How First-Time Showrunner Tanya Saracho Got Her Queer Latinx Series Greenlit by Starz

Actor Melissa Barrera (L) and executive producer/creator Tanya Saracho of 'Vida' speak onstage during the 2018 Winter Television Critics Association Press Tour on January 12, 2018 in Pasadena, California. Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

Hoping to bring in a larger Latino viewership, Starz will premiere Vida, a new half-hour, LGBTQ Latina drama series, this spring. The show follows two Mexican-American sisters, Emma (Mishel Prada) and Lyn (Melissa Barrera), who return to their old neighborhood on the Eastside of Los Angeles and are forced to confront their mother’s shocking past.

RELATED: Watch the entire first episode of the Queer Latinx series ‘Vida’ for free here.

The series is created by TV writer, producer and playwright Tanya Saracho, who wrote for four shows prior to Vida: Devious Maids, Looking, Girls, and How to Get Away with Murder. She broke into the entertainment industry in 2000 when she co-founded an all-Latina theater group while she was a college student in Chicago. Last year during a panel for the Television Critics Association, Saracho described Vida as a TV series coming from a “female brown queer perspective.”

During a panel discussion organized by the National Association of Latino Independent Producers at last month’s Sundance Film Festival, the women of Vida – showrunner Saracho, actresses Prada, Barrera and Chelsea Rendon, and writer Nancy Mejía – sat down to talk about the new series and how the stars aligned to get the show on the air. Here are some highlights of their discussion.

Vida premieres on May 6, 2018 on Starz.

Tanya Saracho On How She Was Offered Vida By Starz

Saracho: I had just left How to Get Away with Murder and my agent was like, “You have a special meeting at Starz.” [Marta Fernández] brought me in. The reason this show got this far is because Marta has a Z in her last name. That matters. So, I had only been in Hollywood for three years. So, I wrote the pilot and [everything] just kept moving forward. We did a pilot presentation [last] summer. I [told Starz] I want a writer’s room that’s all Latinx. They said, “Yes, and?” Well, I want all the department heads to be women. [They said], “Yes, and?” And I want all the directors to be Latinx or women of color. [They said], “Yes, and?” It was so amazing. There was so much support.

Tanya Saracho On How Rare it Is For a Latina to Get That Kind of Support in Hollywood

Saracho: It’s so rare. Usually I get told no. [Hollywood] knows they have to tap into us. They got that memo 7-9 years ago. They don’t have real faith in [Latino projects] at the corporate level. But with Marta, I didn’t have to go in and be a cultural ambassador. She was woke. The roles [on Vida] are kind of ugly and complicated and flawed. That’s something as Latinx that we haven’t gotten to do on television.

Tanya Saracho On Building a World for Vida

Saracho: I started with the two sisters. Then, you build a world around them. I knew the two energies I wanted, so I just started writing from that. For a long time [I], didn’t even know what they sounded like, but you know who they are. You’re dreaming for them, but they you get to script for them. You’re like, “That’s what she sounds like!”

Actors Mishel Prada and Melissa Barrera, executive producer/creator Tanya Saracho, and actors Ser Anzoategui and Chelsea Rendon of ‘Vida’ during 2018 Winter Television Critics Association Press Tour. Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images
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Tanya Saracho On the Casting Process

Saracho: [One Day at a Time creator] Gloria Calderon Kellet is casting her new pilot right now (History of Them) and she said she’s at casting waiting for someone to come in and sound like the character she wrote. That’s sort of how it happens. [Vida] is a very queer show, so when it came to casting those characters we knew where to reach out.

Tanya Saracho On Her Writers’ Room

Saracho: I put together a writers’ room that I trusted. I think three or four people in it were dear friends. Starz didn’t know that. They had to go through the same process [as everyone else] and go through producers. But I got the best writers. So many people told me, “Do not work with friends,” but I found that I am loyal to them … and they are loyal to me. [The work] just got done.

Nancy Mejía On Her Experience as a Writer on the Show

Mejía: I have nothing else to compare it to because this is my first experience. I really feel like I’ve been ruined because it’s been so awesome. I came in and felt very welcomed. It’s one of those things where you come into a room and you’re not only tolerated, but you’re celebrated. In fact, that’s crucial to the storytelling. That, to me, was amazing. I would go home every night to my wife and be like, “This is real. This is happening.” It was challenging for me because I didn’t know where I stood. There was no rubric. The challenge was the turnaround. I was like, “Oh, shit, I have to write fast.” It’s one of those things where you don’t want to fuck up because you know it’s a blessing.

Nancy Mejía On Her Writing Process

Mejía: We didn’t even have a table for the writers. It was literally like a living room with a bunch of couches and incense and candles. We all just sat around for the first two weeks. We were just pushing ideas and coming up with the arch of the characters. It felt very informal and very loose. But we were on a time crunch because we only had 10 weeks. We had to execute.

Nancy Mejía On How She Thinks Vida Will Affect Her Career

Mejía: It’s launching it. I have an agent now. This is just the beginning. Coming from a working-class background, [writing] wasn’t something you [sought out]. I feel like I’m articulating my own background and heritage and experiences. I’ve been given the opportunity to express that. All the writers have different backgrounds and we all have Latino heritage. We all sensed there was something there and now we’re given the opportunity to do it.

Additional reporting by Vanessa Erazo.