Variety's Primetime Emmy Elite: The Showrunners

A handful of Emmy-nominated exec producers discuss the challeneges of keeping their shows fresh, what it takes to make critics and fans happy and the importance of a good lunch:

Robert Carlock
“30 Rock”
With “30 Rock” being on the air for a while now, what are the biggest challenges creatively?
We do three, four, sometimes five stories per episode, so we have to run pretty fast to stay ahead of the Idea Monster. On more than one occasion, usually late in the season, we’ve found ourselves joking in the room about the crazy path a story might take if we were irresponsible (what if Tracy died and met Richard Nixon and got advice from him?) and then realized, ‘Wait, we’ve done that.’ The challenge is to keep moving forward, keep upping the ante comically, while still leaving room for the characters to grow.

Sara Colleton
“Dexter”
With “Dexter” about to begin its sixth season, how difficult is it to try to keep the standards as high as when the series first began?
Everyone who works on “Dexter” is dedicated to keeping the high standard set by the premiere season. And that is why we always think theme first and then find a seasonlong plot for Dexter to explore that theme. We spend enormous amount of time reviewing every human behavior that Dexter has experienced in the previous seasons and take him from there into uncharted areas of human emotion. That is what forms our unlikely bond with the audience.

Jason Katims
“Friday Night Lights”
How gratifying was it to see “Friday Night Lights” finally get Emmy nominated after being critically applauded for so long?
It’s a great feeling, and because it’s come at the end of our run I think of it as an acknowledgement of not just of our final season, but the entire run of the show. The truth is, to this day when I mention the show in conversation, I still get a lot of blank stares. So many people still haven’t even heard of it. I’m hopeful the Emmy noms will encourage people to discover the show. I still believe “Friday Night Lights” will have a huge viewership. It’ll just take us a decade or two longer than other shows to get there.

Robert King
“The Good Wife”
Your show has gotten such great fan and critical reaction. Does that produce more pressure to keep it on course going forward?
Oh yes. Some of the fans have a real sense of ownership toward the characters, so there’s a lot of pressure to stay true to the characters’ spines. Luckily the characters keep growing and the fans seem to accept their growth, so that makes it easier to take them all down strange and unfamiliar paths. The Alicia this year is very different from the Alicia the first year. It feels like the only constant is change, and so the pressure is more about keeping up a certain level of surprise and discovery.

Bill Prady
“The Big Bang Theory”
Now that the show is finally Emmy nominated and continues to be a ratings hit, what are the biggest challenges ahead?
Nominations and ratings are fun and wonderful, but they don’t change the ever-present challenge in writing a television comedy: What is the next story? That challenge is followed by a hundred smaller challenges: Is this line funny? Fundamentally you have to separate those things you have control over and those things you don’t. We come in every day with three goals: To work hard, to produce a show we would want to watch and to find a new place to order lunch from because the place we ordered from yesterday sucked.

Mike Schur
“Parks and Recreation”
“Parks” really seems to have hit its stride after some initial bumpiness. How did it turn the corner?
I think this could describe most shows, really. It takes a few episodes to have all of the gears start meshing in the way they need to for a show to be creatively successful. I don’t think in our case there was any magic moment. We all just kind of got better at developing the tone and style we were aiming at.

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