A few weeks ago we gave you an interview with the cast of The Bold Type, Freeform’s latest drama. Set in the world of high fashion, the show delves into the lives of three young women as they navigate their lives and careers in their early twenties. Along the way they learn some tough lessons about growing up, but also realize how important it is to keep your friends near your side. We sat down with creator Sarah Watson and producer Holly Whidden as they talk about how the show came about and why it was important to create women like this for TV.
Really Late Reviews: What brought you both to this project?
Sarah Watson: Why don’t you [Holly] talk first about your own origin story and then I’ll talk about how I inserted myself and wouldn’t take no for an answer.
Holly Whidden: So my origin—part of it—is that I was at Cosmopolitan at the time, and now I run the entertainment and talent division for Hearst Magazine, which is the parent company. And we had the entire Cosmo team in LA doing a global Katy Perry cover shoot, and a shoot like that is massive. So Joanna [Coles, Chief Content Officer of Hearst Magazines] had taken the team out to celebrate that night… and one of the people who had come to dinner was a producer named David Bernad and he sat next to me, and I was sort of telling him about what I did and he was like “this is a show.” And we had been approached before and it had never been quite right because it’s a lot of creative license to give over. And sure enough, a few weeks later he followed up. He came into the office and he stayed. He embedded himself. And it evolved from there. We felt comfortable with him. With Freeform, we had been dying to work with Karey Burke and [Simran] Sethi over there and it rolled along.
SW: So how I came around was meeting with different producers to see what properties they had to talk about development and maybe I’d develop something. I get pitched this thing with Cosmopolitan magazine and I nearly leapt off the couch and I was like, “I love that, I want that world.” That world is such a fantasy world for me. I flew myself out to New York and embedded myself at Cosmo and I was like, “I need to see the shoe closet…what do you have in my size?”
RLR: Throughout the pilot we kind of see these characters go up to that line of “is this okay to do?”, like with the tweet. How do you have a conversation of should she do that, should she realize that there is a hierarchy despite what her personal beliefs are?
SW: Well, these characters are kind of tenacious, and the classic millennial who was a gifted and overpraised child. And now [Kat] has turned into this adult who has this air of confidence that I think a lot of it is a mask, so I think when she speaks up in the boardroom that is so beyond inappropriate. So that moment of not-tweeting was sort of her kind of respecting what she was told to do. [Kat’s] kind of a leap first person, and that’s going to be a huge part of her journey this season. Taking away some of that confident mask and really sitting with what’s underneath and sometimes having to learn the tough lessons.
HW: It’s very accurate with the people who run our social media pages for our magazines. I mean, they have huge followings. We’re talking about twitter specifically in that scene and I think Scarlet has something like two million followers or whatever it is, and you’re given so much and there’s a lot of responsibility that comes with that, so you’ve got to think about those consequences, specifically in that scene, that would have had for Adeena had Kat done what she wanted.
SW: [Holly] had told me that most of the time when the magazine gets in trouble it was from something social media did.
HW: Because it moves so quickly.
SW: You don’t have time to fact check, you want to be first. It’s tricky.
RLR: I think right now, especially in this political climate, Teen Vogue kind of became this surprising voice people started to take seriously. Will you guys touch on something like that?
SW: Absolutely. We’re definitely going there. We are setting the show in the current world, in the current political climate, and the fact that women are having these voices right now. You know, Cosmo, that interview they did this summer — the one that got Ivanka Trump to hang up on them — when they really pushed Ivanka when others, like the New York Times, wasn’t. So we will definitely see that in episode three.
HW: Yes, that’s an awesome one. We totally go there with a politician.
RLR: I really like the scene with Kat and Adeena as they are packing and Adeena is about to leave. Are there going to be more moments like that, just slowing down and focusing on those characters?
SW: Absolutely. You’ll see Adeena throughout the season and she’ll be back.
HW: Adeena was a surprise to me in terms of that actress (Nikohl Boosheri). She just leaps off the screen. She just brings so much and is wonderful.
RLR: Sarah, you’ve worked with some pretty fantastic showrunners. What have you learned from them that you’re bringing to this project?
SW: I’ve been very fortunate that I’ve worked with some incredible showrunners. Jason Katims — obviously I learned tremendously from him — also Javier Grillo-Marxuach, who have such completely different showrunning styles but are both phenomenal showrunners. So I think what I learned from the combination of the two of them is to make it my own. Because I will never be able to do what Jason does and I will never be able to do what Javi does, so I sort of had to find what my showrunning voice is. I think that’s the biggest thing I learned was just to fully be okay with what I don’t know.
HW: And I would say on my end, your team, the writers, have been fabulous and like, “is this accurate, would this happen in real life?” It was important for us to not portray something that wouldn’t happen in real life.
RLR: Now that I am a mother to a daughter, I feel like I have this extra responsibility to find content that not only she enjoys but also helps empower her and I feel like this show could definitely be that. You have these three young women and then you have Jacqueline, the older, authority figure. How did you purposefully write characters where they didn’t fall into that trap of being bitchy or catty with each other?
SW: These are characters that I’ve been dying to see on TV for forever. I wanted to see my friendships on TV. My female friends are not backstabby, they’re not mean. We empower each other, we lift each other up, we call each other in a crisis. So that is what I wanted in these characters. Also, in terms of Jacqueline’s character, I feel very fortunate that I’ve had very strong, encouraging female mentors in my life, but the female bosses you see on TV tend to be harsh and over the top. Those women exist too, but let’s show the example of what we could be, because that’s the kind of boss I want to be, so that’s the kind of boss I want to see on TV.
KW: And I mean Jacqueline is so heavily based on Joanne Coles and I think that there is such a misconception, especially in that industry — that “Devil Wears Prada” mentality — and I think that how Joanna brings up her staff to be the best they can be is fun to watch. It’s fun to have kind of a great mass of women around me who are supportive and helpful, and, again, also something you don’t really see on TV.
[This interview has been edited for length and clarity]