She started out as an actress (“I was deeply unsuccessful,” she says), a playwright (Cheyenne), a TV writer (Sex and the City), and an author (How to Be Single). With the February 13 debut of Paul the Male Matchmaker on Hulu, Liz Tuccillo can now call herself a web TV entrepreneur. The 10-episode series stars Tuccillo’s co-creator, Paul Bartholemew, and features such well-known faces as Lisa Edelstein (House) and Sam Trammell (True Blood). Native New Yorker Tuccillo told Co.Create how they made it happen.
CO.CREATE: How did the idea for this series take shape?
Paul Bartholemew, who’s a friend of mine and an actor–an under-celebrated actor, in my opinion–and I came up with this idea that was making us laugh, about him being a matchmaker who kind of hates women. We weren’t sure what to do with this idea, but Paul decided to make these little videos–he just shot them in his house, for like $200 with his friends. So he was almost like workshopping the idea in video form and by the time we went to shop the idea around, we had these videos to show people.
Did you think you would sell it as a traditional TV series?
We wanted it to be a traditional TV series, but we knew that it was just a little too quirky and that Paul is not a household name yet. So, we knew we would just have to make it sort of on our own, and [we had] a craving to just make something together and not have to wait around for anyone. In a sense, webisodes feel like the new off-off-Broadway. Ten or 15 years ago, an actor might have been able to get his big break being seen in the hot play in New York, but that doesn’t happen that often anymore. So here I got the chance to create a work with my friend, for him to star in, to showcase his talents.
Did you go the traditional pitching route, via your agents?
You know, we were trying to go the alternative route; we found a producer who does webisodes and we shopped it around to all the major portals of webisodes, like Vuguru, Michael Eisner’s company, but they didn’t buy it. And at the last minute, my TV agent sort of saved the day. Warner Bros., who I have a relationship with, saw the videos and saw our outlines that we had written and said, Yeah, we’ll give you money to make it.
So, it ended up following the TV model of finding a studio to produce it, which then shops it to what is essentially a network.
That’s right, except that we then hired a production company and a line producer and we basically produced it on our own, and Warner Bros.–it’s their web division, called Warner Bros. 2.0–didn’t give us many notes on our scripts.
What about casting? Did you do that on your own?
We were the casting. We called our friends, and our production company had a relationship with Janeane Garofalo so they called her and she nicely said yes.
And the writing was just the two of you?
Yeah, it was Paul and I sitting down and writing, sometimes via Skype, because we don’t live in the same place–he’s in L.A. and I’m in New York–which is so the new way of people working together, it’s hilarious. And we had to teach ourselves what an eight-minute story arc is and how much story you can put in eight minutes.
What is an eight-minute story arc?
Everything’s beginning, middle, and end. It’s all in how fast you go. The other question was whether the webisodes would stand alone because people are going to be seeing them all over the place and in different order, or if they should have an overall season arc, so to speak. We made a very specific decision to make a season arc, even at the risk of confusing people about what was happening. And it’s a very light story, very very light. But we just did it because we wanted to show that we were in that mindset in case people do start thinking about it as a TV show.
In other words, you have hope that this will become a TV show?
And I don’t know if it’s ever going to be on network television because it’s still a pretty quirky idea, but I think there are so many places that are now looking for original content that it does feel like a great time to have a product waiting to have another life.
In the way that Children’s Hospital is now on Adult Swim?
Exactly. We’d love to follow the lead of Children’s Hospital.
At what point in the process did you decide how long to make each episode?
This is the murkiest territory. You’ll hear so many different answers because a couple of years ago everyone would scream at you and say, “Nothing can be more than two minutes, three minutes!” because the assumption was that everybody was watching things on their computers at work, so it had to be short. Then people’s viewing habits changed and it was, “Okay, it can be 10 minutes.” Now in the past year original content has gone to half an hour, so I think it basically changes every day. But at the time we made this in February of last year we were told they should be no more than 10 minutes, which is eight or 10 script pages.
How will this roll out? Will every episode go up at once or will they be doled out one by one?
There are two schools of thought: You roll them out one at a time so it gives you time to build an audience, or for a strong effect you just have them all out at once. So, they’re going to be put out all at once.
And then what happens?
This is what just dawned on me last week, I was like, Okay, they come out, and then what? So now what we’re thinking of doing is to promote the webisodes and to keep the experience going after you watch the webisodes, the fictional character Paul is going to be tweeting and giving advice, especially around Valentine’s Day.
Is the show available free to anyone on Hulu?
You can see it on Hulu on your computer but you need Hulu Plus to see it on your TV or your phone. I had to buy this Roku player because I wanted to make sure I was able to see it on TV. So, I got this little box that you can now see Hulu Plus on your TV but it streams all this other stuff. And then you’re like it’s a whole new world. This is a game changer.
What did you learn from your traditional TV experiences, with Sex and the City, and the WB series you created, Related, that you put to use here?
On Sex and the City, I learned how to tell a story, because Michael Patrick King is the best storyteller. And in network television, when I’m developing TV I’m learning how to take notes [about script details from network and studio executives] and actually be able to translate them into my own language. So, when I came to Paul the Male Matchmaker, my skills were pretty sharp in terms of figuring out how to make these quick stories.
You’ve managed to continually recreate yourself, as a playwright from being an actress, then into TV, and I know you’ve written movies and books. Each step of the way, have there been obstacles saying, like, “Oh, you’re not that person”?
The biggest obstacle is always me. I’m always the first one to be like, I couldn’t possibly be a writer, only smart people who have a big vocabulary and read a lot could be writers. You know when I was trying to develop television on my own I was like, well, I couldn’t possibly develop television, I don’t know enough, I don’t have enough ideas. So, I’m always the first one to say that I can’t do something.
And when you put some of them together–Sex and the City, He’s Just Not That Into You, How to Be Single, Paul the Male Matchmaker–it seems like the Liz Tuccillo Brand has become pretty well-defined.
I am getting smarter about learning what people want from me. If I want to sell something it’s not going to be about Cairo in prehistoric times, or whatever. Yes, they want some dating stuff from me. And so, I just had a year where I actually had things on brand that I wanted to write, which is good.