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How Trump and Journalism Changed Freeform’s New Series ‘The Bold Type’

Variety logo Variety 7/12/2017 Elizabeth Wagmeister
© Provided by Variety

The Bold Type,” a series set in the world of a high-fashion women’s magazine, debuts tonight on Freeform — but the series wasn’t always supposed to be home at the young-skewing cable network.

In fact, when the show was first put into development, not only was it at NBC, but the project didn’t even revolve around three young women working their way up in the glossy publishing world. Instead, the original iteration of the series was planned to center around a male newspaper reporter named Alex who only began working at Scarlet, the fictional women’s magazine in “The Bold Type,” because he couldn’t find work elsewhere.

In “The Bold Type,” the Alex character still exists, but the crux of the series is the relationship between three young up-and-comers — played by Katie Stevens, Aisha Dee, and Meghann Fahy — and their magazine editor boss (“Transparent’s” Melora Hardin), who is inspired by “Cosmopolitan” editor Joanna Coles, an executive producer on the show.

The vast changes in the development process completely changed the plot of the series, but one other factor posed even more changes for the series: President Donald Trump.

“It’s interesting because when we did the pilot for NBC, the state of journalism was so different. Journalists have had this resurgence just really that happened to coincide when we started developing it for Freeform,” show creator Sarah Watson tells Variety, alluding to President Trump’s frequent attacks on the media.

“We’re trying to be real to the experience of what it means to be a journalist right now and what it means to be a journalist working at a women’s magazine because they really have become front and center, and gained respect in a way that these magazines haven’t before,” Watson says, sharing that the stories the journalist characters will delve into include everything from being tested for the breast cancer gene to meeting with a congresswoman.

Watson explains that even before this change in journalism, she was inspired by the hard work of women’s magazine staffers, thanks to her visits to the “Cosmo” offices with Coles and her employees.

“I was just so surprised and blown away of the depth of journalism in some of these really amazing stories that I think because they’re at women’s magazines were not looked at as strongly,” Watson recalls of her first-hand research, detailing the “copious notes” she scribbled while at the “Cosmo” headquarters in NYC. “I think there’s been a shift there and that’s definitely something that we’re playing.”

While Trump’s unique relationship with press indirectly inspired “The Bold Type,” Watson reveals that there will be direct references to the President throughout the series.

“We dive in feet first,” Watson says when asked how politics might be addressed in the first season. “We’re not out to send a political message, however, it would be impossible to ignore the reality of the political situation. These are strong, fierce, politically savvy women. We are very much living in modern America and all that comes with it. Also, being in New York, which is the hometown of Trump, it’s impossible to ignore that — we even have things like traffic jams because of Trump being there, so yes, we are very much living in the 2017 of now.”

The mainstream wave of all-eyeballs-on-journalism isn’t the only current issue that influenced the series. The widespread focus on women’s issues, feminism, and gender equality will also be omnipresent in the series that, on the surface, may seem just plain glam-and-glitzy. The concept of women supporting other women in the workplace was crucial to Watson, who says she was inspired by her own relationships from when she was rising up in the entertainment industry.

“It comes from writing from a place of heart and personal experience — the female friendships I have and the females I came up with in the assistant world, was that we were very supportive of one another, so it was important for me to show that,” Watson says. With a laugh, she adds, “In the writers’ room, we jokingly refer to the show as ‘friendship porn’ because these are the kind of friendships you wish you had.”

Coles’ dynamic with her own staff also inspired Watson to show a supportive mentor in the show’s central editor, rather than a “Devil Wears Prada”-esque boss, which seems to be the typical approach in film and television projects of the same genre. “That was something really important to me,” Watson says. “I always write from a place of reality and, for me, I’ve had incredible women mentors in my career and I have not had the Miranda Priestly,” she explains explains, referring to Meryl Streep’s iconic character. “We don’t often see those role models of women supporting other women, and I really wanted to see that.”

The original NBC version of the pilot featured the same three characters, but they were all older in age. In the final Freeform product, the female relationships are even more special, says Watson, because of the specific age group of the core young women.

“I always refer to your 20’s as ‘junior high of adulthood’ because you feel like you should be an adult, but you don’t feel like an adult and you’re figuring everything out, and everything is so dramatic and complicated. I hope that we hit on this seminal time in your life. I think it’s such a crazy, unique, special time,” Watson says, adding that she believes older audiences will also find the series enjoyable because of the “nostalgia of re-living your 20’s.”

Another reason audiences of varying demos may gravitate toward “The Bold Type” is because of its nostalgic aura of “Sex and the City” — which is no coincidence.

“The reason a show like this gets to exist is because of ‘Sex and the City.’ It broke this barrier that women can talk about sex and have these conversations — at the same time, that was 20 years ago and I do think the conversations have shifted,” Watson notes. “When ‘Sex and the City’ came on the scene, it was this groundbreaking thing. Now, these conversations are not groundbreaking anymore, but we haven’t had a show in a while that’s been in that world, and it’s been fun to see how those conversations have changed.”

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