"The Writers' Room" Review Sundance Channel

No-frills half-hour hosted by Jim Rash provides a glimpse into TV's creative process

“The Writers’ Room” is a great idea, and a logical, inexpensive fit for a second-tier channel like Sundance, eager to generate street cred within the industry while connecting with committed TV fans. Indeed, it’s hard to think of a series where the rating in people-with-literary-agent households will be higher relative to the raw Nielsen numbers. As for the execution, the no-frills approach — people sitting around a table BS-ing — relies heavily on the wit of those participating, but in terms of celebrating TV’s best and brightest, it’s still an interesting exercise of navel-gazing about the creative process.

Hosted by actor-writer Jim Rash and presented in association with Entertainment Weekly, the half-hour series synergistically opens with “Breaking Bad,” a stalwart of Sundance’s sister network AMC. Rash gently leads the writers through a discussion about their show, eliciting anecdotes and recounting its history.

Granted, there’s nothing here one wouldn’t encounter at a TV academy panel devoted to one of these programs, but the edited chat still produces its share of nuggets, from Bryan Cranston saying he “wanted to lift my leg on the material as soon as possible” to mark the role of Walter White as his own, to series creator Vince Gilligan saying in regard to the show’s unexpected success: “It has all the ingredients of failure.”

Although “The Writers’ Room” makes a point of including a high-profile star among the participants (Cranston in the premiere episode, Amy Poehler from “Parks & Recreation” in the second), this is still an opportunity to highlight how writers have set the table for TV’s current golden age, with subsequent installments devoted to “Dexter,” “New Girl,” “Game of Thrones” and “American Horror Story.”

The one discordant note involves the EW tie-in, with editor Jess Cagle rather awkwardly (or at the very least unnecessarily) joining the conversation in the closing minutes — a maneuver rather transparently designed more to service the partnership than advance the level of discourse. One could probably also do without the pop-up-style factoids appearing on the screen, but given the show’s lack of pizzazz, the producers can be forgiven for employing whatever graphic tricks they can to spice up the presentation.

Aside from its indie-film roots, Sundance has struggled to carve out a consistent original-programming profile. Yet the idea of drilling deeper into behind-the-scenes aspects of entertainment — given the simple-mindedness of most coverage on TV about TV — could offer a fertile little niche, in much the way “Talking Dead” has drafted off “The Walking Dead’s” popularity.

In that regard, “The Writers’ Room” warrants  an appraisal that should put a smile on any writer’s face — namely, relatively few notes.

The Writers' Room

(Series; Sundance Channel, Mon. July 29, 10 p.m.)

Production

Produced by Relativity Television.

Crew

Executive Producers, Tom Forman, Mike Maloy, Neal Kendall, Brad Bishop; producers, Tommy Caprio, Stephanie Storey, Luke Sader, Jim Rash; camera, Patrick Higgins; production designer, Matthew Trotter; casting, Kristen Baldwin, Meeta Agrawal. 30 MIN.

Cast

With: Jim Rash, Jess Cagle

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