Lisa Kudrow’s Web Therapy is based on a brilliantly bad idea: What if a self-absorbed therapist offers her patients three-minute sessions over iChat? It’s nothing Freud or Jung would approve of, that’s for sure. The improv series, which launched online in 2008, has earned several Webby nods and one Outstanding Comedic Performance Webby for Kudrow, who plays therapist Fiona Wallice. Tonight, a reformatted, half-hour version of the show premieres on Showtime at 11 ET. Vulture spoke with Kudrow about the inception of the series, how it made its way to cable, and what she thought of The Comeback getting canceled.
How into webisodes were you when you created Web Therapy?
Oh, not at all. I wasn’t really doing anything online other than returning emails. Now I watch TV online.
This show has been a success for you. But post-Friends, did you feel like there were some brick walls you ran into, like with The Comeback?
Yeah, that was certainly a brick wall. That was really a disappointment, and I think also just bad luck, in a way, as it was just starting to catch on. It was funny. It was like being [on an] HBO that stopped being HBO for a moment; that was the moment we were there.
Is that what made you decide to launch Web Therapy online?
It may have, on some deeper level, informed the decision. But it’s not like we had the idea for Web Therapy and were trying to sell it somewhere. We weren’t. We were asked if we wanted to do a web series, and the answer was usually no, and then my brain just kept working on it. I just thought it would be funny to do something that addresses the venue, so something online. And what’s dumber than therapy for three minutes online, because that’s all anyone’s attention span will tolerate on the Internet? So there’s the idea, and we didn’t really pursue that, even; it’s just that Lexus came to us and said, “We’re going to have this broadband channel, and do you want to provide any content?” And we just went, “Oh! That’s where we could use that idea from a while ago.” So that was it. They gave us complete creative control. You just don’t get that anywhere. So we just thought, Let’s see what happens.
The show definitely has that Curb Your Enthusiasm feeling where you kind of cringe at the lead character. Where did she come from?
She came from servicing the concept, which is, What kind of person is going to offer three-minute sessions online? Who is the author of this horrible idea? And so that’s how we built Fiona Wallice, that she’s self-serving, she thinks — it started making us laugh that this woman thinks that if she just tells people it’s a good idea and if she says it enough times and acts confident about it …
It’ll work. What kind of therapy is that?
People are offering therapy and all kinds of stuff over chat and Skype these days.
They are? Because I think officially it’s not allowed for a licensed psychologist to do anything like that.
Maybe it’s not legal, but you can find it online. Maybe you came up with a new modality of therapy, as Fiona would say.
Uh-oh. It’s a bad idea. I happened to tune in to Dr. Laura one day. I had never listened to her before, I’d never heard her, and after we started doing Web Therapy, it was on, and I was like, “Uh-oh. Well, that sounds a lot like Fiona” [laughs]. It’s really shocking.
You have a lot of amazing costars. Is it easier to improv with someone like Bob Balaban whom you’ve worked with before, versus Lily Tomlin?
People that you already know and that you’ve worked with before, there’s a certain comfort level with them. With everyone it’s different, and they’re all different characters, so it just feels like each one is very different to me. And Lily Tomlin, it’s just — don’t get in her way.
Do you ever want to give Web Therapy-style advice to someone? You know, like, “Get over it!”
Well, God, who couldn’t use a little of that? [Laughs] I think it would be interesting to see Fiona with one of the Jersey Shore people or one of those housewives. You can’t tell them anything.
Or the Mob Housewives.
Oh, yeah — no. I mean, that would actually scare me.