It’s one thing to chat with the actor of a great series but it’s quite another to talk to the creator of the series, i.e. the person who made it all possible.
Daemon’s TV had the opportunity to talk to Lizzy Weiss, the creator of the hit ABC Family series Switched At Birth starring Katie Leclerc and Vanessa Marano. She gave us insight in the fascinating origins of the series, what is coming up for the rest of the season and the #1 thing fans can do so that the show gets a second season.
Check out what she had to say below and don’t forget to tune in for the newest episode of ‘Switched at Birth’ “Les Soeurs d’Estrees” which airs tonight Tuesday, January 24 at 8:00PM ET/PT.
Congratulations on getting such a huge episode order, twenty two on top of what you already had. That must’ve been exciting?
Lizzy Weiss: It was exciting. I think it showed a real passion for the show on the network’s part and they didn’t want to keep us in suspense every twelve episodes about whether we were coming back, or keep the fans in suspense. So, it let us really relax and dig in to storytelling and be able to have a lot more long term approach to telling stories like the best TV shows do. It’s slower and you can take time with characters instead of thinking that you have to get it all in.
What inspired you to create the show?
Lizzy Weiss: I was pregnant with my daughter when I heard a story on the radio about two women who found out that they were switched at birth. It was this riveting story about how their entire lives were turned upside down, even their own names. They had the wrong names. They found out in their mid-fifties that they were supposed to have a different name. Your name is the most essential thing to your identity. And it clicked for them, something that they’d always sort of known unconsciously was wrong, but didn’t know exactly just what.
Being three months away from giving birth myself and having the prospect of being at the hospital with this baby out there, it just really terrified me and affected me. I thought, ‘Well, what if you found out when you were sixteen instead of in your fifties when you’re identity is already so in flux?’ As a parent, I also already had a son at that time, I thought, ‘What if someone walked in my house and told me he’s not yours and you have another kid out there who is yours.’ It just felt so raw. That’s the best word that I can use, so raw. It pulled at my guts.
So, I sold the ‘Switched At Birth’ concept to the network and then in the process of developing it we talked about making the stakes even higher and more complex for one of the girls, the one who’d grown up in the more working class background if the wealthier parents felt like if she was disabled in some way, that they felt like there was more that could’ve been for her if they’d had her from the start. I’d taken a class in college that was called ‘Theater of the Deaf.’ It was a sign language theater class. So, I had a little bit of background in the language and I said, ‘Lets make one of the girls deaf’. And the rest is history.
The show does a great job of portraying the deaf community in a respectful way. How do you make sure that the plot lines respect that standard?
Lizzy Weiss: That’s a good question. So, when I was writing the pilot I just threw myself into research and then when I hired our writers I said to them, ‘Learn everything that you can and then let it go,’ meaning don’t get so bogged down into it that you feel like you can’t write a deaf teenager. It’s just a teenager on the most basic level, just a seventeen year old kid. Approach it that way and then lets sort of overlay the deaf back over it. But we just are constantly doing research. We have a deaf consultant. We have deaf people all over our sets. We have an ASL master who’s on set all the time to make sure the signing is right. We have interpreters. We just have a very strong community on our set. So, we’re surrounded by them. We’re constantly asking questions.
The arrest for example, we of course had the billboard happen last season, but we’d heard a story about someone deaf who had been arrested and who had gotten hurt; a little bit of a version of what happened last episode, he couldn’t hear them say, ‘Down, get down.’ He got beat up. So, we took that seed and we spoke to our deaf consultant, and like any show combination of research and inspiration and poetic license.
What’s been the response from the deaf community?
Lizzy Weiss: Incredibly positive. I think just to have a show out there with multiple deaf and hard of hearing protagonists where you’re telling stories about them and they’re not side characters who are once in a blue moon, a witness to a murder on ‘Cold Case,’ is very exciting. I guess there’s probably some controversy about things that we cheat. I’m very open about the fact that we do cheat some things because we only have so much time, and look, in real life not every person in the world is as beautiful as our characters either. They’re just sort of a TV size. Is Daphne an incredible lip reader? Yeah, in our show she is. Did they learn sign language incredibly fast? Yeah, they did. But if we had to break every time to say, ‘I’m sorry, please repeat that,’ we wouldn’t be able to tell the stories that we want to tell. So, I’m aware that we fudge a little bit, but I’m okay with it. I think it’s worth it in the long run for what we’re doing.
Actually, I have been inspired to start a sign language course on Saturday.
Lizzy Weiss: That is so cool. That’s the other thing I was going to say, that people have been telling me that, that community classes are full, ASL classes in community college and that people are petitioning their schools to put sign language classes in off the show. So, that’s an incredible little movement that we started without even realizing that would happen and it’s awesome. It’s a gorgeous language.
What can you tease about the rest of the season?
Lizzy Weiss: A lot of the stories that we dove into last night are big threads for us. The basketball arc for Daphne is a big story for this season. She continues to be pulled between her old life and her new life. We’re using now basketball as a metaphor for that, between Buckner and Carlton, now that her dad is on the other team. It’s a father/daughter story that is one of our main stories.
Of course the Bay/Emmett relationship, obstacles continue to be thrown in their path. First it was communication issues and then it was his mom. First it was Daphne. Then it was communication issues. Then it was his mom. Like every relationship it’s tough, but really we want to test them as a couple and see if they can make it through everything. I think a lot of teenagers relationships are tough. Hopefully they’re a good prototype for a lot of couples who have a lot to go through.
Of course Angelo is back and he continues to be a source of conflict for Regina in that she’s pulled back to him because they have this passionate relationship that’s one of those relationships that you can never get over. But she’s aware of how much damage he did to his daughter. So, she’s conflicted. Simone is a great new character for us. We wanted a girlfriend for Daphne who was part of the world she would’ve been a part of if she had not been switched.
Wilke of course. We love Wilke. The arrest last night, there’s more consequences from the arrest that will continue to bubble down for the Bledsoe’s. Five thousand dollars is a lot of money to a guidance counselor. So, we’re going to continue with that.
Is the whole Daphne, Bay, Emmett saga still going on?
Lizzy Weiss: It’s not on the forefront of Daphne’s mind right now with Angelo here, with basketball. But she’s good at pushing things away. She’s a character who pushes things down until they bubble up because she always tries to be the good kid. So, for now she’s focused on other things, but I wouldn’t say that it’s gone forever.
What about Kathryn’s book, will we see more of that throughout the season?
Lizzy Weiss: Yes. Kathryn is struggling with, but also really enjoying this new identity and trying something that’s separate from the house, separate from being a wife and a mom and it’s hard for her. It’s hard to do things that cause conflict for her husband or for Regina or for the kids, but she’s learning to put her needs first and it’s something that’s very exciting for her. It’s going to put her into situations and meeting new people that she never would’ve met if she hadn’t done it. So, it’s a fun source of story for us.
In terms of your vision for the show and the characters and story arcs, do you know how this all gets resolved? Is there an end game or is it just like life and you’re throwing in as many situations as you can?
Lizzy Weiss: It’s a little bit of both. I think there always has to be an emotional feel for where you feel that the characters are going to end, but week to week, especially when you have so many episodes, there’s got to be room for play. The writers come in, we have an incredible staff with a million ideas. You have to let inspiration come from life and what happened three weeks ago. So, we have a lot of room for that.
You’re still in the middle of your first season, but has there been talk of a second season yet?
Lizzy Weiss: Not specifically since we have so many more episodes right in front of us. I think the network is very positive about us and are very happy and exciting with the stories that we’re telling. I don’t think any of us are thinking about season two since we have ten more to go right in front of us.
What would you tell fans to do to give you the best chance of getting a second season?
Lizzy Weiss: Get more people to watch. Literally, I think we’re on at a tough new time at nine against ‘Glee.’ So, the network is aware of that, that it’s harder in January than it was in the summer and I think it’s just to tell people to watch, honestly, especially adults. I’m an adult. Obviously my friends and family watch and it really resonates with them. I hope that we’re giving a thought provoking show that stays with you. I think it’s because it’s a network that people eighteen to forty nine don’t know about as much we have to fight a little bit to get people to see us. It’s seen as more of a teen network. We’re just trying to get the word out more to more people. I’d say that’s the easiest and best way.
Get more people to watch. That’s a great tip.
Lizzy Weiss: I don’t want to say send in spray paint cans and hearing aides, I guess. I think the more sure fire way is to have our ratings double.
If you could get anyone to guest star on your show who would that be?
Lizzy Weiss: Well, we’ve heard that Emma Stone signs. So, I’m trying to get to Emma Stone because I heard that she grew up with a signing tutor and as a love letter to the language, if she would do a fun part for us. I have to say Helen Mirren because Vanessa Marano and I both love her and we named a band after her. So, Helen Mirren and Emma Stone.
Crossovers are really popular and fans like them, but if you could do that with any show, even one that’s not even on ABC Family, which one would it be?
Lizzy Weiss: My So-Called Life.’ Can I go back twenty years and have Angela and Brian Krakow interact with Emmett and Daphne? That would be awesome.