Showrunners: The Art of Running a TV Show (2014) Movie Script

The showrunner
of a series is responsible
for the creative direction
of the show,
keeping scripts and episodes
coming in on time,
dealing with notes,
trying to keep
the whole damn thing afloat.
Being a showrunner
is utterly consuming.
You're editing and writing
and doing a hundred
different things at once.
It's draining, it's awful...
I miss it terribly.
Showrunner is a fairly new term of art.
In the former days,
it was the head writer,
the executive producer.
But as the shows have
become much more cinematic
in their scope and intention,
the job has become
much more complicated.
And yet, we're expected to
deliver a show every seven days.
Showrunning is
incredibly brutally hard,
and you can't really lean on anyone,
because part of the job
is being the broad
shoulders of the show.
This is a crazy, crazy, fucking job.
It's a really cool one,
but it doesn't make any sense.
It's like a controlled plane
crash every week.
It's a billion decisions a day.
You're the guy that has to
decide what we're going to do.
They only bring you questions.
When you're a showrunner,
you're getting squished by
the network and the studio.
You're feeling pressure
from the crew on up.
People look at you and you think,
"Oh, you're the boss,
you have nothing to worry about."
You're worrying about all of it.
Part of the job of the showrunner
is to set the tone
for what you're doing.
Many a time,
I've been standing on a set
where we're at some crisis,
and it's like,
"Okay, we gotta do this
and this and this."
And people are like this,
and I'll say, "But...
"we're not curing cancer here, guys.
This is a TV show."
It is, at the same time,
the best and the worst job.
You can't imagine quitting,
and at the same time,
it's a job that's exhausting
to the core of your being.
And I always say
it gives you the thing
of walking around and saying,
"I have such a bad back
from unloading all this gold bullion."
most show aren't smash hits.
84% of new shows in America fail.
So, you know, hopefully,
you beat the odds
because if you stay in the race
long enough, you're gonna win.
And it's just a question of
how you can stay in the race.
The showrunner is the life blood
of a television show.
It's a collaborative art form.
But you still need that one
central voice through which
all the marvelous creative
contributions are processed.
The age of writers and showrunners
being anonymous is... is over.
My day has the same shape.
There's a certain rhythm to it
that can change day to day.
If I have writing to do,
I come in extremely early.
Because around about
9:00 or 9:30,
I'm going to be talking to
people more than I'm writing.
Oh, that weighs a ton.
You always have, say, six episodes
at some station in the process,
so you've got one that you're
finishing the final mix on
and going to lock
and hopefully put on the air,
and then you've got people
pitching story ideas,
so you've got something to tend
to on each one of those things.
One of the downsides of
being a showrunner is that
if you're doing it correctly,
everyone that you've come
into contact with...
actors, the other writers,
the other producers,
the network, the studio...
You know that things are
going well on your show,
if everybody's just
a little annoyed with you.
Showrunning, I think,
is like painting a painting
while writing a novel,
while doing your taxes.
It's very, very, you know,
right brain, left brain, boom.
House of Lies
came from a book by Martin Kihn
about management consulting
and what a scam it is.
It felt very relevant to me.
Well, when you get to
the point of making a show,
it's pretty sexy in its own way.
I get to make a half-hour pilot.
If, god willing, the...
the show gets picked up,
I don't know exactly how I'll work it.
I wanna write as much as I can of it.
The showrunning part,
the administrative part,
it's really, uh, not for me, in a way.
As somebody who's a writer
as much as anything,
that's the reasons they
let me do any of the stuff
that I do, is that I can write okay.
When I moved to New York,
trying to write plays,
Joanne Woodward and Paul Newman
saw my first play
called Diary from Avenue B.
Joanne found something in it
that she liked.
They were just dead set
against any of their protgs
going to Hollywood,
moving to L.A., writing for film,
acting in films, um,
doing television especially.
They were absolutely against it...
of course, all of us have.
Part of what the showrunner has to do
is head in four different
places at the same time.
You're in a constant
situation of feeling
like you're doing,
uh, not a good enough job.
The idea for Men of a Certain Age
came from
when Ray Romano and I
were both between projects.
And he, uh,
he was kind of still in the wake
of Everybody Loves Raymond,
trying to figure out
what he was supposed to do next.
And as we started conversing,
it was all existential
mid-life crisis stuff
that we were both going through.
The more we talked,
the more stories we had
and the more it felt like,
well, this is what we should
be writing about
because a lot of people can relate
to this.
And it worked out very well.
We were extremely happy
with all of our episodes
in the first season.
We felt like, you know what,
we did a good show
so let's just get it out there
and see if people like it.
And people liked it.
We feel the same way
about this season.
This season,
people are still trying to find it.
If you have to remember only
one thing, it's four words.
Quality scripts on time.
If you don't have quality scripts,
then what's the point
of doing any of this?
But if quality scripts
don't come on time,
you're gonna be off the air.
If your script is late,
it's not enough
to simply say, well, it's good.
I don't care if it's
the fourth day of prep.
You got 180 people that are
trying to do their job,
and you've just made their job
so much more difficult.
You've made your budget soar
and when push comes to shove,
all things being equal,
when the network and the studio
look at the hot costs
and look at what the show has done,
they'll say, either we wanna be
in business with that person
again or we don't.
Nothing will get you out of it
quicker than arrogance,
ignorance and being, uh,
over budget and behind schedule.
You know,
studios tend not to like that.
I think there is
a renaissance going on in TV.
I think it's a combination of
so much of feature writing
has gone downhill,
and the middle class of feature writing
has disappeared.
So, I think a lot of people
who really felt frustrated,
come to TV and go, "Oh, my god,
who gave us all this freedom?"
It might be less money but, wow,
I have stories I wanna tell.
I'm gonna tell them.
As difficult and as time
consuming and as stressful
as it can be, I mean,
creatively to be able to, you know,
tell these stories and uh,
have the control over it that I do,
uh, is, is such a rare thing.
You know, there are a lot of people
who are great writers
who really don't necessarily
enjoy the process.
And I really do.
I love the first draft
as much as I love the rewrites.
The idea of
really having those characters
come alive in my head
and hearing the words is just...
it's, it's the rush for me.
Your ambition every time
you're making an episode
is for it to be the best episode
that you've ever made.
But the reality of the situation is,
we're writing a script every ten days.
And, you know, we began to
realize like, every episode
is not gonna be a home run.
And we started looking
at the seasons as a whole,
as opposed to a sort of episode
by episode analysis.
But at the end of the day,
the legacy of the show is gonna be,
there's six seasons up on a shelf
and you can watch 'em
one after the other.
So the bad episodes are gonna
come out in the wash,
and the good episodes are also
gonna come out in the wash.
All that's gonna matter is, you know,
what are the peaks and valleys
of the storytelling as a whole?
Writing 22 episodes
of a television show
is a heavy endeavor,
and anybody who can do it
on their own, more power to them.
But we're not really interested
in doing it on our own.
We're interested in
having a family of writers
who are all contributing
to make the show something
that collectively, we're all proud of.
And hopefully,
by the time it gets on air,
everybody feels that
part of them is in that episode.
Part of them is in it.
Yeah, we don't really care...
I mean, there's a lot of
showrunners that are
very concerned because
their name's on every script
and while it's our responsibility
to come up
with the stories, you know,
um, on a consistency
and a through line of where
we're going,
you know, it's not important for us
to have our names
on the scripts so much.
It's kind of more important
that people recognize,
"Okay, those guys are
the ones behind the shows."
John, why don't you just head for...
Can you get as far
as the end of act two?
Yeah, I can.
Can you get as far
as the end of act three?
I can get to the middle of act three.
I wanted to just hear act four.
Go, John.
We're really gonna
come back to the new season,
picking up where everyone's story was.
In other words,
we're gonna find Brennan...
This is full of spoilers;
I'm a little hesitant to speak.
Don't hesitate. Go ahead.
Don't worry about the spoilers.
This is gonna come out after we...
It's a rich stew of spoilers.
So, uh, Brennan is on the run still
with her daughter Christine.
Um, booth doesn't know
where Brennan is.
He is looking for her.
So we're gonna pick up on...
99% of the audience,
they don't know my name.
They don't know that people
write it, even.
I mean, my father
was on set once and, um...
My dad has watched TV since
they made TV... he loves it.
First time he saw my name on TV,
he had a little weep.
And he's a logger.
He's not a weepy guy.
He was standing watching Emily
say one of her, you know,
scientific things about the bones,
something I'd written.
And he turned to me and said,
"Wow, how does she
come up with that stuff?"
And I thought,
"That's my dad."
That's, nine... That's the audience.
Those people
who don't know how the soup is made.
Um, and then there's a small...
uh, a very small, uh, portion
of the audience that thinks
they know how the soup is made
and... give you advice on
how much salt to put in.
And I think they should be ignored,
because they're not...
Not that they're stupid or anything.
Some of them are stupid.
Some of them are very, very smart.
But they should be ignored
because they're not your audience.
Once the whole story is written down,
we'll talk about
what the personal stories are.
Then we try and smoosh those
together into an outline.
And generally, the writer...
whoever the writer is...
will, uh, write the outline.
It's breaking down
each act into scenes,
and just giving you
a short description
of what each scene is.
Just so you know what
the end of the acts are
and what happens in each act.
It's for the network and the studio
to say, "Okay, let's go."
And so that we're all on
more or less the same page.
And then it's off to drafts we go,
and it just goes through
the same, uh, process.
The truth is, there are
a lot of people who can write
with a very distinctive voice
who would be absolute abject
failures as showrunners,
because when you're
creating television,
you're trying to create
something unique and do it
for a certain amount of money
and within a certain period of time.
And when you throw in
those two complicating factors,
you really separate
the real showrunners
from the great writers.
The philosophy of my room
for the writers has always been
fall in love with moments, not moves.
A move is,
"Oh, my god, it was his evil twin."
Evil twin gives you nothing,
um, unless there is some
extremely relatable thing
that everybody has gone through
in regards to an evil twin
that you can mine,
and that's your moment.
Um, we will protect moments
at all costs.
I will give up a good move
in a heartbeat.
It's very hard.
Most writers are taught,
just keep it going
till you get to the end.
Whew, we got through another one.
And then shootout at the warehouse.
And, uh... And believe me,
I've done my share
of shootouts at warehouses,
I'm sorry to say.
Every show needs to have
a separate intent.
What do we need to see,
what is the big movie moment,
whether it's emotional,
whether it's funny,
whether it's action...
What's that thing
we're leading up to that,
that, you know,
that hits you in the heart?
The writers of my shows and staffs,
they're my families.
You want them to be partners
and not just, uh, scribes.
Frankly, if you're lucky,
you get to, uh, take each step
along the way, and I did from
assistant to staff writer.
And then you get a story editor.
And then executive story editor
and co-producer
and supervising producer
and co-EP and then, uh,
executive producer, and then
showrunner if you get a show.
Uh, for me, every one of those
steps, uh, is important.
You learn something new,
and the responsibilities
get a little bit greater.
Dave Cobb, writer's assistant.
Todd Helbing, story editor.
Aaron Helbing, story editor.
Misha Green, story editor.
Brent Fletcher, co-producer.
Jed Whedon, co-producer.
What I love about this room is
that there's no power plays.
There's no... Nobody's trying
to get over anybody else.
I've been on shows where it's
very clear that there was.
I am the king, let's not forget that.
But besides that, everybody's equal.
Everybody... Me and the little king
will broach no dissent.
When I graduated from UCLA,
I thought,
okay, six months to a year,
I'll, you know,
get my career going and break in.
And during that time, I got a job
as a English as a second
language teacher
at a Japanese school in Van Nuys.
But I thought, you know,
six months to a year.
Six and a half years later,
I could not get arrested.
Um, everything I tried,
uh, nothing happened.
We'll get, uh, the full outline
by the 22nd out to everybody.
Um, notes or no notes,
I wanna send you out
the script on the 23rd.
And then we are in the end
game of the final episode.
I'm sure everything will be great.
They'll love it.
I was 33 before I had my first
professional writing job.
After four seasons
on this teen sex comedy,
I was desperate to get into,
like, mainstream network.
I took my favorite
show on TV at the time,
Buffy the Vampire Slayer,
and I wrote a spec.
That got into Joss Whedon's
people's hands,
and I spent the next, I think,
eight weeks chewing my nails.
And then I finally got a call
that Joss Whedon wants to see you.
That was when I felt like my
career has really started.
During the dark days,
the thought would pass my mind
about giving up, but honestly,
it was the only thing I felt
really passionate about.
It was the only thing that I
thought I could do really well.
Part of the main job description
in the writer's room is,
you're the guy that has to come
in and shit on everybody,
which I actually hate doing...
But are very good at.
Uh, well, you know, I try,
I try to do it
with a wink and a smile.
One of the things that
I've seen go horribly awry
with other shows is
to not make a decision.
Um, you need to make a decision.
Whether it's good,
whether it's bad,
whether everybody agrees with it.
You gotta make a decision.
There are two approaches
I think you have to be careful
about when you do TV.
One is, to not know it all
where your show is gonna go.
And then, I would say
the other worrisome thing
is to really think you do know
where your show is gonna go.
What I mean by that is,
there are some shows where they go,
"We have a five-year plan.
We know exactly what's gonna happen."
Well, I'm always suspicious of that,
because these ideas are
really hard to come up with,
and if you come up with
five seasons' worth of ideas
in the last two months,
then my guess is,
they aren't the greatest
ideas in the world,
because, I know the shows
I've worked on,
it's taken us a lot longer
to work it out.
At the same time,
if you don't have any plan at all,
and you've got a pilot
that makes an entertaining
hour of television
but you don't really know
where it leads
and where it goes to,
I think you're gonna be
in big trouble.
My job, when I'm producing
a show that I haven't created,
is to help the creator
and the showrunners do their job.
But people like Jonah Nolan
who created Person of Interest,
someone who had done
such incredible work in film
and was just dying to tell the story
as a TV series,
and along with Greg Plageman,
do an extraordinary job
running that series.
My job is to really kind of
support them in what they need.
So, rather than being
someone who sort of calls them
and starts to mandate stuff
out of the blue, you know,
I would much rather
be someone who is there
when they need me to be there,
but not someone who is
trying to impose ideas on them,
because really, it's their show.
A showrunner friend of mine
who asked me
when I was pitching the show
in the first place,
he's like,
"Yeah, what's episode six?"
That was the big question:
like, do you have a franchise?
Is there an idea that's
durable with the show?
And I think you and I
had to generate...
We were in New York...
and the pilot was a fucking disaster.
I mean, front to back,
across the board,
it was just, you know,
anything that could go wrong
went wrong.
What did you guys come up with?
What are you, what are you...
The larger question of,
are you gonna be able
to tell a story of the week
and a bigger story.
For me, it was answered in
episode seven.
I think that was the defining
moment for us in the season.
We're coming to it saying,
we're gonna get fucking bored
if it's just gonna be this every week.
That's not what we signed on for,
that's not what we wanted.
And the only way for people
to really feel like the show
has any stakes
is for our guys to lose,
for our guys to fuck it up.
... between a stand-alone...
There was some resistance to it,
but there was no win
at the end of the show,
which is the network's big thing.
It's like, well...
our guy lost.
- It's a known goal.
But the twist was so great,
and that threw down the gauntlet
and said that's the kind
of show we're gonna be.
And that was the closest we had
to sort of a creative argument
with the network...
not to talk out of school.
I think we
were successful in the pilot
in making exactly what we wanted.
You know, we made a thing
that's really funny,
really wicked, really filthy,
and managed to take a good swing
at the financial services
business while we did it,
which was really fun.
If I could keep that kind of balance
going within the show
and not just go for
the poo jokes every time...
although, love a good poo joke...
then we'll have won.
We haven't brought any scripts in yet.
We're just bringing...
We brought our first outline in yesterday,
which was Karen's, which was amazing.
We're working on episode seven
so you wanna just keep, uh...
One has high hopes.
I wanna make a great piece of work.
Um, whether I can accomplish
that, I have no idea.
Matt Carnahan has
a great sense of language.
I like the combination of
profane and soulfulness.
It had elements of satire
about American business
that sort of felt like
unique territory for comedy.
All of our shows
run slightly differently.
Neil Jordan writes almost all
the scripts of The Borgias.
Tom Kapinos writes
all the scripts of Californication.
I think, in truth,
House of Lies is still defining itself.
It's run more traditionally
with a showrunner and a writing staff.
Yeah, job security is a punch line
in our profession.
Our entire well-being is in jeopardy.
We don't own the white boards.
You know,
they can cart 'em off tomorrow.
I had no real career path
planned out, I was just...
My career strategy was,
if you offered me a job,
I would take it.
So you look at my rsum,
and it's just all over the place.
I don't think you could figure
out what I was doing.
That was a really tough show for me.
That is not my world, not my milieu.
I wrote three of them,
and I think, consistently,
they are like the lowest rated
fan favorites in the series,
and I totally... you know,
I cop to that freely. I just...
Yeah, I should not have been
writing that show.
The main thing that David tried
to impress upon us as writers
was to always be entertaining.
I actually have a sign
in my own writer's room
that just says, "be entertaining."
So, if you think about The Sopranos,
it was funny, it was violent,
there was great music,
there was action,
there was just a lot going on there.
Something that you'd just always
keep in mind, you know,
first and foremost,
you're putting on a television show.
No matter what else I do in my career,
that will be the experience
that I compare everything else to.
I started dating this girl
who worked at
Star Trek: The Next Generation.
And she said, uh, you know,
I could probably get you
a tour of the sets.
Turns, in retrospect, that
that was the key moment of my career,
because I just decided,
what the hell,
I'm gonna write a spec script
called "The Bonding."
There was this young man
who was giving me the tour,
and I conned him into reading it,
and it turned out, he liked it.
And he was one of Gene
Roddenberry's assistants.
And he gave it to the late
Michael Piller, who bought it.
And then I got this call
one day, just saying,
"I need a staff writer.
Can you start working tomorrow?"
And I said, "yes,"
and showed up and...
I was there ten years.
When I started at Star Trek,
it really was the fulfillment
of a lifelong dream.
I was a very serious Trekkie as a kid.
I loved the old show.
And then I killed Kirk.
I co-wrote Generations
and killed my childhood hero.
I mean, I literally killed
my childhood hero.
I wept when I wrote it.
It still moves me
when I think about it.
I don't know anyone else
who has that experience.
I don't know how to take it in
and understand what it means
for my life, what it says
about me, you know, what...
what insight it gives into my soul.
You know. It's a...
It's a unique experience
that I don't quite know
what to do with.
I never thought
I'd be writing television.
What I loved about journalism,
what drew me to it
is eventually
what repelled me from it.
What got to me about
covering real events is,
that body on the floor
doesn't get back up.
And it got to be relentless
and... and really
profoundly disturbing.
In October of 1977...
I was doing a third school shooting,
and I just had this moment
where I walked away,
and I just thought,
I can't do this anymore.
You said that you cried about
shooting Larry Flynt.
And that was the moment I thought,
well, then what the hell
am I gonna do with my life?
But with that very first script,
it was like a whole new world
opened up for me and I thought,
I get to fictionalize
all these things that I've seen.
Reporting live from Los Angeles,
I'm Janet Tamaro for ABC News.
As a former standup comic,
I think that comedy
is harder than drama...
I'll just say it.
You know, when you're writing,
it's like eight hours
of being in a hole and then, oh,
oh, oh, here we go, you know?
I mean, sometimes there's days of,
oh, all right, great, you know?
But sometimes there's days of, like,
I don't know, man.
I just don't know.
Nothing is happening.
You know? This is horrible.
And it seems to not matter
how often you can conquer
a writing problem.
The next time
there's a writing problem,
that becomes the one
that will kill you.
When you're done with writing,
you have the "I'm awesome" feeling.
Look at what I did.
Oh, my god.
Of course, I've had that
after writing, like,
a one-line email, too.
"Wow, that was pithy.
Whew, wow, nice work."
I think the
challenge that comedy presents
that drama doesn't
is moving people
into ridiculous situations.
Our slang in the room is,
you have to close
all the other doors so that
the only door available
to this character is the door
that leads to the big block
comedy scene you wanna do,
and that's difficult.
The more episodes you write,
the more stories you've told
and can't tell again.
And that becomes harder
with every episode.
It's harder on the second
episode than on the first,
harder on the third than the second.
But the storytelling within
the episode doesn't change.
You have to get to the point
where the audience would say,
"You know what?
"If I were in that situation,
damn it, if I wouldn't do
the exact same thing."
The show was really born of the fact
that common heist shows, I felt,
weren't doing
what they were supposed to do,
which is to give you the magic trick.
They were being highly serialized.
Chris was talking about Rockford files.
And where were the shows
like Rockford Files
that was good, smart, crime drama
that you could watch with your dad?
Right, and it seemed like
there were a lot of shows
about serial killers on the air.
Probably more serial killers
have been captured
on network television than ever existed.
- In one season.
In one season. Yeah, there is...
As far as America is concerned,
scraggly white loners
are roaming the streets,
uh, dropping baroque clue paths
in the path of private investigators.
Talking to some of my friends
who write on
more traditional procedurals,
once they have an arena
where they're gonna be...
it's a murder at a circus,
it's a, you know,
murder at a microchip plant...
they're in heaven.
But it's finding a new clue path
that they haven't done before,
that's what they spend
the bulk of their time on.
And for us, the clue path is these...
is the heist.
And the con.
- Yeah. And the con.
I had lunch with an ex-FBI agent
and we were struggling with, uh,
what are we stealing this week?
This is sort of the endless struggle.
He said, um,
"Uh, well, you know, you hear about
"calibration weights for
centrifuges to make nuclear,
uh, to make nuclear weapons?"
And I was like,
"I wanna kiss you on the mouth."
If you weren't armed right now,
I would kiss you on the mouth.
You're telling me
that a tiny weight this big
could calibrate a centrifuge
to make nuclear weapons
for a rogue state
and you have to steal this tiny item?
That's the size of something
you put in a belt pouch
on someone who is rappelling
through a ceiling.
That's perfect!
Somebody said,
where did this come from?
Why did you wanna do this show?
I thought about, well,
I didn't wanna do an adaptation,
and it's an adaptation.
I really didn't wanna do a procedural,
it's a procedural.
I really didn't wanna do a mystery,
it's a mystery.
I knew I wanted to do humor
because I like to be funny.
I hope I am funny,
I hope I'm not the only one
laughing at my jokes.
But I think what it was about
for me on a deep level
and this is where...
why writers pick stuff that,
that, that they respond to.
I had...
My best friend of 16 years
had been killed in a, in a,
in an accident.
If you don't wanna go there...
You know, it's funny,
I don't go there on the show, um...
But I do.
This relationship
between these two women
who were really different
was in some ways
my relationship with my best friend.
And you know, it's...
it's horrendously awful that, um,
you know, my life,
my personal tragedy became fuel
for this show, but I think
that's what happens to writers,
and I think that's why
nobody wants to be married
or related to a writer,
uh, even a television or film writer,
because your life does, in fact,
inform the kind of writing that you do.
This might be
much debated in this documentary,
but I do think that good
creative executives do make
an important creative contribution
to the successes of the show.
It's not about telling
somebody how to write it.
It's about giving them good counsel.
I tend to work very directly.
I have a lot of opinions
and feelings of what
I think is... is interesting,
what I think is boring,
what I think is, uh, fresh,
what I think has been done
before, and I communicate it.
I'm very clear.
It's their show,
and I tend to win the budget wars,
they win the creative wars.
There's no show that goes on our air
where we don't have
general consensus
between the writer, showrunner,
the lead actors, and the network.
When there's not consensus,
that's when you make
crappy television.
The thing we kind of
beat into the young writers
when they start is,
is this the hill you're gonna die on?
Because this argument
you have is the only one
you're ever gonna have
a shot at winning,
so make sure it's the one,
because after that, you know,
if you just start fighting 'em
on every single thing,
you become the problem in the room.
And they write the checks
and they pay the bills.
And by the way,
sometimes there's no way
to get out of it.
And sometimes it is
the hill you wanna die on.
I mean, if that's really
what the episode is about,
and to take the note
is gonna undermine everything,
you know...
Don't not have a hill.
Yeah, yeah, yeah,
you wanna have a hill.
You wanna have some integrity,
but make sure it's the hill, yeah.
Working on Dirt
was all kinds of things.
It was a difficult experience.
It was an enlightening experience
because Courtney's character
wasn't even in the script
when I wrote it.
The network really wanted
a female-driven series
so I created this character
for Courtney.
Um... So in a way, my initial,
my original vision
was compromised
from the time I said okay.
Something as simple as going,
okay, I'll do that.
And from there, it deteriorated.
It was challenging and
John Landgraf and I, the head of FX,
we went at it.
We really struggled.
And it was... It was a really...
It was ultimately
an incredibly difficult
and really rewarding
creative process.
I feel like the pilot I got to
make was amazingly cool.
The first season
I got to make was really cool.
The second season, he just said
this is what we're gonna do.
And I felt like it wasn't so good.
I've never seen
the second season of Dirt,
uh, nor do I want to.
I've probably spoken out
against the behavior
of the people
at the top in the networks
two or three times in my career,
and now I find recently
that I have a reputation.
I've gotten a little bit shirty
and I've gotten insistent
and I've drawn the line.
But the moment you forget that
the executive you can't stand
might be the only person in the room
who has the right idea
about how to fix something,
you're gonna lose.
I don't think you need to
treat anybody like your enemy
unless they are actively
trying to destroy you,
which occasionally does happen.
There are those kind
of people out there,
but there are not many.
I am and always have tried
to be a company man.
And yet, now I find that
I'm this hot-headed maverick.
Which is amazing, because, you know,
I'm afraid of four-year-olds.
Good morning.
Good morning.
The worst point for notes
is before you're on the air,
and everybody thinks they know
how the public is
going to react to a show.
Or if a show is doing
kind of middling well,
which is what Bones did, by the way.
It did middling well,
it was not a hit.
We were like a weed
that you couldn't kill,
and then we got a little love
and did quite well.
The writers meeting is for
the director to give notes
on the script, um, and say what works
or doesn't work for him and her, so...
It's important for me too,
because I can have ideas in prep,
but I need to know that these guys...
that we're all in sync
as we push forward,
as we continue to prep, uh,
in terms of making the show
that these guys envision,
that everybody wants to see
at the end of the day.
Uh, the script is currently 60 pages?
- 52.
- 52?
- 52 minutes.
- 52 minutes.
Oh, is it ready?
I wouldn't touch it.
I wouldn't go any shorter.
First of all, it's not...
so plot driven
that this, more than any we've had,
should not be trimmed that much.
I got two notes Friday
from the network
which I thought were really...
were good.
Um, and I don't mean
to sound surprised.
What takes a single
episode of network television
so long to get produced
is the meetings.
There's lots of meetings.
The single dumbest note
I've ever gotten was...
We were doing Everybody Hates Chris,
and we had an episode where
Chris had gotten a fever
and a flu or something.
It was at Christmas,
he was in the hospital,
and he was hallucinating
that he was talking to a guy
who was basically Santa Claus.
And the note came down
from the network,
"Does Santa Claus have to be so old?"
One of the
funnier notes I ever received
was right after CBS
picked up Swingtown.
And I went to this meeting,
and Les, Les Moonves, um...
god help me, uh,
if he's watching this...
Les Moonves tells me that he,
you know, he loves the show.
And we got almost through
the whole meeting.
He says, "I got one note."
I said, "What?"
And he goes,
"I don't think the neighbors
should sleep together."
I said,
"You don't think the neighbors
should sleep together?"
And he said, "No."
"Well, it's called Swingtown.
"It's about swingers in the '70s.
Like, what do you want them to do?"
He says,
"Well, that's why you're the writer."
I can't believe
I'll never work at CBS again.
You know, I have
a very dark sensibility.
Like, what I find acceptable,
90% of the populous
does not find acceptable.
And I've had to learn that
the hard way.
So I need somebody sometimes to say,
"Hey, dude, that's too much.
"Like, that's... That doesn't...
Not only doesn't that
serve the story,
but it's just too out there,"
So I can take a step back and go...
So it's not a reaction
like, "Fuck you. That's my vision."
It's like I can then take
a step back and go, all right,
well, yeah, maybe...
maybe that is too much.
You know, maybe we don't
really need to see
the balls being hacked off the clown.
Perhaps we tell it on the face.
It was a huge disappointment
that that pilot didn't go.
And the script was very well received,
but the WB was very difficult.
There came this moment
where they wanted
a different version of the script.
And they had brought in
another writer over my objections,
which is...
In retrospect,
I can't even believe
I allowed that to happen.
But at that point, I was very young,
it was my first pilot.
And we were now
about a week away from shooting.
And the script came in and I hated it.
It was terrible.
And I just said,
"I won't shoot the script."
And so the network said,
"Yes, you will."
And we had this big, ugly
conference call about it.
And, uh, there was this moment
on the call
where the network said,
"Well, if that's how you feel,
then maybe we should
just say goodbye."
And I realized, well,
this is it, this is the moment.
They're gonna call your bluff on this.
And I said,
"Then, okay, let's do that."
And then they said, "fine,"
and they hung up.
And then, hundreds of phone calls,
like everyone's calling each other.
"I can't believe he said that!
He's not really serious!"
Everyone was really, really upset,
but I really was serious.
I wasn't gonna shoot that script.
And, uh, the whole thing fell apart,
and it cost
a couple million dollars and, uh,
it was a disaster at the time.
It was a huge disappointment to me,
'cause I was very attached
to those books,
and I thought that we were gonna
do justice by these books.
And my agent at the time,
whether he believed it or not,
said, "No, no. This, you know...
Believe me, people like it
"when you say no,
and you'll get a reputation
as someone who has integrity
and, dah-dah-dah."
I chose at the time to believe that.
We always wanted
to reward the viewers
who watched week to week,
but not punish ones
who were coming new to the show.
That kind of self-contained
story of the week
just so happens to line up
really, really nicely
with the kinds of procedural-based
episodic crime shows
that CBS knows how to make
really well,
and then beyond that,
the story that we wanted to tell
is this larger novel-like story
that's similar
to the shows that are
flourishing right now on cable.
And I think the network
knows that, you know,
the audience's tastes are changing.
If you liken the procedural...
which we've never thought of
as a four-letter word,
we've always kind of embraced them.
I grew up watching
Magnum, P.I. and Miami Vice
and Hill Street Blues
and all these amazing shows.
But, the shows that are
flourishing right now
are these serialized
novel-like shows on cable.
But, broadcast was always
capable of doing both.
So, it's a different way of doing it.
You still have
a massive, massive audience,
far bigger, uh, than cable,
watching broadcast television.
We regularly have 14...15 million people
watching our show, which dwarfs
any of the audiences
of these cable shows.
There's that Tom and Jerry
cartoon effect,
where it's like
if Tom gets blown up by dynamite
and then you fade to black,
and then you come up,
and then he's just chasing Jerry again,
it's not as interesting to me as Tom
gets blown up by dynamite
and now in the next scene
he's in the hospital rehabilitating,
trying to figure out
where he went wrong.
Um, so, you know, I do feel like
life is serialized,
life is not a procedural,
and therefore,
that's the kind of storytelling
that I like to watch,
and it's the kind of storytelling
that I like to write.
That being said, I think that, um,
it's unfair to categorize
shows as procedural
or serialized, or one working
better than the other.
I think that that's what
networks like to do.
But, at the end of the day,
if you put something cool
in front of them, they don't care
whether it's a serialized
or a procedural
or a marriage of both, you know?
I think there are shows
like The Good Wife now
that are procedural shows,
but are actually
stealth serialized shows,
and that's why
they're getting nominated for Emmys.
We would agree that it's a bit of a...
a wolf in sheep's clothing.
There are certain elements
that we have to satisfy
to be on CBS, to be show that has
a story that we tell within
the episode, has cases.
And so, it's partly that,
and partly characters
that weave through it.
We don't do a lot of
just character scenes
or just personal scenes,
that the personal tends to
come on the procedural plot.
We do 23 episodes a year.
These other shows do 13 a year.
I wouldn't call it
bitterness on our part
that we have towards cable.
Cable is very much
"the grass is greener on that side."
I hope I'm at HBO for my entire career.
Um, I mean,
it's just been the best place
I've ever worked for
so many different reasons.
Creatively, it's great.
I mean, I could theoretically
work at a network.
I would never say never, but I know...
I know what that means.
That's one of the great
things about working
for HBO: they let you do your job.
And you know, it's not to say
there aren't conversations.
There are,
but they're never mandates,
and they're never...
They're never notes
that are born of cowardice,
where they're afraid
to alienate people
or offend people, or you know...
Because they're not trying to sell
commercial airtime or product.
So, it's based on,
"Just do the best show you can do."
We have an incredible
amount of freedom on premium cable.
So, going back to network
television would be difficult
on a creative level.
The tradeoff, of course,
is the amount of money
that you can make on
22 episodes of a show
in network is phenomenally large.
Uh, much larger than
I make on this show.
But, I do have that...
that taste of that freedom.
As much freedom
as you do have in cable
compared to network,
you know, the network is...
You know, they were up my ass
during the pilot process, you know,
and really, you know, micromanaging
pretty much every detail.
Because that's...
That's the time
that they feel like they have
the most input, you know?
And, and, and not that it...
Not that it fucked me up
or strayed...
or made me stray off my vision.
But, they're very engaged
and very hands on.
Um, but the good thing
is that once the show
gets established and...
and you earn their trust,
that they honor that.
It's not like
groundhog day every season,
like you gotta prove yourself again.
I personally don't
see as big a difference
between network and cable
as other people have.
And I also think some
of these cable channels
have kind of perpetuated
this myth that artists
have complete freedom
at these networks.
And yet, I've talked to
people and heard about
notes calls at these networks.
So, I'm not sure that's exactly it.
I think it's a case by case situation.
Does the network trust
you to do the job?
If they do you're gonna
get a lot of freedom.
If they sense a void in leadership,
they're gonna rush in to fill it,
no matter what network it's at.
Uh, we're gonna have a set of, uh...
There's gonna be a quartet playing.
Piano, cello, violin, viola.
Once we get the okay to book them,
then I'll get sizes to you.
'Cause we'll have the stand-ins.
I think between casting the next episode,
being on set
for the episode you're shooting,
being in the writer's room
dealing with budgets and everything,
I would say that
showrunning is as much
a feat of choreography
as it is of anything else.
I have an amazing
non-writing executive producer,
Jessika Borsiczky, to just understand
administrating people
and budgets and hot costs
and all of that stuff
that I kind of glaze over at.
The skill sets to be a good writer
and to be a good manager
are almost diametrically opposite.
I think writers tend to
be skeptics, critics.
They're fueled by anger, um,
by a curiosity, by outrage.
Whereas when you're managing,
you have so many different
aspects of production
to be concerned about.
The writers are your most immediate,
but then you've gotta deal with actors,
and you've gotta
deal with your directors,
and you've gotta deal
with everybody else.
Those skills are not innate.
Steadicam, in-camera freeze.
Yeah, we'll get that
either right before or right after
we get the walking in master.
When you spend a lot
of time just trying to steer
your own boat as a writer,
the idea now that
you have to be doing
all of these other tasks,
is um... can be overwhelming.
A list of the ordered breakaways,
and see if we're in the ballpark.
One or two...
Showrunning has this kind of
glamorous patina to it.
You know, the guys who run Lost,
and you know,
it sort of seems like
one fabulous party
of, you know, being creative
and fooling the public,
and being, you know, brilliant.
For me, a lot of it is
the grind of selling the show,
pitching the show,
getting the outline approved,
going to scripts, handing in a draft.
It's just a fucking grind,
is the truth.
Because we're doing a period piece,
everything is exponentially
more complicated
and time consuming.
Uh, every actor,
every extra, needs a haircut.
Every set has to be dressed.
I mean, I'm talking about
locations particularly.
If you're doing a contemporary show,
you just pull up and shoot.
This, we pull up, it takes three days
to get a simple street scene ready.
Air conditioners,
lights that aren't correct, doorknobs.
I mean, every little thing
has to be changed and fixed.
This is the scope of this thing.
Our network hour of television
is 43 minutes long.
An episode of our show
is typically between
55 and 60 minutes,
so that's days and days of extra work.
So, it all adds up to a much
greater shooting schedule.
There are six typical
days in the production
of a four camera,
half hour television comedy.
Five of them are your
five production days.
And the sixth is a hiatus.
We produce 24 episodes
in the course of a season,
and we do them in blocks.
A block of three is three episodes on,
and then a week down from production.
During those down weeks,
you catch up on scripts.
You start writing scripts before the...
before you start shooting.
So, we start shooting in August
because America needs
new television in September.
And in order to
start shooting in August,
the writers start working in June,
and we wrap in April.
And, um, I think that if you
would bring in scientists
to study this, they would discover
that human beings have
exactly enough energy
to accomplish 90% of that schedule.
And the last 10% of it
is a Bataan Death March
to the wrap party.
Mirror my situation exactly.
Right, right, right.
I just mean,
you are married with kids.
There she is.
Ah, shit.
That's my wife telling me
I have enough money.
If this show goes down the tubes,
you gotta make a living
right away somewhere.
That's for you guys.
'Cause I got a lot of money,
so I don't care.
Well, while we're on the subject,
we might not be in
this room for six,
seven months from now.
- Nine... Nine months.
- Yeah.
We've got to have a talk
about that, but yeah.
That is a...
We met with a couple networks,
and then TNT...
When we met with Michael Wright
and the way he took to it
and the way he responded to it,
we just felt, you know,
this is a good fit, yeah.
The main thing is they...
they have their opinions
and sometimes we disagree,
but they don't come down
with an edict.
The critics have been helpful,
'cause we got great reviews.
Oh yeah.
Season one.
Then we got even better
reviews this season.
If that doesn't happen, maybe they...
- No, of course.
- They stick their hand in there more, yeah.
I can speak for him.
I can say why
he's been in a hit show,
and then another show.
So, you're assuming
this show is a hit.
There's a number at which you survive,
and there's a number at
which you don't survive.
Um, you get feedback,
it's called ratings.
We respect that aspect
of the business
and we understand that
the network has to maintain
a certain number of eyeballs
on their show
or else you're gone.
We go to a bunch of people
and ask them to give us
a couple million bucks a week
to tell our little pretend-y stories.
The idea that they should do that
with no strings attached is madness
You know?
It's other people's money.
There's stockholders
out there somewhere.
I don't know who would
invest in television now,
that's a horrible idea.
If you pay too much
attention to the things
that are completely
out of your control,
like when they're airing you,
when they're preempting you.
How many people watched that night,
or whether or not it went
up or down from last week.
If you start doing that,
then you start losing
control of the things
that are within your grasp.
All I can do is tell a better story.
if there's a clear drop-off,
then you should look at that.
But, I do read other people's ratings.
The thing that men do...
women do this, too,
but I don't tend to do this...
they focus on the number.
"What's the number gonna be,
what's the number?"
And I poured myself into it,
about it, midnight,
the night that we aired,
I couldn't even watch it
on broadcast television...
I shouldn't tell anybody that.
I didn't watch my own show air.
I've been on so many
failed, canceled shows.
And I just thought,
"Oh, god, please be good enough
to stay on the air."
I went to bed, and you know,
six hours later,
my husband is poking me
and he has his computer with him,
and he says,
"I think you want to get out of bed."
And I had, of course,
slept through the early Nielsen
and all the phone calls
and the texting.
And I said, "No, I don't wanna know,
I don't wanna know,"
which is very cowardly of me.
And he said,
"Yeah, I think you might wanna know
you're the most successful show on...
in basic cable history."
And I said,
"Fuck you, that's not funny!"
Which is not nice of me
to say to my husband.
I really thought he was kidding.
And I looked at it
and I stared at it.
And I'm not being
humble here, I thought,
"How is that possible?
How is that possible?"
You don't go into a
TV show expecting good hours.
You go into a TV show
expecting the worst.
Somebody is always staying up.
I think there are a lot of shows
where everybody is always staying up.
For the longest time...
really until
because of the family I couldn't...
I was, you know,
first in and last out.
And if you're doing that,
I think people
are a little more forgiving.
The first year of Buffy
was like, uh, was like
everybody was on ecstasy,
everybody hated everybody,
everybody loved everybody,
and nobody wanted to go home.
That was how I described it.
And my wife just quietly said,
"I think the crew wanted to go home."
There's a part of me
that has a very, very fond
sense of nostalgia for the show.
But, the weight of...
for those six years,
it never left me.
It was all that I thought about.
When I woke up in the morning,
I realized that I had been
thinking about it through the night.
I basically proposed marriage
in May, right after the pilot
was picked up, thinking that the show
would probably be canceled
after a few episodes.
And then I got married
three days after the season one finale.
And then I had my son
right around the time
that Locke and Jack were
going into the hatch.
So, those are...
The fact that I...
The benchmarks of my life
are measured by the show.
Shouldn't it be the other way around?
I did Lost for six years
and that was all I did.
My friend, Heather,
was an executive at ABC.
And she called me on a Friday night,
and she said,
"Do you wanna meet with J.J. on Monday?"
And I said, "yes,"
and in saying yes to that question,
I basically
completely changed my destiny.
And... And if I had said yes,
and then Heather had said to me
"Listen, this is gonna be
the next six years of your life.
"It is going to define you.
"The word next to your name
when you die
"is going to be Lost.
No matter what you do,
"it's going to say Lost writer,
you know?
Um, how do you feel about that?"
I would have said,
"Forget it, I'm not taking the meeting."
The burnout rate
for showrunners is 100%.
100% of the people who do this
stop by their mid to late 50s,
whether in success or failure.
So that's the problem:
it's too good to quit,
and it's too hard to do.
If you said to them, the only way
that I'm gonna be able
to produce the next episode
is on a hospital gurney
with an IV running into my line,
they would say,
"Great. What kind of gurney
"do you like,
'cause here are three choices.
And what would you like in the IV?"
There's so much
literally to do every step of the way.
If we didn't have each other to do it,
I think we'd go crazy.
And there are showrunners...
single showrunners...
that run multiple shows, and I...
I literally
have no idea how that...
I actually think that you can't.
I mean, you have to
hand it off to someone...
We're having
a little conversation about this,
if you guys wanna leave for a minute.
Yeah, because some people say
they can run more than one show.
I actually don't think you can,
without giving up on one of them.
I mean, I'd love to
know how they did it.
The year I had three shows, um,
I had a lot of focus.
56 episodes, did them all.
I don't want to do that again.
But, there was a grandeur to it,
because it was the last year of Buffy,
so I couldn't drop the ball there.
It was the first year of Firefly,
so I couldn't drop the ball there.
And it was the fourth year of Angel
where I thought
everybody knows I'm gonna
drop the ball here,
so I can't drop the ball here
because that's where
they'll be looking for it.
And the emotion
that we were going through on Firefly,
which was terrible, but so bonding.
There is an element of,
once you get them all spinning
they kind of balance a little bit.
You can go from here
to here to here a little bit.
But, only for a certain amount of time,
and then you die of extreme old age.
Please tell me you got a warning.
What is this?
A documentary film?
If a show is in its third year,
it's a hit.
You can replace "behind the camera",
you cannot replace
"in front of the camera."
So, if there's a huge fight,
if you're not getting along
and it comes to who's gonna stay,
the actor will probably win.
The Bochco quote I heard was
"The first year,
"they work for you,
second year, you're partners,
and the third year,
you work for them."
This is dressed up.
This is such a good idea.
Yeah, new shoe...
Are those new shoes?
Are those your...
Look how new they are!
They're triple-tied!
You're trying to look decent.
Triple-tied, those are triple-tied.
Uh-huh, you don't even know
what he usually looks like.
Oh, okay, okay.
When I'm dealing with my cast,
the occasional hot tempers
is impossible to avoid.
If you're lucky,
the arguments that you have,
it's all based in character and story
and trying to do the best
show that you possibly can.
I try to focus on what's constructive,
'cause generally,
there's a note to be had
inside... inside a vicious
throwdown argument.
I really, you know,
try to not bring poison onto my set.
And if an actor has a reputation
of being poison
I don't bring 'em on.
I don't care
how fucking good his work is.
I don't want somebody
undermining the energy
that we have on the set
that ultimately feeds
the work and,
and what the show is
and how... and how people
perceive the show.
He threatened her in front of you?
We were casting the Shield pilot.
I was very proud of that script.
And then actors started to come
in and read for Vic Mackey.
And all of a sudden,
it didn't sound so good,
and I started to get really
depressed about it.
And I remember one day,
I turned to Clark Johnson,
our director, and I said,
"Maybe the script
isn't as good as I think it is."
And I remember the next day,
Michael Chiklis came in,
and he sat down,
and he had about a six
or eight minute audition
that just from beginning to end,
he was Vic Mackey.
And he got up and he left the room,
and I turned to Clark and I said
"No, I'm a great writer."
And it's a... It's
a good example of, you know,
when you feel so great
when you find that actor
that just embodies a role.
Don't have to be so mean, Booth!
It's their job to do
what's written for them.
And of course,
they're invested in their characters
in a way that we're just not
because they spend
all their time with it,
whereas we're spending time
with seven characters
at a minimum.
On big things,
like whether or not the character
should be in a relationship,
well, we know where we're going.
And they don't.
They trust us.
When they get a script,
usually we'll get a phone call
of them saying, "Wow, this is wild.
I mean, how am I supposed to do this?"
You know, and you're like,
"Well, what do you think?"
And then that's when
the conversation begins.
Our lead actress, for example,
she's hit these challenges
that even ourselves, we're like,
"Well, this is gonna take
a long conversation."
But, I mean, like nothing:
"Okay, guys, that sounds great,"
you know,
"Let me take a crack at it."
And you know, we're just
sitting here flabbergasted
because... I would have
asked some questions.
In television,
you're gonna have a long relationship
with the people
that you're in bed with.
And those relationships
need to function
or you won't have a show.
In the past, I've either called
or emailed a showrunner
and gone,
"Look, there's something here
"that I don't necessarily agree with.
"I'd love to talk to you about it.
"Is it something we'll just
live with for this episode,
"or is this something
that we'll have to live with
in the future?"
As an actor, you are
the guardian of your character.
So, you do have the authority
to be able to say,
"I don't think
my character would do that,"
or "I would love it
if my character did this."
Um, you can say what you want.
You are the guardian of your character.
But, you know, the showrunner has...
He's the boss.
He's the boss man,
and he has the ultimate say...
or she...
has the ultimate say
to decide whether your character
would do that,
regardless of what
the guardian thinks.
There's a tendency
in network television
because of the pressure
and the time crunch that you're under,
is that no matter
what scene comes through,
they just want you to do it.
Doesn't matter if it's
good or bad, just do it.
And I can't work that way.
So, it ended up that
I would stop production
for 30 minutes,
sometimes five or ten,
and we would sit down
and we would basically rewrite
the scene right there on the set.
My relationship with Hank
in the beginning
was very, very rocky.
He was 32 years old.
He was a baby and he'd
never done it before.
Consequently, you know,
he made all the mistakes
that you make when you're put
under that kind of pressure.
I know I drove him crazy,
because I would get a script...
and my people skills were not
particularly good at the time...
and I would walk in and I would go,
"This is shit.
This is... Why?!
This doesn't make any sense."
But, to his credit,
Hank wrote the best episodes
of the entire series
in his three years
that he worked on the show.
He came to me at one point
and he said,
"You know, I'm going to leave
at the end of this season,
and I'm going to do another show."
He said, "Quite honestly,
when I see your name
come up in my phone, I get the hives."
I loved him for his honesty.
And action.
Every week, we waltz into companies
just like this one and tell them
how to fix their shit.
Now, in the case of Galweather-Stearn
it has come to my attention
that there is
a sexual harassment element.
Sexual harassment?
Do tell, Obi-Wan.
Sexy, right?
How's that sound, Jeannie?
Let's do this.
Cut. Good.
Good, good, good.
One adjustment.
Let's go again.
Which is, at the beginning...
Matt is interesting
because you don't get
a sense of who he is,
because his work is pervy.
He has a dark black soul.
He has got mud
running through his veins,
and I don't know where it comes from.
Because then,
when you interact with him,
he's so gentle
and he's so soft-spoken
and he's so kind,
but I think he's got
a lot of dark stuff inside him
that he gets out in his writing.
I like coming up with an idea
and then getting to direct that thing.
Some people really don't like that.
I mean, Tom Kapinos,
who does Californication,
I talk to him, and he's not
that interested in the directing part.
... does not work here,
I will not accept it.
Yeah, round fucking two!
Please, go.
I think one of things women have
to do is step up and direct.
And all male showrunners
that I know of
eventually direct their own episodes.
And there are no questions asked.
You know, that guy's been
writing, so of course
he's gonna direct the season opener.
I have to step up and do that,
because I don't like it
that there is more scrutiny.
I think there is more
scrutiny on women.
I think it's much harder
for women in this business
than it was in news.
And I find myself doing that thing
I think that is
uniquely female, which is,
"They all think I'm a bitch.
They all hate me."
Men don't worry about that.
I've worked for men,
they don't think...
They don't go home and be like stewing,
"Oh god, they think I'm an asshole."
I do.
The first people in...
you know, if all the showrunners
are white guys,
if all the executives are white guys,
and the first brigade
of whoever the minority are,
is the first group of women...
of course Tina Fey is brilliant.
'Cause she has to be.
Of course Lena Dunham is brilliant.
She has to be.
Whatever people might think
about me one way or the other,
I'm good at this; I have to be.
The only problem, if there is a, uh,
gender or a racially-based component
to who gets let in the room,
it's the decision maker
believing somehow
that because you're a black guy
you can't work with Drew Carey,
because he's a white guy.
Do I wanna get the black audience?
Absolutely. But I'd just like
a shot at the audience, too.
I think attending Comic-Con
is extremely important,
especially for a genre show
like Spartacus.
The first time we came here,
the response was fantastic,
and it really helped launch the show.
This is a little bit like
a rock concert for a showrunner.
Writers are out in the forefront now,
just like actors and directors.
People, more than ever, understand
how shows are created.
And you really need to
not only promote your show,
you need to represent your show.
Showrunners were
kind of invisible up until now,
up until we branded ourselves.
You know, the old adage is
there's only one thing worse
than being talked about,
and that's not being talked about.
And so, yes.
Do I need a publicist? Yes.
Do I need to Twitter? Yes.
Do I need to brand myself? Yes.
Do I need to be known as J.T.
instead of Janet Tamaro?
Yes, I probably do.
I think that,
given the online fandom community,
that people now have a place to go to
to, sort of,
immerse themselves in the universe
of a show that they really like.
On a certain level,
you kind of require
the showrunner to be present
in that venue in some fashion.
Because the showrunner
ultimately is the one
who has the answers
to the questions that people have.
So, there's probably
a certain rise in celebrity
that goes along with the showrunner.
When I started out,
the idea of an internet community
was a very, very fresh idea.
And the fact that I was able
to wade into the middle of that,
and so were my writers,
and when I wanted to, my actors,
that was a new phenomenon.
And to be able to write
and have people recognize you,
and be able to speak to you about it,
is more than a writer usually gets.
I think the internet
had to exist in order to sort of
create the story of the showrunner.
Can you imagine if David Lynch
had an interest in
and access to the internet
when Twin Peaks came along?
I think that David Lynch
absolutely would have been
communicating directly with his fans.
People would have known much more.
There would have been a greater
sense of authorship there.
The internet was sort of just becoming
a thing when we were doing Felicity.
You know, on specialty websites
we would sort of see
early stages of consensus
of what people were
thinking of episodes.
And it really did become clear to me
that this was... TV was becoming
a little bit like theater,
where you would perform something,
and almost in real time,
you'd be hearing
the laughter or the applause,
or the absolutely painful
deafening silence.
And what was kind of great
was you could use that
as one of your tools.
I love Twitter,
I feel like I was born to tweet.
It's a way for me to sort of
let people know who I am.
You can tell when the fans
are tracking the story.
You can tell when they're confused.
You don't want confused fans.
You can tell when they're bored.
You don't want bored fans.
So, it does give you a way
to take the temperature.
But, Twitter can be
kind of dangerous.
If the writers of Cheers
had had Twitter,
they would have been
besieged by people going
"Get Sam and Diane together."
And you know, like,
sometimes what the fans want
is different than what
they really want.
Very rarely do I interact
with the very negative criticism.
But, sometimes
there's something so egregious
that I just have to comment.
And I've gotten into a dust-up,
twice now
that I can think of,
where I found out later
I was actually in a yelling match
with like a 12-year-old.
Some shows are much better
suited to a digital presence,
to a web presence, than others.
Lost is probably the best example.
Lost found itself
riding this wave where suddenly
they realized
people wanted more information,
and they were very savvy
about it, and they began
to create all sorts of
branded merchandise,
not just on the web...
they also had a game and a book.
But, at one point,
Carlton Cuse said, "You know,
"sometimes I don't feel
like a showrunner,
I feel like a brand manager."
There was this demand
for us to constantly get out
and explain things.
And we felt like
if we denied our audience,
if we basically said,
"Sorry, the show speaks for itself,
and we're not gonna talk
about the show at all,"
that actually would have
hurt the show.
And so, by making ourselves
sort of available,
ultimately sometimes to
criticism as well as praise
or questions or anything,
we felt that
that was in the best interest
of the show.
That evolved to, by the end
of the first season of the show,
Carlton and I were asked
to do a special
where we explained
"Here are all the things
that you need to know
in order to enjoy the finale."
So, suddenly, I'm just a writer
who occasionally does
interviews with the press.
And then I turn on ABC,
and there's my ugly bald head,
you know, trying to explain
what the black rock is.
And Carlton and I just
turned to each other
and said
"How the hell did this happen?"
We are at the forefront of a new era,
and it is an era with some
really distinct differences
from the way TV has been done before.
When we started Husbands,
my first thought was,
"Okay, we put this up
on the web, we demonstrate
there's an audience for this,
and then TV will want it."
Now, I realize, like, no,
why would we wanna go there,
when we've demonstrated
there's an audience for it
right where it is?
Right now, what the internet
is capable of providing is growing.
What TV is capable of
holding onto is shrinking.
But, they haven't met in the middle
in any significant way.
At some point,
I think they will have to.
I feel like what I do is secure
in that I'm a writer,
first and foremost.
I'm gonna want to write
something for somebody
and someone's gonna wanna make it.
You know, and if I am
writing for something
that's just on the internet,
and we're performing
like just on,
if I'm happy doing it
and I can feed my family,
I'm happy doing that, too.
We can do it in the
way the consumer most wants it.
Get it directly to them,
they can help us fund it.
There are a lot of people
invested in a big TV show.
Web show, you're invested in it,
which is fantastic.
The profusion of platforms
of channels of distribution,
it's all kind of exploding,
and it used to be
that you could understand
I think the television universe
as a solar system,
and the sun was broadcast television...
the three or four networks...
and everything else
was a satellite that
traveled around the sun.
And that clearly no longer
is the model.
The sun has exploded.
And there are a lot of little
solar systems being set up,
and the idea that we'll
ever have a coherent whole
like that again,
I'm not sure we will.
He's up there right now.
There he is.
He's up there in his private G6
and he's coming here,
to our tiny company
up in his fat fucking belly.
So, what we need to do, Douglas,
is we need to get Adam.
It's a little bit heartbreaking
being in the editing room,
because there's only
so much you can make better.
There are really so many things
that you have to be on top of
on the day that you're shooting
that you just, you know,
pay for in the editing room.
What did you think about
the idea of breaking it up
into two sections, one after 10
and one after 13?
'Cause I watched it last night
like a, you know,
like a third grader.
No, it was totally...
I was like,
"Wow, that's cool!"
'Cause I've been writing
so many episodes,
I have not spent enough time in here.
So now, I'm doing a lot of catching up.
... just like this one,
and tell them how to fix their shit.
Well, this week it's us.
Right, Jeannie?
Both The Chicago Code
and Terriers being canceled
were hard, in that I thought
we'd made good shows.
I get that if you make
something that isn't good,
it's... it's gonna fail.
The hard thing about Hollywood is
that good things
can fail, too.
When The Shield was in the middle
of all its critical acclaim,
I knew that not everything
would go that way.
So, for me, I was like,
"Okay, The Shield
kind of gives me permission
to fail at this point."
And fail I did.
You know, I made the shows
I wanted to make.
We had a horrible name for Terriers.
We never could properly
explain to an audience
what that show was gonna be.
Chicago Code certainly had its shot.
Got a big premiere,
the night after the Super Bowl.
Got a lot of ads during the Super Bowl.
I can't say that anybody screwed us.
Self-doubt creeps in,
not about my ability
to make what I think a good show is,
but where are my tastes
aligning up to America's taste?
I've learned the lesson
as a showrunner
that you can control
the things you can control.
And unfortunately, you can't control
300 million people and what dial,
you know, what channel
they turn the dial to every night.
Any time you do anything
and you put it out there
and it fails, uh, it's of course
a depressing thing.
Undercovers is
an especially painful disappointment.
I sort of did the show
because I wanted to
do what the studio
that I work with wanted.
They were looking for a show
that was in that vein.
And that's not really
a good reason to do it.
Secondly, I remember being
at the Emmys one year
and just seeing
an amazing array of white people.
It was just really
the whitest room I'd ever seen.
And the idea of, well,
if we're gonna cast this show,
maybe we should look for
actors of color, like, why not?
What kills me is,
instead of it being a show
that said "Look, you know,
leads of color equals success,"
it was yet another example
of that not working.
Some shows you do, it's just a job.
This is literally my life.
It's extremely personal.
People seem to like it
when they see it.
So, it's frustrating that you feel like
if you could just
get it in front of people,
I know we did a good job, you know,
you're going to like it.
That was the party store back there.
And this is, uh, Andre Braugher's
character's house,
and Lisa Gay Hamilton,
which I guess they still have
most of the set dressing up.
We wrapped the day
after our show premiered.
So, we had the premiere
on December 6th,
and I was driving to
the set on December 7th
feeling really great 'cause
the premiere was really good.
It's gonna be the last day
with the crew where we all
get to have a good time
and I was really hoping
to get sent the ratings on my phone,
and that I could go,
"Oh, look, hey,
we did great, everybody!"
And, so we're working
for a few hours,
and then the ratings came in.
And I looked at my phone and said,
"I'm never gonna see
these people ever again."
'Cause it was...
It was not... not very good.
Um, so then, I recovered.
And, uh...
We're not dead, by any stretch
of the imagination.
We're probably going to be okay.
But, it was... It was a bad number.
It was a very bad number.
And it... It feels bad, because you...
everybody on the show
worked so incredibly hard,
and they're helping you make
the thing that you wanna make.
And all you wanna do is
give them good news.
And so, you're just...
It was... a huge whole season of work
coming down to one stupid email
going, "well, sorry," you know?
I might love a show,
and just want so badly
to believe that it can make it.
But, the people with whom
I work will correctly
and usually gently, say to me,
"Hey, look at this.
No, we know you believe in it, but..."
And you know,
that's where this becomes a business,
and the right business
decision after that point,
there's a lot of money involved.
Needless to say,
"that didn't work," it hurts.
And that's the single worst phone call.
And in this case,
to have to call a showrunner
with whom you've formed
a relationship, and say,
"Hey, road's over. We tried.
Yeah, we're canceling it."
It sucks, you know?
Another round of applause
for the cast and crew of Fringe.
Yeah, when it's over...
I'll... I'll be sad.
It's gonna be very difficult.
It's like you're giving away,
you know, an appendage.
Because it is a very good source
of communication for me, you know?
And um, I'm gonna miss him.
So, I find myself, even right now, um,
you know, rewriting scenes
that are perfectly good.
You know? Because...
'Cause it's not the same feeling.
Like, in any other season, you're like,
"Oh! Okay, next!" you know?
"Stamp!" you know, "Gone!" you know?
And then you get
to edit it and you see it
and then it goes on the air.
You're kind of relieved, to be honest,
that the next script has been finished,
because you know it's always
creeping behind you going,
"I'm gonna catch you,
I'm gonna catch you."
Um, there's none of that this year,
that's all gone.
And it's all, um,
"Oh, this is so terribly sad."
We had this very
profound moment of realization,
which is: the same year
that we were gonna do our end point
was the year that
the Sopranos finale aired.
So, Carlton and I
both watched the Sopranos finale
and we were in New York
at the time, and we had
a speaking engagement
the next morning.
And, we just were
completely blown away
by how awesome
the Sopranos finale was.
And the next morning, we got up,
we started talking about it,
and then we went into this room
with all these other people,
and we were like,
"Did you see the Sopranos finale
last night?"
And they were like,
"Yeah, wasn't it a cop-out?"
And we looked at each other
and said "we're fucked."
As far as getting back into TV,
I feel like there's
a certain level of expectation
that is definitely gonna be
placed on whatever I do next.
Whereas before, I think I would
have been a little more
foot-loose and fancy free and said,
"oh, let's try this out,"
or "let's try that out."
Now, I'm like...
I'm kind of, you know, holding myself
to a very high standard
for what is gonna be the idea
that I kinda take and run with.
Every project that suddenly
we're involved in,
or that I say yes to,
is potentially another,
you know, hour I'm spending
not with my family,
you know, another half hour
or whatever.
But, there's a wonderful
thing about running a series.
It's an evolving,
organic, living thing.
Being a producer
but not a showrunner,
I can kind of from afar
observe this thing,
and at times, be grateful that
I'm not having to do that.
But, I would be lying
to you if I didn't say
I miss that job,
and being there and doing that.
And so, one day, I would love
to be able to do that again,
if they'll have me.
The fun of television
is that it works at such a pace
that you write something on,
you know, the first of the month
and then it's airing in a month.
It's very...
You don't really have...
I mean, millions of people
are seeing it.
It's that urgency that's so exciting
and, uh... and rare
for anyone to be able to do.
And so... Yeah, I do.
I do love what I do.
There's times where I wish
I could sleep a little more.
It's hard, you sacrifice a lot
when you are in charge
of so many things.
And ultimately, I would love
to be able to give away
some of my responsibilities
or share them a little bit
better than I do already.
And I think that for
a lot of showrunners,
right or wrong,
the amount of control that you have
in these situations
is what makes things
feel special to an audience.
It used to be that you'd get the show
up until you wanted to
put a gun in your mouth,
and then you would find
these magical showrunners
who would come in,
who were kind of...
we like to call them
sort of like hospice workers...
who kind of like feed the show
and give it pain relieving medicine.
"Oh, oh, oh, is that season seven?
That is season seven, isn't it?
That's right, yeah!"
It's palliative care
for your show as it slowly...
The life ebbs from it,
and then it dies.
And now, I think there's a lot more
cradle-to-the-grave showrunners.
You try to make them till you think
maybe you can't make
any more good ones.
Yeah. Or, you know,
people stop watching.
At one point early on in my career,
I was worried that
I had run out of ideas.
You know, I thought,
well, what if that's it?
What if the well is dry?
Ten, eleven years later,
I'm faced with the opposite problem,
is I have so many projects
up on my project board,
that I look at them
and realize I'm gonna go tits up
before I get all this stuff out there.
Then I started thinking,
well, there's nothing to say
that I have to do all of this.
I would love to follow the path of...
of a J.J. Abrams.
He's someone that I
definitely look up to,
on not only a creative level,
but on a business model.
To get to a level where you can have
multiple shows on television,
where you can co-create
shows with the writers
you've worked with and love,
and you can also have
a feature career.
I think that is...
that is the ideal thing to shoot for.
What, are these fans?
It is an incredibly difficult
business to break into,
especially for people like me.
I didn't grow up in Hollywood.
I grew up in a tiny little
town in south Jersey.
I could not have been further
from the Hollywood dream.
Uh, but I had always
wanted to make that happen.
And, you know, it's kind of a...
almost a 1940's
"gee whiz" kind of speech,
but, you know,
if you follow your dreams
and you never give up,
you will get what you want.
It may not be how you expect it.
It may not be
in the timeframe you expect it.
But, you will make it.
When I was fresh out of college,
I remember a job interview
where somebody said
"Where do you see yourself
in five years?"
and I thought,
you know, I don't know
what I'm having for lunch.
So, that's not a question I'll answer.
Where do I see myself?
Where do I see this series?
I think that this is a series that has
the ability to go for a long time.
TNT is a great network to be on.
And they're not looking to
knock you off the chess board.
I'm very happy telling
these stories right now.
But, I think, if you said to me,
"you're gonna do this
for the next eight years of your life,"
I would think, "really?"
And I should be going
"Oh, yay!"
That's where I should be,
and maybe after I've had
some sleep and a vacation I'll think,
"Yeah, eight more years!"
But, right now, I'm thinking,
"No. Eight more years?
Do you know how many that is?"
When the show got canceled, um,
there was a very protracted
period afterwards
where I both was happy
to have another project to distract me
and I was having a lot of trouble
forgetting Men of a Certain Age.
I was writing my pilot,
and at the same time,
I'm on the phone trying to see
if Men of a Certain Age
can go to another... another network.
It's like your girlfriend's in a coma,
but they're going,
"Hey, you wanna go on some dates?"
And when you're on the date,
I guess at some point,
you forget maybe for a few minutes,
and then you come back home and go,
"Oh, still in a coma.
"It'd be nice if you got
out of the coma
so I don't have to go on the dates."
I don't know why I just did that
as Woody Allen.
It was really...
Please cut that, all of that.
I went into my deal
with 20th Century Fox.
Then that started.
So, that was the beginning of,
"Okay, time to move on."
Here's what's gonna happen.
I'm old. I'm 53.
No one will call me.
No one will want me to be
a showrunner.
And then the question will be
will I go write a book?
Will I go work for one of the people
who have come up past me?
I don't know the answer
to any of those things,
because right now,
I cannot see past Christmas.
But, you know, I'm supposed to be
an English professor
in Canada,
and I'm already having more fun
than... than I was supposed to.
First of all, I want a show
with an African-American lead
to do well.
Especially Don Cheadle, 'cause he...
Nobody deserves it more than him.
Then I'd like to keep making the show,
'cause it's...
I feel like it's fun. And it's good.
And, you know,
I hope people will watch it.
So, um...
Yeah, I'm nervous, for sure.
Thank you.
I'm so excited to be
showing you guys this show.
I didn't know
that I wanted to make a show
about management consultants.
I didn't...
But, um, we've tried very hard
to hide that fact
in the marketing of it,
and also hide the fact
that it's about rich assholes.
No offense to anybody in the room.
I'm embarrassed to say
that I feel great about it.
I usually want to pick things apart.
But, I actually
really feel good about it.
The biggest challenge making the show
is encountering myself every day
and what I'm capable of,
and kind of stretching
the limits of what your talent is
and what your experience is.
And thankfully,
I've done it a couple times,
so I have...
I've made a lot of big mistakes.
And so, I can...
I think I've learned a lot from those.
This is a major time commitment.
It's been, you know,
a big chunk of my life
for the last year.
But, I would happily do it again
if I got the chance, for sure.
It's amazing to get to just
do it right once, you know?
It's amazing, totally worth it.