For Nahnatchka Khan, creator and executive producer of the ABC sophomore comedy Don’t Trust the B---- in Apartment 23, a smile from a viewer isn’t good enough. “I always try and make a script the funniest it can be,” she says. “Never settle for a smile when you can push yourself.”
Khan attributes this lesson to her time in the writers’ room with the creators of Fox’s animated comedy American Dad— Seth MacFarlane, Mike Barker and Matt Weitzman—whom she points to as mentors. After working on Dad for six seasons and rising to executive producer, Khan stepped out on her own.
Don’t Trust The B---- is about a naive Midwesterner who moves in with a party girl in New York City. It premiered last April to solid numbers, the first season’s seven half-hour episodes averaging a 2.9 rating/8 share in adults 18-49 and 6.8 million total viewers. The second season premieres Oct. 23.
But there was a time when Khan wasn’t sure the show would be made. Under her deal with 20th Century Fox Television, she sold it to Fox in 2009, which suddenly passed on it. After Paul Lee became president of ABC Entertainment Group, he was looking for something fresh and edgy for the 2011-12 development season and the studio thought The B---- would fit the bill, Khan says. “[Lee] read it over the weekend, and by Monday they decided to make my pilot.”
There was some early controversy over the title, with the network at one point billing it as the neutered Apartment 23. Khan would prefer spelling out “Bitch,” but is thankful for ABC’s decision to black it out to preserve “Don’t Trust,” which she feels conveys something happening that’s not quite safe: “That’s what comedy should be—not safe,” she says.
Khan’s risk-taking is something Lee values: “She is fearless and inventive and surreal and hilarious in equal measure,” he says. “She’s always unexpected and always brilliant.”
The show’s other exec producer, Dave Hemingson, whom Khan praises for helping her navigate the process of running a TV show, echoes Lee’s sentiments. “She’s sort of like this comedic skydiver—just jumps out of planes.”
Khan admits to liking an element of danger, unless it has to do with her greatest fear—bugs. “I have cans of Raid everywhere,” she says. She much prefers creating women who dabble in risky situations: “I’ve always found women behaving badly and being unapologetic for it very funny.”
With shows written by and starring women and featuring raunchy humor (CBS’ 2 Broke Girls, HBO’s Girls and The B---- among them) making a mark in the TV landscape, Khan couldn’t be happier. However, to her, it’s not gender-exclusive. “To me funny wins, and I’m happy funny seems to be winning,” she says.
Born in Las Vegas and raised in Hawaii to Iranian parents, Khan says she was not familiar with show business but found gratifi cation in writing humorous editorials for her high school newspaper. In 1990, she enrolled at USC and went to the School of Cinema-Television.
While in college, Khan held unpaid internships at National Lampoon and in the comedy and development department at Fox. A professor who worked for Disney recommended her for a job in the TV animation department after her graduation in 1994. She was hired as a creative exec tasked with looking for ways to turn existing Disney properties into series. (Khan’s brother, Nick Khan, went into the business as well and is now a prominent talent agent at CAA.)
Disney is where Khan met Sue Rose, who had a strip in YM magazine featuring a character named Pepper Ann. Rose wanted to develop the strip as a series and the two partnered. In 1996, ABC picked up the show for Saturday mornings, with Khan helming. “I faked my way through every production meeting,” she says. “That was grad school for me.” Pepper Ann ran for 65 half-hour episodes.
In 2002, Khan landed a gig as a staff writer on Fox’s Malcolm in the Middle, followed by a stint as a story editor on NBC’s short-lived Good Morning Miami in 2003. Her big break came in 2004 when she reconnected with MacFarlane, with whom she had worked at Disney.
Khan has a good feeling about The B----’s second season returning in a new time slot—Tuesdays at 9:30 p.m., behind Happy Endings. And she isn’t worried about her show’s freshman competition, Fox’s The Mindy Project and NBC’s The New Normal. “Hopefully people will watch one and TiVo the other two,” she says. “All comedy will win.”
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