Pamela Redmond Satran is having a celebrity moment, and she’s neither too self-effacing nor too old to make the most of it.
“Hopefully, there will be some big party and Darren Star will invite me,” Redmond Satran says from a corner table at Raymond’s, the bustling restaurant in her adopted hometown of Montclair. The Star to whom she alludes is the creator of such TV megahits as Sex & the City, Melrose Place and Beverly Hills 90210.
The big party, in her imagining, might take place in Hollywood. It might include a red carpet, flashbulbs and dewy starlets in formal wear. It might involve Redmond Satran herself shucking the fuzzy gray sweater she is wearing on this chilly day and donning a designer gown and stilettos.
“This is the sort of thing that doesn’t happen every day,” she acknowledges, laughing about her fantasy between sips of black coffee. “I am totally leaning into this as far as I can.”
Redmond Satran is the author of the 2005 novel Younger, which TV wizard Star has turned into a comedy series that will have its premiere—with any luck, a splashy one—March 31 on the TV Land network.
Younger, the book and the series, is about a New Jersey woman named Liza (Alice in the book) nearing middle age who is in desperate need of reinvention. Liza—played in the series by Sutton Foster—dropped out of the workforce when she was in her 20s to raise her daughter. Now her daughter is a teenager, her marriage of 20 years has gone belly up, and her ex-husband has squandered all their money. Liza is too old and too broke to take an entry-level job in book publishing, the field she left as an assistant. But she’s too far removed from the fray to command an executive’s job and salary.
So she does what any struggling 40ish woman with good genes and a little cunning might be tempted to do: She subjects herself to an extreme age-defying regimen and masquerades as a 26-year-old. That’s when things start looking up professionally and romantically. To re-indoctrinate Liza into the sometimes befuddling culture of 20-somethings, we have Hilary Duff, the former teen idol and Lizzie McGuire star, who plays Liza’s coworker on the show.
“This is a story about life choices, which makes it universal and relatable,” says Larry Jones, TV Land’s president. “It’s also a story about real time travel, not fake time travel. And that’s what makes it so intriguing.”
Star, the show’s executive producer, director and co-writer, “fell in love” with the concept instantly,” says Jones. So did Patricia Field, the costume designer for Sex & the City, and a consultant on Younger. “They have such huge massive influence,” adds Jones. “That’s when we knew we wanted to get on board.” The show also is a perfect fit for TV Land’s key demographic: 25- to 49-year-old women.
As for Satran, she’s thrilled with the casting of Foster, a two-time Tony-winning Broadway actress best known for her leading roles in Thoroughly Modern Millie and Anything Goes.
“She’s such a classy choice,” says Redmond Satran, the New York Times best-selling author of seven novels and coauthor of 14 nonfiction books. But it’s not only Foster’s Broadway bona fides that impress the writer; it’s also her 1975 birth year. Redmond Satran had worried “that they might pick someone, a TV or movie star, who was a lot younger,” she says. An actress with fewer frown lines might have turned off the older viewers, who couldn’t be blamed for rolling their eyes and switching channels. “I always saw Younger as the perfect show for moms and teenage or 20-something daughters to watch together,” Redmond Satran says. “Not to spin it too seriously, but it can open up a discussion about what things are like now, what they were like then, plus, if and how you can bridge the gap.”
Alice/Liza is not Redmond Satran’s alter ego, even though there are similarities. Alice lives in the fictional New Jersey town of Homewood, which Redmond Satran modeled after Montclair. (In the show, the stand-in for Liza’s house is in Morristown, even though shooting took place in Little Neck, Queens.) The character is one of dozens of relatable female characters the author has brought to life in her works of fiction, including Babes in Captivity and The Man I Should Have Married.
Redmond Satran is intrigued by the character she created for Younger and the identity issues Alice/Liza deals with.
“The whole idea of passing—that’s something that’s interesting to me on a lot of levels,” she says. “As a working woman, I always sort of felt I was passing as a mom.” Redmond Satran has two sons and a daughter in their 20s and 30s. “But in a way, I always felt I was passing as a serious professional woman, too. It’s always felt to me on some level that trying to do everything and have it all is a crock. No matter what you do, it’s always really hard.”
Redmond Satran was well on her way to having it all, or at least appearing to, when she and her husband, the business journalist Richard Satran, from whom she is now separated, moved to Montclair from Brooklyn in the mid-1980s. Her firstborn was nearing school age, and she had just quit her job as fashion features editor at Glamour magazine because she and her writing partner, Linda Rosenkrantz, had landed their first book deal. But a suburban idyll also struck her as kind of a crock.
“A lot of people who grew up in the suburbs, women especially, have that feeling of I don’t want to go back. It has something to do with not wanting to be your mother, not wanting to turn into a conventional suburban housewife,” Redmond Satran says. Still, Montclair had a certain allure missing from Norwood in Bergen County, where she grew up.
“Norwood was a little town with just the sweet shop, where I had my first job, and John’s pizza and milk store,” she says. “So, you know, it was pretty provincial.”
It didn’t take her long to fall for Montclair’s charms. “When we first moved, it was December and I wasn’t happy. But then it was May and all the trees and flowers were out, and I was feeling like, Wow, I like having my kids running around in the grass in diapers,” she says. Redmond Satran and her family subsequently left New Jersey twice, once for a few years in London and again for a few years in California. But they returned both times to Montclair, which has proved fertile ground for advancing her writing career. She’s now back in California, living in a rented house in Los Angeles and trying her hand at TV writing. She’s yet to decide whether she’ll return to Montclair.
Younger has the potential to make Redmond Satran the next Candace Bushnell. Like Bushnell—the author of the 1997 essay collection Sex & the City, which Star adapted for HBO—Redmond Satran writes commercial fiction largely aimed at women. But if the show does not win her the worldwide acclaim Bushnell has achieved, Redmond Satran still will be “internationally recognizable,” as she puts it, in at least one literary cranny.
With L.A.-based Rosenkrantz, Redmond Satran runs Nameberry.com—described on its home page as “baby names, only juicier.” The two have coauthored 10 baby-name books, dating back to that first deal they signed in the 1980s for Beyond Jennifer & Jason. Nameberry.com, launched six years ago, claims to attract 4 million visitors a month and, Redmond says, sells enough ads to turn a profit.
Not all visitors to the site are expectant moms. Some, like Redmond Satran herself, “just have a bizarre fascination with names,” she says. Her fascination started in childhood and was something that caused her “deep shame.”
“My family thought I was weird. I thought I was weird,” she says. But then she began discovering other “name nerds”—a term of inclusion and endearment on the site.
She and Rosenkrantz set out to reinvent baby-name directories. “In the ’80s, all the name books were dictionaries, A to Z, with meaning and origin. We looked at names in a more qualitative way in our books—Irish names, names that are super-feminine,” she says. The approach caught on.
As might be expected, Redmond Satran is reluctant to disparage any name. Ask her if she finds the name Alice superior to Liza, for instance, and she won’t take the bait. Chances are, she truly does not mind Star and company changing her heroine’s name for the small screen. So far, she’s been pleased with all of the TV team’s decisions.
After the show got the green light, she went to the writers’ room at Sunset Gower Independent Studios in Hollywood, “just because I really wanted to go,” she says, “and I was blown away. There’s this little office, with Darren Star sitting at the head of the table and 12 people sitting around him, some of them seasoned, and others cool young writers.” Last spring, she visited the set in Queens during the pilot shoot.
“That was amazing for me,” she says. “It wasn’t until then, when I was in this house with 100 other people standing around, and Darren Star on the front lawn, that it hit me: This is really happening!”
Better still, “TV Land is giving it a lot of attention,” she says. “They’ve invested a lot in the show.” Even if there’s a freak Hollywood blizzard on the night of the premiere party, even if it doesn’t become New Jersey’s own Sex & the City, “it’s definitely a good thing to be able to put on your Facebook page. I’m hugely excited about it.”
Tammy La Gorce is a frequent contributor to New Jersey Monthly.Click here to leave a comment