EXCLUSIVE: The six-episode third season of HBO’s comedy Divorce, which premieres tonight, will be its last. Series’ star and executive producer Sarah Jessica Parker remains in business with the premium cable network where her company, Pretty Matches Prods., has been under a first-look deal for 14 years. Parker and her long-time producing partner Alison Benson have built up a slate that spans scripted drama, comedy and unscripted TV series as well as features and documentaries.
“Sarah Jessica Parker has a unique ability to showcase the complexities of personal relationships with such empathy and humor,” said Amy Gravitt, EVP, HBO Programming. “With Divorce, she took our audiences through the keyhole and into the lives of a modern day couple dealing with the fallout of splitting up. As we end with the 3rd and final season of the show, we look forward to our next endeavor with Sarah Jessica and Pretty Matches.”
Created by Sharon Horgan, Divorce stars Parker and Thomas Haden Church as divorcing couple Frances and Robert. Parker said that she is “satisfied and pleased” by the final season which gives a “genuine fresh start” for the Dufresnes.
“It feels to me as if the first season we were pretty entrenched in battle and it was not surprising to reveal that neither Frances nor Robert were very good at divorce; most people aren’t. By the end of last season, it started to feel as if Frances had made peace with the unforeseen complexities of being free from the marriage,” Parker said. “So this season feels like a genuine fresh start. For both Frances and Robert, it appears as if they’re on a path that feels more in their control.”
Ending the series with a six-episode installment was a joint decision Parker, Benson and the other producers took after conversations with HBO and showrunner Liz Tuccillo.
“Between scheduling and complicated lives and actors, it was a confluence of things that came together that helped us decide that six was something that we wanted to do, and we felt confidence that Liz could achieve what we were all hoping for for this final look at Frances and Robert,” Parker said.
The final season also achieved a milestone for an HBO series with all-female directors. It was a natural evolution, Parker said, noting that about 50% of the directors on Season 2 of Divorce were women.
“We had been wanting very much to keep growing the women on the production side and keep finding opportunities for women, frankly, unrelated to the political and cultural environment that preceded some of the seasons,” Parker said. “As we moved closer and closer to more women directing — Alison really was excited about pursuing it — it became complicated because women are in great demand now, which is thrilling to see. I mean, if you don’t book somebody quickly, they’re really gone.”
The desire to support women in the industry is reflected in the make-up of Pretty Matches, named after Parker’s line in her first film, The Little Match Girl, whose team consists entirely of women, Benson, VP Caroline Moore, Director of Development Liviya Kraemer and Development Coordinator Claire Demere.
“Our company is a collection of intergenerational, curious, bright minds, all of whom come from different backgrounds – and we each bring our own varying interests and experiences to the table,” Parker said. “Similarly, we want to tell stories that represent a vast array of what life can look like, and work hard to generate projects that come from all different corners of the industry. Caroline, Liviya and Claire are constantly going after new and exciting IP – and strive to take advantage of the specific resources that the New York community has to offer, scouting emerging talent in comedy, theater, indie film, and beyond.”
The team’s main goal is to “look for voices and human stories that are unrepresented across the board,” Parker said. “It’s not necessarily just about female versus male, but also, we consider race and ethnicity and socioeconomics and sexuality, and the gender spectrum, and that’s just been the way we’ve always looked for projects.”
Possibly with the exception of one project Pretty Matches has in the works, that does not involve Parker, who also starred in HBO’s iconic series Sex and the City, headlining another TV show. But she is leaving the door open.
“Typically we don’t develop for me; what’s most interesting to me is all the stories other people can tell and then all the stories that can be told beautifully by other actors,” Parker said. “So, I don’t have anything specific, but I love working in television. I just love it. I love the pace. I love the urgency. I love the opportunity for a life to continue to be told and unfold in front of me. I would be very happy to come back and do something in a smaller way, something with 4 or 6 or 8 episodes.”
Looking back at her experience on Divorce, “of course I’m thinking of Thomas Haden Church, who I adore and who I wanted from the beginning, he was my first choice, and Molly Shannon, and Talia Balsam, who I’ve long admired, Tracy Letts,” Parker said. “Being on the sound stage with them was really, really special. Also, it’s a lot of the production people and the crew, and DPs that I’ve long admired.”
Benson praised “expanding” HBO and the opportunities at the pay cable network, the upcoming WarnerMedia streaming platform and elsewhere.
“It has been an incredible home for us, and I do think it’s an exciting time at HBO and it’s an exciting time, let’s be honest, just across the board in terms of looking at these networks and looking at these emerging platforms and how you tell stories.”
Being a small company, for the past three years the Pretty Matches team focused most of their efforts on Divorce, which the company co-produces with Aaron Kaplan’s Kapital Entertainment and Horgan and Clelia Mountford’s Merman Films. With the series wrapping, the company is ramping up development, and Benson highlighted several of the projects on Pretty Matches’ slate, some of which have been set up at networks:
That Lonely Section Of Hell is a limited series, written by Jen Richards based on the memoir by Lorimer Shenher. “It falls into traditional true crime, it’s a true story of a well-known serial killer who murdered 49 indigenous women, but it really is about the sex workers, and it’s anchored in the perspective of a transgendered detective who’s leading the investigation,” Benson said. “Traditionally, true crime has been more through a male lens, and I think that this series is very much through the female gaze. It’s not just about who’s investigating, but it also is about the victims and their stories.”
Peaches, written by Colman Domingo, partnered with John Benjamin Hickey, is an ensemble series about an all-female, adult kickball league in the south, and the wildly diverse women in the league in need of a big life change.
“It’s a fun, diverse female comedy set in around the world of kickball league that is a little bit more broad and is looking at middle-aged women through this sort of league,” Benson said.
Fresh Kills, written by Lara Vapnyar and Frank Pugliese, is a drama series set in a small Staten Island community, which tells the story of four families with varying political and religious affiliations, young children and different immigrant nannies, and how a local, unspeakable tragedy plays out in the face of xenophobia.
“It’s sort of a cross between Big Little Lies and The Sopranos,” Benson said. “There’s a mystery element to it, but it is really looking at the families and the immigrant nannies and everything that plays into that community.”
Meg, written by Charles Randolph and Craig Chester, is a comedy series set 35 years in the future when pharma and tech have developed the opportunity for people to be prescribed clones of themselves.
“What I love about it is, it explores that singular question of what happens when you have to come face to face with yourself,” Benson said.
Big Game, a limited series written by Clint Bentley and Greg Kwedar, is a geopolitical thriller exploring the interconnected web of the illegal ivory trade, anchored in the varying yet overlapping perspectives of a biologist in the national park in Africa; the park rangers; a young poacher; a US Fish & Wildlife agent; and a smuggler on the high seas.
“It’s about a female biologist and a story that takes us not just to Africa but brings us into the high seas, Eastern Europe and Asia. It is a big sweeping limited series,” said Benson who started out as a wildlife biologist.
Room For Change, with Purveyors of Pop, is a reality series following interior designer Mike Harrison, who specializes in small spaces, even smaller budgets, and has become the designer of Broadway dressing rooms for A-list talent.
“We see him, kind of DIY, go in and work with actors that have Broadway shows, and he redoes their dressing rooms,” Benson said. “It’s really fun and gets into that world of design, but also the world of Broadway, and very much the world of New York, and all that goes with trying to design on a budget.”
On the feature side, Pretty Matches is working on a comedy that is looking at family wealth and inheritance in the vein of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, which is being written and is likely going to go into production next year.
Here is the company’s full development slate:
THAT LONELY SECTION OF HELL – Limited Series written by Jen Richards, based on the memoir by Lorimer Shenher, partnered with Conquering Lion Pictures – The story of the Robert Pickton case, a Canadian serial killer who murdered 49 indigenous women and sex workers, anchored in the perspective of the transgender detective who was leading the investigation.
PEACHES – Comedy Series written by Colman Domingo, partnered with John Benjamin Hickey – A ensemble series about an all-female, adult kickball league in the south, and the wildly diverse women in the league in need of a big life change.
FRESH KILLS – Drama Series written by Lara Vapnyar and Frank Pugliese – Set in a small Staten Island community, the story of four families with varying political and religious affiliations, young children and different immigrant nannies, and how a local, unspeakable tragedy plays out in the face of xenophobia.
MEG – Comedy Series written by Charles Randolph and Craig Chester – Set 35 years in the future, pharma and tech have developed the opportunity for people to be prescribed clones of themselves…and what happens when you come face to face with yourself?
BIG GAME – Limited Series written by Clint Bentley and Greg Kwedar – A geopolitical thriller exploring the interconnected web of the illegal ivory trade, anchored in the varying yet overlapping perspectives of a biologist in the national park in Africa; the park rangers; a young poacher; a US Fish & Wildlife agent; and a smuggler on the high seas.
ROOM FOR CHANGE – Reality Series with Mike Harrison, partnered with Purveyors of Pop – A non-scripted format exploring the process of interior designer Mike Harrison, who specializes in small spaces, even smaller budgets, and reading the mind of his clients. Having become THE designer of Broadway dressing rooms for A-list talent, Mike’s work is incredibly personal and accessible, whether he’s working with an Oscar Award-winning actor in the theater or a single mom in Brooklyn in need of a big change.
STEP NINE – Comedy Series written by Nana Mensah, Janicza Bravo attached to direct, partnered with Refinery 29 – A dark comedy series following a young black woman’s attempt to climb back up from rock bottom. As a Harvard grad at the top of New York City’s financial sector, her drug and alcohol addiction got the best of her…but as a woman of color, she was not awarded the same safety net as a white man and she ultimately had much further to fall.
NO ONE TELLS YOU THIS – Comedy Series based on the memoir by Glynnis MacNicol – A comedy series exploring what it means to be an adult woman who has decided that you don’t want for yourself what society has told you you should, including marriage and children. How does one navigate life after disregarding that roadmap?
ADDITIONALLY, the company is working on a documentary project with Academy Award winners Ezra Edelman and Caroline Waterlow; a comedy series with author, columnist and sex blogger Karley Sciortino; a feature film with writer/director Elizabeth Wood; a comedy series with Sarah Solemani; a drama series with Michael Cunningham.
Outside of film and TV, In the last few of years, Parker expanded her portfolio with a book imprint and a shoe collection. Her SJP for Hogarth, focused on finding global voices, has published three titles in the genre of literary fiction in the past year — Fatime Farheen Mirza’s debut novel A Place for Us, which landed on New York Times’ best-selling list, Claire Adam’s Golden Child, which just won a book prize, and Dawn, a collection of short stories by Selahattin Demirtas, the currently imprisoned leader of the Kurdish opposition party in Turkey.
Parker’s shoe business, which she owns with former Manolo Blahnik CEO George Malkemus, is in its fifth year. The duo has two standalone stores in New York and just opened two more outside of New York and is opening a third one in September in addition to an international footprint and just launched e-commerce business.