TNT’s new series Claws is an uproariously hilarious dark comedy that follows the ladies of the Nail Artisan of Manatee County salon in central Florida. Owner and head manicurist Desna (Niecy Nash) leads a staff that includes her best friend, Jennifer (Jenn Lyon), who’s now sober and raising two kids; enigmatic Ann (Judy Reyes), who provides security for the salon; mild-mannered preppy ex-convict Polly (Carrie Preston); and Virginia (Karrueche Tran), who becomes easily bored and impatient with her job. When the ladies aren’t tending to fingers and toes, they are laundering money for the neighborhood pain clinic.
At the helm of this sensational series is showrunner and executive producer Janine Sherman Barrois. Known for her work on Criminal Minds and ER, Sherman Barrois presents these vibrant women and their story to the world.
Just after the series premiere, EBONY.com chatted with Sherman Barrois about her new show, why it’s so important for women to see themselves in diverse roles and what it means to be a Black female showrunner.
EBONY.com: Well, the first thing I want to ask is how did you hear about Claws, and how did you get involved with the series?
JSB: It’s so funny. I have an overall deal at Warner Bros. and they started sending me pilots to see what I was interested [in] running as a showrunner. Susan Rovner, who’s one of the heads of Warner Television, sent me Claws. I read it during a lunch break and couldn’t put it down. I thought it was one of the greatest things I’d ever read; it was so fresh, so funny, so dramatic. I was shocked at the end. And I just said, “I have to get involved.” Subsequently, I found out Elliot Lawrence had written the pilot, and Will McCormack and Rashida Jones were involved also as executive producers. We all sat down and had a few meetings about it and what I thought I could bring to it. It was a kind of marriage made in heaven. You know, you always want to be involved with great work, and I just thought, ‘This is great.’
EBONY.com: I spoke with Niecy Nash previously, and she said that was courted to play the role of Desna. Did you have any part in courting her? How did you know that role was right for her?
JSB: People won’t tell you this, but everyone in town was chasing the part [of] Desna.
JSB: And all different races. It was not written with a racial description on it, and we auditioned all different races for each part. So as we were talking to big stars to play Desna, in the midst of those meetings with different actors and actresses, we got a call that Niecy’s pilot wasn’t going at Fox. She wasn’t available before, but [now we could have a] meeting. The next day, [we all] met in my office. She seduced everyone in the room. She made us laugh, she made us cry, she made us scream. And when she walked out, I looked at Elliot and we said, “Oh, my gosh. Niecy Nash is Desna.” It was just undeniable. Every actress we thought we were going to meet, we just put on hold. We told everyone in town, “We found Desna. We’re not meeting anybody.”
EBONY: That’s fantastic.
JSB: Yeah! And the thing is, it’s like you have never seen this part on TV. And then to have an African- American woman embody her and do it the way Niecy did was just unbelievable. We would just hear her read the words. Clearly, on her level, she doesn’t audition. You kind of take a meeting and you make a decision whether you’re going to make an offer. But just hearing her quote the script, and seeing her walk, seeing her hands, and seeing her wink and smile at you, you’re like, “This is who was born for this role.”
EBONY.com: That’s a wonderful thing to hear, especially because it came together so beautifully. And like you said, this is something that we’ve never seen on television before. So as the showrunner, what elements did you know had to be in the series bible to make sure Claws was presented the way you envisioned it?
JSB: I think one thing we had to make sure of was that the comraderie of these women felt real and grounded. We wanted to make sure, as we were arching the first 10 episodes, that every single one of the women had a story and had somewhere to go. We didn’t lean on the normal tropes of women fighting and cat-fighting with each other. We kept saying, when we came back to it, that these women had each other’s backs. They might fight, they might argue; they might call each other on their shit in an episode, but at the end of the day, they have each other’s backs. So that was really key, making sure that was clear. And also, making them all aspire for more in the world but be happy with where they were. To be those characters that you know, [would say,] “We might be at this nail salon right now, but we want more money. We want a piece of the pie. We want to have sex while we get there. We want to get power. We want to do all of these things.” It was obvious to us that all the characters had to have layers.
EBONY.com: Although this is a female-dominated series, the women act like the men in The Sopranos, which is something you’ve never seen women do before on this level. Why is it so important in today’s political climate and in our current society?
JSB: I think you see, in politics, a lot of questions about women’s rights and women’s ideas; decisions being made about women without women in the room. At the end of the day, right now, [we want] to show young women that you can get whatever you want in this world; that you can have a crew that supports you and roots you on, that wants you to win and that’s going to sit in the front row watching the movie of your life cheering you on. I think it’s key. I think another thing that’s key is that we can’t always turn to men and ask for permission. We’ve got to let go of that. We’ve got to just take it ourselves. Because if we wait for men to give us power, we could be waiting all day, all year or for the rest of our lives. We’ve got to strive to get it ourselves, and I think you see these women doing it. You also see a diversity within these women. I think one thing we have to do, as a collective of women of all different races and religions, is to all come together and have each other’s back. I think right now more than ever that’s imperative.
EBONY.com: What has the reception of Claws been like so far for you and for the team?
JSB: I think people are blown away. We had a premiere live tweeting event, and I literally went and sat in a corner and had tears in my eyes, because I thought, ‘It doesn’t really matter what happens. We did a great show. We pushed the envelope, we were edgy, we were provocative. We showed women being layered.’ Then, to actually see online and to hear from friends and to go in chat rooms and to see everyone saying how daring and bold and nuanced [it was]. Because you never see women as pseudo-gangsters. You never see women not taking no for an answer. So to see these women uniting and to see how it was lighting up, not just women, but men. Everyone saying, “This show could not have come at a more perfect time.” I was elated. The response has been huge.
EBONY.com: That’s so exciting.
JSB: Yeah, we have directors begging to direct it if we get picked up. We haven’t been picked up yet, but everyone is like, “I want to direct it, I want to write on it, I want to be on it.”
EBONY.com: That’s the best news ever.
JSB: That never happens, I’m telling you. No! Most of the time, people pretend something’s good, but very seldom do you get to work on something that’s absolutely great.
EBONY.com: Now, Janine, you live in a very specific space in entertainment because there are so few Black female showrunners. We have Shonda Rhimes, we have Courtney A. Kemp over at Power. I think Ava DuVernay handed off Queen Sugar to work on A Wrinkle in Time, and Mara Brock Akil has been in this space before. So as a Black woman, what does that mean to you to be able to take the lead of a series like this and push it out into the world?
JSB: I think it’s a long time coming. And as more of us get the opportunity, I think what’s important is, as we get the power, we’ll have the power to create more narratives and to shepherd more narratives that show women of color reflected in a nuanced light. For so long, you have not had a ton of women of color, [specifically] African-American women leading shows. So our voices weren’t always heard at the top of the table. But whether it’s in front of the camera or behind the camera, in the writing or with the directors, the more of us that get influenced, the more we can normalize our existence. We’re here to play on a competitive major stage. I think that’s what’s happening. Clearly, Shonda Rhimes kicked the glass and made it happen for a lot of us. But before that, there were Susan Fales and Yvette Lee Bowser. There were people who really opened the door for all of us to walk in.
EBONY.com: Congratulations on Claws. I’m really thrilled to continue watching the series.
JSB: Yeah! Keep watching it! Because I’m telling you, it gets better and better,.
Claws airs Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on TNT.