Though no longer a showrunner on “The Office” or “Parks and Recreation,” there are still times when you can catch exec producer Greg Daniels lingering in the back of one of the writers’ rooms.
“There’s nothing like that room,” says Daniels, who while developing projects offers notes on both comedies, but in a less hands-on basis. “The writers are so clever, and their take on everything is interesting. I love that room. But eventually I realize that I’m not going to get done everything I need to get done if I keep sitting there.”
Talk to any Emmy nominated exec producer and you will be hard-pressed to find one who would give up their spot as the conductor of their orchestra and go back to playing just one instrument — in this case, the keyboard. But there are certainly days when they all wish they could do more writing, and less multitasking.
“Take today, for example,” says “Friday Night Lights” and “Parenthood” exec producer Jason Katims. “It’s now 4 o’clock, and my business for the day was a script I needed to start writing. I haven’t even started yet. I sometimes wish I could be able to focus on one thing and not have to split my time so much.”
It was to avoid those sorts of conflicts that David Crane and Jeffrey Klarik, the creators of Showtime’s “Episodes,” decided to follow a British model, in which they write the entire season before going into production.
“On the whole, it takes a lot of the pressure off us as writers to have it done,” says Klarik. “It’s wonderful to be able to focus on the production aspect of it, because you feel fairly secure about the scripts being in a good place.”
But even Crane and Klarik have aspects of producing they would be willing to sacrifice. “When casting, I always feel like I’m Prince Charming and I’ve got to the shoe and I’ve got to keep trying to get somebody’s foot in it,” Klarik says. “Until you do, you’re looking at a lot of ugly feet.”
Adds Crane: “After a while it’s easy to convince yourself that the words are terrible — and then the right actor walks in and you’re like ‘Oh, thank God.’ ”
They, like their colleagues, know that those words on a page mean everything — which also makes it the most difficult job to tackle.
“It’s the hardest, because writing is the most quality-sensitive part,” says Daniels, who wrote Steve Carell’s farewell episode of “The Office” this year. “The difference between an A+ script and a B+ script has the most impact on the show, compared to an A+ phone call about next year’s budget, versus a B+ handling of that same issue.”
Despite copious meetings and daily crisis management, none of them would surrender their producer privileges. “When you’re (just) writing something, you’re casting and set dressing it in your head — all of these things that you have absolutely no say in at all,” says “Game of Thrones” executive producer D.B. Weiss. “All of sudden, you get what you wished for and these decisions are decisions you have to make. It’s a dream come true. It’s also 20 times more work.”
“Writing is the blueprint and best aspiration for a story,” adds Veena Sud, executive producer of AMC’s “The Killing.” “Producing is the execution of that dream. Even though some aspects of producing can feel like drudgery, it is ultimately a source of control and decision making within your own creation.”
To put it bluntly: “It’s a way of protecting the writing,” says Klarik. “It’s my way of making sure that what I envision gets to the screen the way I picture it.”
Showrunners don’t run from non-writing duties
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