Remote Controlled: Ron Howard and Brian Grazer on Making Hit TV Shows, What’s Next for NatGeo’s ‘Genius’

Debra Birnbaum, Ron Howard and Brian

Welcome to “Remote Controlled,” a podcast from Variety featuring the best and brightest in television, both in front and behind the camera.

On this week’s episode, Imagine Entertainment’s Brian Grazer and Ron Howard discussed their latest TV projects — how they come up with their ideas, what inspires them, and why they’re enjoying the boom in television.

In the first half of the podcast, mega-producer Grazer — who’s behind multiple TV projects, including “Empire,” “Shots Fired,” “24: Legacy,” and “Genius” — discussed the genesis behind all of these ideas.

“I just loved the show,” says Grazer of the decision to reboot “24.” “It was not only a well-told story that had urgency and a new style that was 24 hours in real-time, but it was an empowerment vehicle. A way that we, as Americans, could feel that someone was creating justice. Oddly enough, because of its prescience, those things occurred in many different ways.”

As for limited series “Shots Fired,” which debuted recently on Fox, “Even though it does involve violence and it does have a lot of unpredictability and propulsion, it’s reflecting what goes on in parts of our country,” Grazer said. “If you take responsibility, and you do a show like this, it becomes a cautionary tale. It’s a way for us to actually see it, experience it, and also decide we’re going to take the choice of greater humanity.”

Grazer discussed what he looks for when he’s deciding which projects he greenlights. “I like to tell stories which intersect with or reflect what’s going on in our culture,” said Grazer. “To me, it becomes an equation that I’m trying to prove, like a hypothesis.”

“If it’s character-driven, I immediately want to do it for television,” he said. “If it’s story-driven, which means there’s a story and it has an end point, normally we’ll make that into a movie.” But he admits he chooses TV more often than movies. “It feels more democratized,” he says. “It feels more personal. I can put more of myself into the fabric of a television show.”

In the second half of the podcast, Grazer’s partner at Imagine, Howard, weighed on one of their other high-priority projects, NatGeo’s new scripted series “Genius.”

Howard said television provided the perfect platform to tell the story of Albert Einstein, what he calls a fascinating character study opportunity. “This is the opportunity to really dissect the man,” he said. “To do what Walter Isaacson’s book does, to give context. To understand not only the triumphs, but also the struggles and barriers.”

The series shows a side of Einstein we really haven’t seen. “One of the surprises was what a ladies’ man he was throughout his life,” said Howard, describing him as more of a “bohemian author than a rigid, disciplined scientist.”

You can listen to this week’s episode here:

New episodes of Remote Controlled are available every Friday.