into a room like she owned it. So for LGBT people today, I think you’re crazy if you put limitations on yourself. Yes, you’re gonna have hurdles and yes, you’re not gonna get everything you try for but you don’t need to be your own worst critic. You get enough of that from society, so I say go for your dreams and be your own advocate and don’t second-guess yourself.
(Catch up on “Drop Dead Diva” before Sunday’s season five premiere. Lifetime has made the entire season four available at mylifetime.com)