SHOW RUN­NERS

Los Angeles Times - - THE ENVELOPE - By Stephen Battaglio

Five in­sid­ers’ TV views

Have we grown tired of all the breath­less ref­er­ences to the cur­rent state of tele­vi­sion as a sec­ond Golden Age? Maybe so, but what­ever you want to call it, there is no fa­tigue with the wealth of qual­ity pro­gram­ming that has arisen over the last few years on so many plat­forms — from stream­ing ser­vices such as Net­flix and Ama­zon, to ba­sic ca­ble, to pre­mium ca­ble and, yes, even the resur­gence of net­work se­ries.

And while the mul­ti­tude of plat­forms in­creases the quan­tity of pro­gram­ming, that golden sheen shin­ing so brightly from our screens is largely be­cause of the show run­ners, the ex­ec­u­tive pro­duc­ers who gen­er­ally cre­ate the se­ries and over­see the writ­ing. For this year’s Emmy Round­table, the En­ve­lope in­vited some of the most dis­tin­guished in the busi­ness: Robert King (co-cre­ator with his wife, Michelle, of CBS’ “The Good Wife”), Mark Du­plass (co-cre­ator with his brother, Jay, of HBO’s “To­geth­er­ness”), Jill Soloway (Ama­zon’s “Trans­par­ent”), John Ridley (ABC’s “Amer­i­can Crime”) and Peter Gould (co-cre­ator with Vince Gil­li­gan of AMC’s “Bet­ter Call Saul”) for a con­ver­sa­tion that in­cluded the in­flu­ence of stream­ing, TV ver­sus film and authen­tic­ity in the writ­ing.

Here are edited ex­cerpts from that April con­ver­sa­tion at The Times. Robert, as some­one who is do­ing a se­ries that was con­sid­ered kind of a bou­tique show for CBS, where the bar for rat­ings was much higher, what’s been the ben­e­fit of the new stream­ing and Net­flix, Ama­zon mod­els?

Robert King: CBS has “NCIS,” which has got, like, triple our au­di­ence, and also the de­mo­graphic ques­tion is al­ways very dif­fi­cult for net­work shows. So the very fact that we’re stream­ing, that they make so much money in syn­di­ca­tion with stream­ing on Ama­zon, I think ex­tends the life of the show. Also, cre­atively, it’s given us more free­dom. We don’t get the talk that, “You’ve got to reach out to the younger au­di­ence. You’ve got to do this, you’ve got to do that, or you’re go­ing to be dead in a year.” It re­ally frees us up. We don’t get notes from the net­work any­more. John, you’ve been around tele­vi­sion for a long time — there was a slight side­track into film when you won an Academy Award for “12 Years a Slave” — but this is a very dif­fer­ent sit­u­a­tion than what you’ve seen in the past.

John Ridley: It is, but as you were say­ing, the met­rics have changed and the — I don’t want to say the com­pe­ti­tion has changed, be­cause when all of these spa­ces are mak­ing ev­ery­body el­e­vate their game, it’s not re­ally com­pe­ti­tion. It’s very sup­port­ive. So when folks at the net­work are look­ing at what’s go­ing on in stream­ing, what’s go­ing on in ca­ble and, quite frankly, what’s go­ing on on other broad­cast net­works, and say­ing, “We need to get to a place where it’s not solely about the num­bers but it’s about hav­ing some kind of a cul­tural den­sity,” it’s an amaz­ing ben­e­fit for us. Mark, you come to this from in­de­pen­dent film, and your show, “To­geth­er­ness,” re­ally pre­serves that in­ti­macy that you have in all of your movies. What was the process in adapt­ing that sort of sen­si­bil­ity to episodic tele­vi­sion?

Mark Du­plass: It was pretty seam­less. They knew ex­actly who we were — we had al­ready made about six movies, so we didn’t have to ex­plain it to them. We could just say, “The types of things we make are

[ what we want to make here. Is that what you guys want to do?” And they said, “Yes.” And then, hon­estly, they were help­ful on the growth we had as sto­ry­tellers and the sort of long nar­ra­tive form of deal­ing with four hours of con­tent as op­posed to an hour and a half. They would ring our bell a cou­ple of times and say, “You know what? You’re think­ing like a 90-minute film­maker. You’re try­ing to close this stuff out. Open your world. Put this in and throw more balls in the air.” And they were right most of the time. It was re­ally good.

Jill, you won a Golden Globe for “Trans­par­ent.” It’s re­ally a game changer in terms of sub­ject mat­ter. What do you do to make sure that you’re get­ting it right?

Jill Soloway: When I first came up with the idea, I was re­ally re­spond­ing to what was hap­pen­ing in my life. My own par­ent came out as trans. I had that sort of feel­ing like, “I’ve got to tell this story.” I was re­ally very un­e­d­u­cated about the world of trans folk. If you read the pi­lot, it has the [main char­ac­ter’s] name Mort all the way through, and we never re­ally used Mort again. We started call­ing her Maura be­cause by the time we got to Episode 2, we re­ally un­der­stood that she was Maura and that she had al­ways been Maura since she was born, that Mort had been a per­for­mance she had been do­ing, a cos­tume she had been wear­ing. That was a learn­ing curve for me in Year 1. I mean, un­der­stand­ing the dif­fer­ence be­tween cross­dressers and transwomen, that was a learn­ing curve. We brought in lots of trans peo­ple, con­sul­tants, did all the re­search that we could to re­ally get it right, be­cause we felt that this was go­ing to be the first real por­trayal of a trans per­son in a fam­ily, and we wanted it to be right.

Peter, you were a writer on “Break­ing Bad,” and you cre­ated a break­out char­ac­ter in Saul Goodman. “Bet­ter Call Saul,” though, is a pre­quel. What’s the process of re­verse-en­gi­neer­ing the char­ac­ters?

Peter Gould: We felt we knew who the char­ac­ter was, be­cause we’ve done how­ever many episodes with him as a sup­port-

ing char­ac­ter. And then as we started dig­ging into it, we found out we didn’t know who he was. And part of that was just Saul Goodman per se is a static char­ac­ter. We wanted to feel some­thing for him, we wanted to get un­der his skin, and that meant go­ing back in time. And you bring up an in­ter­est­ing ques­tion, which is if you have a sense of where this char­ac­ter is go­ing al­ready, does that mean that you’ve lost in­ter­est? And I have a the­ory, and I don’t know whether it’s true or not, but it’s my work­ing premise, which is how things hap­pen is more in­ter­est­ing than what hap­pens.

John, you came to tele­vi­sion with this new stature as an Academy Award win-

ner. By the way, where do you keep that Os­car?

Du­plass: Oh, he walked in with it. [Chuck­ling.]

Ridley: I have it on my other charm bracelet that I nor­mally wear, but I just thought it might be in­ap­pro­pri­ate. I started in tele­vi­sion, I was on sit­coms, I was on “Fresh Prince” and “Martin.” And I worked as a nov­el­ist, I worked in film. I’ve al­ways had a de­sire to tell sto­ries, but telling sto­ries in tele­vi­sion re­ally has evolved. So to be in a space now where you can fo­cus on the story that I’m telling, ac­tu­ally see where it’s go­ing but at the same time be dif­fer­ent from film — I think about the things we’d have to rush through to tell “Amer­i­can Crime” in two hours.

Mark, are peo­ple telling you they’re rec­og­niz­ing their sit­u­a­tions in your show?

Du­plass:

Yeah, we def­i­nitely get a lit­tle bit of the, you know, “I feel how hard and how won­der­ful the mar­riage is.” And a friend of mine de­scribes it very well, when he talks about his mar­riage and his chil­dren, he says, “It’s 51% worth it.” And I think it’s a very apt de­scrip­tion, and we find a lot of peo­ple kind of feel sim­i­larly. But for my­self and for Jay and our group of friends, it seems to be … I don’t know if it’s the right word, but there’s a sweet­ness in which we ap­proach it. That was some­thing I hadn’t seen yet nec­es­sar­ily in in-depth re­la­tion­ship stud­ies, was that sense of sweet­ness that can be there.

So right around the time that we’re do­ing this, the news has come out that Net­flix is re­mak­ing “Full House.” Now, to me, when I heard that news, I said, “Well, OK, the sec­ond Golden Age of tele­vi­sion is of­fi­cially dead.”

[Chuck­ling.]

Soloway: It jumped the Sta­mos.

To me, this says that the re­sources that have been given to very cre­ative peo­ple are now go­ing to com­pete with sort of an old-style, low­est-com­mon-de­nom­i­na­tor tele­vi­sion. Is that some­thing that con­cerns any­body, or is there room for ev­ery­thing?

King: It’s room for ev­ery­thing. I mean, ev­ery­body thought the death of it would be “The Walk­ing Dead” do­ing so well, be­cause then ca­ble would just go af­ter genre-es­que ma­te­rial. But the pool is so large and ev­ery­body’s jump­ing in. Ev­ery­body I know from fea­tures is div­ing in, and they’re com­ing in with good ideas. The best ideas should rise to the top. Yes, there’ll be junk be­cause — or, I’m sorry, “Full House” might be the best “Fuller House” ever.

Soloway: Robert King calls “Full House” junk. That’s go­ing to be the …

Ridley: ... the only take-away from this whole thing.

Du­plass: I’m thank­ful for it to a cer­tain de­gree. I mean, this is a lit­tle bit of a dif­fer­ent thing, but my brother and I are in busi­ness with Net­flix. They com­mis­sioned us to make four orig­i­nal —

Soloway: Clearly they’ll buy any­thing. [Laugh­ter.]

Du­plass: They signed Adam San­dler to do four huge, like, $80-mil­lion movies, right? And then that makes them very, very pop­u­lar and makes them lots of money es­sen­tially. To a cer­tain de­gree, it sub­si­dizes their abil­ity to make four weird in­de­pen­dent films with us. So their ar­rival in that space, I’m very ex­cited about that.

Kirk McKoy Los An­ge­les Times

DIS­SECT­ING TV’s cur­rent Golden Age are, from left, show run­ners Robert King, Peter Gould, John Ridley, Jill Soloway and Mark Du­plass.

Kirk McKoy Los An­ge­les Times

ROBERT KING, left, Peter Gould, Jill Soloway, John Ridley and Mark Du­plass.

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