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Alaska Reacts To Sarah Palin's Resignation
TERRY GROSS, host:
This is FRESH AIR. Iâm Terry Gross. What legacy is Sarah Palin leaving
in the state of Alaska now that sheâs decided to resign as governor and
hand power over to the lieutenant governor, Sean Parnell, on July 26? My
guest, Michael Carey, has been following her for years. Heâs a columnist
for the Anchorage Daily News and its former editorial page editor. He
also moderates a weekly program about state politics, called âAnchorage
Edition,â on Alaska Public Broadcasting.
After Palinâs surprise speech on Friday, most people were still unsure
why she resigned and whether she planned to leave politics or prepare a
presidential campaign. She still hasnât said what she sees as her
political future or if she even wants one. Yesterday, she said she
resigned because of the time and costs of the ethics complaints against
her and politically ambitious state legislators who are making it
difficult for her to get anything done.
Michael Carey, welcome back to FRESH AIR. You wrote an op-ed piece that
was published in the L.A. Times, and you wrote that the only thing we
can be absolutely sure of is this: Palin did not tell the truth when she
said she is leaving for the good of Alaskans. She is leaving for her own
good. What makes you say that?
Mr.Â MICHAEL CAREY (Columnist, Anchorage Daily News): I think itâs
demonstrable in the sense that this is a â of course there will be a new
governor, and the actual hand-off will be pretty seamless. There are
provisions for that, whether at the federal level or our level, but she
has decided that essentially, I canât do this job anymore, I donât want
to do this job anymore.
She presented it a number of times in the text that sheâs only trying to
do whatâs good for the American people and for the Alaskan people. But
when I think when we find out more, and we donât have all the
information, weâre going to find out that she felt there was some
advantage in this for her to leave, whether it was I donât have to be
governor anymore, or whether it was to go out and make a lot of money,
whether it was just to stay home. But she presented this as a selfless
decision done for others and, I guess, just as somebody whoâs been up
here a while and has some opinions and been in the room with her and
interviewed her on the radio and a variety of other things, I just donât
She gave two weeks notice, like she was, you know, working at the
department store or whatever.
GROSS: Sarah Palin resigned during the week that the Todd Purdum Vanity
Fair piece about her was published, a very unflattering piece. Todd
Purdum wrote this about McCainâs campaign team. He said: Most made it
clear that they suffer a kind of survivorâs guilt. They canât quite
believe that for two frantic months last fall, they worked their tails
off to try to elect as vice president of the United States someone who,
by mid-October, they believed for certain was nowhere near ready for the
job and might never be.
I think as an expert on Alaska politics, probably you were interviewed
by a lot of people and spoke to a lot of people during the presidential
campaign. Did you have any clue that people in the McCain campaign had
become so disillusioned with Sarah Palin?
Mr.Â CAREY: Occasionally, you would hear rumblings, but they tended to be
more like, I know a guy who knows a guy who knows a guy who told me the
McCain people were really upset with Sarah Palin because something she
said, something she did. There were rumors that sheâd had tantrums with
I mean, these things were â I suspect they go on with many candidates,
the suggestion being that the candidate is much different in private
than she or he is in person. But I was in St.Â Paul when she was actually
nominated and accepted the nomination in that electrifying speech, and
for myself - I guess Iâm going to quote that great authority, Mike Carey
- I thought that the choice was very cynical because she simply wasnât
prepared to be president of the United States by any rational
GROSS: Let me quote something Sarah Palin said in her speech, and she
was referring to ethics complaints against her, and this seemed to be
one of the reasons why she was leaving. She said every one of the 15
ethics complaints have been dismissed. We have won. It hasnât come
cheap. The state has wasted thousands of hours of our time and shelled
out some two million of your dollars to respond to opposition research,
and thatâs money thatâs not going to fund teachers or troopers or safer
Mr.Â CAREY: Itâs important to remember that most of the money that was
spent on ethics complaints was spent on Troopergate, which was a major
incident, as you remember, last summer and last fall, involving
questions about how her brother-in-law was treated, how she handled the
Department of Public Safety. That was not a trivial event. It was very
divisive and very expensive and probably was important after a while to
get to the bottom of it.
I spoke to a former legislator today, former member of the attorney
generalâs staff, and he explained that many of these ethics complaints
could have been answered simply by writing a letter back to those who
handle ethics matters and say, gentlemen, ladies, this is actually what
I did, and respond to the complaint in that fashion without requiring
any high-priced legal help.
Now perhaps if you have aspirations to be president of the United
States, you feel that you need high-priced legal help frequently or all
the time, or youâre not going to let these things go unanswered
professionally. You want a professional in the room when youâre
I think thereâs something I want to add here and that is really
disappointing to those who had so much hope for Sarah Palin when she
became governor, is sheâs really become professional at playing the
victim. Somebodyâs saying terrible things about me. Somebodyâs saying
terrible things about my family, and isnât it terrible? This is
something you hear from her repeatedly.
GROSS: What condition would you say Sarah Palin leaves the state of
Mr.Â CAREY: Well, there was a story the other day, a national story, that
said more than half the states in the United States are facing deficits.
We are not, primarily because the price of oil went back up and is
funding most of our budget - in the billions, the low billions. But we
also, of course, have a lot of federal spending thatâs coming in here,
and weâve used some reserves from something called the Budget Reserve
Fund to balance the budget. But Sarah Palin did not have to impose on
us, as happened in other states, new taxes or dramatic cuts in services.
In fact, thanks to the Obama administration, which of course sheâs made
mock of from time to time, we received a great deal of stimulus money.
Thatâs a great help with our budget.
GROSS: Sarah Palin wanted to give back about a third of the stimulus
package that was being offered to Alaska. What was the reaction in
Alaska when she wanted to give it back?
Mr.Â CAREY: I think at first there was confusion: Why do you want to do
this? And second, I mean at the same time, there were some people who
supported the governor, I think she was in better shape in public
opinion then, who may have felt yeah, well, maybe sheâs got a point
here. Letâs see what the government has in mind. And she asserted there
were all these strings attached that would prevent us from doing things,
quote, âin the Alaskan way,â unquote.
On the other hand, there were many people, including legislators, who
said hey, itâs free federal money. Get it? Itâs free. And some of the
cynics said, you know, the Alaskan people have never seen a federal
dollar that they didnât like, as we are historically one of the primary
recipients of federal money.
So eventually, I can tell you this from first-hand observation: I was in
the legislature in Juneau visiting the state capital when the state
Senate leaders held a press conference to talk about the stimulus money.
And they werenât nasty, they werenât unpleasant, but essentially, Senate
President Gary Stevens said the president of the United States has
spoken. Heâs giving out this money. Maybe I wouldnât have voted for it
if I was a senator, but I think we have an obligation to take all this
money and spend it in the best way we can for all Alaskans. And that
really was the essence of the way the legislature felt about it. And
probably if they had a veto session today - theyâre prevented by the
mechanics of how the legislature works - it would probably be like 55 to
five in favor of taking the money.
GROSS: When Sarah Palin officially steps down, the governor will be the
now-lieutenant governor, Sean Parnell. Tell us something about Sean
Parnell and his record.
Mr.Â CAREY: Sean Parnell is the son of a former member of the
legislature. Heâs in his 40s. Iâve met him many times as editorial board
editor and had him in as a guest.
He will be much better liked by the Republican legislators and the
legislature in general because he was a state senator before he became a
member of the legislature. So he comes out of that tribe and knows
whatâs expected in the way of treating the members of that tribe to keep
them if â somewhat happier, letâs say, or just to have a civil dialogue.
Heâs not going to engage in the kind of alienation that Palin did.
On the other hand, he is not a particularly dynamic leader. Thatâs well
known. Heâs polite to a fault. Don Young defeated him, Congressman Don
Young, in a primary election last year. Young was very weak, very
vulnerable. Heâd been - he was in his 70âs. There were all these
allegations of corruption, and Young came out fighting. He called
Parnell, Captain Zero, because of his lack of dynamism, and the nickname
Parnell lost, went back to being lieutenant governor, and now heâs about
to be governor. And my guess is that he will be perceived as vulnerable
by other Republicans and Democrats, and weâre going to have a huge field
of candidates during the next gubernatorial election.
GROSS: What does Sean Parnell stand for politically?
Mr.Â CAREY: Heâs a conservative Republican, law-and-order conservative
Republican, fiscal responsibility. He showed that as a state senator to
the extent that he could get his agenda through, and I think that will
be similar here: anti-abortion, gun rights, the tradition of the right.
GROSS: My guest is Michael Carey, columnist and former editorial page
editor for the Anchorage Daily News. Weâll talk more about Sarah Palin
after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: Weâre talking about Governor Sarah Palin and Alaska in the wake
of Palinâs surprising resignation speech. My guest is Michael Carey,
columnist and former editorial page editor for the Anchorage Daily News.
When Sarah Palin returned to Alaska after her defeat in the 2008
election, do you think she was a changed person, either observing her as
a person or, you know, her political leadership style?
Mr.Â CAREY: As a person, I would make this observation. I donât think
anybody could run for vice president or president and play at that level
in national/international politics and be at the center of the world and
not have it, in some way, change you.
That may just be self-evident. I canât prove it, but it seems that would
have to be the case. As far as leadership goes, she was much more
contentious, much more argumentative and much more â pushing back I
think is the way maybe we ought to phrase it, that whenever there was
criticism, she just wouldnât ignore it. And some of the fights she
picked were very minor, with talk-show hosts and others who really
werenât of very much significance and bloggers. She could have just
I know thatâs hard for people to do in general when they feel abused or
insulted, but there are times to pick your battles, and she certainly
didnât seem to be very good at that when she got back here.
GROSS: In the Todd Purdum piece, he mentioned something that I figure
you know a lot about. He writes that perhaps nothing caused a bigger
stir than her nomination of Wayne Anthony Ross to be Alaskaâs attorney
general. And Purdum says that Ross had called gays and lesbian
degenerates, and this was the first time in Alaskan history that a
Cabinet nominee was actually rejected. Tell us the story of this
nomination and why it was so controversial.
Mr.Â CAREY: Wayne Anthony Ross is an Anchorage attorney whoâs been very
active in fighting for conservative causes. His nickname is War, as in
Wayne Anthony Ross. He drives around town, or did, in a big Hummer. He
wears a big cowboy hat. Heâs a big man. He actually is quite charming
and if you met him, heâs much milder in person than some of his rhetoric
Not only had he made disparaging and perhaps ugly, and I think ugly,
remarks about gay people, he went to war with Alaskaâs indigenous people
over some native-rights questions that involved arcane questions, at
least they would be for your listeners, of hunting and fishing rights.
So he had probably 16 percent of the population - thatâs the native,
Alaskan native or indigenous people part of the population - against him
to begin with. And Iâd known Wayne a long time. I like Wayne. If you
spend any time with him, heâs a very likable fellow. But he went down to
Juneau to testify before the legislature, and he just couldnât shut up.
He just kept talking and talking and talking and talking, and what all
that talking did, about his views, was digging and digging and digging
and digging, digging himself in deeper. And eventually he made some
comments about, oh, the appointment of a state senator and how that
process should work, that shouldnât have been - that he should have just
kept those remarks to himself.
He made some other remarks that finally the legislature, just in their
disgust with him, but even more so with their disgust with Sarah Palin,
said â you know, rejected him overwhelmingly.
It was quite stunning, and it was quite amazing how quickly Wayneâs
stature among legislators collapsed. I think for some legislators, this
would be a way of getting back at Sarah Palin for various things,
especially among the Democrats. And there were a couple legislators
perhaps who just took it out on Wayne because heâd been on the other
side of them in political campaigns and other issues.
GROSS: Tell us something about Sarah Palinâs tenure as governor that you
think is telling about her leadership style, that most of us outside of
Alaska wouldnât know about.
Mr.Â CAREY: Well, for one thing the absence of Cabinet meetings, not that
being a great leader requires Cabinet meetings. As you know, many of
those are pro forma and just television events, and not a lot gets done.
But fundamentally, more than that, it would be just her sort of hands-
off approach to governance, and I think thereâs been a certain amount of
commentary on her, of her lack of curiosity about a lot of things.
I think the other thing would be that sheâs not the kind of person who
would want to say, you know, I have this position. What does the other
side in this say so I can really test my own arguments? And you know, I
might actually learn something from the people that disagree with me.
Sheâs not like that at all.
On the other hand, I think that we discussed last fall, this idea of
affinity politics with her, that she has a tremendous appeal here and
elsewhere among a certain class of voters who look at her and say, you
are like me. You represent me in your values, how you conduct your life,
the struggles that you have. In some ways, I think thatâs endeared her
to some voters.
I have some friends in Fairbanks who traveled the South during the
winter, and everywhere they went, when people saw their Alaska license
plates, people wanted to know: Do you know Sarah Palin personally? I
think sheâs wonderful.
On the other hand, I was in Manhattan in January, and I told people I
was from Alaska and had to personally defend myself, at least verbally,
from people who were hysterical because they couldnât stand Sarah Palin.
They somehow thought it was my fault.
(Soundbite of laughter)
GROSS: Do you think Sarah Palin actually has aspirations to be
president, or do you think sheâs leaving politics, or do you have no
Mr.Â CAREY: Boy, thatâs a really good question. I had wondered if sheâd
just say, after what happened to her on the national tour, Iâm getting
out of politics altogether. I mean, I thought that was a possibility,
and itâs still a possibility.
On the other hand, she has been enthusiastically received in many
places. Todd Purdum describes the reception she got in Evansville,
Indiana, from a select audience of people of like-minded philosophy. And
you know, if you seek people who agree with you day in and day out, you
can get a pretty good opinion of yourself and develop a - hey, lightning
may strike, I may win, or maybe God is sending me.
I got several emails from people who said Sarah Palin is Godâs agent,
and youâd better get with the program, Carey.
GROSS: Would you tell us what you consider to be two of Sarah Palinâs
top achievements during her tenure as governor?
Mr.Â CAREY: Well first of all, it remains to be seen whatâs going to come
out of her gas-line proposal, but there is still an opportunity. She has
set up a structure for building a gas line from the north slope of
Alaska to deliver gas to the Midwest market. And if that actually
occurs, although itâs going to occur over a period of time that will
include a period of time when sheâs not governor, that would be a
She did participate in the raising of oil taxes and rewriting the ethics
laws, but those were before she became governor. And I think legislators
and even her staff would be hard-pressed to come up with much of a list
of performance-related successes after she came back here.
I notice on this list that she put out of accomplishments, she lists:
transfer more control of public issues to the local level. Well, what
does that mean?
GROSS: What do you think it means?
Mr.Â CAREY: I have no idea because she cites no specific example.
GROSS: With the Sarah Palin resignation and all the mystery surrounding
that, and the scandal that forced Ted Stevens out of his position as
state Senator, is this a weird time for Alaskan politics?
Mr.Â CAREY: Itâs a very weird time in Alaskan politics. Is the FBI going
to continue its investigation of legislators and others here in Alaska?
You may have noticed, and listeners may have noticed, that the FBI here
in Anchorage, Eric Gonzalez, the agent spokesman, denied categorically
that they were investigating Sarah Palin.
I talked to Agent Gonzalez today, and he said the phone was ringing off
the hook with people who had heard from bloggers and others that Palin
was about to be indicted. And the FBI, which rarely responds to those
kind of things, finally just said, weâre going to tell them itâs not
true, and they did that.
But yes, and itâs going to be fascinating to see the candidates for
governor, what they tell Alaskans they represent in contrast to Sarah
GROSS: Any final thoughts you want to leave us with about Sarah Palin
and the impact that sheâs had on your state, Alaska?
Mr.Â CAREY: She is the biggest celebrity in the history of Alaska. She is
the best-known Alaskan ever, far bigger than Ted Stevens, who was a U.S.
senator for 40 years, far bigger than anybody whoâs ever been a
governor. Most of the governors here would be only regionally known, if
at all, or Steve Cooper(ph) became known somewhat during the oil spill.
That probably is her legacy, is as the biggest celebrity weâve ever
produced, and thatâs the world that she operates in. Why she left, I
think we can only find out here in a period of time. Will she go on to
some television gig? Will she stay home and work on her book? Is she
going to be a presidential candidate? Weâre going to find out, but itâs
unfortunate, but I think what we have to say here is the proverbial more
GROSS: Well Michael Carey, thank you so much for talking with us.
Mr.Â CAREY: Thank you very much for having me.
GROSS: Michael Carey is a columnist and former editorial page editor for
the Anchorage Daily News. Iâm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.
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'Hung' Team, Offbeat TV Is A Growth Industry
TERRY GROSS, host:
This is FRESH AIR. Iâm Terry Gross. My guests are the creators of the
new HBO comedy series, "Hung," the husband and wife team, Dmitry Lipkin
and Colette Burson. Lipkin also created the series, "The Riches."
"Hung" stars Thomas Jane as Ray Drecker, a former high school sports
star who's now a high school basketball coach. He's had a rough couple
of years. His wife divorced him, then there was his kidney stone and the
prostate scare, and on top of all that, his house burned down in an
electrical fire and he's trying to rebuild it. Meanwhile, he's camping
out in his backyard, which is why his twin teenaged children decided to
leave him for their mother's house.
Ray's job doesn't pay much and he's desperate. He eventually figures out
he has something he can market - himself as a prostitute because he's
very well-endowed. The idea comes to him at a motivational seminar led
by a speaker who says he can help you become a millionaire by finding
your winning tool.
(Soundbite of applause)
Mr. STEVE HYTNER (Actor): (as Floyd Gerber) What about you Ray? Have you
considered your winning tool?
Mr. THOMAS JANE (Actor): (as Ray Drecker) Yeah. I've considered it. I
think I know what it is. What I'm trying to figure out is how to market
it because what I'm discovering is that...
Mr. HYTNER: (as Floyd Gerber): Tell you what: slow down, Ray. Before we
can help you with your dream, we have to know what it is. You have to
pitch it to us.
Mr. JANE: (as Ray Drecker) I'm not in the mood to pitch tonight Floyd
and I really don't think it's something for the group.
Mr. HYTNER: (as Floyd Gerber) Now, what Ray is going through is very
normal. Fear. It's a common stumbling block. But the way to overcome it
is to acknowledge it. Validate it, and keep on going. Damn the
torpedoes. Now, without thinking about it, tell me Ray. Say it. What is
your winning tool? Yeah, no, without thinking about it, say it. My name
is Ray and I...
Mr. JANE: (as Ray Drecker) I've got a big (censored), Floyd.
Unidentified Woman: Ooh.
Mr. JANE: (as Ray Drecker) All right. I've got a big (censored). Now
what the hell do I do with the damned thing?
(Soundbite of music)
Mr. JANE: (as Ray Drecker) I'm not that smart. I'm not that talented,
anymore anyway. I wasted my youth and now I look around and everybody
seems to have accomplished something but me and I don't have anything. I
got a burned out house and a job that pays (censored). Can't afford to
pay my taxes on time, so I'm pretty much at the precipice here. Got any
advice for me?
Okay, I didn't actually say that. I said I was good with old cars,
wanted to be a mechanic. What a crock.
GROSS: So that's a scene from the new HBO series "Hung." Dmitry Lipkin,
Colette Burson welcome to FRESH AIR.
In the story you know itâs the guy who's the prostitute because he's
really down on his luck and he's well-endowed so he can sell himself.
And Tanya, the Jane Adams character, who's also attending the self-
improvement motivational seminar, she becomes the pimp. She's actually a
poet whoâs made a little bit of money working in the Poets in the
Schools program, but that's not very lucrative so she wants to use her
abilities as a writer to help him market himself and, of course, keep
some of the profits.
So this is a story in which it's the guy that's the prostitute and the
woman that's the pimp. So what kind of opportunities does that create
for you as writers?
Ms. COLETTE BURSON (Creator, âHungâ): I think a lot of what "Hung" deals
with is men's view on women and women's view on men. Many times I think
of it as men and women staring at each other across a room and what they
think of one another. And that was also a very interesting point that we
would discuss at length with Alexander Payne, just the male...
GROSS: Who directed the pilot.
Ms. BURSON: Yes - the male perspective on the situation and the female
perspective on the situation. And every time that weâre shooting a scene
where Ray goes into a room and shuts the door and he's there alone with
a woman, I'm always reminded of how electric that situation is. Like at
the end of the day it's a man and a woman alone together in a room and
what they think of each other and what they think of one another
sexually, and there's something very charged about that before they ever
open their mouths.
GROSS: One of the basic things that I think you had to ask yourself in
writing "Hung" is how important really is how well a man is endowed for
women? Do women really care? Does it make a difference? Did you talk
about that and did you agree on that when you were starting to write the
Mr. DMITRY LIPKIN (Creator, âHungâ): I think we agreed on the idea that
it - that Ray thinks it's fairly important to be well-endowed, to be â
to, you know, to please women...
Ms. BURSON: And then as time went on, we made the decision that for each
woman who encounters Ray's penis, it is the perfect member for her. Any
woman who sees it really loves it. We donât think of Ray as being some
gargantuan sized guy, not like some Guinness Book of World Records freak
show. We think of him as being the most hung guy in the room, the most
hung guy in his high school, the most hung guy on the basketball court,
and that that, you know, imbues him with a certain confidence. At the
same time we do feel part of what goes on in the show is that Ray -
that's not enough. You know, Ray has quite a lot to learn about the...
Mr. LIPKIN: That's what I was going to add that it's - we make it pretty
clear that that's just a very small aspect of his sexuality and he's got
a lot to learn about women.
Ms. BURSON: As Tanya says to him, you, you know, you could learn a
little more about foreplay. Like she gently suggests to him and other
women also suggest that he has a lot to learn.
GROSS: I'm wondering what the auditions were like for the Ray character,
the character who is hung and decides that that's the part of him that
is most sellable. Did people show up wearing like real stud clothes...
(Soundbite of laughter)
GROSS: ...to impress you?
(Soundbite of laughter)
GROSS: What did it look like?
Ms. BURSON: Well, we had a lot of auditions. Alexander...
Mr. LIPKIN: Four hundred people. That's a lot. Yeah.
Ms. BURSON: So many people. Hundreds. Alexander's a real believer in the
audition process and so we sat through a whole lot, I mean, literally
hundreds of versions of that monologue that you see in the make money
seminar. And I remember being quite interested about how different male
actors would deal with it. Like some would spread their legs and kind of
point to their crotch.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. BURSON: Some would just sit in a chair with their legs spread in
this very sort of cocky way. Others would be very sort of insecure and,
you know, take that aspect of it. It was quite fascinating to watch the
different male takes on that audition process. And...
Mr. LIPKIN: But almost none of them did it simply. They, you know, they
had to do something with it. You know they couldn't - somehow they
couldnât take the lines for what they were, which is a kind of a matter,
itâs a simple statement that he makes which I think is the most moving
choice of all. Yeah.
GROSS: How did Thomas Jane do it?
Mr. LIPKIN: He did it simply. It's who he is. It's what he has. It's...
Ms. BURSON: He also interrupted himself during the monologue and would
stop and start again and he really kind of felt his way through it as an
actor. And I think Alexander and we were all quite drawn to how he kind
of stopped when it didn't feel true and then just sort of felt his way
through it in a very honest, simple way.
GROSS: I feel like I should say to our listeners like, in spite of the
fact that there's a lot of sex, this is a TV series that's really about
characters and itâs really about people and motivations and their inner
lives and desires. Do you always feel like you have to make both of
those things straight when you...
(Soundbite of laughter)
GROSS: ...when you describe the show to potential viewers?
Ms. BURSON: We don't feel like we have to make it straight. Well, we
feel like - how do we feel Dmitry?
Mr. LIPKIN: We...
Ms. BURSON: We don't often find ourselves explaining the show to
Mr. LIPKIN: Yeah. We feel like we have these very unique and peculiar
characters that we follow truthfully. And yes, they - Ray does fall into
having sex with women for money.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. LIPKIN: But I don't know. We feel like we don't - we...
Ms. BURSON: We feel like it's not cheese ball.
Mr. LIPKIN: Yeah.
Ms. BURSON: Like we feel like if someone turns on the TV and watches our
show that there's a lot - that they'll be drawn in. That like we'll grab
the Rays. We'll grab the Tanyas.
GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guests are Dmitry Lipkin and
Colette Burson. They're co-creators and writers of the new HBO series,
"Hung." Let's take a short break here and then we'll talk some more.
This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: My guests are the co-creators of the new HBO series, "Hung."
Dmitry Lipkin and Colette Burson, they are also writers for the series,
and Dmitry Lipkin also created the series, "The Riches."
Dmitry, since this is the second show that youâve pitched to a network,
tell us a little bit of what the pitch process is like? Maybe let's go
back to "The Riches," which was the first time you had a successful TV
pitch. Were you prepared for it? Did you know what to do?
Ms. BURSON: Well, you know, in the pitch process it's - you really want
to connect with your executive that you're trying to sell it to by
telling a story that they - ideally something they read about a couple
years ago and have mostly forgotten. And so I remember...
Mr. LIPKIN: So I started talking about this woman who was caught on tape
beating up her daughter at a Kmart parking lot. It's a story that came
out, I don't know, maybe about seven years ago.
Ms. BURSON: And the woman was a traveler.
Mr. LIPKIN: And it turned out that the woman was a traveler. So that's
how I started. And then I linked it to myself. I linked it to my
experience as an immigrant. I came here from Russia when I was 10 and I
grew up in Louisiana. And you know, I always looked at America through
that prism, through the prism of being an outsider and I wanted to write
a - have a television show that looks at America, you know, from the
outside in. But at the same time had a more, you know, not just an
immigrant story but also a story about you know people who do illegal
things and try to kind of steal the American dream. So that's, I did
approach it from that kind of thematic point of view as well.
GROSS: Dmitry, describe what it means to be a traveler - what a traveler
Mr. LIPKIN: A traveler is an Irish gypsy who, it's a very small, very
kind of insular clan of these people who travel around the United States
in RV's and very little is known about what they do. But they it is said
that they rely a lot on conning, on scams and cons to make their money.
GROSS: Now Dmitry, you grew up in Russia. You're Jewish and when you
immigrated with your parents - when you were 12 was it?
Mr. LIPKIN: Ten.
GROSS: Ten. You moved not to a place like Brighton Beach, which has a
really large Jewish-Russian emigre community. You moved to Baton Rouge.
Not famous as far I know...
(Soundbite of laughter)
GROSS: ...for its Russian-Jewish immigrant community. Why Baton Rouge?
Mr. LIPKIN: There was absolutely no reason for it.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. LIPKIN: We had no relatives at that time in the United States. We
were the first ones to leave Russian and my dad is a chemical engineer.
So what happens in that - what happened in that process in the late â70s
is that a Russian-Jewish refugee family would get matched up to -
matched with a Jewish community somewhere in the States. And it was -
there was some reason to it because you know my dad is a chemical
engineer they thought perhaps Louisiana, oil, he can get a job there,
which he did. But it was also a bit of a fluke. I could've been anywhere
and we were the second Russian Jewish family in Baton Rouge at the time.
GROSS: And Dmitry, did being Jewish mean any more or less to you when
you left Russia and moved to the United States?
Mr. LIPKIN: Well, I was vaguely aware of the fact that I was Jewish in
Russia, just because there's no opportunity to go to have any kind of a
religious freedom. When I, you know, when I came to the States I - part
of the reason for coming was sort of to - was to embrace your new
identity. And so yes, we did go to - I became very aware that I was
Jewish once I got to, you know, to Louisiana. I had a Bar Mitzvah. I was
actually circumcised. And I was yes, I for a while I was actually quite,
you know, I was - it was a reformed temple, but I did definitely embrace
GROSS: Now Colette, before doing "Hung" you wrote and directed a kind of
neglected comedy called "Coming Soon" and itâs like a teen sex comedy.
But most of these teen sex comedies are from the boy's point of view.
This is from the girl's point of view. From the point of view of girls
who are with boys who have no - who know how to get pleasure themselves
but have no idea how to give it to the girls they're with and don't seem
to really care either. And I'm wondering what gave you the idea of
doing, you know, a kind of teen sex comedy from the point of view of the
Ms. BURSON: You know, probably just conversations with women that I'd
had, you know, from in college and moving into graduate school, and I
was also very struck when I came to New York City to go to NYU at how
different the adolescence of my peers at school had been, the ones who
grew up in Manhattan, compared to my own sort of 1950s high school
experience in a small town in Virginia. And so I was drawn to that
difference and drawn to just how they dealt with sexuality in high
school. And you know, itâs funny because âComing Soonâ has sexual
content and âHungâ has sexual content.
And I donât really think of myself as being obsessed with sexual
content. Yeah, if you, you know, thereâs all these works of mine that
has it, and actually just when you posed that question, I thought, you
know, itâs interesting, maybe the link is the female point of view.
Because I do think thatâs something that I really think of a lot in
âHung,â and thatâs definitely something that was going on in âComing
GROSS: And so whatâs the connection in how you think about it? Are you
thinking about, likeâ¦
Ms. BURSON: Well, just the female, the female point of view - I mean I
felt that when I was dealing with the teen comedy genre that there were
so many teen comedies from the boysâ point of view and that no one was
really dealing with what it was like to have sex when you are in high
school, as so many teenage girls do, and I think theyâre left in this
state of confusion and thinking that being left completely unfulfilled
as a natural state of being. You know, thatâs just sort of how it is. I
think thatâs the discovery. And so I really wanted to just speak to
that. And then in terms of âHung,â I feel like, again, like I am
bringing a certain female perspective.
I mean, you know, Iâm fascinated in that I feel like when men watch
episodes of âHungâ and when women watch of episodes of âHung,â Iâve come
to realize that theyâre watching very different things. When I watch
âHung,â Iâm watching Ray and Iâm thinking of Rayâs experience as he goes
through it. And I was surprised to realize, talking to Dmitry and the
male writers and others that theyâre watching the different women that
Ray encounters. So, theyâre very aware of which women he is about to
have sex with or thinking of having sex with and what it would be like
to have sex with her, and Iâm not thinking about it at all.
Iâm really focused on the man in it. And someone told me that thatâs a
lot like old romance novels when theyâre written for men, that a romance
novel thatâs written for man goes through many women, and the classic
Harlequin romance that is written for women focuses on one male
character that, you know, the woman is trying to get the attention of.
So itâs interesting.
GROSS: So, Dmitry Iâm not sure if I should be asking you this or not,
but if you got circumcised after you moved to the United Statesâ¦
(Soundbite of laughter)
GROSS: Yeah. Its not something probably a lot of boys would want to go
through. Was it alright?
Mr. LIPKIN: Well, our playwriting mentor, Eduardo Machado, keeps saying
that thatâs the reason I became an artist. I donât know. It was - I
guess it was fairly â it was a bit of a shock to go through - perhaps
Ms. BURSON: Yeah, wasnât there a rabbi there and thereâs was this whole
ceremony? Like I always think of it as Dmitry sort of feeling like he
was stepping up to reclaim his Jewish ancestry from, you know, the ash
heap being lost in Russia. It seemed like a noble act for a young man to
Mr. LIPKIN: Yeah. I was out for that whole â when the rabbi was there.
When I was reclaiming my Jewish identity I wasâ¦
Mr. BURSON: But nevertheless didnât you tell meâ¦
Mr. LIPKIN: (Unintelligible)
Mr. BURSON: But nevertheless, Dmitry, didnât you tell me that you
Mr. LIPKIN: I did volunteer.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. LIPKIN: Yes, I â no, I really did embrace my Jewish heritage when I
came from Russia to the States.
GROSS: Do you think that it affected you as a writer to grow up with one
language and at the age of 10 start learning a second language, the
language that you ended up writing in?
Mr. LIPKIN: Absolutely. You know, because I think for years, I was, you
know, all I had to do was observe people who are surrounded by - I think
- who are very much within the place where they are from. They are not
quite as self-conscious, so it doesnât, they donât nurture that quality
of observation as much as I think with people who are who grew up as
GROSS: Dmitry Lipkin and Colette Burson created the new HBO comedy
series, âHung,â which is shown Sunday nights.
*** TRANSCRIPTION COMPANY BOUNDARY ***
Five Generations Of Female Longing, Frustration
TERRY GROSS, host:
Kate Walbertâs novel, âOur Kind,â was nominated for the National Book
Award in 2004. And her earlier novels and short stories have also
attracted critical acclaim. The cheeky title of Walbertâs new novel is
what caught our book criticâs eye: itâs called âA Short History of
Women.â Hereâs Maureen Corriganâs review.
MAUREEN CORRIGAN: Well, it is short, but itâs not sweet. Kate Walbert's
melancholy novel, "A Short History of Women," documents the inner lives
of five generations of women, beginning in the 1880s and ending in the
present. If families can be said to genetically pass on emotional
colorings, the way hair and eye colorings are passed on, then the
Townsend clan carries forward a dominant tendency toward passionate
renunciation. The British matriarch of the family, Dorothy Trevor
Townsend, was a suffragist who went on a hunger strike in 1914. She
starves herself on principle, to make something happen. She was buried,
her daughter tells us, in a simple box, a lavender Votes for Women sash
across her small, unquivering bosom.
That daughter, Evelyn, sternly closes the lid on the memory of her
mother's martyrdom. She eventually emigrates to America and becomes a
professor of chemistry at Barnard College, devoting herself to science
and resolutely tamping down her desire for intimate relations with other
humans. But at the end of her life, Evelyn hollowly muses: it only goes
so far, your work. The message of the Townsend family lies in
repetition. In the next generation, Evelyn's niece, also named Dorothy,
is a wife and mother of three who divorces her husband after 50 years of
a rather listless marriage, takes to wearing only black and white
clothes, and becomes politicized in her old age. She's arrested in 2003
for taking clandestine photos of soldiers' coffins at Dover Air Force
Base in Delaware.
This Dorothy is regarded as a kind of an annoying kook by her own two
adult daughters, who themselves live in a state of post-9/11 repressed
dread. Given its jaundiced attitude towards women's activism and the
transformative possibilities of social change, "A Short History of
Women" might be subtitled Damned If You Do, Damned If You Don't. That's
a risky message for any novel that wants to be widely read to embrace.
To give Walbert her due, she is no spinner of feminist fairy tales.
Indeed, she is ruthless in dramatizing the limited, mostly disappointing
solutions each successive generation of Townsend women arrives at in
answer to what used to be called the woman question, or as one of the
Dorothys puts it, the problem of us. Walbert is also ambitious in the
way she tells her story. The narrative bops around chronologically in a
style that might be thought of as Virginia Woolf taking shorthand.
The lives of the Townsend women intersect with larger events in 20th
century history - VJ Day, 1970s consciousness-raising sessions, the
aforementioned 9/11, and Walbert beautifully evokes the moods of those
various times with a few spare sentences. But - and you must have known
there was a but coming here - "A Short History of Women" ultimately
slips into the category of novel that I admire but don't like. Maybe
it's the overall sense of suffocation, the way Walbert's story elegantly
loops around, repeating scenes and conveying the implicit political
message that the more things change, the more they stay the same.
One after another, her women succumb to quiet deaths of body or spirit
through starvation, drinking and emotional denial. It's all so measured,
so beautifully wrought. The most affirming finale here belongs to the
second Dorothy, who goes un-gently into that good night, blogging her
feminist anger out into the ether. Blogging. It's a realistic and
restrained ending, of course, but by the end of Walbert's novel I was
ready for a good old midcult catharsis. Instead of blogging, I wanted
somebody to throw a brick.
GROSS: Maureen Corrigan teaches literature at Georgetown University. She
reviewed "A Short History of Women" By Kate Walbert.
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.