Diane Haithman contributes to Deadline’s TV coverage.
Jenji Kohan drew laughs tonight at an event for her Netflix series Orange Is The New Black when she referred to it as a “TV show” then quickly corrected herself. “It’s not a TV show — it’s a streaming show,” she said. Then, as if doing a mock commercial announcement for the daring show that has fast become a binge-watcher favorite: “You can watch it on any sort of device!” Watching “your device” instead of “your TV” became a running gag at this rollicking panel, the sold-out first show of the Paley Center’s five-night PaleyFest: Made in NY. Elvis Mitchell hosted the event, at which creator-producer Kohan – sporting green and blue hair — was joined by Piper Kerman, whose autobiographical book about being a fish out of water in a women’s prison was the basis for the series, and cast members including star Taylor Schilling, Natasha Lyonne, Kate Mulgrew, Danielle Brooks, Uzo Aduba and Taryn Manning. Jason Biggs, who portrays lead character Piper Chapman’s fiancé, took a load of good-natured ribbing as the lone guy on the panel of powerful females.
Related: PaleyFest Moves Into New York
Kohan said the show was never intended to be a dramatization of Kerman’s real-life experiences. She joked that the decision to change the character’s last name happened “when legal said: ‘You can write Piper’s story but no one else’s.’ ” On a more serious note, she said she made the choice partly for the real Piper’s sake: “I can’t imagine how tortuous it would be (for her) to watch the actual story week after week.” The show, Kohan said, “quickly became its own animal.”
Kohan confirmed that she had considered actress Laura Prepon (who portrays Piper Chapman’s former girlfriend and now fellow inmate Alex) for the role of Piper. “But the truth is, I don’t worry about Laura in prison,” said Kohan, to more laughs. “I needed Piper as someone I would worry about. Taylor evokes a different response.” Kernan said that for her, watching the series based on her experiences is “euphoric.” She said the characters are “women who are so often hidden from view — literally, but also in television and film. It is very moving to me.”
For her part, Schilling called it a thrill to have the chance to overturn audience expectations about “who this blond lady will be.” She called it “brave and rare and risky” for this show to revolve around a woman who is “deeply ambiguous” like Bryan Cranston’s Walter White on Breaking Bad.
“I don’t write heroes or anti-heroes, I write characters, and flawed characters,” Kohan said. “Piper is a flawed character.” Of all the women (and men) portrayed in Orange, she said: “One of the policies in the (writers) room is, if you can stick one character’s line into another character’s mouth, you are not doing your job.” Kohan would not reveal any hints about what’s in store next season for her ambiguous characters — include the mysterious prison yard chicken. “The chicken is whatever you want it to be,” Kohan deadpanned. “I don’t know if the chicken will be back. But maybe it needs to.”