68 Things You Probably Didn’t Know About “The L Word”

Last night our Senior Editor Heather Hogan had a dream that I was writing a post called “25 Things Only Riese Knows About The L Word” and if that isn’t a productive brainstorming session, I don’t know what is! Anyhow, I figured, as I am presently in intense deliberations with Kristin about what to name our upcoming L Word re-watch podcast (which we’re doing in advance of the reboot) that it’d be a good idea to re-immerse myself in my favorite topic of all time. (If you’ve read everything I’ve ever written about The L Word, particularly this post, you might already know some of these things, but perhaps you forgot, the mind can only contain so much!)

Sources include everything linked here (thank you to my esteemed former stomping ground The L Word Online for hosting a repository of L Word related press), TV specials, interviews, the books The L Word: Welcome to Our Planet, Reading The L Word, Loving The L Word and  magazine articles I own in print because that’s just who I am I’m a person who ripped out and preserved everything ever written about The L Word. My only regret is not buying that Jennifer Beals L Word book while I had the chance, because it costs one thousand dollars now.


1. Eric Mabius wasn’t originally cast as Tim: Canadian actor Scott Bairstow, best known for his roles on Lonesome Dove and Party of Five, played Tim, an anthropologist, in the original pilot, shot in Vancouver in 2002. The network preferred Tim as a swim coach and, according to Rose Troche, Baristow was ousted ’cause he wasn’t believable as an athlete.

Original Tim

2. However, the more commonly known story of Baristow’s dismissal is that he was fired after being accused of sexual assault against a minor in 2003, eventually pleading guilty to a lesser charge under an Alford plea. Aside from a spot in the 2006 TV movie Android Apocalypse, he hasn’t acted since. Baristow’s re-casting required re-shooting some promotional photos as well as pieces of the first three episodes.

3. Pam Grier‘s scenes also required a reshoot: she’d originally played “The Captain,” a lesbian performance artist, videographer and documentarian of her local lesbian community who had The Chart tattooed on her back. Showtime didn’t like the character, but her sisterly vibe with Jennifer Beals sparked the idea to create the role of Kit, Bette’s straight half-sister.

Pam Grier as The Captain via The Last Word

4. Ilene Chaiken based Jenny on her own experiences as a young lesbian new to Los Angeles. Conversely, Bette “is more like Chaiken’s adult self, juggling a committed relationship with the demanding schedule of a high-powered career.”

5. Chaiken first pitched The L Word in 2000, but didn’t get the go-ahead until Showtime witnessed the success of Will & Grace 18 months later, followed by Showtime’s own success with the American reboot of the British series Queer as Folk.

6. Queer as Folk, however, had a harder time casting than The L Word did — QAF couldn’t find actors as well known as Jennifer Beals, Mia Kirshner or Pam Grier to head up their program. No major talent agency sent a client in for QAF auditions, but The L Word didn’t struggle to get a “yes” from their top choices. What changed? The already-blazed trail, maybe? Moreso, perhaps: a greater cultural discomfort/stigma around on-screen M/M sexuality than there is around F/F sexuality. But perhaps most of all was how desperate female actresses were for central, complex, challenging roles and how eager they were to work with a mostly-women cast and crew. Those opportunities were so rare, so they seized them.

7. When production began, the show was called “Earthlings,” not “The L Word,” but it sounded just too sci-fi. Chaiken says “The L Word” came to them during a “brainstorming session,” during which Guinevere Turner was talking about a bit k.d. lang did at a recent concert, saying “I’m a Leh, I’m a Lehhh….,” and then Guinevere was like, “oh, she couldn’t say The L Word” and that, my friends, became the series’ new running favorite, beating out “The Field Guide to Gay Girls.”

8. The mostly-straight cast got some help from co-producer Rose Troche (Go Fish, The Safety of Objects) — she made them all a videotape of lesbian love scenes to study, which included clips from Desert Hearts, Bound and High Art.

9. Leisha Hailey initially auditioned to play Shane, and Erin Daniels initially auditioned to play Bette and Alice before getting cast as Dana.

10. The website AfterEllen took off in part because of The L Word: initially an entertainment blog for lesbians written by Sarah Warn as a side-hobby, the site saw a significant traffic bump after Warn’s 2003 piece, “Will Earthlings be the Lesbian Queer as Folk?.” The article made the rounds, and AE’s traffic doubled and tripled before skyrocketing when the show actually premiered in January 2004.

11. Showtime partnered with lesbian travel company Olivia from the jump — arranging for a special series premiere screening aboard an Olivia cruise to the Mexican Rivera in 2004, hosted by Ilene Chaiken, Leisha Hailey, Kate Moennig and Mia Kirshner.

Kate Moennig, Leisha Hailey, Mia Kirshner and Ilene Chaiken on The Olivia Cruise

12. (In Season Two, an entire episode — “Land Ahoy!” — was filmed aboard Olivia‘s Mayan Caribbean Cruise.)

13. At the time of the show’s premiere, Leisha Hailey was the only out lesbian in the main cast. Kate Moennig was floating around in “open secret” territory while basically sticking to the “I’d like to keep my private life private” line with press.

14. But other cast members did identify as bisexual, at least at first — Laurel Holloman (Tina Kennard) came out as bisexual at the age of 16, after starring in The Incredibly True Adventures of Two Girls In Love. In 2011, she told Curve, “I think maybe I shouldn’t identify as bisexual. I’m just not sure it’d be right to use that label again… I thought I could be bisexual, but then it never happened again [after the first time she was involved with a woman].”

15. Karina Lombard (Marina) told Playboy that she considered herself bisexual prior to her role on The L Word, but it somehow turned her straight: “Doing it with women on the show got so repetitive that it took the edge off doing it with women of the show. It got associated with work in my brain and kind of ruined it.”

16. At the time, Showtime said Lombard wasn’t returning for Season Two because of “serious and paralyzing creative differences.” Fans were despondent, raising $3k towards a Save Marina ad campaign and launching a petition.

17. Karina Lombard said she left the show ’cause the cast and creator were uncomfortable with her popularity, but Chaiken said Lombard left because “Karina wanted entirely different things from her character and her story than we did.”

18. The Chart began in reality: Rose Troche and Guinevere Turner, along with other members of their L.A. writer’s room, made a top-secret real-life chart of their own of which lesbians working on the show had slept with whom, referring to those who’d “slept with a lot of people” as “hubs.”

19. The chart used in the show has real (former) couples on it too, like Rose Troche and Cherin Dabis as well as Leisha Hailey and Nina Garduno.

20. Speaking of Nina Garduno, it was the Free City Supershop creator’s relationship with Hailey that enabled the characters to regularly don the brand’s $200 t-shirts, an iconic line of upscale high-quality casual-wear popular amongst celebrities.

Free City hoodie // Free City t-shirt

21. The costume designer for The Kids Are all Right, directed by Lisa Cholodenko (who also worked on The L Word), also put her lesbian characters in Free City, explaining, “It’s not gay women’s wear, but it kind of is ‘under the cover’ gay women’s wear… If you’re in the gay scene, you know that that’s gay women’s clothing.”

22. Before opening her own boutique, Free City was sold exclusively at Fred Segal — and the Fred Segal Cafe in West Hollywood is also where Alice sees Dana in a flashback and becomes even more certain that Dana is gay, because, according to Alice, Fred Segal Cage is “the biggest lezzy hangout in L.A.”

You can’t actually see Fred Segal Cafe from this angle but it is allegedly behind them

23. The idea for Lisa the male lesbian (played by My So-Called Life‘s Devon Gummersalcame from Guinevere Turner, who’s friend told her about “a guy who was so lesbian-identified that he was mad he wasn’t allowed into the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival.” (Hmm…) Turner had wanted Lisa to be “more Goth, anarchy, punk-like” and “less like the soft crunchy type Lisa sort of blended into.” She felt Lisa came off as “a scammer” rather than the genuine person she’d envisioned.

24. Rumors that Shane was based on iconic hairdresser Sally Hershberger have been vehemently denied by both Ilene Chaiken and Hershberger herself, who said a difference between her and Shane is “she’s not successful and she’s kind of a wreck.”

25. “Provocations” was likely inspired by a former project of Chaiken’s — her film “Dirty Pictures,” made for Showtime, about the Robert Mapplethorpe – Cincinnati Contemporary Arts Center controversy. I’ve also always assumed the name itself came from the notoriously controversial Sensation contemporary art exhibit, which I saw in Brooklyn a million years ago.

26. “The Planet” was probably based on the Urth Caffe on Melrose, which by the way is consistently way too crowded to allow anybody to spend an entire day there fighting with their girlfriends at large tables.

27. The Waterfall Building in Vancouver was used as Bette’s California Art Center but you may also recognize it from Battlestar Galactica, where it served as Roslin’s doctor’s office and, at various points along the show’s wild timeline, the apartments of Starbuck, Lee and Roslin.

28. Tina ended up pregnant after her miscarriage because Laurel Holloman got pregnant and made the choice to have  the pregnancy written into the show.

29. Sandra Bernhard‘s guest role as Jenny’s writing teacher Charlotte Birch in Season Two was based loosely on Susan Sontag. When Chaiken approached her longtime friend Bernhard about being on the show, Bernhard had two conditions: she didn’t wanna be naked, and she didn’t wanna make out with anybody.

30. Sandra Bernhard hasn’t exactly heaped praise on The L Word: on the talk show “Queer Edge,” Sandra Bernhard referred to Ilene Chaiken as a “madcap” “lunatic” called the band Betty “losers” who should be “begging on the street” instead of performing on The L Word, and told guests Kate Moennig and Leisha Hailey, “I love you girls, you’re super talented, you should not be forced to have to recite dialogue like that, which is absurd.”

31. Season Two was challenging for the cast, who sensed “seismic shifts happening in the front office.” To cope, they painted the craft services room in a pastel rainbow, with Mia adding a “little wishing tree” to the space.

32. Tony Goldwyn, who played closeted actor Burr Connors and is now best known for his role as Fitz in Scandal, also directed three episodes of The L Word, including what I consider to be the series’ best episode, “Limb From Limb.”

33. Erin Daniels briefly dated Eric Lively, who played Mark on The L Word and is also the brother of A Simple Favor’s Blake Lively. 

34. The L Word girls were close friends and some were even roommates: Mia Kirshner and Leisha Hailey lived together in Vancouver while shooting Season One — Erin Daniels lived next door, with Kate Moennig a few blocks down. Kate then shacked up with Mia and Leisha for Season Two.

35. The D Word: In 2005, Dasha Snyder produced L Word parody “The D Word” for public access cable show Dyke TV (1993 – 2007), but Viacom caught wind and sent Dyke TV an immediate cease & desist. The cast included comedians Marga Gomez and Julie Goldman and although it toured major LGBTQ film festivals, a fear of legal repercussions is why it’s never aired on TV or been released on DVD or digitally.

36. Patricia Summers, L Word stylist, had to go overseas to capture Bette’s iconic look: she bought European men’s shirts for Bette, “with bigger collars and longer sleeves,” and then tailored them to Beals’ body and then added “custom cuff links.”

37. Betty got involved with The L Word after Ilene Chaiken saw their play BETTY Rules! and consequently invited them to submit to their search for a new song. Five bands competed, and Betty, somehow, won.

38. There were plentiful rumors that Elizabeth Ziff (aka EZ Girl) — who became The L Word‘s Music Supervisor and even wrote a few episodes — and Ilene Chaiken, were dating.

39. In 2005, The L Word was included in TV Guide’s “Cheers and Jeers” section, earning a Jeer for: “opening its second-season episodes with one of the worst theme songs in TV history.”

40. The new opening sequence that went along with the song featured the girls in “unabashed LA fashion plates,” sporting couture by Italian designer Gianfranco Ferré.

41. Ilene has described Jenny’s dream sequences as “one of the things we tried in Season Two that wasn’t ultimately successful.”

42. Kate Moennig and Sarah Shahi’s first makeout scene required “20 takes” because, somehow, Kate had burnt her top lip with a French coffee press the night before.

43. Susan Miller, who wrote for the first season of The L Word, wrote a play based on the experience of creating The L Word called “Sweeping the Nation,” which put on a reading in New York in May of 2006. Kate Moennig was part of the readings’ cast, but Sarah Paulson was the actress playing the show’s Shane-adjacent character. [I saw it and it was so funny and great!]

44. Jennifer Beals has never seen a full, edited-for-television episode of The L Word.

45. Clementine Ford joined the cast at her mother Cybil Shepherd‘s request, playing, of course, Phyllis’s daughter in Season Four, before becoming involved with Shane in Season Five.

46. Jennifer Beals had a no-nudity clause in her contract but figured “her sex scenes are ‘so hot’ that you won’t even notice she’s still clothed.”

47. Lucia Rijker, who played Dana’s trainer and Helena’s prison lover, is one of the world’s top female boxers, was Ilene Chaiken’s personal trainer.

48. In 2006, Jennifer Beals accidentally outed Kate Moennig in an interview with The Advocate, when asked if people still assumed you have to be a lesbian to play one on TV. She said no, adding “oftentimes i will go to Leisha or Kate or Ilene or Rose Troche most often and ask, “OK, is this the right thing to do? Is this not the right thing to do? Am I going to seem like a total chump if I do this?”

49. Ilene now regrets killing Dana, a story inspired by the breast cancer diagnosis (and eventual survival) of one of the show’s fellow co-creators. The actors were also not fans of the choice, particularly the unrealistic pace of Dana’s diagnosis, decline and death.

50. Prior to the episode in which Dana died, fans believed her death was a solution to Erin Daniels‘ desire to exit the show — but in a post-episode mini-doc about the breast cancer plotline, we learned Daniels had no plans or desire to leave. We were… very mad.

51. “The L Word” was one of the most popular worlds in multiplayer online game “Second Life,” too — Showtime put actual resources into developing its presence there, even getting sponsors like Altoids on board.

52. When Jennifer Beals got pregnant, it didn’t make sense to write it into Bette’s story, so instead Bette got super into meditation and Buddhism and its figure-concealing kaftans. In some pre-meditation-garb Season Three shots, you can still kinda tell that she’s pregnant:

53. Ilene Chaiken hired many iconic indie film directors, many of whom had no television experience, to direct episodes of The L Word, including Lisa Chodenko (High Art, The Kids are All Right), Jamie Babbitt (But I’m a Cheerleader, Itty Bitty Titty Committee), Burr Steers (Igby Goes Down), Mary Harron (I Shot Andy Warhol) and Ernest Dickersoon (Juice). Angela Robinson (D.E.B.S., Professor Marsden and the Wonder Women) was, at various times, a co-producer, writer and director.

54. The SheBar/Planet drama from Season Five was plucked from the True West Hollywood Story of GirlBar, which was run by a lesbian couple (introduced in a 1992 Los Angeles Times article as “Robin Gans and her lover Sandy Sachs”) who had a reputation for dyke drama but also ran/run a wildly successful lesbian nightlife empire and co-founded the Dinah Shore Weekend with Club Skirts owner Mariah Hansen, but that partnership dissolved in 2006. Robin and Sandy eventually broke up too.

55. Women-only Turkish Oil Wrestling had been a thing in Brooklyn and Queens for years before The L Word heard about it from director Cherien Dabis (Amreeka) and decided to include Lesbian Oil Wrestling in their show. The sport was also popular amongst gay men (FYI, this link also incorrectly claims that lesbians stole it from gay men).

56. The Nikki Stevens character was allegedly inspired by Lindsay Lohan.

57. Jenny Schecter’s nemesis Stacey Merkin’s “little magazine Curve” put L Word stars on its covers over a dozen times while the show was airing.

58. Another rare Los Angeles filming location was Yamashiro, a gorgeous Japanese palace facsimile in the Hollywood Hills where Lez Girls hosted its wrap party at the end of Season Five. I went there for an event last year and died promptly on the spot when I realized where we were!

59. Several regular recurring characters besides Leisha Hailey were played by actresses who were out while The L Word was on the air: Jane Lynch (Joyce Wyshnia), Alexandra Hedison (Dylan), Guinevere Turner (Gabby Deveaux), Sandra Bernhard (Charlotte), Heather Matarazzo (Stacey Merkin), Tammy Lynn Michaels (Lacy), Daniela Sea (Max) and Kristanna Loken (Paige). Ali Liebert of Bomb Girls also played a small role with one line.

60. Kelly McGillis (Top Gun), who played a closeted Colonel in Season Five of The L Word, came out about a month after The L Word went off the air.

61. Patricia Velasquez, who played the actress who played the Marina character in Lez Girls in Season Five, came out as a lesbian herself in 2015. Velasquez had secretly dated Sandra Bernhard, the cause of her initial lesbian awakening, in the early/mid ’90s.

62. Holland Taylor, who played Helena’s delightful mother Peggy Peabody, also came out officially in 2015, when she began dating Sarah Paulson.

63. Clementine Ford, who played Molly, appeared on the cover of 2009 DIVA magazine in a “coming out” interview that Ford immediately claimed did not actually happen, although she soon thereafter told The Advocate that she was gay, but wanted there not to be “this big emphasis on it.” She has since dated both men and women.

64. Elizabeth Keener, who played Dawn Denbo, “stepped out” with her rumored girlfriend in the summer of 2008, shortly after wrapping up her tenure on The L Word.

65. Ilene Chaiken and her team did not write Season Six with knowledge of Jenny’s killer in mind. They don’t know who killed Jenny. This is a terrible way to tell a story, but FINE SURE OK.

66. However, the L Word Spinoff that never got picked up, “The Farm,” saw Alice landing herself in prison, seemingly for the alleged murder of Jenny Schecter.

67. Due to music licensing deals that were arranged prior to the onset of streaming services, viewers of The L Word on Netflix have been robbed of many of the show’s most iconic musical moments, including 113 ending with Damien Rice‘s “The Blower’s Daughter” and episode 104 concluding with Lucinda Williams‘ “Right in Time.” Queer as Folk has gotten similarly lamentable musical treatment. For this reason, I STRONGLY recommend picking up the DVD set if you’re planning a pre-reboot marathon. The L Word killed it with its musical selections and the show just isn’t the same without them.

68. The L Word Fandom birthed Autostraddle dot com.

Riese is the 37-year-old CEO, CFO and Editor-in-Chief of Autostraddle.com as well as an award-winning writer, blogger, fictionist, copywriter, video-maker, low-key Jewish power lesbian and aspiring cyber-performance artist who grew up in Michigan, lost her mind in New York and then headed West. Her work has appeared in nine books including "The Bigger the Better The Tighter The Sweater: 21 Funny Women on Beauty, Body Image & Other Hazards Of Being Female," magazines including Marie Claire and Curve, and all over the web including Nylon, Queerty, Nerve, Bitch, Emily Books and Jezebel. She had a very popular personal blog once upon a time, and then she recapped The L Word, and then she had the idea to make this place, and now here we all are! In 2016, she was nominated for a GLAAD Award for Outstanding Digital Journalism. Follow her on twitter and instagram.

Riese has written 2657 articles for us.

56 Comments

  1. Oh wow, wait.
    THEY don’t know who killed Jenny?
    Excuse me while I’m over here, hyperventilating with laughter.

    P.S.:The L Word introduced me to some great music. Whoever was responsible for that:Kudos.

  2. Number 27 has blown my mind entirely! How could I not have noticed that?! Also, though, I didn’t know *most* of these, despite doing this job for 11 years and spending a *significant* amount of time in the TWOP TLW forums in the early aughts. (We definitely did know about Jennifer Beals’ no-nudity clause, though.)

  3. Came here to say, I am SO ON BOARD with an L Word podcast! I will not be rewatching the series (except maybe for a few specific scenes on youtube…) but I would absolutely 100% listen to every single episode of an L Word podcast.

  4. “43. Susan Miller, who wrote for the first season of The L Word, wrote a play based on the experience of creating The L Word called “Sweeping the Nation,” which put on a reading in New York in May of 2006. Kate Moennig was part of the readings’ cast, but Sarah Paulson was the actress playing the show’s Shane-adjacent character.”

    Where’s the video of this???

  5. I also saw Betty’s play, and why anyone would tap them to submit a theme song for a TV show based on that is beyond me. (I don’t even dislike them, they’re pretty fun live, but their whole schtick is suuuuuper weird.)

    OMG SECOND LIFE. I had completely forgotten that existed until literally right now. Wow.

    • I went to the l word second life land right after the show ended. I wanted to talk about the show with people, but it was Dinah Shore month or something and all everyone wanted to do was cyber and I wanted to talk about what’s the deal with the last season.

  6. About three years ago, I rewatched the whole series on Netflix and was so disappointed about the music, especially Portishead’s Roads. I should just watch my season 1 DVDs next time (I only have 1 and 4).

  7. 27. The Waterfall Building in Vancouver was used as Bette’s California Art Center but you may also recognize it from Battlestar Galactica, where it served as Roslin’s doctor’s office and, at various points along the show’s wild timeline, the apartments of Starbuck, Lee and Roslin.

    Thank you, I did notice this in both shows and it is very satisfying to yell this fact at innocent co-watchers!

  8. Thinking about the Lisa character really fucking hurts. I was a very sad and confused 21, and so very close to coming out (I’m a trans dyke), then I watched that episode and thought “Oh. This is what [other] lesbians think of me. I’m just a shitty creep. Message recieved, I’ll back off.” Took a long time to (mostly) get rid of that feeling, and nine more years to actually come out. There were definitely other factors, but that was the first time I remember feeling truly unwanted by the community. Ugh. Awful.

    • Totally agree with you. The Lisa character showed to me that I would never find love or be able to live my life honestly as a lesbian and trans woman.

      Honestly, I am amazed that the lesbian community views have changed. But being 47 years old, I still fear the I will never find love. Many lesbians my age do not find trans women attractive.

      The stain of transphobia remains for many women of a certain age.

  9. 1) I was planning on doing an L Word rewatch podcast with one of my recently out friends who has never seen it. Needless to say, I think I’ll just listen to the Autostraddle one because it will objectively be of a higher quality.

    2) We were going to call it “LOL Word,” so you’re willing to take that if there’s any comedic slant.

    • I think that depends on an individuals watching habits and maybe their age.

      Like for instance your family had Ghost on VHS you loved already loved Whoopi, Demi and Patrick made your child self cry in bisexual before you even knew that was a word and you hated Carl with every fiber of you little being because everything was his fault the evil two faced fucker.
      Then no.

      But if that movie was just something that re-ran on cable and practically background noise for you or are too young to even seen Ghost ever.
      Then yes.

  10. Hi. Oz here from The L Word Online. Thank you SO much Riese for ALLLL the links to our site.

    This list brought back so many memories…and boy is there quite a lot more things that just cant be talked about in public LOL

    I could have a comment about nearly every one of those points hahaha

    We actually just launched our own Instagram page (thelwordonline) and would love anyone who loves the show to come follow us.

    We’re also debating whether to reboot the website, what do you guys think?

  11. 67.
    This is probably a long shot. The original music was way better! However, on the netflix version, in episode L’ennui, I’ve been trying for forever to find the song that plays at the end. The last one, when Tim rejects Jenny. I will pay someone to find this song for me! Please help

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