“You can’t be in this business if you see reality too completely,” says Lisa Kudrow, who first appeared on Friends in 1994 when half-hour sitcoms filmed on sound stages dominated networks, audiences built rituals around their weekly shows, and the idea of reality TV as we know it might as well have been sci-fi. The world came to know her as the lovably eccentric Phoebe Buffay, a character whose unique self-expression and thrifty sartorial choices embodied the term “quirky” before it became a hazard to our lexicon. The show ran for a decade, making Kudrow not only a household name, but also an archetype. In 2004, when Kudrow bid a teary-eyed goodbye to Phoebe, she knew her next endeavor would require her to do more than just act. “I thought, I better get used to the idea that I’m an actual producer and not just be someone with a vanity deal,” she says. “You get the deal because you were on a show, but then you actually have to do the work.”
That work paid off when HBO gave Kudrow and Sex and the City show runner Michael Patrick King the green light to make The Comeback, a comedy-drama series about the entertainment industry that Kudrow starred in, co-wrote, and produced. With Kudrow and King in charge, people expected it to be “Phoebe in Manolos,” but the series was far from it. The Comeback was an acerbic meta-commentary on the budding reality boom. To the dismay of many, HBO declined a second season.
By 2008 she was making Web Therapy with Dan Bucatinsky and Don Roos, and despite her early reservations about the Web series format, the show was one of the first of its kind to garner massive exposure, eventually getting picked up by Showtime. “If you’re going to do something on the Internet, you have to fly right into the storm, and it needs to be about the Internet,” Kudrow says of the series, in which she plays an online therapist. All the action plays out over Skype.
Her Web series turned Showtime hit was still going strong when, nearly ten years after the first season, HBO came back and offered Kudrow and King the chance to create a second season of The Comeback, this time with a built-in cult following. Picking up as Valerie attempts to make a pilot presentation for Bravo mastermind Andy Cohen, season two becomes a show about a show about a show, or as Kudrow describes it, “meta, meta, meta.”
She admits that she broke down while watching the final episode. “I was crying for ten years’ worth of this woman. Oh thank God, she’s actually a person, I thought to myself. This is who she’s always been all along, underneath.”
Fans will be happy to hear that Kudrow and King are talking about ideas for a third season. Although she is no longer an ingénue or an out-there risk-taker, she’s established herself as a comedic institution — a visionary who can dictate the direction of the television landscape.
Read our extended interview with Kudrow HERE.