I love TV.
I grew up watching TV and have always wanted to be on TV. Everyone told me it would never be possible because of my size, thank God I made stripping my Plan B.
As a kid, there was no greater feeling than throwing down the over-sized avocado velour cushion onto the shag carpeting next to my brother in front of our 1977 Zenith Console television in my footie pajamas, while mom detangled my soaking wet hair fresh from my bedtime shower.
TV shows like the ABC Sunday Night Movie or Circus of the Stars were major events. There was no skipping commercials, pausing or watching what you wanted when you wanted. There was no ‘catching up’ on past seasons; if you missed an episode you were screwed out of a social experience, all you could do was hope for a re-run.
My old school love affair with TV tainted my opinion of web TV’s entertainment value. I used to believe that because of the internet’s abundant entertainment options, TV-style programming on the web didn’t stand a chance.
Guess who’s backpedaling? Ahem, that would be me.
After working on VH1’s The Cho Show, Rico Martinez (Executive Producer & Director), Margaret Cho (Star) and I (Co-star) were left with a passionate hankering to work together again.
The common thread between Rico, Margaret and me is that we’re independent artists albeit at varying levels of success, nonetheless, independent.
But don’t get it twisted -- that doesn’t mean we met in the unemployment line; think of independents as the vaudevillians of our time.
So, in the spring of 2011, Rico and I were catching up over drinks when I told him I was anxious to collaborate with him, concurrently, he and Margaret were ready to work together again. By this point in my career, I had managed to create a body of work that lead to a number of TV network pitch meetings; in fact, I’ve become quite seasoned at the TV show pitch game, but once you’re in a room full of TV executives you realize that your struggle is only beginning.
When I showed up to meetings dressed up as Lamb Chop, holding my ankles, I knew I reached rock-bottom. My TV show pitch failures were fuel for creating a project with Rico and Margaret, comrades I respect, admire and who make me pee my pants every time we’re together.
Rico schooled me on the possibilities available to independent artists on YouTube through online networks like Maker Studios. Founded in 2009, Maker Studios is a cutting-edge, talent-first media company. They’ve recently signed mainstream celebrities such as Snoop Lion (my favorite stoner, formerly known as, Snoop Dogg) and Robert De Niro's Tribeca Enterprises.
I could no longer deny that the future of entertainment is online, YouTube to be exact. I can’t deny the obvious signs, Snoop Lion is my guide, so it’s apparent my success lies online.
After a series of weekly meetings over cocktails and dumplings at Hollywood’s notorious Formosa café, we created the concept for a web series. Margaret suggested we create a dark comedy about women in prison. Fascinated by who Martha Stewart may have befriended in the slammer, Rico thought our show should be inspired by Stewart’s true story.
Did she end up someone's bitch or was someone else hers? Did she give pointers on how to sharpen a shank stylishly while getting her hair cornrowed? My childhood was peppered by relatives who were in and out of prison for drug related offenses so I was no stranger to criminal-types and equipped to help create realistic characters.
We developed the characters and story, and agreed that John Stapleton should write the series. Stapleton’s not only a world renowned makeup artist and friend to us all, but he’s an especially talented screenwriter.
We created In Transition, a 13-episode web series that follows three women transitioning into civilian life after their release from prison.
Think Strangers with Candy meets My Name is Earl. In Transition stars Margaret Cho as criminal ring leader, Tawny Kim. Kim’s prison cronies are Farhonda Jenkins (Yvette Saunders) and Concha Valenzuela (yours truly), with scene-stealing Luenell as the Martha Stewart-inspired character, Marla Stevens, Kim’s unwavering nemesis.
The most rewarding aspect about producing an independent project for the internet is having complete creative control which allowed us to cast all lead roles with women of color, a rare opportunity in this business.
We didn’t waste any time asking my girlfriend Luenell, comic and actress (Borat, Hotel Transylvania, The Rock) to play Marla Stevens, a double-dealing corporate mogul.
I asked Luenell how playing against her usual typecast differed from the parts she’s generally offered in Hollywood, "I got a chance to play almost the straight person as opposed to the comic relief…It wasn't me and a buggy or me with my teeth blacked out this time. I felt empowered. I also got to seduce a cutie pie, nerdy white boy (Stephen Spiegel). That was quite refreshing!"
Yvette Saunders (Southland, Grey's Anatomy, Private Practice) who plays Farhonda Jenkins also got to stray from her usual casting, “Other characters that I've played have always been women of power and control and restraint. I love this character! She definitely has no limits.”
The final step was Rico Martinez setting up a meeting with old pal, Will Keenan, former actor (13 Nights with Sister directed by Martinez) turned indie film producer and now Web Video Exec at Maker Studios. Impressed by In Transition’s cutting edge originality, Keenan signed us to a deal with Maker Studios, an opportunity we would never otherwise have through conventional TV networks.
So pull up your best ergonomically designed desk chair to your desktop computer, or snuggle up with your iPad and your Beats By Dre headphones and plug into today’s version of a 1977 Zenith Console television every Wednesday. Shag carpets and footie pajamas are optional.
We finally got to make a show about thugged out bitches with problems. We finally have a place where our lunacy can be heard and shared and celebrated. This time we’re not waiting on someone else’s approval, we’re doing it for ourselves.
In Transition Episode 1 premieres on Margaret Cho’s YouTube channel today -- and new episodes will be released every Wednesday.