Diane Haithman contributes to Deadline’s TCA coverage.

TCA Awards 2013Two major cast members were missing from today’s TCA panel on the new ABC series Trophy Wife: Bradley Whitford is ill and Marcia Gay Harden is off making a movie with Woody Allen. But executive producers Lee Eisenberg, Emily Halpern and Sarah Haskins were here (along with cast members Malin Ackerman and Michaela Watkins). And they spent most of their time reassuring the crowd that the title Trophy Wife is all about irony. “We always meant it to be about irony,” said Eisenberg. He added that ABC promos should make clear that it’s a show about family dynamics, not about catfights, stereotypes and evil ex-wives. “There is no villain,” said Haskins.

TV critics in the audience pointed out that America’s TV viewers are not the quickest to pick up on “irony”. But Eisenberg insisted that Akerman’s character (the young third wife to Whitford’s character) is the opposite of the stereotypical ditzy arm-candy trophy wife and is someone struggling to become a step-parent and part of a family. The most fun for us is to make her fall on her face and at all times be not like that,” Eisenberg said.

Akerman said when she first heard the title she thought, “Oh hell no, I’m not playing a trophy wife,” but discovered that the part was in fact the opposite. The story is loosely based on the real-life story of EP Haskins, who is the fourth wife of a much older man. She joked that “we didn’t think America could accept three ex-wives so we kept it at two” (Hardin and Watkins’ characters) for the TV comedy. She added that her own experiences inform the reality of the show. “I was not just some weird extra fourth wife. I really wanted to be there and committed.”

Producers also discussed the recasting of the role of Akerman’s Kate’s stepdaughter after the pilot with Bailee Madison (Once Upon A Time). Eisenberg called the actress a better fit for the role and said she will be in “every single episode.” He also confirmed that Phyllis Smith (The Office) will return after her appearance the pilot. “Yeah, we just wrote some more stuff for her,” Eisenberg said.