Marti Noxon is the showrunner of AMC’s Dietland. Having previously worked on Mad Men, Grey’s Anatomy and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, among other series, she was drawn to Dietland after reading the book by Sarai Walker. “It had so many things you don’t see on TV that I got really excited,” she said.
A prolific producer, Noxon has several other shows on the air. She created Girlfriends’ Guide to Divorce for Bravo, its first scripted series, and co-created UnREAL for Lifetime.
Dietland, which debuts June 4, centers on Plum Kettle, a ghostwriter for the editor of a trendy fashion magazine. As the news reports on men accused of sexual abuse who are turning up dead, Kettle sets out on the bumpy road to self-awakening. Executive producer Noxon spoke with Multichannel News about the dark new drama. An edited transcript follows.
MCN: What about the book made you think, there’s a TV series here?
Marti Noxon: Obviously, it was incredibly topical and exciting because it took on all these interesting issues about the beauty industry and harassment and predatory behavior. But just as a piece of entertainment, it was so funny and different and went in such unexpected directions. And I just love Plum Kettle. She really won me over; I was pulling for her.
MCN: Any concern that the show is too dark or too weird to connect with a mass audience?
MN: I hope people feel so connected to Plum that, as weird and dark as it is at times, it also really is an adventure. I thought of it as funny, twisted fairy tale. Plum is the center of it. If you’re with her, you’re going on that ride.
I thought about The Wizard of Oz a lot when I was designing the look of the show. Plum dreams of this time over the rainbow when she’ll be thin and can live her life. The tornado is meeting Julia [manager of Austen Media’s “Beauty Closet”]. I thought of Austen Media [parent company of Plum’s employer, Daisy Chain] as sort of like Emerald City, and there’s [her boss] Kitty, who’s kind of the wizard.
We have a bunch of Easter eggs that are shout-outs to The Wizard of Oz throughout the whole show.
MCN: How did it end up at AMC?
MN: We were lucky in that we were going out at a time when there was a lot of fat-shaming going on in public, really negative things being said about women. It felt very timely so we had a lot of people interested. But AMC felt really committed to it. They were not gonna pull any punches. They were also OK with me directing. They just really supported the vision the whole way through.
AMC’s general brand is so smart. I like the other shows they’d done. It’s also fun to come back home to AMC with a totally different [series].
MCN: Was there ever pushback from AMC, that it’s not broad enough, it’s too dark?
MN: The only thing they helped me with was just to make sure people could understand it, that it wasn’t getting too obtuse or dense. We’re always taught in writing school, show, don’t tell.
But occasionally people do say what they mean, especially characters in therapy. Plum gets sort of adopted by her therapist so she talks about her feelings. A lot of it is avoiding talking about her feelings, but occasionally they actually do just say what they mean. Which is kind of fun to write.
MCN: Is it daunting to launch a show in this golden age of television?
MN: Now that there are these more niche markets, you can tell a story that might not have a giant audience. When I was working on Grey’s Anatomy with Shonda [Rhimes], one of the episodes we co-wrote had a 33 share. That was not that long ago! Now when you have these more narrowcast [series], it gives you a lot of opportunity, but how do you get noticed? It’s challenging but it’s worth it.
MCN: Who do you see as the audience for Dietland?
MN: Anybody who feels like they’ve been left behind in the culture and, of course, people who have struggled with their weight are going to have a lot to relate to. But what’s been interesting is seeing how much broader the appeal is. My 16-year-old son found himself really engaged by it, because it has these elements of intrigue, it’s really weird and different visually, and there’s a lot of references to films and things he likes. And the whole cast is so amazing.
It will start with women and people sort of left behind but I think it has a broader appeal. It’s not like anything else on TV right now! It’s been great to have people say, “I finally saw a show about someone like me.” That is what you strive for as a creator. I always joke that I’m trying to build machines that create empathy. This one does that.