TV’s Top Offices: Where the Showrunners of 'Mad Men,' 'New Girl,' 'Sons of Anarchy,' Work and Play
10:02 AM PDT 5/3/2012 by Lacey Rose
Cookie-cutter work spaces? Not for these five behind-the-scenes show creators, whose private spaces reveal peeks into their psyches (Kurt Sutter’s real angry bird) and kooky passions (Elizabeth Meriwether loves "Law & Order: SVU"?)
"It's sad, but I live here," says Meriwether of her office on the 20th Century Fox lot. The single, 30-year-old creator of the Fox breakout freshman comedy New Girl keeps a sleeping bag by her desk, which the still-green writer-producer admits she uses more than is healthy. For Christmas, the showrunners on her Zooey Deschanel star vehicle, Dave Finkel and Brett Baer, presented Meriwether with a supply of pajamas and extra clothes, so at least she's prepared for a sleepover.
A 30th birthday present from a New Girl producer, who Photoshopped Meriwether’s face onto a series of cast shots from Law & Order: SVU. “I’m a huge fan,” she says of the long-running NBC procedural.
The rest of the space is filled with gifts (a framed copy of her company's Post-it note logo), goofy odds and ends (a Justin Bieber toothbrush) and several boxes of Girl Scout cookies. Deadpans the Yale graduate in a self-deprecating tone reminiscent of New Girl's central character, "I started out acting, but then I decided to eat."
Beside a pile of annotated scripts, Meriwether keeps a mug featuring staff writer Josh Malmuth’s bar mitzvah photo. She laughs, “He made the mistake of telling us that his bar mitzvah theme was jazz, and we made him suffer for it all year.”
Show: FX's Sons of Anarchy
Most people would bury deep in a drawer any history of a written reprimand from HR. Not Sutter, who proudly displays a "hostile work environment" claim from Fox -- in response to an angry e-mail he fired off -- framed on his wall. Indeed, the Sons of Anarchy creator has a North Hollywood work space as deliciously twisted as his Twitter feed: A collection of skulls and "anarchy" dolls adorn the room, death- and evil-themed books line the shelves, and there is often a chirping bird seated on the producer's desk.
The framed letter, which Sutter says is “near and dear” to his heart, is a hostile-work-environment claim filed by 20th Century Fox TV for a nasty e-mail he sent: “It’s a reminder of the consequences of my own actions.”
"I had canaries that didn't do very well, so I upgraded to a cockatiel," jokes Sutter, 48, who recently inked a lucrative overall deal with 20th Century Fox TV, of his workday pet. "This bird is like one of my f--in' kids. It's hard for me to talk to people because he doesn't like me focusing on anybody but him."
Since he launched his FX series in 2008, Sutter has received a series of anarchy dolls from various friends. They share office space with a windup angry nun he has kept from his days on The Shield.
Show: AMC's Mad Men
"It feels like a professor's office," says Weiner, 46, of his tchotchke-filled office in downtown Los Angeles. Behind the Mad Men creator's desk, at which a writer's assistant sits when Weiner is penning scripts (he prefers the couch), is a collection of mementos. Among them: artwork from his four boys, a Sterling Cooper floor plan and particularly meaningful pages from Mad Men scripts
On Weiner’s desk sits an unlicensed Don Draper bobblehead, which was given to him by a fan. “We have a very strange relationship with merchandising,” he acknowledges, explaining the difficulties of having two corporate entities involved: “Because AMC and Lionsgate share it, and I approve it, things are generated by the fans faster than anybody can act.”
In addition to an album of his favorite fortune-cookie fortunes, Weiner keeps a fortune cookie box his oldest son, Marten, gave to him ahead of Mad Men’s launch. Inside is Marten’s hand-written fortune for his father, which reads, “Your dreams for work will go higher than expectation could be.” The lucky numbers are 7-19-2007, the series’ premiere date.
After the new Mrs. Draper performed a rendition of “Zou Bisou Bisou” during Mad Men’s top-rated season-five premiere, Lionsgate’s music division made it available on iTunes and in limited-edition vinyl. “We tried to make it look like
an album from the period,” says Weiner of the latter, adding, “I just love it.”
Shows: Gossip Girl, Hart of Dixie
Schwartz recalls being in his Warners office when it was occupied by The West Wing producer Thomas Schlamme. "The bookcase was lined with Emmys then," he sighs, adding, "I haven't brought any Emmys here, but I do have a Stormtrooper helmet and a gumball machine." What Schwartz's shows -- The O.C., Chuck, Gossip Girl -- have lacked in Emmy acclaim, they have more than made up for in pop-culture status, as evidenced by the magazine covers and Teen Choice Awards on display.
The official Stormtrooper helmet was a present from Lucasfilm after George Lucas appeared as himself in an episode of The O.C. Jokes Schwartz, "I wear it to intimidate people in budget meetings."
Schwartz, 35, got his first recognition for writing at age 7, when he won a camp contest for his review of Gremlins: "Most kids wrote, 'I love sailing,' or, 'Soccer is neat.' The opening line of my essay was, 'Spielberg has done it again.' "
The bulletin board, which hangs between Savage’s and Schwartz’s offices, features shots of Schwartz’s daughter, Stella; the Cohen family’s Chrismukkah card from The O.C.; and speeding tickets Savage’s assistant has racked up on the WB lot (speed limit: 8 mph).
Shows: The CW's Gossip Girl, Hart of Dixie
Savage's office on the Warner Bros. lot is a tribute to what she and longtime producing partner Josh Schwartz have built. Historically, the duo, who met on The O.C. and maintain separate work spaces, has been somewhat superstitious about laying down roots. "If you were on the set of our movie Fun Size this summer, you would have seen my office had a binder, a calculator and a Diet Coke in it, and that was it," jokes the single Canada native, 42.
Gossip Girl’s pilot casting director, David Rapaport, gave Savage the Jonathan Adler pillows as a gift. They share corner space with the Teen Choice Award surfboards that mark four consecutive wins as choice TV drama show.
In addition to furniture from Savage and Schwartz's past, the office, which she has had for about two years, features a framed call sheet from Gossip Girl's Paris episode, a proclamation from New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg declaring Jan. 26, 2012, as Gossip Girl Day and a rejected "borderline pornography" Gossip Girl ad. Laughs Savage, "This was the one poster the network decided was too edgy."
A page devoted to the concept for Gossip Girl’s Blair Waldorf character from the scrapbook Savage and Schwartz used to pitch the show years earlier. “There are pages for each character,” says Savage, who also keeps a tongue-in-cheek Gossip Girl ’zine executive producer Joshua Safran made as holiday gifts for the show’s staff.