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Web Series Maven Susan Miller Talks ‘Bestsellers,’ ‘Anyone But Me,’ and Winning a Writers Guild Award

Aymar Jean Christian March 13, 2011 uncategorized 5 Comments

 

In an industry where most people end up doing not much of anything, Susan Miller keeps busy. The playwright just won a Writers Guild new media award for her and Tina Cesa Ward’s critical and audience darling, Anyone But Me (see my first story on the show). After raising tens of thousands of dollars from fans and investors to produce a third season of the drama, Miller wrote an episode of the popular series Suite 7 and created and wrote (with Ward directing) a sponsored series, Bestsellers, for the SFN Group (best known for its long-running Temp Life series). 

Bestsellers follows the lives of five professional women in various industries who meet regularly for a book club — hence the title. But the book club, as in real life, is more often a space to talk about life than literature.

“They’re trying to balance their personal lives and the book club,” Miller told me. “What happens when you put these women in the same room? Not a lot of talking about books.”

For Miller, Bestsellers posed an interesting challenge: how to profile a diverse group of women in various life stages and careers while keeping the story coherent. The book club motif gave her a way to put all the women in a single space without it feeling contrived. The series features women from Gen Y, Gen X, Millenial and Boomer generations working in industries from technology to finance, in a nod to SFN’s various workforce capabilities.

The series is seriocomic, or a dramedy. The women deal with real issues — aging in the workplace, being new to parenthood — but still manage to find joy in their friends and careers.

For Miller (pictured below, right, with Ward), working with a sponsor was a pleasurable departure from her current work. “They have been absolutely into what I did, and so supportive,” she said of SFN. “They gave me that flexibility.”

Miller wrote the series while on hiatus from Anyone But Me, and she said it was refreshing to “write something where I wasn’t as worried about building the fan base and doing the PR.”

Speaking of Anyone But Me, when I interviewed Miller she was just starting production on the show’s third season. ABM‘s next season will have at least five episodes — the creators raised an impressive $33,000 online — and they hope to find a sponsor for the rest.

“Our fan base is so devoted that anyone, any sponsor, who would economically support the show would be heroes to that audience,” Miller said.

Of course, winning a WGA award alongside the likes of 30 Rock doesn’t hurt. For Miller, winning an award from such a high-profile organization meant a lot because, unlike the Oscars, the awards are judged by a panel she didn’t have to lobby.

“What was wonderful about it was the recognition on the part of other writers, of my peers, that it doesn’t matter what you write, write for, or what size screen. It’s really a matter of putting out something that matters to you,” she said.

While she still works in theatre, Miller is still excited about the web, as she wrote in an issue of American Theatre magazine this year:

“A web series has reach. And instant responsiveness. It’s the closest thing I know to theatre…It’s communal… The sweetest thing about making a web series? I own this baby.”

Episodes of Bestsellers are airing now, with several episodes already online. Anyone But Me premieres in April. Miller’s Suite 7 episode, directed by Mark Gantt, is here.

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About The Author

Aymar Jean Christian is assistant professor of communication at Northwestern University. He writes about media and society for a number of publications. For more information, click the "About" tab at the top of the page.

5 Comments

  1. Susan Miller March 17, 2011 at 12:14 pm

    Thanks for this terrific piece and for highlighting work that means so much to me.

  2. Jason Leaver March 19, 2011 at 10:04 am

    You’re an inspiration to us all, Susan.

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