Welcome to “Remote Controlled,” a podcast from Variety featuring the best and brightest in television, both in front of and behind the camera.
In today’s episode, Variety’s executive editor of TV Debra Birnbaum talks with Peter Morgan, the creator of Netflix’s Emmy-nominated drama “The Crown,” as well as Dolly Parton, whose “Christmas of Many Colors” is also competing in the Emmy race for TV movie.
First up, Morgan talks about “The Crown,” which earned a heap of critical praise — including 13 Emmy nominations. But Morgan admits he’s “out of sync” with the audience’s response to the show. “For the most part, I operate in a news blackout, because what’s going on politically in this country and my country is so depressing,” he says. “I’ve tried pulling back from news websites. And that means I’m pulling back from critics, and I’m not really engaging with what’s been written about me, or the show or anything else. I’m spending a lot more time reading non-fiction about the period I’m writing about, and that seems to be a good way to conduct my life.”
When he does emerge from his self-imposed blackout, he jokes, “I feel like I’ve been exposed to radiation, and I retreat to my comforting Edwardian world in the 1950s.”
He says he appreciated that Netflix was as good as their word in their promise of creative freedom. “There is slightly a promised land, except that I feel a greater sense of responsibility perhaps,” he says. “I recognize that this is a golden opportunity, and I think writers and directors have yearned for and fought for this level of autonomy. So that when you actually get it, I feel a sense of collective responsibility. I feel the weight of my colleagues on my shoulders. Because if I overspend and get it wrong … [If I] make a show and don’t get it right, they’ll want to interfere more to secure their own investment. And I want to show that artists can be trusted. Financially and creatively.”
In the second season, which will premiere on Dec. 8, he reveals the drama will further explore the strains on Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip’s union. “The story of the second season is a marriage that’s into its tenth year,” he says. “And that’s a very different marriage. Anyone who’s been married will tell you it’s a whole different set of problems and issues.” And then there’s also plenty of drama to mine her relationship to the job and the country, including the Prime Minister. “It’s just a fact that a superstar like Winston Churchill was followed by mustachioed men who bear an unhelpful physical resemblance to another … both of whom have not survived in the greatest hits of British prime ministers,” he says. “You don’t have a John Lithgow explosion.” Over the course of her reign, he points out, Elizabeth has outlasted 13 prime ministers.
Instead, he says, Princess Margaret (played by Vanessa Kirby) has become the “superstar” of the second season, since she has finally found someone she wants to marry.
Morgan says he would love to have a character like Tony Soprano, who could behave in any number of unpredictable ways, but still be true to himself. “I would not be doing ‘The Crown’ if ‘The Sopranos’ had not happened,” he says. “I was besides myself.” But his Elizabeth (Claire Foy) is a very different kind of character. “It’s her absence of volatility that defines her,” he says. “She’s an unremarkable woman with a remarkable achievement of stability or invisibility. These are not the qualities you immediately think of for your protagonist in long-running television. You think, Christ, give me someone who reaches for a gun!”
As for the inevitable question about what the real Queen would think of “The Crown,” Morgan says he hopes she hasn’t seen it. “She’s 970 years old. Why on earth would she know what Netflix is and why would she care?” he says. “That’s why I slightly hope that she hasn’t seen it. I hope she’s got better things to do. I’m sure she has.”
In the second half of the podcast, Parton opens up about “Christmas of Many Colors,” the only contender in the TV movie race from a broadcast network. She also plays a small role in the project as the “town tramp,” a woman who she admits she patterned her own look after.
“This one means a lot because it’s about my family,” she says. “It was a way to show my good people to the world, and the fact that it did so well and people related to it was a nice Christmas present.”
She credits the show’s success to these trying times. “I think people are missing, in this day and time, family, faith-based shows,” Parton says. “I think people are missing that now that there’s so much craziness in the world.”
She says people are connecting to her TV movies — including the first “Coat of Many Colors” — because they relate to her success story. “I feel like I’m a favorite aunt or a big sister, they’ve heard me tell these stories,” she says. “I represent that Cinderella, rags-to-riches story, that you can come from anywhere and be successful. That’s what dreams are about, and that’s what living in America has always been about.”
You can listen to today’s episode here:
New episodes of “Remote Controlled” are available every Friday, and you can find past episodes here.