A simple news story couldn’t capture all the great lines bandied about by the panelists at today’s Variety Emmy Elite Showrunners Breakfast, so allow me to present these outtakes from the event, first captured by my @varietyawards Twitter account and mildly cleaned up for appearance’s sake.
Panelists: Julian Fellowes and Gareth Neame (“Downton Abbey”), Alex Gansa (“Homeland”) Vince Gilligan (“Breaking Bad”), Matthew Weiner (“Mad Men”) and Terence Winter (“Boardwalk Empire”)
Winter: “The expectations were heightened this year because in some ways we were reinventing the show.”
Gansa: “The narrative strategy we have at ‘Homeland’ is to paint ourselves into a corner at the end of every episode.”
Weiner: “I do not think about trying to raise the bar or top the previous season. I try to start fresh.”
Gilligan: “I try never to read anything on (the Internet), good or bad. It just messes with your head.”
Winter: “It probably isn’t a good thing” (referring to the level of microanalysis on the Internet).
Fellowes: “The papers aren’t full of complaints of shows nobody’s watching.”
Weiner: “If you have this job (as writer), you are chemically a sensitive person.”
Fellowes: “If you think you are bad off here, try the British press. I
had a whole two pages attacking my mother, who died 30 years ago.”
Winter: Killing Jimmy off “was the most difficult decision of my career.”
Winter: About creating challenging problems to solve — “It’s better to make my job more difficult.”
Gansa: “We were fully prepared to kill Brody off at the end of the first season
until we saw Claire and Damian together and realized that’s the show.”
Gansa: “Homeland” writers considered having the bomb Brody was wearing go off.
Fellowes missed a question because he was thinking about killing off William on “Downton.”
Fellowes: “I haven’t got time for writers block.”
Fellowes: “Once you put the end of the episode in, you can go back and change everything, because it exists.”
Weiner: “I have to learn to speak with an English accent, because even failure sounds good.”
Fellowes: When filming starts and you’re still writing, “it starts moving toward you like a tank.”
Weiner: “Terry (Winter) was a godfather to me at ‘The Sopranos.’”
Winter said he began to just take the first week of writing time off because he never got anything done in that first week anyway.
Winter: “You call David (Chase) and say you need another day, and he would say ‘you can’t have it.’”
Winter thrilled to be so in sync creatively with Tim Van Patten — handling micromanaging allows Winter to focus on scripts.
Gansa: “Although I love Charlotte, it does not double for Beirut.”
Gansa said that the second season of Israeli show that spawned Homeland was itself influenced by Homeland’s first season.
Weiner: “You want to have a complete universe (of characters). I use ‘The Simpsons’ as my model.”
Weiner: You want to avoid the Star Trek “red-shirt phenomenon.”
Gansa has to keep revisiting scripts that are completed to make sure they are sensitive to breaking news.
Winter: “One of my favorite shows is ‘Project Runway.’ I would put Tim Gunn on ‘Boardwalk Empire.’ ”
Gansa: “I cannot tell you how often I read ‘NYPD Blue’ scripts … and pilfer from them.”
Weiner: “When I like to unwind, I watch ’30 Rock.’ I could watch it over and over again.”
Panelists: “The Big Bang Theory” director Mark Cendrowski and exec producers Alec Berg (“Curb Your Enthusiasm”), Jenni Konner (“Girls”), Armando Iannucci (“Veep”) and Steve Levitan (“Modern Family”)
Levitan credits ‘Will and Grace’ for knocking down barrier to gay characters and ‘The Office’ for the mockumentary format.
Iannucci admired “The Larry Sanders Show” and used it as a role model.
Cendrowski: Younger generation doesn’t care about broadcast/cable distinction.
Levitan: “The Internet raises the bar for how real things seem.”
Iannucci: “Improv isn’t a big secret – Robert Altman was doing
it in the ’70s. … But it’s not something you can base the entire
Berg: “The idea that ‘Curb’ is (all) improvised is a misnomer. … If it’s all
improv, I don’t know what I’m doing in that office for six months.”
Berg says there are no scripts but “incredibly detailed outlines” that have lines of dialogue.
Cendrowski says ‘Big Bang’ improv happens in rehearsal, but scripts on
shoot day are finely tuned. For one thing, the actors can’t improv the science dialogue.
Konner: Lena Dunham and Adam Driver have incredible improv chemistry. “If I were director, I could never call ‘cut.’ ”
Levitan says they self-edit for standards and practices, but “We’ll often put in things that we can’t for the life of us figure out why that’s not allowed.”
Levitan: “We kind of pretend we didn’t get the memo until after we’ve shot.”
Berg: “’Curb’ is the first thing I’ve worked on where there’s no ‘they,’ there’s just ‘us.’ ”
Iannucci said that he pitched a pretend teaser for ‘Veep’ in which all
Apple products were poisonous. There was a long pause on the other end before he revealed he was kidding.
Levitan said “Modern Family” had an Obamacare joke and was told they would then need
to say something bad about Romney. “We could do that,” Levitan said.
Cendrowski said he learned at Comic-Con about the whole subculture that didn’t watch “Big Bang” on conventional TV.
Levitan saw Larry David golfing and said, “That looks like the swing of
someone shooting only 14 episodes a year.”
David said, “I’m only doing 10,” and Levitan said “Oh, then your swing should be better.”