The Cast and Creators of Are You There, Chelsea? Tease Tonight's Premiere

Before she was a TV personality, comedian Chelsea Handler found an audience with her books. Her first memoir, Are You There, Vodka? It’s Me, Chelsea, is a firsthand account of a woman drinking, dating, and generally making the most of her twenties. Now with a slightly revised title, Handler’s book is getting the sitcom treatment with Are You There, Chelsea?, which premieres tonight on NBC.

Earlier this week, the cast and producers were on hand to talk about the series at the Television Critics Association press tour.

That ‘70s Show’s Laura Prepon stars as title character Chelsea; Handler herself, who serves as the show's producer, will play the recurring character of Chelsea's sister Sloane.

“First of all, it’s a dream come true to have someone else portray me, because I’ve been living this life for a long time and I’m over myself,” Handler confided. “And it’s a pleasure to play my sister because everything I’ve been accusing her of my whole life, I can now reenact before her eyes.”

Prepon is putting her own spin on the character of Chelsea, something that was important for the real Handler, who notes that she's a lot angrier in real life than the sitcom version of her character.

“[Prepon]’s not gonna be a caricature of me or, you know, of what she thinks I am,” Handler noted. “We all wanted to give Laura license to make the character as great as she could, and she has. I like myself much better as her.”

Producer Tom Werner, who’s responsible for classic sitcoms like The Cosby Show and Roseanne, sees the character of Chelsea as very much in line with some of his past heroines.

“I’ve spent my career developing shows with flawed characters,” Werner reflected. “You look at Roseanne, and this was a woman who some people thought was very abrasive. This is a woman who is very brave. She’s unapologetic.”

Prepon also considers Chelsea’s contentious character to be a point in the show’s favor, noting that she does learn from her mistakes -- the series begins with Chelsea’s arrest for drunk driving -- and that there is growth to a character who is, in many ways, quite immature.

“You realize there are some consequences to things that you do, because she is ballsy and brash and not PC,” Prepon explained. “And people are gonna love that about her, because I think that people relate to flawed characters. You know, nobody’s perfect.”

In addition to the title change, Are You There, Chelsea? has experienced some recasting and development since its pilot. Prepon sees the show’s midseason premiere as an asset, since it has allowed the writers and producers more time to tinker with the series.

“We were able to have that time to really fine-tune the show,” she said. “When you have the time, you’re really able to look at it and make sure we could put out the best, most amazing product we can. And we’ve done that, because this group is incredible.”

Rescue Me’s Lenny Clarke plays Chelsea’s father Melvin. At the TCA panel, he offered the most succinct (and yes, favorable) explanation of the series -- and why he thinks NBC was smart to pick it up.

“You’ve got brilliant writers, you’ve got Tom Werner who’s had nine shows syndicated,” Clarke said. “You’ve got a woman who’s got four books on the bestseller list, two hit television shows, and the hottest-grossing comedian in the country today. Why not take a shot?”

Are You There, Chelsea? premieres tonight at 8:30pm on NBC.

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