Showrunners talk shop and swap stories at Writers Guild Theater sesh
At Variety‘s annual “Night in the Writers Room” event held Tuesday Writers Guild Theater in Beverly Hills, scribes from an eclectic mix of cable and broadcast series gathered to talk about their craft and the craziness behind it during panel seshes moderated by TV editor-in-chief Cynthia Littleton.
During the comedy panel, chemistry among the writers — many of whom had worked together in the past — was palpable…and laughable.
“Don’t address me directly,” “Parks and Recreation” creator/exec producer Michael Schur jokingly snapped at his former “Office” mate, Mindy Kaling. “I can address you, and you can address your responses to Cynthia Littleton.”
Kaling, now the auteur behind Fox’s “The Mindy Project,” recalled that if she “would show up a minute late” to the 10 a.m. writer’s room call, Schur would lay into her.
“Usually in my defense it wasn’t one minute later,” Schur joked. “You would stroll in at like 11:30 and then leave in 20 minutes and be like, ‘I have to get a manicure…’”
(As the duo playfully sparred back and forth, “2 Broke Girls’” Michael Patrick King remarked, “Luckily my father drank so I’m completely in denial that this family dynamic just happened.”)
Monday mornings in the writer’s room for “Parks & Rec” and Fox’s forthcoming “Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” according to Dan Goor, had little to do with the broadcast shows.
“First, we’d talk about ‘Game of Thrones’ for quite sometime,” he quipped. “Then, the writers would show up around 10:30, and we’d talk about ‘Game of Thrones’ again.”
Schur and King worked together on HBO’s “The Comeback” several years back, and Schur recalled referring to King as “kind of a gay Greg Daniels.”
“Michael said, ‘We should have a document that’s for all the extra jokes we don’t need,’” Schur reminisced. “And I was about to say, ‘Oh we have it at the office, it’s called the Candy Bag.’ And before I could, Michael said, ‘We’ll call it the Whipped Cream File!’”
King responded, “I was about to say, there’s nothing gayer I’ve ever heard than ‘candy bag.’ I completely forgot I’d trumped candy bag with not only ‘cream,’ but ‘whipped,’ and tied it up in a clerical moment with ‘file,’ which is just so me.”
As Goor explained how he “pitches alts, which stands for alternate versions,” “Portlandia” creator and scribe Fred Armisen interrupted with, “That’s actually not what it is. There was a German writer, Altz, and that was his practice. He was here at Paramount for many years,” Armisen rattled off, the aud chuckling.
At the drama panel that followed, “Bates Motel’s” Carlton Cuse couldn’t help but ask, “Whose idea was it to have us follow the comedy panel?”
(Pictured above: Rob Doherty, Joel Fields, Carlton Cuse, Kevin Williamson and Aaron Korsh.)
Aaron Korsh, creator of USA Network’s “Suits,” noted that he began his career as an assistant to comedy scribes, so he took the same room-writing approach to crafting his hourlong series.
“I was raised in a writer’s room with 10 people working on a screen,” Korsh said. “We don’t exactly do that on ‘Suits,’ but it’s the only thing I knew. … We do a rewrite process that’s like a miniroom — me and another writer do another pass at it.”
The drama gang also discussed how social media has reshaped the landscape of television.
“We came to call it the megabrain,” said Joel Fields of FX’s “The Americans.” “Before social media, you’d get the ratings, but they’re cold and calculus and today obviously means a lot less. You’d get the megabrain the day after an episode airs, though, and it’d be really smart interesting comments and thoughts about character and plot.”
“The Following’s” Kevin Williamson knows that the web can be a double-edged sword, however.
“Sometimes you’re like, ‘This guy is a real blowhard…get out of your basement and go get a job.’ But then you’re like, ‘Okaaay, they’re saying something that must have really hurt you…what is it?’”
With several series on the panel completing frosh runs, the scribes and showrunners discussed the pressures of plowing through a first season.
“I liken the first year of a show to putting out an apartment building fire with a garden hose,” remarked Cuse. “You’re just trying to survive.”
Williamson now enforces a 6 p.m. cut off time in the “Following’s” writer’s room, after a difficult time on the CW’s “Vampire Diaries.”
“That first year of ‘Vampire Diaries’ almost killed me,” he recalled. “3 a.m., and the writers are saying ‘Can we go home? We have children.’”
“Elementary” creator Rob Doherty not only faced the pressure to fashion a successful first season for the Sherlock Holmes drama, but also to produce a great show to follow one of the biggest TV events of the year.
“We were lucky enough to get the spot after the Super Bowl. Because that real estate is as valuable as it is, it’s sort of like doing the pilot again,” he said.