This Friday, Lifetime will air the first four episodes ever of Drop Dead Diva in a mini-marathon from 8 p.m. to midnight ET. If you’ve been wanting to give the show a try, now’s the time. In advance of June’s season 3 premiere, we asked creator Josh Berman to handpick a dozen must-see episodes. Availability below.
Pilot: We meet Deb (guest star Brooke D’Orsay), the shallow wannabe model who dies in a sudden car accident, goes to heaven, sends herself back down to earth, and lands her soul in the body of a brilliant, plus-size and recently deceased attorney, Jane (series star Brooke Elliott). Jane, as it turns out, now works with Deb’s grieving attorney fiancé, Grayson (Jackson Hurst). The worker Deb screwed in heaven will now be Jane’s guardian angel, Fred (Ben Feldman). Fred and Stacy (April Bowlby), Deb’s best friend, are the only people who know Jane’s truth. Jane takes on a pharmaceutical company whose drug caused a woman to jump out a window.
“It’s hard to believe that this pilot almost ended up on Fox,” Berman says. “Originally, the script was sold to Fox, but they never got to read the script because of the writers strike. Lifetime jumped in and we went right to pilot. I fell in love with Brooke Elliott the moment I met her.” At the end of each episode, you’ll see Berman’s company logo, which is his grandparents at their wedding morphing into their 45th anniversary. “My grandmother’s name was Deb, and that’s why I named the character Deb. The whole idea came to me because she was this 4’ 11” overweight grandmother type but she carried herself like a supermodel. And I thought wouldn’t it be amazing to dramatize that. She was a Holocaust survivor, her whole family perished, but she carried herself like nobody could touch her. And that’s how I came up with the notion of Jane.”
Ep. 103, ”The Chinese Wall”: Jane and Grayson take opposite sides in Deb’s parents’ divorce. Colleague Kim (Kate Levering) represents a show dog owner (Diedrich Bader) who’s disappointed in his doggy clone.
“I had worked with Diedrich Bader on Bones and knew he had the comedic timing and dramatic skills to make us care about his relationship with the dog,” Berman says. “Every episode of Drop Dead Diva has an aspect of identity in it, even when we talk about dogs. It was ultimately about the dog’s personality – whether it was genetic or not.”
Ep. 105, “Second Chances”: Jane defends a soccer mom (guest star Jorja Fox) who spent 15 years in hiding after driving the getaway car in a robbery-turned-murder. Grayson represents a former TV star suing over his inclusion on deadceleb.com. Tim Gunn appears to Jane in a dream.
“I was an executive producer on CSI before Drop Dead Diva, and Jorja Fox and I had become very close friends, and she had seen the early episodes and loved them and became one of our first big guest stars. She also loved the fact that she could play a criminal instead of an investigator. And when Tim Gunn agreed to be in Jane’s dream, I was over the moon.”
Ep. 107, “Crazy”: Jane represents an eccentric businessman (Gregory Harrison) whose board of directors wants to oust him. Kim and Grayson represent a jilted bride suing her maid of honor for breaking up the marriage.
“Gregory was actually in Hawaii on vacation, and we really wanted him for the episode and we were told he was unavailable. The casting director convinced his agent to send the script to him in Hawaii, and he read it, and he loved it, and he’s like, ‘I will be on the next plane to Georgia.’ Gregory called me at home at 3 a.m. in L.A. because he wanted his son in the episode to be with him in the hot air balloon, at the end of the episode. I sometimes get calls at 6 or 7 a.m. my time, but never 3 a.m. – it scared the hell out of me,” Berman laughs.
Ep. 109, “Make me a Match”: Jane represents a judge (Rosie O’Donnell) against a dating service that pocketed her $25,000 and yet weren’t able to find her a single real match. Grayson and Kim are pulled into a battle between squabbling psychic sisters (Liza Minnelli and Delta Burke).
“Rosie, Liza, and Delta in one episode. Our most Diva-licious episode to date. Too much fun. How did I get so lucky? Our two dream divas are Cher and Bette Midler, and we’re not gonna give up until we get them both. We’ve often talked about a specific Bette Midler story, but now she just has to agree to do it. I can say it includes singing and dancing.”
Ep. 110, “What If?”: We meet Jane’s mother (Faith Prince), and Jane takes on the hospital that switched a woman (Nia Vardalos) at birth – 40 years ago. Firm boss Parker (Josh Stamberg) represents a chocolatier against a disgruntled former employee who created a defamatory video (“Choco Nuts”) about the company.
“This is one of my all time favorite episode. Faith Prince deserves an Emmy and Nia Vardalos made me cry when I watched the cut.” (Look for Prince and Sharon Lawrence, who plays Deb’s mother, to return in season 3.)
Ep. 112, “Grayson’s Anatomy”: Jane and Grayson sue a prestigious hospital over a baseball player’s botched surgery. Grayson represents a lingerie model discriminated against on account of her breast cancer.
“What’s interesting about our show is that tonally we can go in so many different directions. You could be laughing and crying in the same scene even, and it just seems natural. What I love about that is, I think that’s kind of life. You just don’t know from minute-to-minute. I think most shows, they stick with one particular tone and they have to always be there, and we have such a great bandwidth if where we can go with our characters and emotions and themes.”
Ep. 201, “Would I Lie?”: Jane battles an insurance company who won’t cover an experimental procedure for a little girl with an enlarged heart. After reporting a client’s fraud, Jane faces possible disbarment. Paula Abdul guests.
“This musical number came to me in a dream. I woke up and called the line producer and said, ‘We need to find a mall for a song and dance number.’ Fortunately, they didn’t think I was crazy and I’m so proud of the result. And we got Paula Abdul for it. She’s been on five times now. We love her.” Abdul returns for the season 3 premiere.
Ep. 202, “Back from the Dead”: When a man (Chad Lowe) emerges from an amnesiac fugue, Jane helps him fight to regain his child. Parker represents his favorite guy culture writer – who turns out to be a woman (Ricki Lake). Jane and Deb tango, literally.
“I knew Chad Lowe as a director on Bones, which I wrote and produced for four years. When we wrote this script, I called him directly and asked him to be a part of the episode. Fortunately, he’s a Diva fan and agreed. The Tango dance number was so much fun. We’re all fans of the dance shows on TV, and we thought what an amazing thing if we could actually have Jane dancing with herself as Deb.” Dancing With the Stars’ Lous Van Amstel will guest in season 3 as a dance instructor that Teri (Margaret Cho) hires to help Grayson with his wedding dance. “Louis and Margaret quickly lose patience with Grayson and do their own crazy number,” Berman says.
Ep. 206, “Begin Again”: Jane, Grayson, and Vanessa (Jaime Ray Newman) defend two young pop stars accused of murdering their manager. Kim defends Parker’s favorite bed-and-breakfast in a slander suit.
“The song ‘Begin Again’ was written by our composer, especially for this episode. I think it’s amazing. It’s now available on the Drop Dead Diva CD, which can be purchased on Amazon or iTunes. Also, Ashlyne Huff is recording her own version of this song, which will be on her Spring 2011 CD.”
Ep. 208, “Queen of Mean”: Jane represents a legendary fashion editor (Cybill Shepherd) against her tell-all writing assistant. Kim and Grayson fight for a transgendered female who’s being cut out of her spouse’s inheritance because of her sex change.
“We finally got Cybill in an episode. I was a little scared of her at first, but she turned out to be one of the nicest people I’ve met in my entire career. We had a party at the end of the season to celebrate the show, and she came. Everyone just loves her. We’re talking about having her return and just need to find the right story for her character.”
Ep. 211, “Good Grief”: Jane and Grayson fight an employment case on behalf of a grieving man (Barry Watson), terminated for showing up at work in a clown costume. Kim and Parker represent a woman who has been dubbed “Weeping Wendy” after going on a Bachelor-style reality show. Jake Pavelka costars as the bachelor.
“This is my favorite episode of all time. The one that makes people cry. Barry Watson’s performance is incredible. We had been after Barry for ever. I think he’s fantastic. I think he doesn’t get out there enough. He had said he wasn’t really interested in doing a cable show. We’re like, ‘Just please read this part.’ And he agreed to do it. Jake Pavelka broke up with his fiancé [Vienna Girardi] about 10 minutes before he shot his scene, which created a surreal environment on the set.”
BONUS: Ep. 213, “Freeze the Day”: In the season 2 finale, Jane is ready to tell Grayson the truth, but it doesn’t go according to plan. The result: One serious cliffhanger. For season 3 spoilers, click here.
How to watch: Seasons 1 and 2 are now available via iTunes and Amazon.com. Season 1 is on DVD and Netflix. Season 2 hits DVD May 3.