We’ve come a long way from Tony Soprano, at least that was what scribe Melissa Rosenberg felt when she retooled the Dutch series Penoza into ABC’s latest female-helmed mafia series, Red Widow.
The series, which debuts Sunday with a two-hour premiere, revolves around Marta (Radha Mitchell, Silent Hill) — a new widow and single mother who is drawn into the Russian mafia through her family connections. According to Rosenberg, Marta is one of network television’s first flawed leading ladies, something audiences are ready for thanks to cable characters like Jackie Peyton (Edie Falco) and Nancy Botwin (Mary-Louise Parker).
“It’s a very tricky character to sell to an audience,” Rosenberg told reporters at the 2013 Television Critics Association Winter Press Tour in January. “Women are held to a higher standard. But as played by Radha, you have compassion for her. You are with her. Her experience is universal.”
The writer is no novice to writing flawed characters, thanks to her experience working on shows like Dexter (a loveable serial killer) and the big screen Twilight adaptations (um, vampires anyone?). She says the key is to find the universal component in the character that audiences can always relate to, no matter how dirty the deed that the lead happens to be performing. Having a solid eight midseason episodes to contain the story didn’t hurt either.
“How do you get an audience rooting for someone like that, and how do you get someone rooting for a mother who’s making some really questionable moral decisions,” she pondered. “Having gone through four years on Dexter really helped me to find in those dark places what it is that’s universal, what it is we can all relate to. As played by Radha, you really feel the humanity of this character.”
For her part, Mitchell — known more for her work on the big screen, recognizes that a lot of good character writing is being done for television nowadays, and that she needed a change in her career.
“I’m over films,” she added during the conference. “Oh, I have a few films that are getting released soon. It was a little bit of a shock at first because I had never worked at that pace … But, there’s something really nice about having a group of people that you’re committed to that you work with and hopefully there’s a sort of future in it, whereas film is sort of like it’s a party and then it’s over.”
Joining Mitchell at this party are Luke Goss (Hell Boy II), Jaime Ray Newman (Drop Dead Diva, Eastwick), Wil Traval (All Saints) and Goran Visnjic (ER).
Red Widow debuts on Sunday, March 3 at 9 p.m. ET with a special two-hour premiere on CTV Two and ABC.
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