We’ve all heard of the dark side of Hollywood: how shady it is, how cutthroat it can be, how competitive it is has become. It’s superficial, scandalous and sex driven. And while these things are intended to undermine its glamour, it does the opposite to the curious soul who is intrigued by such an overly seductive sphere. Writer and director Jonathan Abrahams – most noted for his Emmy win for Mad Men – translates the reality of it all into one scripted series, The Arrangement. The show swirls together real love and relationships with real Hollywood issues. Vital VOICE chatted with Abrahams on real life “contracts,” how accurate his story is, and the barriers that it breaks along the way.
”When you get into the business and try to sell scripted shows, no one wants to see a show about Hollywood, so don’t even try and bother,” Jonathan starts off. “But we were really able to break that rule, and break it in a big way.”
“One of the main things that I love about The Arrangement is that it has this premise that is kind of crazy: an arranged marriage,” he continues. Sounds familiar, right? Both you and I could name more than a few Hollywood couples that have been suspected of doing the same thing. For Jonathan, his job is translating this perceived reality back into a script, and it’s up to you to discern if it’s believable or not.
“The Hollywood thing and the contract was really cool and mysterious, and we cleared up a lot of rumors about that kind of thing happening,” he says. “It adds up to this very interesting delivery vehicle for a show and a relationship about love and intimacy. You know, there used to be a time where there was room for that kind of stuff on TV without a high-concept attachment. It seems like the landscape of television doesn’t really have a lot of that these days, and that’s the kind of stuff I love.”
It’s clear that the landscape of television has transformed since the days of just a scriptwriter and a producer giving us a glimpse of a reality that isn’t our own. From live streaming and social media, to a reality show about nearly any niche that peaks an interest, we are able to see firsthand how almost anyone else lives. But with the success of scripted series on networks like Bravo and E! (Girlfriends’ Guide To Divorce, Odd Mom Out, The Royals) – networks ruled by Kardashians and Housewives – one can’t help but be curious on a new trend away from reality altogether.
“I wouldn’t say that there is a shift, but I do think that there is a big appetite for scripted content,” Jonathan explains. “And everyone wants to get into the game, which is good for us writers. Is it coming at the expense of reality? I wouldn’t know. Are we taking the best aspects of a reality show and making it scripted? That feels a little reductive for me. I think that we’re just exploring interesting characters and stories in an environment that has, up to this point, been more reserved for the reality fare.”
With impatience increasing (why wait when you can stream an entire season), and attention spans decreasing (if you can’t Snap it, don’t bother), the struggle for engagement has evolved. A “right here, right now” mentality, lack of patience and a demand for more is the name of the game today. Writers like Jonathan take notice.
“People are binging more, and it’s more of an immersive experience” he says. “When you are in that binge mode and sitting down for an hour, two or three, your attention span is not shorter anymore. You get people hooked in, and they’re ready to go for a ride. With The Arrangement, we are in the traditional TV landscape, but I expect that we will be straddling it. I expect that we will have a place in the streaming world at some point. We are working at being the best of both and I think there is a real trend these days to make things more cinematic, so that it doesn’t feel like it is cookie-cutter television.”
Jonathan says that the way to make a show cinematic and compelling is to counter-balance an extreme scenario – like an “arrangement” – with writing and characters that are very grounded in the real. “Ones who have little flaws and big flaws, and have their own way of speaking but don’t necessarily fit into a stick mold of “that” character that we’ve seen before,” he says.
“It really is a desire to find truth in these situations, moment to moment. And you can tell as you are looking at writing when someone has sort of blown past that and it looks kind of cliché. The effort is to not do that,” he explains. “And that’s why I say that these little moments between people are the glue, moments where people recognize and go, ‘That’s really real, and I’ve felt that and seen that,’ or ‘I’ve said that to somebody.’ It’s those moments that actually end up meaning so much.”
The Arrangement airs Sundays at 10/9C on E! V
by Kevin Schmidt