As a producer, John Wells is associated with two of television’s most adored drama series of the recent past: the long-running “ER” and recently departed “The West Wing.”
But for all of his success as a high-powered producer, Wells remains happiest behind a keyboard, writing an episode for a current show or brainstorming ideas for a new one.
“It is really what I enjoy doing,” says Wells. “I try to spend 20 hours a week at it. Of course, some weeks I’m better at it than others.”
Certainly, few have been as proficient as Wells, who is receiving the Paddy Chayefsky Laurel Award for Television as well as being a nominee in the episodic drama category for the “Election Day, Part II” episode of “The West Wing.” “ER” is in its 13th season (and still a ratings winner for NBC); “West Wing” ran for seven seasons and 155 episodes.
“My life was changed by ‘ER,'” Wells confesses. “It was nip-and-tuck whether it would even make it on the air, and then nip-and-tuck whether it would be on that Thursday night timeslot.”
Other series for which Wells has written include “China Beach” and “Third Watch,” each of which had lengthy runs. Of course, not everything can be a ratings triumph. His most recent series, CBS crime drama “Smith,” which premiered in the fall, received good reviews but never caught on with viewers.
Neither success nor failure has slowed down Wells, who, after a couple of decades in the trenches, still relishes the thought of writing a pilot and seeing it come to fruition. What that next show might be about, however, is tough to say.
“Ideas tend not to come in a reasonable fashion,” he explains. “They come when you least expect it. You have to provide time for thinking. … I like to write the initial parts (of a pilot) as a solo experience. I get to tell a story, like at a good dinner party. Then I want to hear what everyone else thinks.”