A stranger-than-fiction tale of a Brooklynite doing time for a foolish crime

By Clark Collis
Updated June 07, 2013 at 04:00 AM EDT

On creator/exec producer Jenji Kohan’s new dramedy, a woman gets into trouble because of drugs. Sound familiar? That may be because on Kohan’s previous show, Weeds, a woman got into trouble because of drugs. ”I love it when people screw up and try to make things better,” says Kohan. ”But Orange is its own beast.” The largely prison-set series is based on Piper Kerman’s 2010 memoir, and details the Smith College graduate’s time behind bars for a past transgression — transporting $10,000 in cash for her then-drug-dealer girlfriend (Laura Prepon) — that caught up with her. The first season tracks Piper (The Lucky One‘s Taylor Schilling) during her initial months in jail and employs flashbacks to show how her fellow prisoners — portrayed by Kate Mulgrew and Natasha Lyonne, among others — came to be wearing orange. ”I wanted to let the audience know more about these people and not just what they saw behind bars,” says Kohan. Kerman herself visited the production on several occasions and shared her reminiscences of life in the big house with Schilling. ”I said to her, ‘This must be surreal for you,’ ” recalls the actress. ”She was like, ‘A lot of my life has been quite surreal.’ ”