Longtime 20th TV-based producer explains how studio toppers make it work with creatives
The best part of the partnership between Gary Newman and Dana Walden is that they are a true team. But they are also different people with different styles and different strengths that serve their producers very well.
Their expectations are always high. They don’t suffer fools, but at the same time, they are tremendously supportive when they recognize a new voice or get behind someone’s vision. They recognize that this is not a business of building cardboard boxes. Television is a dynamic medium, and every show is different. They never make an attempt to just replicate what they did last year. They recognize that every show has unique creative merits and production requirements. And in moments of complete crisis, they’re really cool heads.
In their jobs, Dana and Gary have to be part psychologist, part business consultant and part parent to the creative people they work with. They play all those roles remarkably well. The only time I’ve seen anyone incur the wrath of Gary and Dana is for giving less than their best effort.
Dana may be the best creative executive I’ve ever worked with. She’s able to ask smart questions in an insightful and incisive way. I feel lucky when she weighs in on my projects. Gary also has a strong creative sense and a deep foundation of understanding of how the business works. Together, the two of them have been able to see how the television business is evolving and to evolve with it.
A perfect example of that is doing “Homeland” with Showtime. They had to create an entirely new business model for the studio to produce a show for premium cable — and it was really a tremendous effort on their part. Obviously, “Homeland” turned out to be a very, very good thing for all of us, but none of us had any guarantees going in.
For a person in my position, to have that kind of support from a studio is incredible.
Both of them take tremendous pride in putting on a good show that comes from a creatively distinctive place. After all this time, I really do consider them friends and not just bosses. There’s a shorthand and a trust that cuts both ways.
They’ve both got great taste, and they’re interested in doing good work. They’re willing to take chances, but not recklessly. They’ll support you in taking a big swing, even if you miss. There’s nothing like the feeling you get when you connect with a great show. But they also recognize that sometimes it just doesn’t happen, even with your best effort.
I’ve seen them grow as executives, just as I’ve grown as a writer and producer. As we’ve all matured, we recognize that the process is really alchemy. You can do the very best job you can and try to manage the uncertainties, but you can’t guarantee success. Nobody wants to fail, but that does happen.
Both of them understand that it’s the creative people who ultimately make something work. All they can do is pick their racehorses, stick by them and let them run their race.
Their door is always open, and they create an environment where we manage to have fun and still run a business.
Prolific producer Howard Gordon (“Homeland,” “24,” “The X-Files”) has been affiliated with 20th Century Fox TV since the early 1990s.
(Pictured: Howard Gordon, right, at work with Mandy Patinkin on the set of 20th TV’s first pay cable series, “Homeland.”)