Comedian has a new TV show
Matt Ritter ’01 was a successful lawyer when he decided to set that career aside and become a comedian. He has been touring the country with the standup comedy troupe Comedians at Law while also working on other projects. One of them is a television show (he calls it a docu-series) about people who divorce but still live with each other.
Chained to My Ex, the pilot, is scheduled for 9 p.m. EST Dec. 23 on MSNBC.
We asked Matt to tell us more.
QUESTION: Where did you get the idea for the show?
ANSWER: My parents were the inspiration for the show. They divorced a few years ago and couldn’t sell their house due to the economic downturn, so they were forced to live together. It was very War of the Roses: He lived downstairs, she lived upstairs, I got to pass notes between them.
I started researching and found out this was a common phenomenon due to a variety of factors: economics, children, co-dependency, fear of the unknown. So I wrote up a treatment and asked my manager to connect me with some production companies in the unscripted world. I met with Sam Mettler, the creator of Intervention. I love that show and we really hit it off. He seemed like someone I would want to work with. So we signed a deal, created the show and sold it to MSNBC.
Q: What is your role in the show?
A: I am the co-creator and co-executive producer. I was fortunate, Sam gave me the opportunity to work hands-on with every aspect of this show, from casting to creative to logistical issues to sitting in the edit bay for days with our editors.
I was involved with every aspect of the show, so if it’s a hit, please give me all the credit. If it’s not a hit, then I’ll have to come up with some excuse for why I’m not to blame. Kidding!
Q: You say on your blog that the show is not “reality TV BS.” How does a “docu-series” differ from a reality TV show?
A: First of all, there is a wide range of unscripted shows. On one end of the spectrum you have Jersey Shore or The Kardashians, where pretty much every scene is staged and we all know it, but we sort of make ourselves believe it’s authentic. And don’t get me wrong, I love a lot of those shows, I just meant to differentiate ours.
On the other end you have documentaries series such as MSNBC’s Lockup or A&E’s Intervention. A docu-series is as authentic as you’re going to get in the television realm. Since this is an MSNBC show, the editing falls under strict guidelines for news standards and practices. We couldn’t stage anything, and what you are seeing is what is really happening in the subjects’ lives. We pretty much turned the cameras on and disappeared into the background. It’s gritty, it’s real, there was a huge inherent conflict, none had to be created.
Q: Your partner is Sam Mettler, creator of Intervention. Will Chained to My Ex be as intense?
A: I think intense is a loaded word. In a show about addiction, you will probably see more of what you might call “intense” moments. This show has its share of drama, but I think more people will be able to relate to it because it’s about conflict in relationships, which every single one of us has.
These are people who have already decided they don’t want to be in a relationship, yet are stuck in a confined space with their ex. It leads to a lot of high-conflict moments — some really shocking ones.
Q: What is interesting about divorced couples living together?
A: I learned a lot from our mediator, Judge Michele Lowrance. She is there to help these couples move on once and for all. The one thing that fascinated me was that she said there are three kinds of divorce: emotional, physical and legal. These people really are only one-third divorced, but think they are fully divorced.
I’m also shocked that some of them can’t see how destructive it can be on the kids. Some of it is really heartbreaking.
Also, I can’t believe these people still sometimes have sex with each other!
Q: Are there particular people or moments that we should be watching for?
A: I don’t want to play favorites, because I think all of the couples are really fascinating and there are lots of individual characters, but Christian, the husband in the pilot, is probably one of the most interesting people I’ve met in a long time. I’ll be surprised if people aren’t talking about him for a while after his episode airs.
In a weird way, after spending a lot of time with these people, you start missing them. I also think you should keep track of how many times you change your mind about whom you are “rooting for.” I think it’s natural to take sides when watching a show like this, but at the end of the day you realize that divorce is really complicated, it’s never as black and white as one side would like you to believe.
As for other huge moments, well, let’s just say Debbie and Peter’s decision-making is pretty unbelievable.
Q: In the article about you that appeared in Binghamton University Magazine in fall 2011, you said: “There are no vacations when you are a comedian. When I was a lawyer, every couple of months it was time for a vacation. Now it’s like I’m not entitled to a vacation until I achieve more of my goal.”
A: Ugh, did I say that? Now that you’re calling me out on that, I feel compelled to stick to it. Let’s put it this way, I just spent the better part of a year working on this show and then successfully touring the country doing sold-out shows with my standup group, Comedians at Law, without a day off. So maybe I’ll take the last week of 2012 off, decompress and then get back to my to-do list for 2013.