‘Drop Dead Diva’ Returns from the Dead

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After the story-based death that launched the series, Drop Dead Diva experienced a different sort of death earlier this year—cancellation. But just like the rebirth that gave the show’s central character, Deb, a second chance at life, Drop Dead Diva managed to make a post-cancellation pickup from Lifetime.

For those who aren’t familiar with the show, Drop Dead Diva is about a shallow aspiring model named Deb, whose death in a car crash leads (through a few twists and turns) her to be brought back to life in the body of a recently deceased lawyer named Jane (series star Brooke Elliott), who died protecting her boss.

Before the series’ fifth season premiere on June 23, I caught up with series creator Josh Berman to discuss coming back from cancellation, what fans can expect this season, and what it’s like shooting in Georgia. Warning: some spoilers for seasons four and five are contained below.

How does it feel to be back at work after a period of time where it looked like Drop Dead Diva wasn’t coming back?

It’s been one of the wildest roller coaster rides of my career. When the show was cancelled, I was incredibly disappointed. But what no one counted on was the rabid fanbase that immediately came to this show’s support like nothing I’ve ever seen. Within two or three days, there were dozens and dozens of homemade videos on YouTube demanding that Lifetime save the show.

More importantly, the show had never trended on Twitter, and when we were cancelled, we trended on and off for two weeks. So I believe it was truly the fans that saved the show, and internally we’re actually dubbing season five “The Season of Fans” in honor of them. It’s truly a testament to the hardcore support that the Drop Dead Diva fans have for the show.

I’ll say also: what was so gratifying for me was just all the personal emails and Facebook messages and Tweets that I received from the fans wanting to know how they could help.

What can fans expect when they tune in this season?

The title of the first episode is a wink to the fans, “Back from the Dead,” and it picks up half an hour after season four ended. Within the first few episodes, we resolve the cliffhanger of season four and we jump start into Jane’s new life, having to deal with the fact that she kissed Grayson right before her wedding to Owen, and the revelation that Old Jane has returned to Earth.

So there’s a lot for us to accomplish in the first half of this season. What we’re also working hard to do is make sure the first couple of episodes are still inviting to viewers who have never seen the show before. What we’re finding out is because of the cancellation, the show got so much attention that people who hadn’t seen the show are now interested, and we want to make sure that if you’ve never seen the show before, you can start on June 23 and not miss a beat.

One of the things the show’s done in the past is bring in high-profile guest stars. Are there any notable names on tap for this season?

We definitely do. Some of the fun ones so far include John Ratzenberger from Cheers. He returns as Kate’s father. And I’m personally a huge fan of Barbara Corcoran, one of the judges on Shark Tank. She shows up in this season. I can assure you there will be a ton of fun people.

There’s also a new character coming in this season: Jane’s newest guardian angel, Paul, played by Justin Deeley. How is Paul going to stand out as a character compared to previous angels like Luke and Fred?

I think it’s important in a show like this that each of the angels have kind of a common thread, but also feel very distinctive. What’s so great about Justin is…I kind of view him as a male version of Deb, in that he’s absolutely stunning, and he has a good heart, but he’s kind of vacuous and he’s oblivious to the ongoings around him. Over the course of the season, Jane’s got to come to terms with the fact that her angel’s a lot like she used to be, and she will have to educate him just as much as he educates her. The other thing about this angel is that he has a tough time keeping his clothes on. You’ll see a lot of Paul in the first couple of episodes.

As you previously mentioned, Old Jane will be appearing this season. Can you hint at what that will be like?

Sure. One of the cliffhangers from last season was that the original Jane, the woman whose body Deb now inhabits, was watching Jane’s life from heaven and she was pissed at the way New Jane was handling Old Jane’s life, and she finds a way to return to Earth. In the cliffhanger, we see her careening towards Earth. We will pick that storyline up in the first episode, but I don’t want to give too much away. What Old Jane does and how she does it greatly impacts our character’s life.

The show has dealt with LGBT issues in the past. The episode “Prom” won a GLAAD Award last year. Are there any LGBT-specific storylines going on this season?

We’ve actually been nominated for a GLAAD Award three years in a row, which has been amazingly gratifying for me. You know, Margaret Cho’s a series regular, and I think that brings a focus to the show from gay and lesbian viewers, which I love. But this year, we do have a very important gay episode. I think it will feel fresh and different.

From what I understand, it’s tied into an athlete coming out as gay. Can you talk a little bit about it?

I think it’s our best exploration into gay storylines yet. Cyd Zeigler, who is the president of OutSports, sat in the writers’ room with the writers while we worked on this episode.

The show still shoots in Georgia. What’s different about shooting in Peachtree City compared to shooting in New York, LA or other commonly-used cities?

I absolutely love shooting in Georgia. Obviously, the tax breaks are awesome, and they help us do a better show for less money. But the other part is less tangible, and it’s that the people in Peachtree City and in Georgia have been so welcoming and so warm to us. I think it may still be a novelty for them to have a show shooting in their backyard, so we feel like a real part of the community. You won’t get that in a big city like LA or New York because there are so many productions everywhere you look. We very much feel a part of Peachtree City. They even named a street Diva Drive after Drop Dead Diva. Some of our cast went out for the naming, and the local TCBY named a flavor after Drop Dead Diva, called…“Drop Dead Diva.” Those little points of connection between a show and a community build.

For fans who are wanting to avoid cancellation talks in the near future, what do you recommend they do?

The most important thing to do to save the show right now is to get other people to watch the show. At the end of the day, we need strong ratings. We need viewers on June 23. I’d ask people who like the show to spread the word. I’d also ask them to join our Facebook page, and follow the show and me on Twitter. I’m @bermanjosh and the show is @dropdeaddiva. Stay involved, stay active, and be engaged with the Drop Dead Diva social media community. It’s also a great way to find people who like the show, as well as to get sneak peeks behind the scenes.

Do you have any last remarks for our readers?

I’d really like to thank the LGBT community for getting behind Drop Dead Diva so early. I feel like our community were the first fans of the show. The show’s ultimately about a woman who doesn’t feel like she quite fits in, and it certainly taps into aspects of my life as a gay man, and I believe it’s what touches on a lot of our viewers in our community.

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