TV’s finest drama minds joined forces Tuesday evening at Variety’s annual Night in the Writers Room event for a candid conversation about the television landscape.
Super producer Greg Berlanti, “The Path” creator Jessica Goldberg, “Suits” boss Aaron Korsh, “Bosch” writer Michael Connelly, “The People v. O.J. Simpson” duo Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski, plus Underground’s” Misha Green and Joe Pokaski were all panelists for the drama discussion, moderated by Variety’s Debra Birnbaum, and chatted about everything from social media to the secret of success to ratings — or the lack thereof for the streaming scribes.
Here’s what we learned from our drama panelists at A Night in the Writers Room…
The secret to a hit show in the Peak TV era is well-executed, character-driven drama.
“We really don’t see them as superhero shows. It’s always representative of character,” Greg Berlanti said of his CW shows “Arrow,” “The Flash,” “Legends of Tomorrow” and “Supergirl,” the newest addition to the lineup. “Nothing makes up for just execution.”
To be successful in television writing, you must surround yourself with a great team.
“The number one secret of any success I’ve had in the business is just working with really great people across the board.” — Berlanti
“I tried to find people who had some relationship to faith and maybe had some dark stories to tell. I just found people who I thought would be amazing to spend hours of my life with, too, because there are many wonderful writers. — Jessica Goldberg on staffing her writers room on “The Path”
Writers on streaming networks really don’t know their ratings
“I’m always calling and I’m like, ‘Are you guys happy?'” Goldberg explained of dialing into her Hulu execs, since she’s not getting any viewership numbers. “With Twitter, at least you know there’s like a few people watching.”
“Part of you wants to know…but if you get too caught up in it, you will lose track of what you want to do,” said “Suits” creator Aaron Korsh, speaking about both ratings and social media reaction. “Once you’ve asked someone else what to do, you’ve lost.”
Writers have a love/hate relationship with Twitter
“Every Wednesday night, we tweet with our fans…I thought I was going to hate it, but it’s actually been a fantastic experience.” — Joe Pokaski, “Underground”
“I don’t know why you wouldn’t use that stuff…It’s not like it rules us, but it’s good to be aware of. Amazon is a company that’s constantly throwing out a net and gathering information on their customers.” — Michael Connelly, “Bosch”
“We discovered the recaps.” — Scott Alexander, “The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story”
“People do ‘Path’ art, which is amazing to me. I’m enjoying it. It’s fun — and then there are some mean things, but, you know. — Goldberg
“There are not a lot of middle-of-the-road attitudes on social media…they’re really passionate. I’ve watched through the years now with Twitter in particular, people start to realize it can turn and then it can turn really dark…that’s something I think to be mindful of. Who are you telling the stories for? It’s not just for audience reaction. Something else important to be mindful of is that executives don’t use that as research. There’s a neat quality to seeing the response, but you have to gauge it appropriately.” — Berlanti
Never start with high expectations.
“The People v. O.J. Simpson” is one of the strongest Emmy contenders as TV award season is kicking off, but writers Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski didn’t know “whether anyone would have cared” to watch the series, already knowing the real-life verdict.
“It was very important to us to tell a lot of things that people didn’t know, and that every episode had its own theme,” said Karaszewski. “The most gratifying thing that’s happened to us is how much discussion the show got…not just the old case, but our take on the old case…somehow, it captured the zeitgeist. We believed in it, but we have no idea what it would have become.”
Research is key
“We started with the slave narratives from the Library of Congress,” Green said of prepping for her WGN America series “Underground.”
“We’re still doing research,” she added as she heads into her second season. She said looking at real-life stories is important for influencing her characters.
Writers are also overwhelmed by Peak TV.
“I used to watch a lot more TV, before I made TV,” admitted “Bosch’s” Connelly. “Now, I’m so exhausted.”
As for his favorite shows among the 400-plus scripted series, Connelly is enjoying AMC’s “Better Call Saul.”
Crossovers are not easy.
“There’s definitely crossovers happening. They’re happening. There’s like mini ones and then there’s bigger ones,” Berlanti confirmed, referring to “Supergirl” moving over to the CW, home to “Arrow,” “The Flash” and “Legends of Tomorrow.”
Though crossovers are great for ratings and fans love them, Berlanti says he won’t do them just for the fake of doing them. “Storytelling-wise, to me, comic books were the original great crossover in that you would see characters pop up in other people’s worlds and it would make both worlds seem larger,” he explained. As for the big winter crossover that’s become a tradition for the CW shows, Berlanti shed some honesty: “That’s always a nightmare,” he said with a laugh.
Even Greg Berlanti was surprised when “Supergirl” flew over to the CW for Season 2.
Berlanti revealed that he didn’t think it was possible for his former CBS show to land at little sister net CW — and he didn’t know it was happening until the deal was pretty much sealed.
“About a week before it happened, people were asking me and I was like, ‘No! It’s not going to happen,'” he said. That’s when CW president Mark Pedowitz called Berlanti to ask if he’d be interested in continuing the show over at the network.
“It was fun being on CBS, but CW, we obviously make a lot of these shows with CW. We obviously have a shorthand,” Berlanti said of the future of “Supergirl,” adding, Story-wise, it’s fun to think of the shows actually truly all in one universe.”