Creator stayed with ship, and his longevity served as prod'n's rudder
Unlike most series that make it through seven seasons and 151 episodes, “Malcolm in the Middle” goes out like it began — with the cast intact and its creator on board.
Often showrunners create a hit show and then hand their baby off to someone else a few years down the road when studios offer the opportunity for a new project and more coin. Linwood Boomer, however, stayed with the ship, and his longevity served as the production’s rudder.
After working as a writer-producer on comedies such as “Night Court” and “3rd Rock From the Sun,” Boomer wrote the single-camera autobiographical comedy as a spec script, only to have Fox pick it up as a pilot. Told through the POV of his alter ego, Malcolm (Frankie Muniz),the pilot won Boomer an Emmy. He served as exec producer on the show until this season, in which he served as a creative consultant.
“No one cares as much as about a show as the person who created it,” explains Boomer. “I never wanted to leave, because I knew how good I had it there. There was no creative interference from the network. I liked the writers, the crew and the cast. … We had very little turnover.”
Since Boomer’s fingerprints were on every aspect of the series, his involvement was a huge asset in terms of continuity. Still, after those first few years, it can be difficult to remain as stimulated professionally. To break up the producing monotony, Boomer began directing episodes.
“Malcolm in the Middle” won five above-the-line Emmys and a Peabody, but like most long-running shows, its popularity and ratings waned. Still, Boomer, Jane Kaczmarek, Bryan Cranston and Muniz remained — along with most of the writing and directing staff, many of whom had been assistants and were promoted up the ranks.
“Some people have a personal ambition to expand their empire or have a deal with a studio or network to develop other shows,” says Boomer, “but as I was close to turning 50 and my oldest son was in middle school, I figured it was time to spend more time with him before he decided that he hates me. But I still felt it was in the best interest of everyone if I stayed on the show in some capacity.”
He felt confident, too, leaving the show in the hands of Matthew Carlson, who joined the series in 2002, and whom he’d known for 15 years, having worked for him on “Townies.”
“This was definitely Linwood’s baby and he stayed on longer than most because it was so personal to him,” recalls Carlson. “When he put the show in my hands, he made a deal with me that he would be available to provide creative input but that he wouldn’t be looking over our shoulder, and he hasn’t.”
Carlson, like Mark Hudis, who took over “That ’70s Show,” another groundbreaking Fox comedy ending its run this month after eight seasons, understands that inheriting a show in its final season is more about protecting the creator’s vision than blazing new territory.
“When I took over “That ’70s Show” my goal was to bring the show in for a good landing,” says Hudis, who joined the writing staff in the first season under creators Bonnie and Terry Turner and Mark Brazill.
“Being there from the beginning is also hugely beneficial from a historical standpoint, like a librarian in a way, and it helps to continue the same tone of the series,” he says.
For Carlson, it’s a kind of shorthand that streamlines and unifies the process, so that everyone is on the same page.
“On shows where the writers feel oppressed creatively, sometimes the show can change if the new executive producer wants to flex his muscles or has his own take on the show,” Carlson said. “But when Linwood left, we had no interest in doing a different version; we all liked what he was doing.
“We were such a cohesive unit and I was so well supported on the show that by the time I took over, it was almost like I had been there all along.”