Anyone who’s gone and spawned can tell you that for all the heartache and hassles, real-life parenting has more punch lines, prat-falls and gut-busting laughs than any scripted TV show. That’s the idea behind In The Motherhood, the upcoming ABC series premiering Thursday, March 26th at 8 p.m., starring Cheryl Hines and Megan Mullally, two of the most formidable female heavyweights in sit-comedy.
Known as Larry David’s wife Cheryl on HBO’s Curb Your Enthusiasm, Hines is an accomplished actress, producer, director and mom to a five-year-old girl. Mullally’s conquered Broadway (Young Frankenstein), screen (Bee Movie and the upcoming Fame), and TV, with her hilarious, multi-Emmy award-winning turn as Karen Walker on Will & Grace.
In The Motherhood is unique in that it’s truly interactive. The writers and producers mine real-life parenting stories that viewers submit online for actual storylines and plot points centered around three mommy archetypes: Rosemary (Mullally), the free-wheelin’ rocker mom who does nothing by the book; Jane (Hines), a working divorc’e just trying to get through the day, and her sister, the uptight, Type-A Emily (Jessica St. Clair).
Babble had a candid chat with this comic brain trust, along with one of the show’s producers, Jenni Konner (mom to two kids, five and two), about bringing the craziness of modern motherhood to prime time. – Vivian Manning-Schaffel
Jenni, you and Ali Rushfield (co-producer of In The Motherhood) have been friends forever. How is that reflected in what the show says about friendships between women?
Konner: We’re just hoping to tell actual true stories about friendships between women. At least for me, there’s honesty between mothers that I haven’t yet seen reflected on TV. The way my friends with kids talk is more candid than I’m used to seeing. It’s like No Sex In The City.
Hines: Motherhood is not a perfect science. You need some friends who are also mothers because they can only really understand what is going on.
Cheryl, has anything that’s happened to Jane, happened to you?
Hines: Actually, there is going to be something on an episode coming up where I lock my baby in the house. The true story was, I was over at my brother’s house, and for some strange reason, I was with all the kids in his Florida room (a patio) that has sliding glass doors. And the doors got locked. I was literally in this room with six kids and my daughter, who was really a baby at the time, for quite a while. At first it was kind of funny, but after forty-five minutes it wasn’t so funny anymore. Sooner or later, someone was going to need formula. We didn’t know if we should take the door off! Eventually someone showed up and set us free.
Seems like this collaborative way of working allows you guys to really put your own personal stamp on your characters.
Konner: With Megan it was a bit daunting because she’s a TV icon, and had a very famous and beloved character that she played for eight years. Her struggle was trying to find a character that felt different enough, but was still close to her. With a lot of her help and a lot of exploring, we came up with Rosemary.
Megan, you don’t have kids . . .
Mullally: No. But someone that I barely knew approached me and asked me if I wanted to have a baby with her.
Wow! What did you say?
Mullally: It was someone that I knew through work, but it wasn’t like we ever went out to lunch together or anything. She sent me an email saying, “I just thought that if you wanted a baby, I could do it for you and we’ll work out the terms.”
So she was like, “Hi! How are you? Care for my uterus?” What was your reaction?
Mullally: I was just like . . . that’s okay, no thanks! We’re good. It was quite an offer. So random. I saw something on a show, maybe it was 20/20, about women who do that. There was one woman who had twelve or thirteen surrogate babies for people. These women really felt they were doing something wonderful. They were doing it for good reasons, not the money.
Who do you draw on for inspiration? Do you know a mom like Rosemary?
Mullally: Not really. I didn’t want to do a character that we’d seen before. Rosemary is this fifty-year-old, badass rocker chick who owns it. It’s never occurred to her to read parenting books or anything like that. She’s comfortable in her own skin.
How’s her relationship with her son?
Mullally: It’s more like a friendship. They’re like two sixteen-year-olds together. Rosemary’s a bit immature, I think. She’s real young at heart like Karen was, you know?
Even though she’s become someone’s mom, she’s still the same person inside.
Cheryl: “The toys are on the floor and dishes are in the sink and it’s not the end of the world.” Mullally: I think that’s the key. I have a friend named Laurie who lives where I’m from in Oklahoma City. Her daughter is my goddaughter. When we were in high school, I remember sitting in a car with her talking one night, and we made this pact that we were always going to be sixteen. We still honor that pact. I think it’s important.
Jenni and Cheryl, do you guys relate to Jane at all? Is she like you as a parent in any way?
Konner: I would say there’s an overall kind of tone to Jane’s struggle that’s come from different parts of my life. There aren’t any specific stories yet, but it’s inspired by trying to keep it all together.
Hines: I do relate to her in a lot of ways because parenting is a 24/7 job. There’s no break, you know? At the end of the day, I want to be a good mom. The toys are on the floor and dishes are in the sink and it’s not the end of the world. We made it through the day happy and healthy. That’s a successful day. Where with (the character of) my sister Emily (played by Jessica St. Clair), there can’t be dishes in the sink or toys on the floor or she feels like a failure.
I’m probably closer to my character or Megan’s character. At my house, we have furniture you can literally put your feet on. My coffee table has some lovely notches on it. I don’t stress the small stuff.
What’s your biggest challenge in balancing parenting with work?
Konner: As a working mom, I think it’s feeling at the lowest moments like you aren’t doing anything as well as you could. That’s the biggest struggle. I think I’m a better mom for working. I really enjoy my work and I think that’s apparent to my kids. They will learn that you can love your work and love what you do, and I think that’s really valuable for a kid to see. And when I’m home, I do my best to focus on being home.
Hines: I try to really be in the moment wherever I am. I try to spend time with my daughter in a real way. When I’m at work, I try not to worry about not being with my daughter. One of the nice things about being an actor is that she can come and hang out at work. We’ve got a nice balance going on. We’re all just trying to seek balance as moms. We’re all just trying to grab a glass of wine here and there.