In the writer’s room with not-so-Lost Girl Michelle Lovretta

The Showcase series' creator talks to Playback about what makes fantasy-dramedy about a bisexual succubus work with "geeks" and mainstream audiences alike.
01-13-12 Lovretta

“Can you make it through this on your own or do I have to cuff your muff?”

That’s Lost Girl‘s Kenzi (played by Ksenia Solo) trying to keep the ever-hungry succubus Bo (Anna Silk) on track while she eyes up a group of hot young ladies on the dance floor at a rave.

In ass-kicking terms, she’s been compared to Buffy, but Bo, the brainchild of Canadian writer Michelle Lovretta, is not your typical primetime drama heroine. Bo, you see, feeds off the sexual energy of humans (boys and girls alike) and can be easily distracted when love is in the air. When Bo gets hungry, things get sexy.

Despite its unconventional nature, Lost Girl has managed to suck up the attention of a respectable portion of the Canadian population since it debuted on Showcase in 2010, earning an average viewership of 700,000 in its first season and a third-season greenlight before the second had concluded. Even more exciting for series producer Prodigy Pictures, Lost Girl‘s first season will premiere on Syfy in the U.S. in Jan. 16, after being picked up for the channel this spring.

Here, Playback sits down with Lovretta for a skim-milk cafe au lait (Lovretta) and coffee (me) to find out how she created a lovable, loyal and lustful succubus for the masses.

KB: Lost Girl has been very successful on Showcase – did you expect to see it gain so much traction with viewers?

ML: It’s kind of crazy. It’s also doing well internationally, it’s starting on Syfy in a couple of weeks and I hope that it is as successful there. The part of me that’s surprised is the dorky writer that thinks ‘oh my god, somebody actually wants to watch my shit’ but the part of me that’s not shocked is the geek. I’m a huge genre nerd and always have been. And because of that, I know – or at least I think that I know – that I’m one of the fans and I know what they want and I’m giving it to myself as much as I’m giving it to them. The biggest gift I’ve had as a writer is being able to create and write this show. It hits all the things that as a fan I want – I’m very into shipping, I love all the relationships, I love angst, I love the noir-ish elements. I’m a huge lover of mythology, and I think as part of being raised in Toronto, of world mythology and other cultures. Because of that, I know what I like – it’s crack to me and I know that there are enough people out there that are into that that I sort of figured, if you build it, they will come. It doesn’t mean that they will come in the kind of numbers that a network would be satisfied with but if I just made [the fans] happy then I would be pretty pleased, on a selfish level.

KB: Are there certain tricks in genre series that help them appeal to wider audiences as well fantasy fans?

ML: Absolutely. I think first and foremost the show is about relationships. This is going to sound bizarre, but you could have put it in any genre. This could have been a show where Bo was a cop. What we did by having Bo as a succubus was to take off some of the constraints that would have otherwise been there dealing with sexuality. Once you put the veneer of fantasy on, people allow you to go places and ask questions and in our case, to not make a big deal out of certain things, which I didn’t want to make a big deal about, such as orientation and things like that. Because there is enough fantasy in the [Lost Girl] world that they just sit back and enjoy the ride. And also, it’s a goofy-ass show and I say that with love. That’s one of the things about it that I think is charming – it has fun with itself. That allows people that aren’t strictly into genre able to watch it and laugh along with it, however they choose.

KB: I think people like that about True Blood as well.

ML: Yeah; we don’t want to go into high camp, we don’t want to go into slapstick, I don’t find that particularly charming. But we do have fun and that’s always been the main thing when I’m pitching stories or working with writers. I’m like ‘where’s the fun?’ Even if the fun is that you are breaking her heart, stepping on it and pouring vodka on the bloody, bloody mess, that’s fun too in a certain perverse way, when you’re seeing heartache. There has to be those elements to it. And those elements are universal. They’re not strictly the domain of genre and that’s why the fans can come for that. Also we have a self-contained A-story, so people can sample and it’s not something that they have to have watched, or know the rules of succubae.

When we first pitched the show, I said, listen, arcs are important to me but mythology – and by that I mean the internal world of the show, not Greek mythology – but Lost Girl mythology was very important to me and in the beginning I really had to fight for that because that wasn’t something that we did a lot of here. I said, ‘I want to give you the X-Files model. I want to give you heavy mythology at the beginning so that people understand the world, and then we can go back case by case, creature by creature, you’re going to need more in the middle and ramp up at the end.’ As long as I’m allowed to have that, I’m fine with having, or seek to have, a story engine at the heart of every episode, because it’s easier. And because then people can sample.

KB: I’ve always thought it was great that Shaw put so much into marketing into Lost Girl to help give it a chance. Have you been pleased with how it has been marketed?

ML: Christine Shipton has been a big booster. I think that they had faith in us, and we were just this little show starting out and they put their money behind it and that always has an immense effect. I think that it got the word out [in Canada]. I think we got the word out globally. There was something about the show that, the fact that it was embracing different sexualities, all those sort of things that we offer, the genre fans did what they do so well, which is word of mouth. And people download it [laughs] which they are very good at. So in our first season we were seeing things on Twitter in the Cyrillic alphabet about Lost Girl; you’d find someone trying to contact one of our actors from Vietnam; and that was pretty early. Before it had even hit the air, Shaw had done an immense amount of good work to get eyes to tune in that first time. And then once the show was going, it was up to the show to make sure that we had a successful world and that it would spread by word of mouth. But we’re really hoping that works in the U.S. as well – we went to ComicCon and there were already some really wonderful fans there to meet us, so that was good feeling.

KB: What was ComicCon like?

ML: It was great meeting people that had clearly gone to the effort of finding out about the show because it wasn’t marketed [in the U.S.], so that’s really gratifying. And we had some comments that I will always treasure, where there were people there basically saying, ‘thank you for creating something that was sex positive,’ which was always my goal. The two things I wanted were something that was sex positive – but particularly female sex positive because that is our lead and I am one – but also very friendship positive. I find that there’s a fair amount of television that in order to get drama, women are cats to each other. I’ve enjoyed some great friendships in my lifetime and it was important for me to have that be something that was given due respect.

KB: Tell us about working on [the CW's] Secret Circle

I think that for me, what I really, really enjoyed about that [experience] is they don’t shoot where they write, and being able to watch how they navigate that process, just for the sake of future projects, because I plan on developing some other things this year as well. Just being able to figure out in my mind – because this has been so much of my career lately – where will my body be when this happens?  What will be the snags and how to you work around them and who will you empower, that kind of thing.

KB: What was one of the biggest things you learned working on the series?

I’m most drawn to [writing for ages] 20 and up, I think. [When] I was running Instant Star I had a lot of fun on that. There’s something really lovely about being able to write someone’s first kiss, first prom, that kind of thing, so there’s always something compelling about it as a writer. But I’m also, I think, and this is part of Lost Girl still being in my head, I also enjoy the freedom to be a little bit edgier, which Showcase has allowed us to have. There’s something – and this is why I think I will always try to do some developing in Canada – there’s something really fabulous about how free and supportive they’ve been when it came to issues of gender or sexuality or violence or language compared to when you strictly try to work in a US model. I don’t think Syfy is making them change much. They’ve been really supportive and their marketing campaign has been fabulous and and they are pairing us with Being Human, which is a lovely show. Because I’ve had in development a couple of different projects there that had lesbians as leads and nobody there ever batted an eye – no one was saying ‘that’s going to marginalize your audience,’ there was nothing like that. Which is, I’m coming to appreciate, a great gift.

Lost Girl’s third season goes into production this spring.