The economics of the TV business were one of many talking points at Tuesday’s Variety-presented “A Night in the Writers’ Room” event, but “Mad Men” showrunner Matthew Weiner took a stance counter to the conventional wisdom.
“What is going on is a squeeze on the bottom as new advantages are found,” he said, noting that when the first season of “Mad Men” came in under budget, his reward was a lower budget for season two. “I always say, ‘Push back, and you’ll find a deeper pocket.’ Every show (represented on the panel) has a chance of being a 30-year business.”
Held at the WGA Theater in Beverly Hills, the “Writers’ Room” drama panel featured Weiner, Clifton Campbell (“The Glades”), Jeff Eastin (“White Collar”), Jason Katims (“Friday Night Lights”/”Parenthood”), Michelle and Robert King (“The Good Wife”), John Wells (“Shameless”/”Southland”) and Graham Yost (“Justified”), while the subsequent comedy set offered Jenny Bicks (“The Big C”), Louis C.K. (“Louie”), Greg Daniels (“The Office”/”Parks and Recreation”), Danny McBride and Jody Hill (“Eastbound and Down”) and Bill Prady (“The Big Bang Theory”).
Industryites who mingled with the scribes at the pre-panel reception included FX’s Nick Grad, Eric Schrier and John Solberg; Showtime’s Gary Levine; CBS’ Kelly Kahl and John Wentworth; ICM’s Mark Gordon; UTA’s Chris Day; CAA’s Michael Mand; and Paradigm’s Andy Patman.
Eastin said that when he heard his show was the No. 1 download on iTunes, he joked that he was ready to buy a car but then realized he could buy only a tank of gas from his residuals.
“These are revenue streams in transition,” added WGAW prexy Wells.
Most of all, however, the assembled writers talked about their approaches to their craft, with Louis C.K. offering some of the most amusing takes, particularly when describing a break between episode shoots of “Louie” that he had set up for him to write. “I just spent the month eating and being disgusting and lying around and not writing a fucking thing,” he said. “I had a huge plan for how my character would develop and change, and it just didn’t happen because of my work ethic.”
McBride and Hill spoke of the unusual way that “Eastbound” is lensed — with a lot of improv and generating far more footage than they can use.
C.K., like others on the panel, embraces the opportunity to take his show to dark places. Daniels compared the act of balancing serious moments with funny ones in comedy to the old McDonald’s McDLT — “the hot side stays hot and the cold side stays cold,” rather than the two tones diluting each other.
Prady noted that February is the cruelest month for showrunners on network series with 22-plus episode orders.
Many of the showrunners admitted to paying attention to social media reactions to their work, but even as he cited Twitter for helping to put “Mad Men” on the map, Weiner derided the practice of fans live-tweeting.
“It’s as if you were reading a book and someone yelled, ‘Oh my god, wait until you turn the page!’ … I would like to come and confiscate their televisions,” he said.