Our America's Lisa Ling Tells Stories That Matter
Our America with Lisa Ling (OWN - Tuesday, 10pm), Lisa humanizes people who are too often hidden in the shadows.
Whether she's talking to transgendered kids, victims of violence, obese families, old people or your neighbors who whip each other for fun, Lisa immerses herself in their stories. When she does, suddenly, a person who once seemed weird, even scary becomes just another person like you and me. This season, Our America - a quiet, thoughtful and well-made docu-series, includes episodes where Lisa delves into sadomasochism, obesity and her father's struggle with aging.
Lisa spoke with TVFirstLook about her motivations for uncovering subcultures, working for OWN The Oprah Winfrey Network and not being Britney Spears.
TVFirstLook: OK, so on Our America with Lisa Ling you cover topics that border on taboo, like bondage and domestic violence. How do you come up with the topics you cover?
Lisa Ling: It's a collaborative process. The production company, Part 2 Pictures in New York, and we come up with a bunch of ideas. We work with OWN to select the best ideas. And some stories come from people saying to us, "Have you ever thought about doing a show about...?"
For instance, the bondage show (Tuesday) is something OWN suggested to us. It comes on the heels of "Fifty Shades of Grey." We wanted to know what the world of bondage is really like.
What we do is immerse ourselves in the topic, no matter what it is. We are really immersive, which is what makes our show different.
TVFirstLook: Later this season, you revisit two Washington DC women who were sold into sex slavery. Do you often stay in touch with the people you profile?
Lisa: We stay in touch with everyone. These are people who entrust us to tell their stories. They share things with us that they don't tell their family or friends. So, we feel an obligation to check in on them. If we find something interesting, we'll do an update.
We do that with 3 AM Girls (Feb. 12) and we did that [last year] with Pray the Gay Away when Exodus International decided to stop performing reparative therapy.
TVFirstLook: What is your motivation for telling stories about people who are misunderstood?
Lisa: I've always believed we become more compassionate people the more we know about each other. And, on a personal level, I am fascinated by worlds that are unfamiliar to me. So often, we hear about a person or a lifestyle or a subculture and come to a snap judgement.
I always find that once I immerse in that world that it's much less black and white. That's where I feel most at home, in worlds that are unfamiliar to me.
TVFirstLook: So, OWN The Oprah Winfrey Network is suddenly hot with Oprah's interview with Lance Armstrong. But there have been a lot of lows, too. How has the network's down-and-up experience been for you?
Lisa: This network has been on a rollercoaster the past couple of years. Despite that, the network has really been supportive of me. Our show has done well, which I think surprised a lot of people, including me.
This is not a sensational or exploitative show. The stories are kind of slow and introspective and beautifully shot. But a lot of people are responding to it.
So, the things that have been going on at the network have not weighed heavily on me. I mean, I'm elated the network is doing well after only two short years. It has been a great home for me.
TVFirstLook: OK, last thing. You've been a celebrity since before The View, but certainly since then. What is that like?
Lisa: I always tell people who work with me that I wish they could walk in my shoes for one day. The amount of gratitude people express to me about the show is incredibly fulfilling. People appreciate my work.
I'm not under the microscope like someone like Britney Spears or Angelina Jolie. It's just enough that I appreciate it. The overwhelming majority of people who approach me have something really, really nice to say.