Lisa Kudrow might be best known as Phoebe from Friends, but she's making Internet waves as Fiona, a self-absorbed shrink who counsels her clients via iChat on the hit online comedy series Web Therapy. As the show gears up for its TV debut next spring on Showtime, we caught up with its Emmy-winning star to talk product placement, celebrity cameos, and the perks (or not) of being sponsored by Lexus.
Fast Company: You were on the biggest sitcom of the last 20 years. Why do a Web series?
Lisa Kudrow: It's just really cool and fun, so why not? That's how I always felt about independent films. If it doesn't work out, no one's gonna see it. If it does work out, then that's really great. Because you don't have the restraints that are normally imposed [when you're targeting the masses].
FC: You get more freedom?
Kudrow: In terms of developing entertainment, things don't cost as much on the Web, so you can keep developing your program for longer periods of time [with minimal financial risk]. And that's something that you can't do so much on TV anymore, because for the networks and studios, the stakes are just way too high.
FC: How did you wind up working with Lexus?
Kudrow: They had wanted to start [online content hub] L Studio, and a production company came to us and said, "Do you wanna do something? You'll have complete creative control." Meanwhile, I had come up with the idea for Web Therapy. So [my team] just said, Alright, as long as they're asking, we can do it here.
FC: How did they define "complete creative control"? Never asking you to plug their products?
Kudrow: We actually didn't have a Lexus [on the show] until the third season. When we first started working with them, they actually said, "You don't have to say Lexus. In fact, don't." L Studio seems like it's more about affiliation than integration.
FC: Meaning the best branded content shouldn't feel branded.
Kudrow: Right. With certain shows I watch, like Top Chef, one season they were driving around in like Toyotas or Lexuses. But that wasn't a focus of the show. So I was just like, Oh, good for them. Oh, they've got the same taste I do. Then I feel a little better about the Lexus I drive around in.
FC: Did Lexus give you the car for free?
Kudrow: No, oh god no. [laughs] I already had one. But let's also not forget, that hey, could ya? Throw a Lexus in there?
FC: Wouldn't that be nice.
Kudrow: [laughs] No, I mean Lexus asked if we could throw a Lexus into Web Therapy. They just wanted to see the car at some point. So we do it in ways that work with the characters and the show. For example, Fiona gets really upset because her husband's campaign manager is driving around in a Lexus convertible, and she's being driven around in a van. "Why do you get a nice car and I get this?" That was little more heavy-handed, but in a way that was funny to us.
FC: What inside scoop can you give us on what's coming up for Fiona on the Showtime show?
Kudrow: We're going to meet her mother. The character's name is Pussy Hodge, played by Lily Tomlin, who was unbelievably funny. Then we spend more time with Fiona's husband Kip, so we see a little more about how that marriage works as she's starting up a new endeavor. And just how she finagles, blackmails, extorts—whatever she can do to get this thing off the ground.
FC: So for the most part, Lexus lets you do your own thing.
Kudrow: Yeah, that's why we signed on. And if it stays that way, then it's great.
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A version of this article appeared in the September 2010 issue of Fast Company magazine.