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Showrunners can’t wait for pickup lines

Road to the Emmys 2012: The Writer

Memo to network execs: Anything you can do to make the week before upfronts easier for showrunners waiting to hear if their series have been renewed for the upcoming season would be greatly appreciated.

“The last few days, when you’re waiting to hear, tend to be torturous,” admits Jason Katims. He should know. He’s the exec producer of NBC’s “Parenthood,” which will return in the fall for its third season, and before that “Friday Night Lights,” the critically beloved series that surmounted low ratings to run for five seasons. And, as king of the bubble shows, Katims was aboard WB’s admired “Roswell,” which lasted three seasons.

“You hear things but in the last few days, things can change a lot,” he says. “What everybody thinks on Wednesday might be different on Thursday. The networks, rightfully so, stay very quiet and try to make their best decisions. So you don’t get a lot of information. During the last few days, it’s impossible not to be on pins and needles.”

Katims adds, with a laugh, that he probably shouldn’t be talking about this: “I don’t know if it’s something to advertise, to have all these shows on the bubble.”

“It’s really not fun,” agrees Nahnatchka Khan, creator of ABC’s “Don’t Trust the B in Apartment 23,” recently renewed for a second season. “The process is wild and changes every hour. After we got picked up, all the executives told me, ‘Oh it was a no-brainer.’ Really? They didn’t announce (the pickup) until Friday (before upfront week) at 5:30. I just wish there was some system in place for executives to communicate with you. Text me a ‘W’ and I’ll know what that means. It’s pretty nerve-racking.”

Though her show has only been on the air one season, Khan has had to endure three last-minute decisions on it. Fox passed on the show in 2009 before ABC picked up a retooled version last year and renewed it last month. Khan and Katims agree that it’s fruitless to follow every rumor; the best thing is to distract yourself.

“On the Friday when ABC announced, I watched an episode of ‘Downton Abbey.’ I immersed myself in 1920s England and relaxed,” Khan recalls. “But once that first phone call comes (informing you of renewal), the phone doesn’t stop ringing. Everyone calls to congratulate you and you call the cast. So ‘Downton Abbey’ was put on pause. Everyone who was around got together for drinks. It takes about a day to process. You don’t come down until you un-pause ‘Downton Abbey.’ ”

Though he tries to distract himself, Katims knows there’s still business to conduct even before a possible renewal announcement.

“If you hear there’s a question about the show, you send them an email to try to help your case,” he says, adding that he also spends time scouting writers in case his show does get picked up.

His most memorable pickup, Katims says, was when “Friday Night Lights” was renewed for its third season. “That was the most important one for me. (Season two) had been (truncated) because of the writers strike. The idea that it would end without getting to the season finale, let alone getting to write an end to the series, I really didn’t want that to happen. That was an incredibly last-minute thing that happened.”

After seasons of living on the edge, Katims jokes, “My life’s goal is to know we’ve been renewed a month before the day before upfronts.”

Road to the Emmys 2012: The Writer
The audacity of Knope | It’s all-in or nothing for TV’s auteurs | Aging scribes still a sticky subject for TV | Cross-cultural exchange yields hits — and misses | Showrunners can’t wait for pickup lines
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