‘Homeland’ Co-Creator Alex Gansa Recalls Early Days at TriStar

Alex Gansa First Time in Variety
Caroline Andrieu for Variety

Long before Jack Bauer raced against the clock to save the country in “24,” and CIA operations officer Carrie Mathison ever met soldier-turned-terrorist Nicholas Brody in “Homeland,” writer-director Alex Gansa — who now has two primetime Emmys to his credit — was banging his head against the wall of his TriStar office, trying to come up with an idea, any idea, for a decent TV show.

What was your life like when you first appeared in Variety?

Howard (Gordon) and I had just come off “Beauty and the Beast,” and we had written a pilot for Witt Thomas, which we shot and was pretty much a disaster. We were very young — we were in our mid-20s — and it all just came to us too quickly at the beginning. We made all the routine mistakes you could possibly make. And so we were going to get back in the development game, hopefully having learned some lessons from the failed pilot.

What was your reaction when you saw your name in print?

It is such a blur, that whole time. Looking back on it now and looking back on my name in that context, it does bring me back to that time in a powerful way. I remember the energy and enthusiasm of youth, and just getting started in
the business.

Who were some of your mentors back then?

People like John Wilder, who gave us our first job on “Spenser for Hire,” and Ron Koslow, who gave us our first staff job on “Beauty and the Beast,” and Chris Carter who hired us onto “The X-Files.” These were the people who were seminal figures in our lives, and without whom we never would have had a career.

What lessons have you learned?

Work hard and be nice to people. It sounds kind of trite, but it is really something to live by. The stress and anxiety that come with this job lead to a lot of bad behavior, and those two things are really something to try to adhere to as you move through a career that has its highs and lows, and finds you managing people and being managed by people. Also, work harder than everybody else.

What advice would you give to others starting out?

To be successful at anything, you have to become a student of that thing first. If you want to be a television writer, you have to become a student of the great television writers, and you have to immerse yourself in the work, and study it as you would a novel or a poem. Read every great thing you can get your hands on.

What has been your favorite mention in Variety?

That is a no-brainer. It was the Variety article that happened after “Homeland” won the Emmy for best drama. Nothing compared to seeing those pictures up there.

If you could pick your next story in Variety, what would it be about?

If I could choose the next article to read that I was included in, it would be an article about the writing staff of “Homeland” because all these people — Alex Cary, Chip Johannessen, Meredith Stiehm, Patrick Harbinson, the late Henry Bromell — this has been the most blessed time of my career. All those people have become great friends. It has been such a special time with them and when you read about shows, those people tend not to get as much credit as they deserve. Everybody on the writing staff of “Homeland” has contributed so significantly to the show that I would like to read an article that spreads the wealth around.