Drama producers cite surprising influences

Road to the Emmys: Drama

If finding success on television is like capturing lightning in a bottle, then creating a show that becomes a cultural touchstone is even more elusive.

While all six of this year’s Emmy drama nominees have already set their own benchmarks of quality, the producers behind each series say they also draw inspiration from the shows that have come before them.

“Dexter” executive producer Scott Buck says he was influenced as a writer by shows that immediately declared themselves as different.

“It might feel odd to say that my work on ‘Dexter’ has been influenced by shows like ‘The Larry Sanders Show’ or ‘Twin Peaks,’ ” Buck says, “but those were shows that really stopped me dead in my tracks and made me pay attention, because I knew I was watching something that hadn’t been done before.”

“Boardwalk Empire” co-executive producer Gene Kelly says that the classic storytelling of shows like “The Honeymooners,” “Our Gang,” “The Little Rascals” and even “The Three Stooges” inform his work.

“It was the humanity in those shows and the way they touched people universally,” Kelly says. “If somebody’s trying to think of a way to tell a story, you always sort of wonder how they did it on ‘The Little Rascals.’ ”

“Friday Nights Lights” exec producer Jason Katims admits that he doesn’t spend a lot of his free time watching TV, but credits “The Sopranos” for raising the bar in general over the last decade. He says his first job in TV continues to influence him day to day.

” ‘My So-Called Life,’ which Ed Zwick and Marshall Herskovitz produced … was kind of my graduate school,” Katims says. “I feel like what I do is a direct descendent of their work.”

The Good Wife” executive producers Robert and Michelle King, who say they enjoy “Breaking Bad,” cite “The West Wing” as a TV milestone.

“Not trying to explain everything to the audience is the greatest legacy from that show,” Robert King says. “(And) for the fluidity of language and family-like look at a workplace.”

Adds Michelle King, “We bow at the altar of ‘The Sopranos.’ ”

“Game of Thrones” executive producers D.B. Weiss and David Benioff also credit many of HBO’s iconic series for providing inspiration.

“It’s not just blowing smoke — the great HBO dramas were hugely inspiring examples of uncompromising, big-canvas storytelling that changed the way we (and everyone) thought about television. ‘The Sopranos,’ ‘Deadwood’ — maybe ‘The Wire’ most of all,” says Weiss.

Benioff adds, “Not to be crude, but there are some TV shows you let play while you go to the bathroom. And there are some you pause because you don’t want to miss a second. That’s what we wanted to make — a pause-worthy show.”

“Mad Men” executive producer Matthew Weiner points to many shows that motivate his work, but he says he’s always looking for a mixture of humor and weight.

“I was forbidden to watch TV most of my childhood and caught up as an adult,” Weiner says. “Everything I see and saw has become part of the fabric of ‘Mad Men.’ Of course, ‘The Sopranos’ taught everyone in television that it was possible to have a muscular plot and still be emotionally complex.

“Otherwise, it was a somewhat pretentious and strange interest in French cinema as a young boy that made me want to dress up actresses and see them reject men.”

Think outside the bucks | Drama producers cite surprising influences
The nominees

Popular on Variety

More TV

  • J. Michael Mendel Dead: 'The Simpsons'

    J. Michael Mendel, 'The Simpsons' and 'Rick and Morty' Producer, Dies at 54

    Animation producer J. Michael Mendel, best known for his work on “The Simpsons” and “Rick and Morty,” has died. The four-time Emmy award-winner was 54. A spokesperson for Adult Swim, the network where “Rick and Morty” airs, confirmed the death in a statement, saying, “All of us at Adult Swim are devastated by the untimely [...]

  • Alex Honnold and Tommy Caldwell organize

    Emmys: Basic Cable Networks Hold Their Own, With Nat Geo Leading the Way

    The 2019 Emmys were a harsh, recurring reminder for broadcast networks that their awards lunch is being eaten by premium cablers and streaming services featuring buzzy prestige shows. But basic cablers, despite collectively logging a year-over-year decline in statuettes, managed to grab onto some key prizes with standout titles such as “Pose,” “Killing Eve” and [...]

  • A Man Walks Into the Cnn

    CNN Allegedly a Target of Arrested Solider's Terror Plans

    CNN was allegedly discussed as a potential target by a U.S. Army solider who was arrested this weekend after making known his plans for terror attacks, according to court documents released Monday and subsequent press reports. According to documents filed in Kansas federal court, Jarrett William Smith, 24, was charged with distribution of information related [...]

  • Lorne Michaels - Outstanding Variety Sketch

    Despite Dearth of Awards, Broadcasters Benefit From Televising Emmys

    The Emmys are not showing much love to the Big 4 broadcast networks these days — but don’t expect the awards show to move to a streaming service any time soon. Once again, this year’s awards were dominated by cable, premium cable, and streaming platforms. HBO took home the most Emmys with 34 total, while [...]

  • STUMPTOWN - "Forget it Dex, It's

    TV News Roundup: 'Stumptown' Adds Jay Duplass, Zosia Mamet, Zulay Henao 

    In today’s TV news roundup, “Stumptown” books three guest stars and BET announced new premiere dates for two new Tyler Perry projects. DATES BET Networks and Tyler Perry Studios have pushed back the premiere of their original dramas “The Oval” and “Sistas” to Oct. 23. “The Oval,” which has the 9 p.m. time slot, follows [...]

  • '9-1-1: Lone Star' Rounds Out Main

    '9-1-1: Lone Star' Rounds Out Main Cast With Four Series Regulars

    Fox’s upcoming drama “9-1-1: Lone Star” has filled out the remainder of its series regular roles. Natacha Karam, Brian Michael Smith, Rafael Silva and Julian Works have all joined the series alongside previously announced cast members Rob Lowe, Liv Tyler, Jim Parrack, Sierra McClain and Ronen Rubinstein. Karam will play Marjan Marwani, described as an [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content