THR's Top 50 Showrunners 2012

8:01 AM 10/3/2012

by THR Staff

TV's most influential writer-producers come clean about the credits they'd like scrubbed from their résumés, their most absurd notes from execs, their television mentors and the ways they cure writer's block.


Murphy Brown
's Diane English. M*A*S*H's Larry Gelbart. The Dick Van Dyke Show's Carl Reiner. Cheers' Glen and Les Charles. All in the Family's Normal Lear. Had THR's annual celebration of television's most powerful creative minds been around during their heyday, these classic giants of the business no doubt would have topped the list. Like the 50 groups featured on the following 10 pages, their mentors and icons challenged the norms and mores of their time while perpetuating the unwavering belief that TV is more than an American pasttime -- it's the lens through which we interpret our culture and ourselves.

Writing and producing comedies and dramas also happens to be one of the nuttiest professions in showbiz, as evidenced by the very honest and often hilarious responses THR's editors and reporters gathered from the men and women who most impacted the medium this year.

From their obsessive rituals (Peppermint Patties! Oatmeal! Bruce Springsteen!) to the parts of their jobs they hate most (picking where to eat lunch, answering e-mail) to the industry figures they most idolize (see the list above, and then some), these showrunners share and embody the quirky candor and humility necessary to churn out the most entertaining, groundbreaking and so-good-we-actually-watch-it-live television.

METHODOLOGY: Selections for The Hollywood Reporter's fifth annual list of the top showrunners are based on the following criteria: 

1. Direct responsibility for the day-to-day creative output of a scripted TV show that has aired for at least one full season (unless he or she also had another show on the air). 
2. How prolific the showrunner is: Those with more shows on the air were more likely to be included. 
3. Nielsen ratings, especially relative to other shows on the same network. 
4. Emmy attention and critical praise. 
5.
 Professionalism and reputation among studio and network executives.


Edited by Stacey Wilson; Profiles written by Tim Appelo, Lesley Goldberg, Marisa Guthrie, Philiana Ng, Michael O'Connell and Lacey Rose

Full List
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  • Comedy
  • Salim and Mara Brock Akil

    The Game (BET)

    The show that inspired me to write:
    Salim: The Honeymooners.
    Mara: A Different World.

    My big break:
    Salim: Writing for Showtime’s Soul Food.
    Mara: Writer’s trainee on the Fox series South Central.

    My proudest accomplishment this year:
    Salim: Our overall deal with BET.
    Mara: My first writing credit for a film, Sparkle, which was directed by Salim and produced by Akil Productions.

    I’d rather delegate:
    Salim: Making the coffee.
    Mara: Firing, until I realized that people fire themselves.

    How I break through writer’s block:
    Salim: I drive back to Oakland.
    Mara: Sex with Salim.

    If I could add any writer to our staff, it would be:
    Salim: NYU professor Donald Bogle.
    Mara: Ebony magazine editor in chief Amy Barnett.

    STORY: Hollywood's Undercover Hitmakers: Salim and Mara Brock Akil

    The show I'm embarrassed to admit I watch:
    Salim: Flipping Out on Bravo.
    Mara: SpongeBob SquarePants.

    The three things I need in order to write:
    Salim: San Pellegrino, a full tank of gas and Miles Davis.
    Mara: A Paper Mate Sharpwriter mechanical pencil, an empty e-mail inbox and Fat Uncle Farms coconut almonds.

    If I could scrub one job from my résumé, it would be:
    Salim: Mortuary attendant.
    Mara: Temp worker.

  • Blake Anderson, Adam Devine, Anders Holm, Kyle Newachek and Kevin Etten

    Workaholics (Comedy Central)

    The show that inspired me to write:  
    Anderson: Probably Saturday Night Live. I think sketch writing is a good spot for everyone to start because it requires you to develop characters, have a beginning, middle and end and have a bunch of jokes in a short amount of time.
    Holm: It was actually the movie Rushmore that made me first realize that i could try writing, but Cheers is the best show ever. The writers on that show created a relationship that writers today still fail to rip off successfully, the Sam and Diane.

    My big break:
    Anderson: I'd say writing down pizza delivery orders but I'm not sure if everyone considers that as "major" of a writing job as I do, so I'm gonna go with Workaholics.
    Holm: My first major writing job was Workaholics. My only writing job ever is Workaholics.

    My TV mentor:
    Anderson: The Original Gnar Dog of Comedy, Kevin Etten. I mean the dude can riff, and I've seen him cry.
    Holm: I had the pleasure of working for Hart Hanson as the writers' assistant on the Fox show Bones. He was always willing to take five minutes in the kitchen and answer questions I had about writing and the business. Looking back now, I realize he might have just been politely waiting for the coffee to brew.  

    My proudest accomplishment this year:
    Anderson: Being able to honestly say that I think Workaholics is one of the funniest shows currently on TV.
    Holm: Well, I got married to an amazing woman, but you guys don't care about that, so I'm really pleased with the last season of Workaholics. It's been a lot of fun to hang out with my friends and create innovative ways to describe erections.

    My toughest scene to write this year:
    Anderson: The scene in the episode “Ders Comes in Handy” when Adam ends up hanging himself out front of Montez's house. For the longest time we had that as some fight scene with Montez's wife and we kept beating ourselves over the head thinking that it had already been done. You find yourself lying in bed, driving in the car, tossing tons of scenarios in your head and when we came up with the hanging thing it was like, "Yes!" It's like solving a math problem. And that scene ending up being one of my favorites.

    The most absurd note I've ever gotten:
    Anderson: "I don't know, it seems kinda gay."
    Holm: The network is usually pretty lax, but it's always funny to me, when legal suggests replacements for words we can't say like "jizz" or "p****." They're always grosser, like, "how about 'snake snot' and 'lady hole'?" Nah. Stay lawyering, guys.

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    The aspect of my job as showrunner that I'd rather delegate:
    Holm: I never watch dailies, but i do think that someone should ... make sure production is going according to plan. Being that I'm acting on the show and I'm in the dailies, I could get lost watching me for hours. That can't be good for anyone.

    My preferred method for breaking through writer's block:
    Anderson: Beer helps. Watching cartoons does too.
    Holm: I'm not patient at all. I avoid writer's block by writing. I power through with a bad version, so i can move on and usually once I've gotten to the next scene, I'll discover what was missing from the bad version scene. Then I can easily rewrite it to get back on the right path. Also, tracking my iPhone 5's travel route from China was a fun diversion when ideas weren't flowing. My phone's been to Anchorage. I haven't. That's cool to me.

    If I could add any one writer to your staff, it would it be:
    AndersonJim Starlin. I'd like to see you guys get a little more cosmic.
    Holm: I would add Mitch Hurwitz. We had him guest star as an actor in season two and he's a mad man. Funniest human alive. I think his humor is a little different than our show, but I'm pretty sure he'd be a riot to have in the room.

    The show I'm embarrassed to admit I watch:
    Anderson: I've been making up for lost time with Jem lately.
    Holm: I'm not embarrassed to watch anything on TV. That said, I have gotten shit from people for loving The New Adventures of Old Christine, American Idol (Simon Cowell seasons), Project Runway, Wings and Enlightened (I had the last laugh with that one). So it's out there. I like these shows.

    The three things I need in order to write:
    Anderson: String cheese and background jazz.
    Holm: I need a white board, every Beastie Boys album ever on my computer and a tight outline.

    If I could scrub one credit from your resume, it would be:
    Anderson: Even terrible stuff becomes great when given enough time ... no regrets yet.
    Holm: Resume? I wish I had a resume. And if I did, I wouldn't scrub anything from it. Who cares?

  • Carter Bays and Craig Thomas

    How I Met Your Mother (CBS)

    From their obsessive rituals (Peppermint Patties! Oatmeal! Bruce Springsteen!) to the parts of their jobs they hate most (killing characters off, dealing with agents), TV's most influential writer-producers featured on The Hollywood Reporter's annual list of the Top 50 Showrunners come clean about the people, things and quirky habits that keep them -- and their shows -- alive. 

    Carter Bays and Craig Thomas, How I Met Your Mother (CBS)

    The show that inspired me to write: 
    Bays: I think it might be either The Fresh Prince of Bel Air or The State. Both were written by guys who had gone to my high school -- Andy Borowitz and David Wain, respectively -- and they made it seem realistic that a kid from a suburb of Cleveland could end up making a TV show.
    Thomas: Cheers and the old Late Night With David Letterman on NBC. But I think the fact that my father was an advertising writer (Tom Thomas, responsible for Foster's "Australian for Beer" campaign, among many others) was equally huge for me. Seeing him get paid to make stuff up, I thought, "Wait, that's not a real job -- this bastard's getting away with murder! I wanna do that, too!"

    My first big break:
    Bays and Thomas: Writing for The Late Show With David Letterman.

    My TV mentor:
    Bays: There've been a few, but at the top of the list I think is [HIMYM director] Pam Fryman. She's kind of the definition of role model, in every way imaginable.
    Thomas: A wonderful TV writer named Rob Greenberg was paired up with 29-year-old me and Carter as we made the How I Met Your Mother pilot. We were initially concerned that this guy we'd never met might come in and try to take over. Instead, Rob was the strongest voice of, "Make the pilot you want to make, stick to your vision no matter what." He gave us courage when things felt tough.

    My proudest accomplishment this year:
    BaysWhen my wife was pregnant with our daughter, I went with her to every single one of her OB/GYN appointments.
    Thomas: I also went to every single one of Carter's wife's OB/GYN appointments.

    My toughest scene to write this past year:
    BaysThe first scene of a pilot is a bottomless pit into which you have to throw draft after draft until you get it right. And that was definitely the case with [Fox midseason comedy] The Goodwin Games.
    Thomas: The opening of a HIMYM episode where Marshall [Jason Segel] is telling the whole story to his father's tombstone. Not to suggest that a snowy graveyard in Minnesota doesn't immediately scream "hilarity," but I remember feeling like, "Wow, if the opening scene doesn't set the tone that it's OK to laugh, we are screwed!"

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    The most absurd note I've ever gotten:
    BaysWe once got a note on an episode of How I Met Your Mother the day after it aired.
    Thomas: We once got a note on a comedy screenplay from a features agent who said we shouldn't set a particular part of the story in Mexico, but instead Cuba, because "Cuba is hot right now." (He was referring to the 2000 immigration/custody controversy around 7-year-old Cuban boy, Elian Gonzalez.)

    The aspect of my job as showrunner that I'd rather delegate is:
    Bays: Consuming 4,000 calories of craft service every day. I'd love for someone else to do that.
    Thomas: Lying awake at 3 a.m. thinking, "Did we word that penis joke properly?  Should we have ended on the word 'dong?'"

    My preferred method for breaking through writer's block:
    BaysWork on something else. Luckily, when you run a show, at any given moment you have eight scripts to worry about. So if one of them has you stumped, there's always seven others that could use your attention.
    Thomas: Sadly, lying awake at 3 a.m. until something sparks. And then you still can't get to sleep, because now you're all jazzed up about this great idea.  Which will turn out the next day to be total crap.

    If I could add any one writer to our staff, it would be:
    Bays: Tina Fey.
    Thomas:  Nora Ephron.

    The show I'm embarrassed to admit I watch:
    BaysMy wife and I got way into Miss Advised on Bravo. I say this sincerely: if you strung all the episodes together, converted them to black and white, changed the soundtrack to some experimental chamber music, and showed the finished product in a movie theater, it would be hailed as a bleak, existential masterpiece, mapping the unrelenting self-sabotage of the human heart, and it would win the Palm D'Or.
    Thomas: I'm not embarrassed to admit I watch Deadliest Catch religiously, but I'm embarrassed by a mental comparison I make while watching. Seeing the pressure the crab captains are under -- deadlines, managing a staff of big personalities, steering a ship worth millions -- reminds me of being a showrunner. Now, if those crab captains heard that a comedy writer sitting at his cushy computer in L.A. was equating his "high pressure" job with theirs, they would chop me up and use me as chum.     

    PHOTOS: Broadcast TV's Returning Shows for 2012-13 Season

    The three things I need in order to write:
    BaysCoffee, a computer, and most importantly no Internet connection.
    Thomas: A desk, a door that locks and a deadline.   

    If I could scrub one credit from your résumé, it would be:
    BaysTo borrow the line from Alan Ball, I can't feel anything but gratitude for every single moment of my stupid little career. But Quintuplets was pretty rough.
    Thomas: We freelanced one episode of the short-lived Method and Red on Fox. I mean, no we didn't.

  • David Caspe, Jonathan Groff and Josh Bycel

    Happy Endings (ABC)

    My TV mentor:
    Caspe: Happy Endings was my first experience with TV, so I've been in this weird position of being the boss, while still trying to learn everything I can from everyone else. It's sort of a mentorship by a committee of people who were probably all very annoyed with me for not knowing how to do shit along the way.
    Groff: I've never been as good as I should be at getting mentored, but I think the culture of Conan O'Brien mentored me. Conan is such a funny writer; I learned how to pack more comedic value in my writing just by being there.
    Bycel: Even though I only worked for him for a year, it would definitely be Bill Lawrence. The way he knows how to handle the actors, the studio, the network and everyone... he’s the best I’ve ever seen at it. He can come in and give notes for 20 minutes and help you fix a story.

    The show that inspired me to write:
    Bycel: Cheers and MASH were both big, seminal shows for me, even as a little kid. Cheers was really the show for me that was my all time favorite show just in terms of character development and funny stories. There were like eight or nine funny people on that show.

    My toughest scene to write this year:
    Caspe: All of the love triangle stuff has been hard to manage, because we are a comedy. We're not very soapy. We have our heart moments and real relationships, but wherever we get into that weird area of one friend being interested in another friend's old boyfriend, it's tough to write. You don't want anyone to be a shitty friend. We have to play that story very light.

    My big break:
    Groff: My first job in television writing was The Jon Stewart Show, and I was fired after week. We all went out to dinner to celebrate the wrap of the first cycle of shows and then I was fired the next day.

    The most absurd note I’ve ever gotten:
    Caspe: The very first note I ever got in Hollywood, for a feature I won’t name, was “Is there any way there could be more kicks in the balls?”
    Groff: I had a pitch that I developed with the working title American Feud. It was basically a modern-day Hatfields and McCoys. After hearing about this feud that had been going on for 100 years and all of the people who had died, the executive who heard the pitch said, "OK, where's the conflict?"
    Bycel: My first show was Veronica’s Closet. Towards the end we were doing this thing where Dan Cortese and Kirstie Alley were hooking up. We had a joke where she was trying to figure out something dirty to say to him, but she was bad at it so she said, “I want to put a dry-cleaning bag over your head and punch you in the stomach." I remember NBC saying, “We do a lot of business with the dry cleaning industry. Can you please change this joke.” I’ve never seen a dry cleaning ad on network television.

    PHOTOS: Broadcast TV's Returning Shows for 2012-13 Season

    The aspect of my job as showrunner that I'd rather delegate:
    Groff: Just being in charge of recycling seems really hard, having to separate the plastic and the glass. Isn't there someone on the lot who can do that?

    If I could add any writer to my staff, it would it be:
    Caspe: Bruce Springsteen. I think he’d bring something really great to the show, and we’d get to hang out. I think it would be pretty great for both of us, actually.
    Groff: The guy who wrote The Book of Mormon -- not the Broadway show, the actual golden tablets. I would love to see those. Anybody who can go from zero to what they've done in a 100-some years is really impressive. That religion was founded in 1830. It's really impressive.
    Bycel: Probably Gail Lerner -- but our writer’s assistant, Jason Berger, is writing a script this year and said that he would pay me 50 bucks if I said him. So I would say Gail Lerner or Jason Berger.

    The show I’m embarrassed to admit I watch:
    Bycel: I am not embarrassed at all to watch this show, but the show that I love that I did not think I would love is Revenge. We love that show on the staff. I don’t think Adam Pally has actually watched it, but he gets a lot of Revenge jokes on the show. I think we even put one in again this year.

  • Louis C.K.

    Louie (FX)

    EDITOR'S NOTE: C.K. was unavailable to participate in THR’s showrunners survey. Normally we’d be annoyed by this, but it’s Louis, and he just won two Emmys, so we’re going to let it slide. This time.

  • David Crane and Jeffrey Klarik

    Episodes (Showtime)

    What was the TV show that made you want to become a writer?
    Crane:The Dick Van Dyke Show. It looked like the best job ever. (Turns out it actually is.)
    Klarik:That Girl. When I was a kid, I wanted to be That Girl. I even wrote a spec script for it and sent it to Sam Denoff. (Of course, this was before I even knew what a "spec script" was.)  Amazingly, he wrote back with encouragement. Changed my life.

    What was your first major writing job?
    Crane: Dream On, HBO.
    Klarik: Dream On, HBO.

    Who was/is your TV mentor?
    Klarik: The voice in my head.
    Crane: I'm more concerned about Jeffrey's answer.

    THR's Top 50 Showrunners 2012 -- the Complete List

    What is your proudest accomplishment in the last year?
    Klarik: Changing people's perception of Matt LeBlanc.
    Crane: Our nomination for a Writers Guild award for Episodes. In 25 years, I've never gotten one. Meant a lot.

    What was your toughest scene to write this past year, and why?
    Klarik: The giant fight scene in the second season finale. There were 13 speaking characters and multiple story lines to tie up. It was like trying to pack for an around-the-world trip in an overnight bag.
    Crane: All of the Pucks! scenes (the show-within-a-show) in Episodes. I don't know how to be funny when I don't care about the characters.

    What is the funniest/most absurd note you've ever gotten from a network exec?
    Crane: Years ago, Marta Kauffman and I pitched a show about a hotel in outer space. The note: "Does it have to be in outer space?"
    Klarik: I did a pilot about a girls boarding school called BS. The network bought the pitch, saw multiple drafts of the script, watched several cuts of the pilot, approved the credits, and the night we were locking it, they called to say: "BS?? You can't call a show BS!"

    What is one aspect of your job as showrunner that you'd rather delegate?
    Crane: Wardrobe, hair, makeup, all the financial stuff. Do I have to pick just one?
    Klarik:I'd rather not delegate any of it. I don't play well with others.

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    What is your preferred method for breaking through writer's block?
    Klarik: Walk away.
    Crane: Go on a hike. (It's like walking away, with sweating.)

    If you could add any one writer to your staff, who would it be?
    Crane: Buddy Sorrell.
    Klarik: Louis C.K. Then I'd just go away and let him do it all a lot better.

    What is the show you're embarrassed to admit you watch?
    Klarik: None. I have no shame.
    Crane: A slew of reality shows. If someone's getting eliminated, I'm there.

    What are the three things you need in order to write?
    Klarik: Fear, pressure, room to pace.
    Crane: Panic, doubt, a really strong partner. (I've always been lucky enough to have all three.)

    If you could scrub one credit from your resume, what would it be?
    Klarik: None of them. Like I said, I have no shame.
    Crane: Everything's Relative. The first freelance script Marta and I sold. They rewrote every word except "decaf."

  • Lena Dunham and Jenni Konner

    Girls (HBO)

    This story first appeared in the Oct. 12 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

    "Hey Lena?" "Yes, baby." "Am I wandering, or should I make a beeline?" Allison Williams, who plays anal-retentive pretty girl Marnie on Lena Dunham's black comedy Girls, is filming a scene with Christopher Abbott (he plays Marnie's on-again/off-again underappreciated beau Charlie, whom last season Marnie accused of actually having a vagina). Dunham, who is directing this episode -- the penultimate in the show's 10-episode second season set to bow in January -- sits behind a monitor with co-showrunner/executive producer Jenni Konner and script supervisor Kim DeLise.

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    "I think a sort of slow beeline," answers Dunham.

    It's a sweltering mid-August afternoon in New York, and today's shoot is, mercifully, indoors, with the airy eighth-floor digs of media arts company thelab standing in for the offices of Charlie's startup. In a converted warehouse on West 27th on the far west side of Manhattan, the space is industrial cool and dot-com chic: brick walls, midcentury modern furniture, appropriately trendy and/or esoteric coffee-table books (Edward Weston's Book of Nudes, Morten Andersen's Color F.).

    "Here we go," says Dunham. "The first-ever slow beeline. And …ACTION!"

    In this scene, Marnie -- wearing a cobalt blue sleeveless dress, her hair styled perfectly in loose waves -- comes to the office to confront Charlie for standing her up for a lunch date. Spotting him on the terrace with a co-worker (a willowy blonde with an impossibly neat ponytail), she raps loudly on the glass door until he sheepishly comes inside.

    "What are you doing here?" asks Charlie.

    "Are you kidding!? We had concrete lunch plans. I waited for you for like 45 minutes!" wails Marnie.

    As the scene unfolds, Dunham and Konner smile. At one point, Konner lifts one side of Dunham's headset to whisper in her ear. Dunham lets a giggle escape. "Cut!" she yells. "That was awesome!"

    At 26, Dunham -- whose indie cult hit Tiny Furniture got the attention of Hollywood comedy kingmaker Judd Apatow, an executive producer on Girls -- has emerged as the voice of young Hollywood while living and working (for the most part) in Brooklyn. "Her voice is so clear, yet she is able to be collaborative," says Konner, 41. "She knows what she likes, and she knows what she doesn't like. She doesn't get threatened by other people's ideas."

    Adds Williams: "She's great at giving direction. Usually she'll describe a vibe. The way we were doing that scene, the first two takes were pouty, and then we did a little more petulant and incredulous, like in disbelief that this could happen."

    Together with their cast, Dunham and Konner (a huge fan of Tiny Furniture who got her big break as a writer on Apatow's 2002 Fox series Undeclared) have crafted a unique take on post-recession angst that earned Girls a raft of Emmy noms for its freshman season, a second-season pickup and the ongoing fawning of the media literati.

    On this day (the shoot began at 4 p.m. and will continue until about 4 a.m.), Dunham is cool, relaxed and happy, dressed in a black-and-tan silk Opening Ceremony dress, which she bought during an "insane shopping bender" on a recent visit to Los Angeles. "You've got to make people think you're taking your job seriously," she says dryly.

    But her reserved tone belies a magnetic love for her job. "There isn't one second when she's not thrilled and excited about being here," says Konner. "I've worked on sets that were unhappy. And we've worked very, very hard to make this a happy place to be."

    Dunham thinks of herself as a writer-actor, and directing is an extension of her writing. "I love acting," she explains. "But I consider myself a writer who uses directing as one of her tools for telling a story."

    STORY: Emmys 2012: Lena Dunham, Matthew Weiner and More Writers on Their Most Difficult Scenes

    The story can be as ribald and raw as HBO's 1998 breakthrough Sex and the City, also a comedy about four friends suffering romantic and professional slings and arrows in New York City. But interestingly, while Dunham fearlessly bares the most flesh in Girls, what makes her uncomfortable is being emotionally naked.

    "The things that make me self-conscious are weird," she admits. "Like if I have to act like I'm in love with someone. But whipping off my shirt? That I can totally get behind. It's like, 'Woo hoo!'" 

  • Greg Garcia

    Raising Hope (Fox)

    EDITOR'S NOTE: Garcia declined to participate in the showrunners survey on the grounds that it was “silly,” unlike his show, Raising Hope, which definitely is not silly.

  • Bruce Helford

    Anger Management (FX)

    Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

    The show that inspired me to write:
    Helford: Buffalo Bill. My sensibility is kind of edgy, and at that time it was an outrageously edgy show.

    My big break:
    Helford: Family Ties.

    My TV mentor:
    Helford: I have two. Gary David Goldberg, the creator of Family Ties. And Bob Ellison, a comedy writer who I worked with on Mr. Sunshine.  

    My proudest accomplishment this year: 
    Helford: Selling Anger Management to FX with only a pitch and no script.

    My toughest scene to write this year:
    Helford: The toughest scene to write was the opening scene of the pilot. There were so many characters to introduce and I wanted to make sure that we were fleshed out to the extent that the audience would have an idea of what was to come with them. In any pilot, the toughest scene is always where you’re introducing the characters in a way that you’re trying to say what you’re going to see in the future but you don’t have that much space to do it in.

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    The most absurd network note I've ever gotten:
    Helford: I had a script [in the early 1990s] with an 11-year-old girl who was showing signs of being gay. And the note I got from the network was, ‘Couldn’t she have someone influence her to be gay, because being gay is not genetic.’ It was horrifying. I said, I would like to publish this in the New York Times, do you have a problem with that? They removed the note. 

    The aspect of my job as showrunner that I’d like to delegate:
    Helford: The social socializing because I’m not very comfortable in crowds. You’re expected to attend a lot of get-togethers as a showrunner, and I’m not that kind of guy. I’m not a party guy; I’m not the guy who hangs out with everyone at the bar or goes golfing with the bosses. I’ve never been that guy, so I’d rather have someone being delegated to be a surrogate schmoozer.

    My preferred method for breaking through writer's block:
    Helford: I just keep writing until it stops being crap.

    The three things I need to write:
    Helford: Music. Either Steely Dan or lately I’ve been listening an electronic music DJ called Diplo or Dead Mouse. I don’t need privacy because I actually prefer to be in the mix of things and have activity around me. And then a couch – I sit on a couch and write on a laptop.

    The credit that I’d like to scrub from my resume:
    Helford: A show Someone Like Me that I did for NBC and Disney. It was awful.

    The show I’m embarrassed to admit I watch:
    Helford: I actually enjoyed TLC's Say Yes to the Dress. Have you heard of that one? I was watching it and getting all caught up in the emotions of the bride. It was kind of fun.

  • Armando Ianucci

    Veep (HBO)

    The show that inspired me to write:
    Iannucci: Monty Python's Flying Circus. It was, and still is, the most conclusive proof that comic writing can take you anywhere.

    My big break:
    Iannucci: Writing with Chris Morris and Steve Coogan our own radio show, On The Hour, which then became a BBC TV show, The Day Today.

    My TV mentor:
    Iannucci: John Lloyd is a great British TV comedy producer, starting Spitting Image, Black Adder with Rowan Atkinson, and many, many other seminal shows.  I've always admired the care he takes to get every show absolutely right.

    My proudest accomplishment this year:
    Iannucci: Getting Veep made with HBO exactly the way I wanted it, and getting the first season recognized with the Emmy nominations.

    My toughest scene to write this year:
    Iannucci: It was actually three scenes. In the final episode of Veep, Selina [Julia Louis-Dreyfus] has to cry three times in three different ways, and they all have to be believable.  We spent a lot of time on those ones.

    The most absurd note I’ve ever gotten:
    Iannucci: I did a pilot for the BBC, and BBC2 said, “We love it, but maybe it's more BBC3.” I took it to BBC3, who said, “It's hysterical, but maybe it's more BBC4” and BBC4 then said, “This is great, but would be better for BBC2.” It never got picked up.

    The one aspect of my job as showrunner that I’d rather delegate:
    Iannucci: Typing. Especially on an iPad. I need someone with much thinner fingers to come and work for me. 

    My preferred method for breaking through writer's block:
    Iannucci: Get another writer in the room, or on the phone. Always, always works.

    If I could add any one writer to our staff, it would be:
    Iannucci: Woody Allen. I'd like to see his gossip pieces, and his opinions on Hollywood real estate.

    The show I’m embarrassed to admit I watch:
    Iannucci: Help, My Sister's A Pope!

    The three things I need in order to write:
    Iannucci: A deadline, an actual deadline, and then the real deadline.

    If I could scrub one credit from my resume, it would be:
    Iannucci: I hate being called executive producer. I much prefer "Maker of Funny Stuff."

  • Lauren Iungerich

    Awkward (MTV)

    This story first appeared in the Oct. 12 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

    When I got word that Awkward was being picked up to series, my first reaction was to cry. Throughout my career, everyone has always said, "There is no crying in show business." It's a sign of weakness. If you have to cry, do it in private. In your car. In the shower. Anywhere but out in the open. Yet I cry. All. The. Time. Sometimes I cry just talking about crying. I'm not even kidding. And I would contend that my lack of "fear to tear" is my greatest strength -- not a weakness. As I look back at my trail of tears, I've come to appreciate that the tears I've shed have become the touchstones -- or watermarks, if you will -- of my journey as a newbie showrunner.

    First there were the tears of dread realizing that I could no longer just be an "artist" anymore. I had to be a producer, financially responsible to my network and the people who trust me with their livelihoods. Despite my lack of politics, I've had to become the mayor of my show village. Because any good showrunner knows that it takes a village to make a great show. Thankfully, my village carries a constant supply of Kleenex. Because they care deeply about me and through my raw displays of emotion, they know I care deeply about them. In my leadership position, I've learned that I have to make tough decisions that affect great people. It sucks to no longer be part of the contingent that complains about the boss. Now I am the boss who people complain about. Or the weirdo that complains about myself. Fact -- I've done it. And it usually involves a tear or two.

    My display of waterworks also involves the making and breaking of story. Sometimes the tears are of laughter when hearing a funny idea, or of heartache explaining a moment that hits close to home, or realizing the words on the page aren't working and I have to rewrite them. Again. And again. Or watching a performance on set that is so hysterical or moving that a round of applause will not suffice to show appreciation. Rather, it can only be expressed via a mascara-moving mass of messiness on one's face.

    STORY: 'Awkward's' Creator Lauren Iungerich Talks Season 1's Finale Twists

    Finally come the tears of gratitude. Those are the best to share. And they don't just come when seeing great ratings or reading a once-in-a-lifetime New York Times review. They come from realizing that I am living my dream and that by doing so, I've enabled other people to live theirs. With that thought, I find myself once again crying. I have the best job in the business, and I don't really care if anyone calls me a "crybaby." I am. -- Lauren Iungerich

  • Al Jean

    The Simpsons (Fox)

    The show that inspired me to write:
    Jean: Mary Tyler Moore, Barney Miller and Taxi.  I couldn't believe people wrote things so funny and heartfelt, and I still can't believe I've worked with some of the people that wrote them.

    My big break:
    Jean: Editor at National Lampoon magazine, back when there were such a thing as humor magazines.

    My TV mentor:
    Jean: Bob Bendetson, on Alf, and Sam Simon, on The Simpsons, taught me how to do the job I do.

    My proudest accomplishment this year:
    Jean: Working on the short, silent Simpsons film The Longest Daycare, which aired before Ice Age: Continental Drift.  Someday I hope to write a two-reeler.

    My toughest script to write this past year:
    Jean: Working on the episode where Lady Gaga came to Springfield. And I give her credit:  she filmed herself making voiceover debut, which took a lot of guts.

    The most absurd note I’ve ever gotten:
    Jean: A film exec, a while ago, told me that if you take a comedy, and remove all the humor, what is left should still be funny. 

    The one aspect of my job as showrunner that I’d rather delegate:
    Jean: I don't enjoy making budget cuts in personnel; can't imagine any showrunner who does.

    PHOTOS: Broadcast TV's Returning Shows for 2012-13 Season

    My preferred method for breaking through writers’ block:
    Jean: I never stop thinking about The Simpsons. I don't feel any relief till we've cracked all the stories for the year, then we're right back at it again.

    If I could add any one writer to your staff, it would be:
    Jean: I'd get back Conan O'Brien. His office is waiting.

    The show you’re embarrassed to admit you watch:
    Jean: Not embarrassed whatsoever; the two shows I watch without fail are Mad Men and The Daily Show. 

    If you could scrub one credit from your resume, what would it be?
    Jean: I would never dis a former showrunner I worked for that way.

  • Emily Kapnek

    Suburgatory (ABC)

    The show that inspired me to write:
    Kapnek: I would have to say Saturday Night Live. I grew up watching and it blew my little mind.

    My big break:
    Kapnek: My first major writing job was doing my own animated series for Nickelodeon called As Told by Ginger. Believe it or not, I wrote the pilot script for a contest that Nickelodeon/Klasky-Csupo held. It came in first place-- and we wound up doing 60 episodes.
     
    My biggest accomplishment this year:
    Kapnek:
    Creatively, I would say the season two pickup felt pretty amazing. I've always known not to count chickens before they hatch, but when they hatch it's pretty exciting.
     
    My hardest scene to write this year:
    Kapnek: The opening scene of the season two premiere. We had a bit of a cliffhanger at the end of season one, then because of our late premiere date, we needed to jump ahead so our show wasn't lagging behind, seasonally, plus our time slot moved and it was requested that we re-pilot the premise and re-establish the characters for new viewers.  So trying to accomplish all of these things while maintaining creative integrity was tricky.
     
    The part of my job as showrunner that I wish I could delegate:
    Kapnek: Having to administer a stern talking to is my least favorite part of the job. If someone is doing something wrong, I prefer they magically stop.
     
    My preferred method of breaking through writer's block:
    Kapnek: I like to take my writer's block out to a movie. Maybe lunch. Sometimes I'll take it to Anthropologie to look at home furnishings.  Mine really seems to like this. If I try to just push through it, it never happens. I never write anything good. But if I get up and let myself off the hook for a while, things are magically better when I sit back down.
     
    If I could add one writer to my writers room, it would be:
    Kapnek: Charlie Kaufman.
     
    The show I'm embarrassed to admit I watch:
    Kapnek: Love & Hip Hop Atlanta. My husband and I are also both obsessed with the Real World Challenges.
     
    The three things I need to write:
    Kapnek: Truly, I don't really NEED anything...but I sincerely appreciate a Wild Cherry Diet Pepsi on the rocks.
     
  • Michael Patrick King

    2 Broke Girls (CBS)

    The show that inspired me to write:
    King: The Mary Tyler Moore Show.

    My big break:
    King: Joining the staff of Murphy Brown.

    My TV mentor:
    King: Diane English is still the most shining example of a showrunner I’ve yet to experience.  

    My proudest accomplishment in this year:
    King: Putting a show on the air in a traditional sitcom format that has a contemporary edge.  

    My toughest scene to write this year:
    King: The second episode of any new show can be tough. You have about a week to top the well-crafted and polished pilot episode that was written over six months.

    The most absurd network I’ve ever gotten:
    King: “Fourteen uses of the word vagina are too many in one script.” To which I replied: “How many is acceptable?” The response:  “Six.”

    The aspect of my job as showrunner that I’d rather delegate:
    King: Looking at the ratings the morning after.

    My preferred method for working through writer’s block:
    King: Deadlines.

    PHOTOS: Broadcast TV's Returning Shows for 2012-13 Season

    If I could add any one writer to my staff, it would be:
    King: Jesus Christ, because in some late night rewrites - you need a miracle.

    What is the show I’m embarrassed to admit I watch:
    King: Anything that has a housewife on it that writes her own dialogue.

    The three things I need to write:
    King: Time, tea and tuna sandwiches.

    If I could scrub one credit from my resume, it would be:
    King: None. The bad shows make you better.  Not necessarily your writing - but you

  • Team Chuck Lorre

    Don Reo and Jim Patterson (Two and a Half Men, CBS); Bill Prady (The Big Bang Theory, CBS); and Mark Roberts (Mike & Molly, CBS)

    The show that inspired me to write:
    Lorre: All in the Family was a turning point. Prior to that, I don't remember half-hour comedies dealing with such weighty issues and being as funny at the same time. That was a really ground-breaking show; making a real controversial character the centerpiece and to have him be so beloved was magic. 
    Molaro: I never knew I wanted to write for TV until I fell into it.  But there was an old, weird magazine called The Nose that inspired me to start writing.
    Roberts: That whole block of comedies that was on in the 1970s: Newhart, Mary Tyler Moore all the way through to the Carol Burnett Show.
    Prady: My dad tells me that I used to watch The Dick Van Dyke Show and tell him that that’s what I was going to do for a living.

    My first big break:
    Molaro: The Amanda Show on Nickelodeon.  The first thing I ever wrote was a commercial parody for a kids' breakfast cereal called Meatloaf Crunch. I still have the cereal box.
    Roberts: Two and a Half Men.
    Prady: You Can’t Do That on Television.

    My TV mentor:
    Lorre: There's a long history of great writing on TV where the bar was set high and raised yet again in different ways. I watched The Twilight Zone when I was a kid; I loved what the Smothers Brothers brought to television; Norman Lear is a game-changer; the Charles brothers with Cheers, Larry David with Seinfeld, Steven Bochco. Now you've got Vince Gilligan raising it again to places that are breathtaking to watch. What Matt Weiner does with Mad Men, the Borgias, Game of Thrones, Homeland folks, it's inspiring to watch and great writing and acting makes the genre irrelevant. I go home and watch dramas and it's like a different language. I'm amazed, mystified and mesmerized by it -- all at the same time.
    Molaro: Dan Schneider gave me my first job in TV.  We have worked on and off together for the last 12 years and I have learned an endless amount from him. Currently I'm soaking in as much Chuck Lorre as I possibly can.  But I've gotten to work with so many amazing people like Bill Prady, David Crane, Mike Scully, Bruce Helford...  they're all in my DNA now.
    Prady: I had the amazing luck to work with Jim Henson for six years up until his death in 1990.

    My biggest accomplishment this year:
    Prady: Despite the constant availability of craft service food and take-out from Burbank’s finest restaurants, I lost 20 pounds.

    The toughest scene to write this year:
    Roberts: The two-part wedding episode was challenging. We’d never done a two-parter before and the thing about it is that each episode needs to be free-standing and still create an interest and momentum for the second half. It was just a culmination of a lot of personalities and a lot of back-story and we had to try to honor all of that and tell a funny story.
    Prady: The toughest scene was also the most satisfying – the finale to season five.  I resisted the emotional honesty of the scene as we were writing it.  Fortunately Steve Molaro and Chuck Lorre prevailed and we wound up with one of the best scenes we’ve ever done.

    The most absurd network note I’ve ever gotten:
    Roberts: Because I have Chuck connected to my show, I don’t get a lot of network interference.
    Prady: Amy’s character was doing research involving monkeys smoking cigarettes. Sheldon asked how it was going and she said that the onlything they’d learned so far was that the monkeys who smoked looked cooler. CBS Broadcast Standards asked us to “place the comment in context” so that we weren’t implying that smoking was cool, so we added “of course, all the other monkeys just sit around and masturbate.” They thanked us for addressing the note.

    PHOTOS: Behind the Scenes: 'The Big Bang Theory'

    The one aspect of my job as showrunner that I’d rather delegate:
    Prady: Well, I’ve delegated almost all of them to Steve Molaro this year, so you probably should ask him which aspects of the job he was least happy to receive.
    Molaro: I often feel guilty when we are casting for a part with only one line -- knowing the actors spent all this time getting to an audition that lasts 8 seconds.
    Roberts: Talking to actors’ agents.

    My preferred method for working through writer's block:
    Lorre: What's writer's block?! You have to do 24 shows in 30 weeks, there's no time to sit and go, "Oh no!" You don't have that freedom -- you can't go home until it's written, there has to be a second act to the script otherwise you get calls from all sorts of people and lawyers start to call! That's not available in television; that train keeps rolling and it rolls right over you. You don't have the freedom to be stumped and that's why you surround yourself with really smart writers. That's the key to my success: Surround yourself with smart, funny people. At any given moment, if you don't have the answer, they might. Everybody has days and moments when they have nothing to contribute but that's why we work as a group.
    Prady: My preferred method is three months in an opium den.  Sadly, due to the economy, most of the nearby opium dens have closed. 

    If I could add one writer to my staff, it would be:
    Roberts: Do they have to be alive? Dorothy Parker.
    Prady: The Green Lantern.  I don’t know if he’s a good writer or not, but the ring seems cool.

    The three I need in order to write:
    Lorre: Fear of having not written and this ridiculous, obsessive idea that some day you're going to get it right -- and that never happens. That belief that won't go away that you've just written the scene or a joke and it's perfect and beautiful and pristine and you're wrong, and it's not. But this ongoing belief that you've gotten it right. I don't know what that is, it's a delusion. The delusion that someday you might get it right would be the thing that keeps me going.  
    Molaro: Coffee, anxiety and self-loathing
    Roberts: A good writer’s assistant; a big jug of water, and 4 to 7 other funny people.
    Prady: 1. Stuff to fiddle with (currently a replica “Doctor Who” sonic screwdriver) 2. A comfortable chair 3. Colleagues who are much more talented than I am 

    The show I’m embarrassed to admit I watch:
    Lorre: I love Syfy's Alphas, I think that's a great show. They took the superhero format and reinvented it in a way that was much needed without leotards and capes. It's got a great cast. 
    Roberts: Boss with Kelsey Grammer. It’s like half good. He’s really amazing and then all of a sudden they have these Zalmen King sex scenes that are just insane.
    Prady: I’m not embarrassed to admit that I watch Judge Judy on the treadmill.  Should I be?

    If I could scrub one thing off of my resume, it would be:
    Prady: Platypus Man

  • Steve Levitan and Christopher Lloyd

    Modern Family (ABC)

    The show that inspired me to write:
    Lloyd: Cheers. Deeply funny with warm, affecting characters  -- watching it I felt like a kid watching a magic trick for the first time and desperately wanting to know how it was done.

    My big break:
    Lloyd: The Golden Girls

    My TV mentor:
    Lloyd: My father, [David Lloyd], a veteran comedy writer who was smart and funny, in that order, and taught me that good shows can be those things too.

    My proudest accomplishment this year:
    Lloyd: Resisting the urge to write to the pajama-wearing, Mom's-basement-dwelling online critic who found it "bizarre, just bizarre" and "another sad sign of the show's decline" that Cam and Mitchell didn't appear in an episode until after the first commercial.

    My toughest scene to write this year:
    Lloyd: Writing a story about a child confronting the death of a friend (Luke loses his elderly neighbor Walt) in a way that wasn't preachy or special but funny, small, and real.

    PHOTOS: At the Dinner Table With the Cast of 'Modern Family'

    The most absurd note I’ve ever gotten:
    Lloyd: Having worked for a year at the death-to-funny-things Fox network, space restrictions do not permit a full accounting here.

    The part of my job as showrunner that I wish I could delegate:
    Lloyd: Extras casting and award shows.

    My preferred method for breaking through writer’s block:
    Lloyd: Going for a run or getting angry, usually both.

  • Team Seth MacFarlane

    Steve Callahan and Mark Hentemann (Family Guy, Fox); Mike Barker and Matt Weitzman (American Dad, Fox); and Rich Appel (The Cleveland Show, Fox)

    The show that inspired me to write:

    MacFarlane: All In The Family.
    Weitzman: The Simpsons. The way they could go from being so brilliantly funny to so stupidly funny in five seconds was inspiring. Plus, being a cartoon actually allowed me to more easily buy into their reality.
    Hentemann: Seinfeld.
    Appel: Writers hate clichés, and yet whenever I’m asked why I wanted to become a comedy writer, I fall back on just about the biggest one: The Dick Van Dyke Show. So many of my friends offer the same answer. I started watching reruns of that show when I was 9 on WGN in Chicago. Rob Petrie had everything I wanted: a job writing sketches for a TV show; funny co-workers; and Mary Tyler Moore. He also had a kid, but at the time I didn’t really want a kid my age. I could have done without the job, too.  And the co-workers. Basically I wanted Mary Tyler Moore.
    Callaghan: As a kid, I was very inspired by the brilliance of M*A*S*H and am not afraid to admit that I cried during the last moments of the series finale.  To this day, I still cannot bring myself to ride on buses where Korean women are suffocating chickens or babies. 

    My big break: 
    MacFarlane: Johnny Bravo.
    Weitzman: Daddy Dearest. A short-lived sitcom on Fox with Richard Lewis and Don Rickles. It was basically Frasier, but our nervous breakdowns happened most often on set.
    Hentemann: Late Show With David Letterman.
    Appel: I went to law school and then was working as a prosecutor in Manhattan when I finally manned up and realized I at least had to try what I had wanted to do from the time I was 14. So I wrote a bunch of material, got an agent and then, amazingly, a job as a staff writer at The Simpsons, then in its fourth season. That was the headline; the rest of the story? It was a 10-week job, followed by an option for another 10 weeks. I didn’t sleep for 20 weeks. I don’t think I said a word for six.
    Callaghan: I'm not sure if I would call it "major," but my first writing job was faxing in wordplay-style categories for the MTV dating game show, Singled Out. I recall two things about that gig: I was paid $5 for each accepted submission, and during my entire tenure I earned about $15.

    My TV mentor:
    MacFarlane: Norman Lear.
    Weitzman: Well, my father has been a literary agent for 40 years. And whenever I say to him I don't know if I'll ever work again, he reminds me that that's what his clients have always said. That's been a comfort. But now he's getting a bit older and none of his clients are working. So, I'm looking for a new mentor.
    Hentemann: Seth MacFarlane, Larry David.

    PHOTOS: Broadcast TV's Returning Shows for 2012-13 Season

    My proudest accomplishment this year:
    MacFarlane: I had a phone conversation with Ari Emanuel that exceeded eight seconds.
    Weitzman: Being there when the Kings won the Stanley Cup.  Oh, and my son's birth... put that first.
    Hentemann: Writing the 200th episode of Family Guy. But, collectively, it's any time, after this many episodes, that we come up withsomething that feels fresh and original, and works.
    Appel: You’re going to notice a theme to my answers, but my proudest accomplishment in the last year, as it’s been the three before it, was having lunch with Carl Reiner and George Shapiro at The Grill from time to time. Carl -- cliché alert! -- is my hero, and he’s become a recurring character on The Cleveland Show. He plays 5-year-old Rallo’s best friend, Murray. When Carl showed up at his first table read for us, an interviewer wondered how we’d come to ask him to play the part. I said, “Well, the role is that of an old Jew, and so we thought, ‘Let’s give Carl Reiner a challenge.’” To which Carl immediately responded, “But I had an unfair advantage. You see, my father was an old Jew.”  Best of all, Carl joined our writer's room for two days and pitched us a great story for an episode. I’m not sure we ever paid him.

    My toughest scene to write this year:
    Hentemann: Convincing Meg Griffin that the next best thing to having sex with the guy she's infatuated with, is to get her brother have sex with him, then describe it to her.
    Callaghan: A scene where Stewie and Brian are genuinely contemplating a joint suicide.  And, yes, a funny version of that.    

    The most absurd note I’ve ever gotten:
    Weitzman: Not really a note, but I always find it super funny when a studio or network exec asks if Seth is going to be at the table read.
    Hentemann: Broadcast standards told us to change the nonsense word we made up, "clemen", because it was too offensive.   
    Appel: An executive once called to tell me that my show was cancelled. That was hilarious. 

    The one aspect of my job as showrunner that I’d rather delegate:
    Weitzman: I'd like to delegate to someone else telling Mike Barker, my co-showrunner, when he is wrong.
    Hentemann: Reading through the list of things in each script that are rejected for legal or standards reasons.
    Appel: Meetings about how to foster seamless viewing patterns and capitalize on the “churn” at the :30 mark through the creation of original content so that – I’m sorry, what was the question?

    PHOTOS: From the Mind of Seth MacFarlane

    My preferred method for breakingthrough writers' block:
    MacFarlane: A stroll on the patio as I enjoy the rich, full flavor and cool mildness of that perfect blend of choice tobaccos that you only get from a Camel.
    Weitzman: Coming up with something horrible and having my staff fix it.
    Hentemann: Double espresso from Pete's coffee.
    Appel: A walk around the block. Or a long run. I don’t like running with other people, and when I force myself to be alone for a long time with no distractions (goodbye internet and iPhone!) I usually come home with nine terrible ideas and two mediocre ones, which is more than I had when I left.
    Callaghan: Realizing that there is a deadline and simply no time for writers' block. Writers' block is a luxury reserved for people who don't own calendars.

    If I could add any one writer to my staff, it would be:
    MacFarlane: Rob Petrie
    Weitzman: Anyone who wrote for I Love Lucy. What did they have, like, three writers total?! And no internet? That's just humbling.

    The show I’m embarrassed to admit I watch:
    MacFarlane: NBC Nightly News
    Weitzman: Breaking Bad. It's embarrassingly good.
    Hentemann: Big Time Rush
    Appel: I know I’m supposed to be embarrassed to admit I watch Big Brother, but I’m not.  My son and I don’t miss an episode; we love it. It’s a spectacularly clever game and example of casting. Of course we realize that some of the players are self-consciously trying to be memorable characters and not necessarily themselves. Yet the huge prize keeps bringing them back to the job at hand: ingenious strategizing and back-stabbing.  Oh, and The American Experience on PBS. Which I don’t actually watch. But how cool would it be if I watched such smart shows that The American Experience on PBS was the one I was most embarrassed by?
    Callaghan: A cheaply-produced show that airs locally on Saturday afternoons called, On the Spot. It's basically trivia questions set to a series of stock photo images that I'm sure cost nothing, but I can't get enough of it. I think it appeals to my nerdy side as well as my side that appreciates things that stay under budget.

    STORY: Seth MacFarlane: The Restless Mind of a Complicated Cartoonist

    The three things I need in order to write:
    Weitzman: A chair. A computer. A deadline.
    Hentemann: Laptop, coffee, oatmeal.

    If I could scrub one credit from my resume, it would be:
    MacFarlane: The Hudson Brothers Razzle Dazzle Show.
    Weitzman: None. From all the shows I've worked on, I've either learned what to do or what not to do. They've all helped. Maybe PJs.
    Hentemann: Human bowling pin passing out coupons in Central Park.
    Appel: Anchoring The CBS Evening News.

  • Liz Meriwether, Brett Baer and David Finkel

    New Girl (Fox)

    The show that inspired me to write:  
    Meriwether: I love Cheers. I didn't watch it growing up, but I watched it getting ready to do the first season of New Girl. It bowls me over every time I see it. The romance, the comedy, the performances -- every bit of it is just so compelling.
    Baer: In Chicago, I watched SCTV (Second City Television), to which I became dangerously addicted. I used to get stomach pains when I knew it was on and I couldn't watch it.
    Finkel: The ones that left a lasting impression (and that I still go back to) are definitely All in the Family and The Larry Sanders Show. The idea that a sitcom can at turns make you piss yourself, then cry for Beverly LaSalle was revelatory. I liked Norman Lear's ideology that you could trust an audience to stay with you. You could have a scene that was really a straight scene with not a ton of jokes, and then blow the scene with a tight single of Carrol O'Connor's face that would lay your ass out. That's why I wanted to be a writer. To do that sort of thing. I still haven't done it. And I probably won't. Because I can't spell or read. 

    My big break:
    Baer: Dave and I got our first paying gig writing cartoons. It was major just to get paid. Our first job was an Animaniacs cartoon about Hemingway for Steven Spielberg. It's been downhill ever since.

    Finkel: Animaniacs and Pinky and the Brain. It was a great place to cut our teeth because there were virtually no rules. I speak to groups about writing now and then ... it's still the single credit that gets the most excitement.

    My TV mentor:
    Baer:
     I have no personal relationship with Garry Shandling, but his work on both his shows serves as the gold standard we live by. Larry Sanders is perfect.

    Finkel: Peter Hastings (Pinky and the Brain) for giving us a shot when no one else had any reason to. Bruce Rassmussen, Rob Ulin and Bruce Helford for giving us a shot when no one else had any reason to. Rob Carlock and Tina Fey for showing us how to keep doing it until it's right, and forcing us to do it until it's right (usually with brute force and verbal threats). And Liz Meriwether for bringing a fresh angle and a die-hard belief that everything is important. But then there's the people I like to pretend are my father figures: Norman Lear, the Charles Brothers, Larry Gelbart, the staff of Your Show of Shows, Ernie Kovacs, Garry Shandling, Greg Daniels, Louie CK, David Chase, Larry David, Alan Ball. I'm gonna start weeping. Does that answer anything? Leave me alone.

    My proudest accomplishment this year:
    Finkel: Getting through season one and staying married.  I had my third child last year (I did it!  All by myself! My wife did nothing!). I have three kids now, and they all know me as "Mr. Finkel." I make them bow when they greet me. It's hilariously demeaning.

    PHOTOS: Broadcast TV's Returning Shows for 2012-13 Season

    My toughest scene to write this year:
    Baer: We had to re-write "The Landlord" episode overnight, which is an unfortunately common occurrence on our show. I remember doing a punch and cut pass on the big menage a trois scene with a couple of the writers at about 6:20 a.m. and I was so tired I started hallucinating. It was near Halloween and there were a bunch of little pumpkins on the writers' room table that suddenly seemed to be very fond of me. In my mind anyway. In a moment of lonely desperation, I collected all the little gourds in a warm embrace and declared "I'll always have my pumpkin patch."  Needless to say, writing that scene in that condition was treacherous.
    Finkel: Last season, we did a Thanksgiving episode, and for whatever reason we just couldn't get it to work. At that time, we were shooting episode four, the wedding episode, and Brett and I spent two solid days in the conference room of the Intercontinental Hotel. Literally awake for 48 hours straight trying to crack this bastard. And it just kept not working. I remember at about 5 or 6 in the morning, Brett and I decided to take a quick catnap. We set out alarms for about 10 minutes later. I believe I slept on the table with my computer bag as a pillow. So pathetic. Oh, by the way, 10 minute catnaps are bulls---. Eventually the script got done. It was pretty good. But I think I have PTSD from the experience.

    The most absurd note I've ever gotten:
    Baer:
    This was for a children's show we worked on: "Please delete the shot of the Fancy Lassy in the high-kicking boots exposing her nipple." To this day, we have no idea what the exec was talking about.
    Finkel: Last year I had a long conversation with our (awesome) Broadcast Standards and Practices person. The conversation went thusly:

    BS&P: I'm not sure what this is, but I'm pretty sure you can't say "B-Hole." What does it stand for?
    Me: Butthole.
    BS&P: That's what I thought. You can't say that. We're not comfortable with that.
    Me: What can we say? Can we say A-hole?
    BS&P: No. No. How about "butthole?" I'd be comfortable with that.
    Me: (giggling) So we're good with "butthole" but not "b-hole"?
    BS&P: (giggling) Yes.

    Sometimes I love this job. 

    PHOTOS: Up Close and Adorkable: Behind the Scenes of Fox's 'New Girl'

    The aspect of my job as showrunner that I'd rather delegate:
    Meriwether: The stuff I really wasn't prepared for was the production design and the ways that things look. As a writer, you're removed from that aspect of production so often. I am not a very visual person, so it can be hard for me to make those decisions, but I'm learning.
    Baer: Organizing the writer's assistants' schedules so they don't go past 14-hour days. I feel like I'm the manager of a Denny's in West Covina.
    Finkel: The writing. Also, the thinking.  And the giving of notes. Plus the re-writing. If I can just do the snacking and the collecting of the money, I think that's my sweet spot. 

    My preferred method for breaking through writer's block:
    Baer: Walking. We troll the backlot looking for jokes. We used to find a lot of them in Western Town on the Warner Brothers lot. Now that's gone. So are the jokes.
    Finkel: Writer's block? There's no such thing as writer's block. I'm brilliant all the time every day. It never stops.

    If I could add any one writer to your staff, it would it be:
    Meriwether: Larry Charles
    . Or Eugene O'Neill. We could put O'Neill in the joke room. We need more alcoholics.
    Baer: Wow. Tough one. I'll take Larry Gelbart.
    Finkel: Pretty much every writer mentioned above. (This is theoretical, right? We don't have to take Gary Shandling ... I mean, I'd love to ... I'm just scared of him.)

    The show I'm embarrassed to admit I watch:
    Baer:
    Shark Tank. Dave says my adoration for it is unnerving.
    Finkel: I mean this sincerely ... and I don't know why, but there was a period of time that for some reason, whenever Charles in Charge was on, I couldn't not watch it. I didn't like it and I didn't hate it. I just couldn't not watch.

    The three things I need in order to write:
    Baer:
    A baseball. A purpose. A Finkel.
    Finkel: Brett Baer, sleep and liquor.  (We're adorable!)

    If I could scrub one credit from your resume, it would be:
    Baer: The easy answer would be Joey. But I'm gonna go with Joey.
    Finkel: I'm insanely proud of every single one of my credits until the people who created the shows are dead.

  • Mike Schur

    Parks and Recreation (NBC)

    The show that inspired me to write:
    Schur: Cheers was probably the first show that I was ever was religious about. But there was also Saturday Night Live and The Late Show With DavidLetterman. When I watched them at the time, I didn't fully understand that there were writers. I don't think that's a thing that occurs to most people but when I learned that there were writers who wrote those jokes and the sketches, that was a revelation to me. Those made me want to be like a comedy writer and then Cheers made me want to writelongform TV and not just sketches.

    My big break:
    Schur: My first TV job was SNL in 1998. Before that I had done little dribs and drabs. Technically my first ever professional writing experience was John Stewart hired me to pitch some ideas for a book he was writing, and he probably used one-fourth of one of the ideas that I pitched him, butvery kindly paid me actual American money, which was a miracle to me at thetime because it meant that I could stay in New York and pay my rent. I was 21, right out of college and then I got hired at SNL about six months later.

    My TV mentor:
    Schur: Lorne Michaels. He is probably arguably the greatest TV producer of all time and I still carry pieces of wisdom around that he gave me. There were other people at SNL: Steve Higgins who is now the announcer of the Jimmy Fallon Show. He was the producer of the show at the time and he was a big supporter and influence on me. In the sitcom world, it's Greg Daniels, who hired me on The Office. Everything that we do at Parks and Rec essentially is something I learned from him at some level.

    My method for breaking through writers' block:
    Schur: There are two kinds of writers' block that happen. One is individual writers' block where you're writing a script by yourself and you're sitting at home and just staring at a blank final draft document, and I listen to music sometimes. My wife, [J.J. Philbin] who writes for New Girl, taught me her method of writing, which I've adopted: she picks this song that she thinks kind of fits the mood of the scene that she's writing or the script that she's writing and she plays just that song on endless repeat through her headphones.

    If I could add any one writer to my staff, it would be:
    Schur: Glen and Les Charles, who created Cheers. Most of the people that I'm thinking of are people who I would be terrible to add because they're showrunners with incredibly strong points of view and you can't just add someone like that and mix them into a staff. It wouldn't work for me to add David Simon or Vince Gilligan because what's the point of having those guys if they're not creating their own material. If David Foster Wallace were still alive, I would hire him as a consultant because he is my favorite writer of any kind. He had a very complicated relationship with television and it would be fun to watch him struggle with the grind of a TV season.

    The show that I’m embarrassed to admit that I watch:
    Schur: I don't believe in a guilty pleasure phenomenon. The one I get the most crap from my friends is Game of Thrones because it's nerdy. But I think it is also maybe the best drama on TV right now. It's certainly in the top 5. So, I'm anything but embarrassed to say that I watch it all the time, avidly. And I read all the books too. You can put that in, if anyone is worried whether or not I am a true nerd, I read all the books.

    PHOTOS: Amy Poehler, Rob Lowe and Adam Scott on the Set of 'Parks and Recreation'

    The three things I need to write:
    Schur: I don't have a desk. I write by sitting on the couch or a chair and then I have a lap desk and I put my laptop on the desk, and this lap desk that use is really old and rundown and beat up and the cushiony part of the lap desk is like torn off three times since I duct taped together in a very jerry-rigged kind of way; that's a real crutch of mine. I can't write without that specific lap desk.

    If I could scrub anything off of my résumé, it would be?
    Schur: When I was in seventh grade, we had an assignment in our English class to write something humorous and I loved Mad Magazine. Not fully understanding that it was wrong to this, but kind of understanding that, I basically plagiarized this entire MadMagazine article. My teacher thought it was great and two days later she realized I stole it from Mad Magazine and I got in big trouble. That was very shameful and horrifying and I stillthink about it all the time. That's the thing I would erase, but maybe it was good; it was a good learning experience for me that I realized how bad it is to steal jokes form people.

  • Cynthia Cidre

    Dallas (TNT)

    The TV show that inspired me to write:
    Cidre:
    The Avengers. When it went off the air, I was really angry. That was my first letter that I wrote to the local station.

    My big break:
    Cidre:
    In Country, a movie I wrote long, long ago for Warner Bros. That was my first feature job that got made. One day, I got a call from my agent saying Sylvester Stallone wants to meet you because he has a pilot idea about a priest that CBS wants you to write. When I came back from vacation and after meeting with him, I got a message from a friend that said congratulations. He sent me a front-page story saying "Cidre, Stallone doing pilot." I called my agent and she said, ‘We made the deal.’ That was my first pilot, Father Lefty; it was picked up, we made it. It was during when the priest scandals broke and it was dead before it could hit the air.

    My TV mentor:
    Cidre: Nina Tassler.
    A Killing in a Small Town was one of the highest-rated TV movies CBS had ever shown, so without me knowing it I was on the network’s shortlist for writers. I ended up writing five pilots for CBS, made three and put one (Cane) on the air. She’s the one I owe a lot too.

    My toughest scene to write:
    Cidre:
    The toughest scene to shoot was a dinner scene with eight people around the dining tablethat took an entire day. At the end of it, my ears were bleeding. It was pathetic, in the actual episode, it was maybe a minute-and-a-half scene.

    PHOTOS: Broadcast TV's Returning Shows for 2012-13 Season

    I'd rather delegate:
    Cidre:
    Writing. I don’t love writing. Writing is hard for me. It’s a language thing, it comes out backwards. I know exactly what I want to say, it’s just hard for me to find the words. I think more in patterns rather than words. Dallas is perfect for the way I’m wired because it’s serialized; in the first season, I saw it as a 10-hour movie. It looks like a giant Sudokuboard to me.

    The show I'm embarrassed to admit I watch:
    Cidre:
    People’s Court. I worked at home up until now, I’d have my lunch at 1 p.m. and I’d watch People’s Court. The best way to get to know human nature is to watch people.

    The three things I need in order to write:
    Cidre:
    A Sumo pencil with a special lead that’s soft and dark; regular 8 1/2” x 11” white paper like it appears on the page with sluglines and everything before I type it out; and then I put everything on a chart with diagrams.

    If I could scrub one credit from my resume, it would be:
    Cidre:
    And Baby Will Fall. There’s no reason for you to watch that -- ever.

  • Carol Mendelsohn (original) and Pam Veasey (NY)

    Team CSI (CBS)

    The show that inspired me to write:
    Mendelsohn: When I was growing up it was everything western: The Rifleman, The Virginian, The Big Valley. And then it was Hill Street Blues.
    Veasey: The Carol Burnett Show.

    What was your first major writing job?
    Mendelsohn: The first job I got paid for was Fame. I freelanced three episodes and was perfectly content to stay on that show for the rest of my career. It was the producers of that show that encouraged me to get an agent and see what else was out there. Turns out there were shows other than Fame.
    Veasey: A comedy that aired during the 8-track days just before the introduction of the cassette tape.

    Who was/is your TV mentor?
    Mendelsohn:
    It's a split decision between Stephen J. Cannell and Aaron Spelling. And all the hard knocks I took throughout my career. The ups and downs of being a TV writer: the downs especially teach you more than any one person can ever teach you; nothing like getting fired to inspire you to move on.    
    Veasey: Hal Cooper, Arthur Julian and Rod Parker -- comic geniuses and producers from the Norman Lear School of Comedy,

    What is your proudest accomplishment in the last year?
    Mendelsohn:
    To have figured out how to expand time. Over the lat year I shot two television pilots and got a summer reality show on the air, Dogs in the City for CBS, while continuing to run CSI with my co-showrunner Don McGill.  
    Veasey: Getting to both of my sons’ football games while running two shows [CSI: New York and the now canceled CW drama Ringer].

    PHOTOS: Broadcast TV's Returning Shows for 2012-13 Season

    What was your toughest scene to write this past year, and why?
    Mendelsohn:
    You only remember the last one: Episode 1308, “CSI on Fire," which the day before Thanksgiving. The excavation of a mass grave. Top of act one. We thought the scene would kill us.
    Veasey: I got through it, so let’s not talk about it.

    What is the funniest/most absurd note you’ve ever gotten from a network exec?
    Mendelsohn:
    Lose the nipples and the butt cracks on the "sexually suggestive" mannequins.
    Veasey: Can you not do in this episode, the thing you did in the other episode, that we told you not to do?

    What is one aspect of your job as showrunner that you’d rather delegate?
    Mendelsohn:
    You cut your teeth on a writing staff, and as you move up, as your career grows, there is always someone that handles the tough stuff, the stuff no one ever wants to do. The buck stops with them. And one day, you’re the showrunner, and it’s you. You look around for the person that’s going to deliver the bad news, make the tough calls. Whether it’s the easiest thing in the world or the hardest, there's no one left to delegate to. It’s you.
    Veasey: Picking where we would go eat lunch!

    What is your preferred method for breaking through writer's block?
    Mendelsohn:
    First of all, there is no time for writer's block on a network television series. When you’re having trouble with a story the best thing to do is stop thinking: go to the gym; walk the dog; take a swim. By not thinking the answer always pops into your head.  
    Veasey: Häagen-Dazs ice cream.

    If you could add any one writer to your staff, who would it be?
    Mendelsohn:
    [CSI creator] Anthony Zuiker. I miss him. I love every time he drops in to do an episode. In my whole life I’ve never had a better time writing with anyone.  
    Veasey: Jimmy Fallon.

    What is the show you’re embarrassed to admit you watch?
    Mendelsohn:
    Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, but I’m not that embarrassed. Just got done shooting an episode of CSI guest starring Kyle Richards. She was fabulous.  
    Veasey: MTV’s Guy Code.

    What are the three things you need in order to write?
    Mendelsohn: Peppermint Patties. I'll take three.  
    Veasey: Twizzlers, Spicy Nacho Doritos and five-hour Energy shots.

    If you could scrub one credit from your resume, what would it be?
    Mendelsohn:
    The Love Boat episode “Love Ain't Illegal.” Because it’s not my credit, but I cannot get IMDB to remove it.
    Veasey: Wouldn’t scrub a thing!

  • Julian Fellowes

    Downton Abbey (PBS)

    The show that inspired me to write:
    Fellowes: The first television show that entirely enthralled me was The Forsyte Saga, a series that, in those pre-television-recorder days, literally emptied the streets of London on the night it was transmitted.  It was based on a series of novels by Galsworthy about the trials of an affluent family before and after the First World War...  rather like Downton Abbey.

    My big break:
    Fellowes: My first screenwriting jobs were for BBC's Children's Drama department, Little Lord Fauntleroy and The Prince and the Pauper, but my first "major" writing job was Gosford Park, a commission that came completely out of the blue in January 2000. I picked up the telephone in the kitchen and Bob Balaban asked: "Would you like to write a screenplay for Robert Altman?" After a stunned pause, I said "Y-y-y-y-yes." And I won the Oscar for the best original screenplay in 2002.

    My toughest scene to write this year:
    Fellowes: It was quite difficult to write the proposal scene between Matthew and Mary as we had delayed it for so long. But there comes a moment when you have to put up or shut up, and I think we had reached it. Even so, there was a great imperative for the moment not to be disappointing. But Michelle Dockery and Dan Stevens are so marvelous, that I don't think they would ever have allowed it to be a let-down. And it wasn't.

    The most absurd note I’ve ever gotten:
    Fellowes: In The Prince and the Pauper, I had a character denouncing Mary Tudor, saying she would want to "marry with the Prince of Spain and rule us from Madrid." One of the producers ringed "Madrid" and wrote "Where?" in the margin. When asked to clarify, he said "What about the viewers who have never heard of Madrid?" I said: "What about the viewers who have never heard of chairs or tables or summer or winter?" He didn't pursue it. 

    My preferred method for breaking through writer's block:
    Fellowes: To be honest, I don't seem to have time for writer's block, although, when I am particularly stumped, I tend to go for a walk along the river where I live. It doesn't solve much, but at least I get a breath of air.

    If you could add any one writer to our staff, it would be:
    Fellowes: I wouldn't mind adding any writer. At the moment, there's only me.

    What is the show you're embarrassed to admit you watch?
    Fellowes: I suppose the answer to this might be Coronation Street, which is a long-running soap in the U.K. But I'm not a bit ashamed of it.  I think it's perfectly wonderful, and I am looking forward to the next episode keenly.

  • Alex Gansa

    Homeland (Showtime)

    Joe Pugliese

    See our cover story on showrunner Alex Gansa and his co-creator Howard Gordon: Homeland's Secret Weapons: Inside the 30-Year Friendship that Stuck Together

  • Vince Gilligan

    Breaking Bad (AMC)

    The show that inspired me to write:
    Gilligan: The Twilight Zone because it was so marvelously constructed.

    My TV mentor:
    Gilligan: Definitely Chris Carter, who created The X-Files. He gave me my first job in television and taught me everything I know about writing and producing television, and I use the things that I learned on X-Files every day on Breaking Bad.

    My proudest accomplishment this year:
    Gilligan: Directing two episodes of Breaking Bad back to back. I was worried whether or not I was going to get through it, physically speaking. I don’t have a lot of energy left these days. That was the closest I’ve come to directing a movie, which is definitely something I’d love to do in the future. Directing two hours of the show back-to-back and crossboarding and block-shooting them seemed to me a pretty good dry run for doing a movie when this is all said and done.

    My toughest scene to write this year:
    Gilligan: It would be a tossup between Gustavo Fring’s death and Mike Ehrmantraut’s death. I wrote the scene with Gustavo Fring getting killed; but I did not write the other scene. So I can’t speak to the difficulty of writing that scene, but I think those two episodes were tough on the writers and on the cast and crew because everyone loves those actors so much and it was a real shame to let them go. Telling them was much tougher than writing the scenes, though. Taking both of those gentlemen aside and telling them, "Guess what? The end is nigh," that was uncomfortable. Both of them were gentlemen, although Jonathan Banks did threaten to punch me in the heart.

    The thing about my job as showrunner that I’d most like to delegate:
    Gilligan: Dealing with money and budget issues. It’s absolutely crucial to the job, and having a willful ignorance concerning money is not a wise thing to do when you’re a showrunner. Some days I find myself telling my producers: "Please just deal with the money stuff. Tell me what we can do and tell me what we can’t do." I prefer to stay out of money and scheduling issues, though it is to my detriment and I know that. I remember when somebody first told me that you’re now in charge of a $40 million start-up, it kind of freaked me out.

    The most absurd network note I’ve ever gotten:
    Gilligan: We don’t get noted to death on this show. I remember on The X-Files we had episode with an ass genie -- a little guy who would crawl up some people’s butts and then operate them like a meat puppet -- and I’m sure the notes on that were pretty funny.

    My preferred method of breaking through writer’s block:
    Gilligan: I can’t even say the phrase. I get really wigged out at the very thought of it, and I refuse to acknowledge its existence when we’re in the middle of breaking story.

    PHOTOS: Cooking Up Season 5 on the 'Breaking Bad' Set

    The three things I need to write:
    Gilligan: A phone with a ringer turned off -- in other words, no interruptions, no distractions. So it’s probably best not to sit over a picture window that looks out over a nude beach or something. And gallons and gallons of iced tea.

    If I could add one writer in my writers room, who would it be:
    Gilligan: Rod Serling. I would have put him on staff just to hang out with him.

    The show I’m embarrassed to admit I watch:
    Gilligan: I say this proudly being from the little town of Farmville, Va., I love the RFD network. It’s a channel way up in the nosebleed section of the cable dial. They have all of these shows about tractor pulls. There’s a show called Classic Tractor Fever, which I rather enjoy. It’s basically farmers in Saskatchewan showing off their old tractors from the 1930s or ‘40s. I find that oddly relaxing.

  • Oliver Goldstick and Marlene King

    Pretty Little Liars (ABC Family)

    The TV show that inspired me to write:
    King: 
    The West Wing. To me, it was must-see TV. I was devastated when it went off the air. I still think they should recast that show and start all over again with a new administration.
    Goldstick: It was St. Elsewhere. I loved that show. There were shows I liked as a child, like the Mary Tyler Moore Show, all of Norman Lear’s projects, but I can pinpoint, as an adult, that St. Elsewhere was smart, moving, complex and funny.

    My big break:
    King:
     I wrote a spec called Now and Then that got sold and made.
    Goldstick: I worked on a half-hour sitcom called Coach years ago. I also worked on Caroline in the City.

    My TV mentor:
    King:
     I’m a fan of Josh Schwartz and Kevin Williamson’s shows. If I could even remotely come close to the paths they’ve carved out for themselves, I’d be thrilled.
    Goldstick: I learned a lot from Greer Shephard and Michael Robin, because they took me out of the half-hour world and gave me the courage and the license to do one-hours.

    My proudest accomplishment this year:
    King
    : To direct while we were in the middle of the season and keep the show on track, and doing both simultaneously was a huge accomplishment.
    Goldstick: Getting eight hours of sleep after the summer finale aired, uninterrupted. We did 25 one-hour episodes in seven months. We were never not on time, we never shut down, we never had a script that was thrown out. It’s a sense of pride that the show stays on track.

    My toughest scene to write:
    King: 
    The reveal that Toby (Keegan Allen) was on ‘A’s’ team. He is my most favorite character on the show and I’ve said from the beginning that he is the moral compass. To then write that scene, where the black hoodie turns around and it’s Toby, it was like, "Oh my god!" It was one of those things where you knew it had to be done, it was the right thing to do, but I knew with the way people reacted when Maya died that Toby fans were going to be devastated. A viewer’s mom called the show the day after the episode aired and said, "I need to speak to the head of television."
    Goldstick: When Aria’s brother hits his mother. It was a, no pun intended, a tender scene. It was a story that someone had told his friend and it was a question of how far I could take it. The network was concerned too; they did not want to damage his character and make him unredeemable and unforgivable. We had a whole arc of his depression; with teenagers, it’s very real but something we have to treat with some reverence. That to me was treacherous, it was potentially a minefield to walk through because you don’t want to trivialize something that is quite real and profound.

    PHOTOS: Broadcast TV's Returning Shows for 2012-13 Season

    The most absurd note I've ever gotten:
    Goldstick:
     I was working on a project about the Pilgrims and the Mayflower for NBC. It was a serious special event made-for-television film. At outline stage, I was asked why the Pilgrims were in their 30s. I said, "Well, that’s their actual ages." "They can’t be, these people have to look hot when they’re wet."

    How I break through writer's block:
    King: Diet Mountain Dew and lots of naps.
    Goldstick: Saul Bellow once said, "A writer is only a reader moved to emulation." And read. It can be a magazine or literature, but you constantly have to be reading. I feel like that is what gets you out of it. Also, when you first wake up, journaling is important because it’s unfiltered.

    If I could add any writer to my staff, it would be:
    King: If we could get Stephen King to sit in for a week, we would have so much fun. If we could him to do one of our Halloween episodes, it’d be killer.
    Goldstick: David Sedaris, just to be entertained every day.

    The show I'm embarrassed to admit I watch:
    King:
     I’m not embarrassed to watch it but people tell me I should be. I’m excited for the last season of Gossip Girl. Chuck and Blair forever!
    Goldstick: One of the writers got me hooked on Hoarders. After watching four episodes, we had to clean house to get rid of so many things.

    The three things I need in order to write:
    King
    : Diet Mountain Dew, a bathtub and my laptop.
    Goldstick: I have to have quiet, my glasses and a deadline.

  • Hart Hanson

    Bones (Fox)

    My TV mentor:
    Nathan: I had dinner last month with Carl Reiner and Norman Lear, and that was pretty amazing for me. I don't know if they're mentors but they might be idols.

    The TV show that inspired me to write:
    Hanson: I already knew I wanted to become a writer, but I knew I wanted to be in television when I saw a British miniseries called a Very British Coup and the Lonesome Dove miniseries.
    Nathan: I loved the Dick Van Dyke Show.
     
    My big break:
    Hanson: I was up in Canada, so my earliest credit was on an iconic Canadian series -- and I say that without irony -- called The Beachcombers.
    Nathan: My first writing job was Laverne & Shirley, which you can see leads perfectly into a crime show.
    Hanson: You're Laverne and I'm Shirley. Actually, if we're talking about first professional jobs, Stephen originated the role of Jesus in Godspell.
     
    The most difficult scene to write this year:
    Hanson: It hasn't happened yet, but there's an episode coming up this season told from the point of view of a victim. I painted myself into quite a stylistic corner, and it was just really tough to write myself out of. Everybody had to help me out.

    PHOTOS: Broadcast TV's Returning Shows for 2012-13 Season

    The most absurd note I've ever gotten:
    Hanson: Mine was, "We don't mind you shooting everything in one-ers, but you've got to get coverage." So we could do everything in one shot, but they wanted them to include close-ups. That's impossible.
    Nathan: The greatest note I ever heard of was for a pilot to an unnamed network. It was about a black family in New York -- a doctor and a lawyer -- sort of a precursor to The Cosby Show. The note after reading the script was "How do we know they're black?" That one made me mad.
     
    The one aspect of my job as showrunner that I'd rather delegate:
    Hanson: The thing I dislike most about being a showrunner is that if you're doing it right, absolutely everyone is annoyed with you. And I wish I could push that annoyance onto someone else.
    Nathan: I need a nap every now and then and I never get a chance to take one, so I'd have someone do that for me.
     
    If I could add any one writer to my staff, it would be:
    Hanson: Howard Gordon is looking pretty good right now, and we see him just enough to know that he really exists.
     
    The show I’m embarrassed to admit I watch:
    Nathan: I don't watch consistently, but I did have a junk food binge last year on Million Dollar Listing LA.
    Hanson: I used to watch Little People, Big World, and that sucked. But I used to watch it all the time, and hate it -- and love it.
    Nathan: What if the little people were real estate agents in LA?

  • Bruno Heller

    The Mentalist (CBS)

    Courtesy of CBS

    The show that inspired me to write:
    Heller: [The BBC series] Boys from the Blackstuff by Alan Bleasdale.

    My TV mentor:
    Heller: [Warner Bros. TV president] Peter Roth. He has the best ears for a pitch out of anyone in Los Angeles. If you can sell what you are selling to Peter you can sell it to anyone.

    PHOTOS: Broadcast TV's Returning Shows for 2012-13 Season

    The most absurd note I’ve ever gotten: 
    Heller: Peter Roth told me, “You said it was a romantic comedy but it wasn't romantic and it wasn't comic."

    The one aspect of my job as showrunner that I’d rather delegate:
    Heller: Firing people.

    My preferred method for breaking through writers’ block:
    Heller: Network TV deadlines.

    The show I’m embarrassed to admit I watch:
    Heller: [A&E’s] Storage Wars. It is the nearest thing to the relaxing experience of fishing in an empty river that television can provide.

  • Adam Horowitz and Edward Kitsis

    Once Upon a Time (ABC)

    The show that inspired me to write:
    Kitsis: Northern Exposure. I loved that show, I loved the way it was able to have episodes where somebody finds a woolly mammoth, he calls the museum in New York, they send a guy out, and the mammoth's gone because someone ate it. To me, that was everything I ever wanted to do. That show mixed emotion, humor and the surreal all at once.
    Horowitz: Oddly the one that stuck with me was L.A. Law. The characters were so amazingly drawn, and the stories went all over the place. The show could get crazy, but it was always grounded by real emotion. It also was one of the first serialized -- not heavily though -- shows. The other show that affected me was watching reruns of the original Star Trek when I was a kid. That was more in line with what we're trying to do with Once.

    THR's Top 50 Showrunners 2012 -- the Complete List

    My first big break:
    Kitsis: The first thing Adam and I wrote together was a sketch show for the local Fox channel in Madison, Wisc., called Hot Tonight. It was produced by a dentist, it had two local comedians, and our Intro to Television college professor got us the job. Adam and I would write skits -- almost like the digital shorts on Saturday Night Live -- and we'd actually be on the show, which aired Thursdays at 10:30 so no one saw it. The dentist made a deal to get his own advertisement, and the local Fox station would let him do local programming, so we would have meetings at his conference room and he would run in -- in full dental gear -- pull his mask down and be like, "I got a sponsor, I need 20 minutes of content!" 

    My TV mentor:
    Horowitz: The first people to hire us were Andrew Schneider and Diana Frolov from Northern Exposure, and they hired us on the remake of Fantasy Island that aired on ABC during the '98-'99 season. That was our first staff job. They were the first ones to take a chance on us.
    Kitsis: Ryan Murphy. We did two years on his first show Popular, and Ryan was the first to let us go to set, to bring us in on note calls, to bring us into editing and show us how our words got made. From there, we went to Carlton Cuse, J.J. Abrams and Damon Lindelof. Damon and Carlton on Lost really showed us how to be showrunners. They would bring us into a call and we would say why are you doing this? They said, "Someday you'll need it." Cut to three years later on the first season of Once, and it's like, "Ah, I get it." When we wrote the pilot for Once, we realized that it was a weird mixture of influences from Ryan, Damon, Carlton and J.J. Certain characters on our show are very Ryan, and certain characters are very Damon.

    My proudest accomplishment this year is:
    Kitsis: The fact that we got the show on air. This is an idea Adam and I have had for nine years, since Felicity, and we stuck with it and we always wanted to do it. We never thought they'd pick it up, we never thought they'd put it on air, and we certainly never thought we'd survive against football and the World Series. When the pilot aired, it was like a nine-year odyssey that these two idiots pulled off.
    Horowitz: The moment that crystallized it for me was when we sat down with the cast and the crew to watch the finale. It was then [that] I realized we produced 22 episodes of the show. That was probably my proudest moment of the last year, because I never thought in my wildest dreams that we would be able to take this idea and have it turn into this.

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    The toughest scene to write this year:
    Kitsis: There was a scene where little Snow White betrays the Evil Queen to her mom, Cora (Barbara Hershey), and what was so tough about it was the entire series was about the Evil Queen's hatred of Snow White. In a way, we needed to make Snow culpable, but at the same time it was tricky emotionally to have everybody in the wrong and everybody in the right. That was the scene we probably wrote 30 drafts of.
    Horowitz: The scene between Emma and Henry toward the end of the pilot when she finds him. That scene was tricky, because this character of Emma is fun and smart and witty and quick, and this was the first time we had to bring down her walls and allow her to be vulnerable and reveal herself.

    The most absurd note I've ever gotten:
    Horowitz: The most absurd note we ever got was go ahead and make the show.
    Kitsis: This is a show where we'll have to choose which unicorn we want, so the whole thing is ridiculous. When you have a scene where the genie from Aladdin is killing Snow White's father and then becomes the magic mirror, everything is ridiculous. We added an eighth dwarf last year and killed him, and his original name was Sneaky. We were told that seemed derogatory, so we changed it to Stealthy. They were OK with us adding an eighth dwarf and killing the eighth dwarf, but they weren't OK with his name being Sneaky…They were probably right.

    The one aspect of my job as showrunner that I'd rather delegate:
    Horowitz: The hard part for me about being a showrunner is the time, and you can't really delegate that. There's so much you want to do and it takes up so much time that that's the biggest sacrifice you have to make. If you can surround yourself with talented and smart people, that can mitigate that.
    Kitsis: To do this job, you really have to love what you're doing. We love the show, we love the people, so it becomes a collaboration. Hopefully there isn't anything you don't want to do, because if there is, then that usually is a problem.

    My preferred method for breaking through writer's block:
    Horowitz: The preferred method is doing exactly what we did, which is hiring the best writers we could possibly find. If we have writer's block, we all sit in a room until we can all hash it out together.
    Kitsis: The other thing I find helpful is to throw a tantrum, say this will never work, why don't we move on? I find that that usually motivates everyone.

    If I could add any one writer to my staff, it would be:
    Kitsis: Absolutely, it would be Damon Lindelof, who was the godfather to this project right from the beginning. This show wouldn't be on air without him. If we could have his brain in the room every day, we would be happy.

    The show I'm embarrassed to admit I watch:
    Kitsis: My guilty pleasures tend to be weird, old shows that I find on channel 20 that I've never seen before like Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea or the Planet of the Apes TV show. My guilty pleasure, to be frank with you, is The Monkees. I loved it when I was young, I still like it, I'm trying to get my child to watch it, and I still dig it.
    Horowitz: The old '60s Batman show. It is so crazy and over the top, but just watching how committed every actor on that show is through the absurdity of what they're doing is pretty amazing. It's fun to see it through the eyes of my kids, who see it as straight drama.

    The three things I need in order to write:
    Kitsis: Nicorette, iced coffee and the couch in Adam's office.
    Horowitz: A nice bottle of water, some Led Zeppelin, preferably Led Zeppelin IV, and, I guess, Eddy on the couch.

  • Jason Katims

    Parenthood (NBC)

    The show that inspired me to write:
    Katims: I saw a production of True West, a Sam Shepard play that made me want to be a playwright. That's what made me want to start dramatic writing. In terms of TV shows, growing up I loved television and there were lots of shows with huge influences: M*A*S*H, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Taxi, The Odd Couple.

    My big break:
    Katims: My So-Called Life. I was a story editor and I worked with Winnie Holtzman, Ed Zwick and Marshall Herskovitz. It would have been great to work on any TV show, but to have my first be on such a great show, it was like my graduate school. I didn't go to film school, I wasn't planning to write for TV - I'd never been on a set before that show. The basic way that I approach writing TV I learned there, and I still refer back to that show and the things I learned.

    My TV mentor:
    Katims: My mentors were definitely Winnie, Ed and Marshall. They very much were who I learned everything about writing TV from. I still have contact with them to this day. They had a very particular way of approaching character and story, and for me, it's definitely the foundation. I did Relativity with them, and that was another level of learning how to run a show and learn producing elements of TV.

    My proudest accomplishment this year:
    Katims: What I'm really most excited about over the last year, we're well into the fourth season of Parenthood, and it's my favorite season of the show. That's what I'm really excited about: to get to this point in the show and feel like we're still growing creatively and everybody involved with the show is so energized in doing it. That's what I'm most proud of. I feel like we're still very much finding new stories to tell and everybody is very energized.

    PHOTOS: Broadcast TV's Returning Shows for 2012-13 Season

    My toughest scene to write this year:
    Katims: The story line of Kristina (Monica Potter) getting breast cancer is very personal to me. My wife went through that a couple of years ago, and I have other friends who have gone through that. It's definitely something I thought a lot about before doing and choosing to go down that path. When we talked about it for a few weeks and once we decided to do that story, Monica knowing nothing about it, emailed me that weekend and then brought up breast cancer. She emailed me about it and asked me how my wife was doing, and then she said, "I think this might be an interesting story to explore for Kristina." It was amazing  that we both came to that separately.

    The most absurd note I've ever gotten:
    Katims: My favorite network note was on Roswell, a show that was very much about aliens, but I always thought of it as a metaphor for adolescence and being a teenager. When we started doing the show, even though the characters are aliens, I wanted to approach it as if they were human and have the alien part of the show there, but have it be somewhat subtle. The person who was the head of the network at the time through someone else gave a note to me: "Aliens, aliens, aliens." It was an interesting question of finding the right balance. I don't think I had the perfect balance at the beginning. To me, that show was about finding balance, and it was a challenge. I came from My So-Called Life, I wasn't coming from a genre point of view. I always found it funny.

    The one part of my job as showrunner that I’d rather delegate:
    Katims: Giving characters names, that's the thing I hate. It could throw me off for hours. I start looking up different names on the Internet and going through everyone I've known. Some people love to name characters - I wish I did. Zeke (Craig T. Nelson) was named after my friend's dad who passed away right before I wrote the pilot, and the character shares similarities with him and my father. Hank (Ray Romano) the writers came up with - I struggled with that name.

    If I could add any one writer to my staff, it would be:
    Katims: The first person that comes to mind is Winnie Holtzman if we're in the world of fantasy. She's such an inventive writer and is incredible with characters.

    The show I’m embarrassed to admit I watch:
    Katims: I watched Cupcake Wars with my 11-year-old daughter, it's a fun thing to do with the family. As a family, we love watching American Idol.

    If I could scrub one credit from the resume, it would be:
    Katims: I worked on the remake of Bionic Woman, and that didn't go very well. 

  • Mike Kelley

    Revenge (ABC)

    Jessica Chou

    This story first appeared in the Oct. 12 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

    The mood inside the Manhattan Beach studio where ABC shoots its hit primetime drama Revenge is a bit bipolar. Between takes, the cast and crew happily traverse the labyrinth of shingled estates that fill their makeshift Hamptons, joking with one another and eyeing the lavish -- even by L.A. standards -- craft-services table. But as soon as they're rolling or enmeshed in a particularly thorough rehearsal, the show's fictional animosity creeps in like an Atlantic fog.

    PHOTOS: THR Visits the Set of Revenge

    Madeleine Stowe, nominated for a Golden Globe for her calculating villainess Victoria Grayson, casts an icy gaze from her prop balcony until someone signals a break, her intimidating expression loosens into a smile and she makes a beeline for a robe. (It might be summer in this version of Hamptons, but it hasn't topped 65 degrees inside the studio on this mid-September day.)

    Series creator Mike Kelley hops the railing to talk his star through the rest of the scene, a tense encounter with new addition Jennifer Jason Leigh. Stowe says such intimate moments of prep time with Kelley have afforded the seasoned film actress a very different focus on her first TV series. "I was always taught [in film] to not worry about the words and just feel your way through the scenes," says Stowe, who says she's in particular awe of her onscreen nemesis, TV veteran Emily VanCamp (Brothers & Sisters, Everwood), 26, who today is on the sideline, quietly running lines and plugged into her iPhone. "I learn so much from the younger actors. They come from a completely different school."

    A former producer on The O.C. who created CBS' brief but well-received 1960s-set drama Swingtown, Kelley, 45, had a blind script deal with ABC only two years ago when the network expressed interest in updating Alexandre Dumas' tale of vengeance The Count of Monte Cristo with a female protagonist.

    He admits the audience has spun his series into something different than he intended ("Suspense drama is what I wanted people to call it, but they see it more as a guilty-pleasure soap," says Kelley) but knows it isn't worth harping on labels. Revenge heads into its sophomore year as one of the youngest-skewing debuts of the 2011-12 season and a new mainstay of water-cooler chat. The show managed to build viewership in the undesirable 10 p.m. Wednesday hour. As a reward, the series has moved to Sunday, where it is poised to grow in Desperate Housewives' former time slot.

    Kelley has high hopes of filling such legendary shoes. "Yes, people may be watching football and The Good Wife at that time on a Sunday night," he admits. "But I'm really hoping not."

  • Michelle King and Robert King

    The Good Wife (CBS)

    The Hollywood Reporter: What's the best part about working with your spouse?

    Michelle King: You can't resent someone not doing dishes if they're in the midst of a rewrite.

    Robert King: I can be in editorial while Michelle is in the writers room. Michelle can be in the production meeting while I take a nap.

    THR: What's the worst part?

    Michelle: I can't exaggerate what happened to me at the office since he was there to witness it!

    Robert: It's harder to slip bad work past your writing partner. There's also little time to talk about something other than work.

    THR: What is Robert's biggest pet peeve at work?

    Michelle: When locations, actors or directors fall out, always at the last minute.

    Robert: Yes, people breaking promises.

    THR: What is Michelle's biggest pet peeve?

    Michelle: Robert will say it's our antiquated phone system, in which, inexplicably, two people can't talk on the same line.

    Robert: Actually, I was going to say a lack of coverage [options for alternative takes] in the dailies.

    VIDEO: 'The Good Wife' Season 4 Premiere: Kalinda Gains the Upper Hand

    THR: Which of you is the good cop and which is bad cop?

    Robert: I'm never the bad cop. I try to be! But people just laugh. Michelle gets very tough with standards and practices. It's quite charming.

    THR: When you're at a story impasse, who gets veto power on stories?

    Michelle: It isn't so much about veto power. The good thing about stories is that they can be changed. If we collaborated on making kimonos, it would be harder. You cut the silk wrong, you're screwed.

    Robert: Unfortunately, or maybe fortunately, we do 22 to 23 shows a year, so there's no time for story impasses. Panic offers its own veto power.  

  • Aaron Korsh

    Suits (USA)

    The TV show that inspired me to write:
    Korsh:
     M.A.S.H. springs to mind, L.A. Law, Hill Street Blues, Cheers, Happy Days, Barney Miller. But I didn’t realize I wanted to be a television writer until two of my college friends became writers.

    My big break:
    Korsh:
     My first freelance script was on Everybody Loves Raymond. I was a writers’ assistant, and they let me pitch a story and write an episode. My first real writing job was on ABC’s Notes From the Underbelly.

    My TV mentor:
    Korsh: Phil Rosenthal,
     the creator and showrunner of Everybody Loves Raymond. I got to sit in the room and see him run that show for two seasons – and I learned so much. Since he was the first, he was the most influential to me.

    My proudest accomplishment this year:
    Korsh: 
    My proudest accomplishment is what we did in the first 10 episodes of season two. I look back at the first half, and we don’t have any dingers in the bunch. In my first year as sole showrunner, we crafted 10 episodes that have a cohesive arc to them that build and give a satisfying conclusion.

    PHOTOS: Broadcast TV's Returning Shows for 2012-13 Season

    My toughest scene to write:
    Korsh: 
    One of the hardest scenes to write was the boxing scene between nemeses Tanner (Eric Close) and Harvey (Gabriel Macht) that I wrote during the episode rewrite. So many people were so worried about the scene; it felt like it had so much scrutiny. We were under the gun, and it was difficult from a pressure, time and high expectations point of view.

    The most absurd note I've ever gotten:
    Korsh:
     When the pilot was being shot, there was a question about whether we could show Mike (Patrick J. Adams) smoking pot or not. The network did testing and discovered that slightly fewer people liked it when we showed him smoking pot than when we didn’t. But the people who did like it thought the show was smarter, which I thought was interesting and odd. The network decided to go with appealing to more viewers. That wasn’t a major thing, but I would’ve gone the other way.

    I'd rather delegate:
    Korsh: 
    I don’t spend a whole lot of time on hair, makeup and the wardrobe for actors or too much time on the prep (i.e. locations). I wish I could spend less time on casting and in post, but I really care about those things and it affects the show, so I find it difficult to spend less time on that stuff.

    How I break through writer's block:
    Korsh: 
    Writer’s block is usually when you’re afraid. That to me is what writer's block is. The best way is to write, sleep, write, sleep to get it done.

    If I could add any writer to my staff, it would be:
    Korsh: Aaron Sorkin and David Milch. I have no idea how they’d act on a staff, probably not wonderfully – they’d be answering to me and that’d be weird – but I would love to work with them.

    The show I'm embarrassed to admit I watch:
    Korsh: 
    When my wife gets into it, I get into it: Survivor. Top Chef is another one.

    The three things I need in order to write:
    Korsh:
     A quiet, comfortable space; a cup of coffee; and time.

    If I could scrub one credit from my resume, it would be:
    Korsh:
     If taking one or two of those jobs off my resume could mean me getting staffed faster, then I would do that, but every job has led to me to where I am now.

  • Peter Lenkov

    Hawaii Five-0 (CBS)

    The show that inspired me to write:
    Lenkov: Magnum P.I. In fact, there was this incredibly cool episode entitled "Did You See the Sunrise" written by Don Bellisario that turned on the lightbulb. Got me dreaming, thinking I'd like to write something like that some day.

    My big break:
    Lenkov: Selling a spec called Demolition Man to Warner Bros.

    My TV mentor:
    Lenkov: Larry Hertzog, Joel Surnow, Pam Veasey... there's been many amazing folks who've influenced me over the years.  

    My proudest accomplishment this year:
    Lenkov: Work-wise: Getting a season three pick-up. Personal: Potty training my three-year-old.  

    My toughest scene to write this year:
    Lenkov: McGarrett sitting down with his mom and asking her why she faked her own murder 20 years ago. 

    The most absurd note I’ve ever gotten:
    Lenkov: Ask me when I'm retired. 

    The aspect of my job as showrunner that I’d rather delegate:
    Lenkov: Where to hold the wrap party.   

    My preferred method for breaking through writer’s block:
    Lenkov: Looking at a mortgage statement. 

    If I could add any one writer to my staff, it would be:
    Lenkov: Shane Black

    The show I’m embarrassed to admit I watch:
    Lenkov: Real Housewives of Orange County. 

    The three things I need in order to write:
    Lenkov: Coffee. Final Draft. A smile from my wife.  

    If I could scrub one credit from my resume, it would be:
    Lenkov: Just one? Seriously? Can I have two or three?

  • Glen Mazzara

    The Walking Dead (AMC)

    The show that inspired me to write:
    Mazzara: The third season premiere of Hill Street Blues, called "Trial by Fury," written by David Milch. I remember the episode very clearly and Joyce Davenport gives a phenomenal speech at the end to Frank Furillo, and the way that the event of that story led to that character's speech, and what it meant in that relationship, really affected me at the time. It made me realize that there could be great, meaningful moments on TV that you could think about the next day and it really landed a punch. The other moment was the M*A*S*H finale, where there was an incident on a bus where Hawkeye has convinced a woman to choke her own baby to death so that the soldiers nearby didn't hear where they were hiding. Those two moments, Joyce's speech and that realization of what Hawkeye had gone through and what he had become at the end of the war really made me want to become a TV writer.

    My big break:
    Mazzara: Nash Bridges. I wrote a freelance episode and was hired to staff and was mainly partnered with some young punk named Shawn Ryan. I learned story structure and how to write for a main character. I was originally told that Nash Bridges doesn't make mistakes because nobody wants to watch Don Johnson make mistakes, and you really had to make sure that your main character drives every scene and is compelling, watchable and entertaining. Those were rules that I have used on every single show.

    My TV mentor:
    Mazzara: John Wurth and Carlton Hughes, who were the executive producers on Nash Bridges, and then Shawn Ryan really taught me a lot about becoming a leader and becoming a showrunner. I learned a lot from Shawn whoreally had to figure out what he was he doing at a very early age. I give him a lot of credit.

    My proudest accomplishment this year:
    Mazzara: Our third season. The idea that we pulled together and that I was able to lead the show through a time of crisis, and that everybody pulled together, focused on the work. I think we've written and filmed our best season yet.

    My toughest scene to write this year:
    Mazzara: The toughest scene that we had to write was the scene in which Rick kills Shane. The actors had very different takes on what that scene should be, and I really had to stick to my guns as a showrunner and have faith in the material that my co-writer, Evan Reilly, and I had developed.

    The most absurd note I've ever gotten:
    Mazzara: I actually just received a note that a particular line was not good because it sounded "too TV." I don't remember the exact line, but I pointed out that it was a teleplay for a TV show. What was so bad about something sounding TV? What does that mean? It sounds TV? That was an odd note.

    PHOTOS: Broadcast TV's Returning Shows for 2012-13 Season

    The one aspect of my job as showrunner that I’d rather delegate:
    Mazzara: Calling the actors and telling them their characters are being killed off. That's never fun. I have done it a lot and I have also done it for season three. I have done it on almost every show; I did it on The Shield, I told Kenny Johnson his character was being killed off. He was devastated. People are devastated to leave a job that they love. It's never easy. That is something that I would love to delegate but I can't; I feel like it's my job, it's my responsibility. When I call people just to talk or to bring up something, they all thinks it's the "Death Call," so all the actors are afraid when they get on the phone with me.

    My preferred method for breaking through writer's block:
    Mazzara: When I get stuck, I actually sit down and write the worst possible version of the scene I need to write. I try to make it as cheesy, goofy and ridiculous as possible. That way I don't have to worry about any other draft because it can't possibly be that bad. By writing the worst possible version, you get it out of the way and it takes the pressure off because anything else will just be an improvement. The downfall is that then, as a joke, I turned it in on The Shield and Kurt Sutter and Shawn Ryan just thought I was just very, very tired (laughs). They did not get the joke, but it was actually the worst scene possible. I think it was for one of Kurt's scripts. It was terrible.

    If I could add one writer to my staff, it would be:
    Mazzara: Rod Serling, because he is the best TV writer ever. Current writer would be David Milch. He is such a hero of mine.

    PHOTOS: 'The Walking Dead' Season 3: Revenge, Swords and The Governor

    The show I’m embarrassed to admit I watch:
    Mazzara: I love Project Runway. Since I have no fashion sense, I have no idea if what they're making is good or bad, I have to ask my wife. I love the idea that these people have to be creative and they're snapping at each other and they're so emotionally involved. It's a lot likeworking in a writers' room (laughs).

    The three I need in order to write:
    Mazzara: I can't write at a desk anymore, I need a big table in a library or a coffee shop or a dining room table. I write at our writers' room table or my dining room table. I need a yellow legal pad and I need a blue precise rolling ball marker. That's the only thing I can write with right now.

    If I could scrub one credit from my résumé, it would be:
    Mazzara: Fox's Standoff [2006-07]. I did not have a good experience there. 

  • Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk

    Glee (Fox) and American Horror Story (FX)

    Smallz & Raskind

    The show that inspired me to write:
    Falchuk: St. Elsewhere, Monty Python's Flying Circus. They were both so bold in their own ways.  The afterlife episode of St. Elsewhere still resonates with me. And is there a better example of writing conflict than the dead Parrot scene? Those shows didn't make me want to become a writer but they gave me a model for the kind of writer I wanted to be: Fearless.

    My first big break:
    Falchuk: A freelance episode of Earth: Final Conflict. It was a syndicated show. I did a couple of them and an episode of Mutant X. They would let me doone-offs but none of the shows would hire me to be on the staff.

    My TV mentor:
    FalchukRyan Murphy. He gave me my first real staff job.

    My proudest accomplishment this year:
    Falchuk: Keeping both shows on the air and thriving. I'm very proud of the quality of the work both last season and this upcoming season.

    My toughest scene to write this year:
    Falchuk: The school massacre scene for American Horror Story. It wasn't hard as a writing exercise, it came pretty quickly actually, but I think to do it right you have to emotionally put yourself or the people you care about in the situation you're writing.

    The one aspect of my job as showrunner that I'd rather delegate:
    Falchuk: Returning phone calls and emails. I suck at it. I'm sorry to everyone I owe a return call or a reply. The list is long and distinguished.

    My preferred method for breaking through writer's block:
    Falchuk: I watch scenes from The Sopranos on YouTube. I'm very dyslexic so reading is hard but I find that listening to great writing gets me over my whatever is scaring me. 

    If I could add any writer to my staff, it would be:
    FalchukMichael Schur (Parks and Recreation). His Fire Joe Morgan blog was a must read.

    The show I’m embarrassed to admit I watch:
    Falchuk: The 2012 Boston Red Sox. I know they have a team ERA of 4.59 and they are in last place and have had two comeback wins all season but I just can't quit them.

    The three things I need in order to write:
    Falchuk: Sweet potatoes -- they're like super food. Internet access -- I have to know that at any moment I can escape from the scene I'm writing and Bruce Springsteen -- I don't listen to music while I write but I have all of these great pictures of the Boss in my office. They were all gifts. It's basically a wall of Bruce. He inspires me. 

  • Shane Brennan (LA) and Gary Glasberg (original)

    Team NCIS (CBS)

    The TV show that inspired me to write:
    Glasberg: We had appointment television in my house growing up. I have vivid memories of watching everything from Mary Tyler Moore to M*A*S*H to Roots with my parents. That said, St. Elsewhere left me saying, “I want to do that for a living.”

    Brennan: I wanted to be a feature [film] writer until I saw Hill Street Blues. That show was instrumental in turning me away from big screen dreams to small screen reality.  

    My big break:
    Glasberg: My first hour-drama writing job was for UPN on a short-lived show called Swift Justice. The program lasted nine episodes and then died. I kept going.
    Brennan: A cop show, what else? And the name of that Australianshow: Cop Shop.

    PHOTOS: Broadcast TV's Returning Shows for 2012-13 Season

    My TV mentor: 
    Glasberg: Story wise, I learned a tremendous amount from Alan J. Pakula and James L. Brooks. But a man named David Balkan (Hunter) taught me how a TV show runs. I am forever appreciative.  
    Brennan: I didn’t have a mentor as such until I’d been writing for 15 years… when I had the great fortune to work with Lee David Zlotoff, who created MacGyver. Lee and I worked on The Man from the Snowy River, a television series shot in Australia for a cable channel here in the U.S. He was generous, supportive and encouraging and convinced me to give U.S. television a try. And yes, Lee had been a writer on Hill Street Blues.

    My proudest accomplishment this year:
    Glasberg:
     Writing and producing NCIS's 200th episode and running the year's most watched TV show. Proud is an understatement.  
    Brennan: My 33rd wedding anniversary.

    My toughest scene to write this year:
    Brennan: The one I’m writing now. It was due yesterday.

    The most absurd note I’ve ever gotten:
    Brennan: You want just one? Really? Just one? OK, I was once asked to replace a lead character’s pink blouse with something lighter in color … “like a burgundy.” Huh?

    The aspect of my job as showrunner that I’d rather delegate:
    Glasberg: Writing staffs constantly evolve. Sometimes you have to make changes. Staffs are like families. It's never easy making an adjustment. Truth is, it can't be delegated. It comes with the job.  
    Brennan: There’s no one to hide behind when you’re a showrunner. You really can’t delegate any of the crappy stuff.

    My preferred method for breaking through writers’ block:   
    Glasberg: When production calls and reminds me prep is a week away, writers block goes away pretty quick.  

    If I could add any one writer to my staff, it would be:   
    Glasberg:
     I hear that Shakespeare guy is good, but he's a little long-winded.
    Brennan: William Shakespeare. Just to ask him how the hell he did it.

    The show I’m embarrassed to admit I watch:
    Glasberg:
     I prefer guilty pleasure to embarrassed. I love anything on the Food Network.  
    Brennan: The Engadget Show. On the Internet. OK, I’m a geek.

    The three things I need in order to write:
    Glasberg:
     I like to take my shoes off, keep the coffee pot full, and listen to a lot of movie scores.   
    Brennan: Pencil. Paper. Sobriety, though not always.

    If I could scrub one thing off of my resume, it would be:
    Brennan: I’ve never left a credit off my resume… the good, the bad and the oh-my-God-what-were- you-thinking all have their place in honing your writing skills. Some of the best lessons are learned on the lousiest shows.

  • Matt Nix

    Burn Notice (USA)

    The TV show that inspired me to write:
    Nix:
     M.A.S.H. I watched two episodes every day for a couple of years as a kid. I thoroughly memorized it – knew it backwards and forwards – and cried when it was over. I also can still remember where I was standing – outside at the pool when I was 10 or 11 – when someone mentioned someone we knew wrote a spec episode of WKRP in Cincinnati.

    My big break:
    Nix:
     Doing an adaptation of a Robert Parker novel for Helen Hunt, although I hesitate to call it a major writing job because the project was put into turnaround before I could turn in the script.

    My TV mentor:
    Nix: 
    Since Burn Notice was my first TV job – I was never on a show before – my mentor was probably Jeff Melvoin, who ran the WGA's showrunner training program.

    My proudest accomplishment this year:
    Nix: 
    Changing the model of Burn Notice from a largely self-contained, episodic show into a highly serialized drama. That was a combination of something the network wanted and what we were interested in doing. Having the ratings go up in season six is unusual and it’s not supposed happen when you get more serialized.

    PHOTOS: Broadcast TV's Returning Shows for 2012-13 Season

    My toughest scene to write:
    Nix: 
    The toughest scenes were the scenes having to do with the Michael’s brother’s death and his relationship with his mom because we had to find a way to make those scenes compatible with the show. Finding ways to carry this emotionally weighty story line, but at the same time maintaining some of the breeziness.

    The most absurd note I've ever gotten:
    Nix:
     A cut accidentally went out this year that was missing an entire act and we did get the note that the network felt the addition of the second act sort of slowed it down.

    I'd rather delegate:
    Nix:
     The endless rounds of booking directors. Anything having to do with scheduling is not my thing. Looking over long lists of actors for parts and trying to determine who is actually available, actually affordable and actually might do the show.

    How I break through writer's block:
    Nix: 
    I always tell myself I’m not writing the script yet, I’ll just write down the things that I know have to happen in the episode and go from there. By constantly telling myself I’m not writing the script, that I’m preparing to write the script, eventually the script emerges.

    If I could add any writer to my staff, it would be:
    Nix: Stephen J. Cannell.

    The show I'm embarrassed to admit I watch:
    Nix: 
    Project Runway. My wife watches it but when it's on, I accidentally get sucked in. Hell’s Kitchen is the other one; a screaming Gordon Ramsay I find entertaining.

    The three things I need in order to write:
    Nix:
     Coffee, almonds and gum.

    If I could scrub one credit from my resume, it would be:
    Nix: 
    I don’t have enough credits! It doesn't show up on my resume but I wrote a movie about the fashion industry, a topic I have no interest in.

  • Jonathan Nolan and Greg Plageman

    Person of Interest (CBS)

    The TV show that inspired me to write:
    NolanMagnum PI “Home from the Sea” - the one with the shark. Only marginally less effective at reducing grown men to tears than a kick to the stones.
    PlagemanCheers. Miami Vice. Moonlighting. NYPD Blue.

    My first big break:
    Nolan: The short story that my brother [Christopher Nolan] adapted into [the 2000 feature film] Memento. I was still in college. I had pitched it to Chris on a road trip, then gone back to school and forgotten all about it. He called and harassed me to send him what I had. If he hadn’t I’d probably still be working on it.   
    Plageman: I started out at Spelling Television, wrote a story for 90210, then wound up on 7th Heaven. But the first really tough gig I landed was when [StevenBochco hired me on NYPD Blue.

    My TV mentor:
    Nolan: Every writer on our staff. I’m the newbie.
    Plageman: Never really felt like I had one. Bochco, [DickWolf and [JerryBruckheimer were more trial by fire kind of places, where they kind of throw you in the deepend. I just chose to swim.

    My proudest accomplishment this year:
    Nolan: One night we had Person of Interest and The Dark Knight Rises shooting side by side in Tribeca. Pretty great night.
    Plageman: Launching a new show with Jonah, getting it to stay on the air. That’s a first for me. For years I swore I’d never work on a first year show if I could avoid it, just because of the outsized agony involved, especially when the ratings don’t come in. Thankfully, our numbers came in.

    PHOTOS: Broadcast TV's Returning Shows for 2012-13 Season

    My toughest scene to write this year:
    Plageman: I enjoyed writing the scene where Root poses as a professional shrink, psychoanalyzing Reese [James Caviezel]. Both characters are lying about their true identity while trying to elicit personal information about the other. The fact that Root manages to hit so close to home about Reese’s true nature is as fun as it is unsettling for him. And it’s even more fun to watch in hindsight when you realize who she really is.

    The most absurd note I’ve ever gotten:
    Plageman: Anything emanating from Broadcast Standards/Program Practices. Those folks have an impossibly absurd job.

    The aspect of my job as showrunner that I’d rather delegate:
    Nolan: The phone calls. There are a lot of ’em. Most days I feel more like the Time-Life operator than a writer.
    Plageman: Everything outside of breaking and writing stories. Every other aspect feels interpretive to me, which is a fine recipe for madness.

    My preferred method for breaking through writers’ block:
    Nolan: Assigning the script to someone else.
    Plageman: Taking the weekly hysterical call from production, asking when they’re going to get a script.

    If I could add any writer to your staff, it would it be:
    NolanMichael Mann. His work comes up enough in the room that we should be paying him royalties.
    PlagemanElwood Reid [Cold Case, Hawaii Five-O]. We speak a lot of the same language. We couldn’t steal him off another show and now he’s got a pilot [FX’s The Bridge]. He’s a fantastically blunt writer to have in the room, and ferociously economical on the page.

    The three things I need in order to write:
    Plageman: Chair, Spotify/Songza and lack of Internet connection.

    If I could scrub one credit from your resume, it would it be:
    Plageman: Not a one. I don’t really like people who lie about where they came from. If you want to be a working writer in this business, you take the break where it comes. We get paid to make up stories. Wear it like a badge.   

  • Shonda Rhimes and Betsy Beers

    Grey's Anatomy, Private Practice and Scandal (ABC)

    The show that inspired me to write:
    Rhimes: All the books that I read growing up that made me want to become a writer. I'd planned to be Toni Morrison. The only problem is, that job is taken -- Toni Morrison is busy being Toni Morrison.

    My TV mentor:
    Beers: I have had some really wonderful supporters. Suzanne Patmore Gibbs encouraged me to work in television -- she was the one who suggested meeting Shonda Rhimes, so I have a lot to thank her for! And Channing Dungey is another person who has always been an incredible advocate and friend.

    My big break:
    Rhimes: I sold a spec pilot call Human Seeking Same. It was a romantic comedy and it enabled me to quit my day job.

    My proudest accomplishment this year:
    Beers: Getting Scandal up and running and being brought back for a second season.

    My toughest scene to write last year:
    Rhimes: My toughest scene was in the season one finale of Scandal: The scene where Mellie (Bellamy Young) yells at Olivia (Kerry Washington) and says that she is taking her husband back. I'd spent the whole season standing in Olivia’s shoes, seeing the world from her point of view and that was the first moment that I really needed to tap into compassion for Mellie. Everything about who Mellie really is, her pain, was revealed in that scene.

    The most absurd note I've ever gotten:
    Beers: Regarding Grey's Anatomy's Meredith Grey (Ellen Pompeo): "Women will not relate to a woman who has a one-night stand the night before her first day of work."

    PHOTOS: Broadcast TV's Returning Shows for 2012-13 Season

    The one aspect of my job as showrunner that I’d rather delegate:
    Beers: Anything that has to do with live tweeting or product integration. I also worked on one video game in my time here so that is another thing better left to those with a talent for it.

    If I could add one writer to my writers room, it would be:
    Rhimes: Norman Lear, on any one of my shows. 

    The show I’m embarrassed to admit I watch:
    Beers: Storage Wars. You just always hope there is something really great in those piles of stuff.

    The three things I need to write:
    Rhimes: Ice water, headphones and the right music.

    My preferred method for breaking through writers block:
    Rhimes: I lie on the floor of my office and contemplate fleeing the country. I do this often. Almost daily. But, at some point, I always get sick of lying on the floor whining so I just get up and start writing. It usually only takes about five minutes of really bad writing to break through the writers’ block and start writing something decent.

    If I could scrub one credit from my resume, it would be:
    Beers: I already did! There is little or no record of my short stint acting (very badly) in dinner theater ... until now.

  • Josh Schwartz and Stephanie Savage

    Gossip Girl and Hart of Dixie (CW)

    The show that inspired me to write:
    Schwartz: The Muppet Show. Family Ties.

    My big break:
    Schwartz: My retrospective on the career of Steven Spielberg for my camp newsletter when I was seven.  When you are not a gifted athlete you must find other ways to impress the campers.

    My TV Mentor:
    Schwartz: Bob DeLaurentis was hired to help me run my first series, The O.C.  He taught me about balancing the insanity of television with the sanity of life. Also, Stephanie Savage has taught me a ton over the years. Her taste and work ethic are simultaneously daunting and inspiring.
    Savage: John McNamara, Bob DeLaurentis, Shaun Cassidy. And Josh Schwartz gave me my first script, which is the job that changed my life. 

    My proudest accomplishment this year:
    Schwartz: That would have to be Stella, my nine-month-old daughter.  Also I directed my first movie Fun Size, which comes out in October for Paramount. Both have been tremendous experiences for growth and learning. Only one requires diaper changing at 6:30 in the morning. 
    Savage: Gossip Girl finishing, The Carrie Diaries starting and our movie Fun Size coming out -- all in the same week. 

    My toughest scene to write this year:
    Savage: The final scene of Gossip Girl. Tears make it hard to see the keyboard.

    My most absurd note I’ve ever gotten:
    Schwartz: Pitching the pilot story of [NBC’s] Chuck to a network executive who just looked at me when I finished and said, “Why would you want to write that?”
    Savage: “Could one of them be a cop/doctor/lawyer?” Writing serial dramas, we actually get that a lot.

    The aspect of my job as showrunner that I’d rather delegate:
    Schwartz: I am a firm believer that the key to surviving showrunning is delegating. On all our Fake Empire shows, we have incredible showrunners in place who are passionate, talented and surrounded by good people.
    Savage: Anything that requires appearing in front of the camera.

    PHOTOS: Broadcast TV's Returning Shows for 2012-13 Season

    My preferred method for breaking through writers’ block:
    Schwartz: Asking someone else to write it.
    Savage: Writers’ block is not really an option when you’re shooting eight pages a day, five days a week, nine months a year.

    The show I’m embarrassed to admit I watch:
    Schwartz: I make teen dramas, I’m not embarrassed to admit I watch anything.
    Savage: I don’t believe in “guilty” pleasure.  MSNBC’s LockupMy Big Fat Gypsy Wedding, every single show on Discovery ID -- if it feels good, do it.

    The three things you need in order to write:
    Schwartz: An idea, some time and the knowledge that failing to deliver could result in a network airing color bars.
    Savage: I’ve written with a broken wrist, with pneumonia. I finished a script sitting at a bus stop on Banff Avenue during a snow storm. So long as I have headphones, a playlist and my laptop, I’m good.

    If I could scrub one credit from your resume, it would it be:
    Schwartz: I think the healthy answer to this is they have all been learning experiences.  
    Savage: None. You fall in love with everything you make.

  • Greer Shephard

    Longmire (A&E)

    The show that inspired me to write:
    Shephard: My inspiration wasn't a show -- it was my dad, Harvey Shephard. He had been the head of programming at CBS during my childhood, and then became the president of Warner Bros. The electricity and creativity surrounding his job was very alluring. It was a synthesis of art, intellectualism and psychology in a very social context with a parade of personalities. Throughout his career, he provided some great role models and opportunities for women by developing shows like Cagney and LaceyMurphy Brown and China Beach. I saw the social importance of his contributions, and I wanted to be part of that legacy and continue that tradition. I hope I have made him proud. I also have to admit he introduced me to Bo and Luke Duke when I was 13. That was pretty big.

    My first big break:
    ShephardPopular, a teen dramedy for The WB that I worked on with Ryan Murphy and my partner Mike Robin.

    My TV mentor:
    Shephard: Showrunner David Manson. I watched him run the writers' room on a show called Nothing Sacred with Solomon-like grace. He knew how to harness the strengths of very different personality types and manage differing creative processes. He instinctively knew when to deconstruct a story, and when to keep building upon it. He taught me the value of theme in storytelling, and reinforced the importance of never settling for a solution that "feels like TV." He constantly sought out the best artists for every department, even if they were not conventional choices. To this day, he maintains a standard of excellence and an intellectual rigor that I try to emulate.

    My proudest accomplishment this year:
    Shephard: I was able to juggle being a single mother of a 2-year-old while producing Longmire out of state.

    My toughest scene to write this year:
    Shephard: My fellow Longmire executive producers Hunt Baldwin and John Coveny and I toiled over the climactic emotional showdown between Walt and his daughter Cady when she confronts him for concealing the circumstances surrounding her mother's death. It was challenging to figure out how to crack open such a stoic character and show his pain and heartbreak without slipping into melodrama.

    The most absurd note I've ever gotten:
    Shephard: Somewhere in my boxes is a framed copy of the Standards and Practices notes we got from FX after delivering the pilot of Nip/Tuck. I remember thinking the notes were more pornographic than the film itself, with elaborate descriptions of thrusting and side nipples that had us all blushing. We finally resorted to the shorthand: "no pink, no fuzz" to avoid further embarrassment.

    The one aspect of my job as showrunner that I’d rather delegate:
    Shephard: I don't enjoy dealing with budget issues. Thankfully, my partner Mike Robin shoulders many of these burdens. I also try to avoid all issues concerning hair.

    If you could add any one writer to your staff, who would it be?
    Shephard: I would clone Hunt Baldwin and John Coveny. Mostly to see Coveny give notes to himself.

    The show I’m embarrassed to admit I watch:
    Shephard: It's not the show that embarrasses me -- it's the NUMBER OF TIMES I rewatch episodes of Friday Night Lights. There is something so soothing about the show's nostalgic portrait of high school and football and Texas … and something so reassuring about Coach Taylor's character. Longmire was borne out of my desire to develop a series equally escapist, romantic and quietly noble. We even cast Grandma Saracen!

    The three things I need in order to work:
    Shephard: Hot chocolate from Starbucks (preferably with whipped cream); a bottle of Advil; the ability to take breaks to play with my daughter.

  • Aaron Sorkin

    The Newsroom (HBO)

    Kevin Winter/Getty Images

    The show that inspired me to write:
    Sorkin: M*A*S*HLarry Gelbart didn't segregate drama and comedy. There would be jokes, terror and heartbreak in the same episode. 

    My proudest accomplishment this year:
    Sorkin: Other than it being the 11th consecutive year of keeping my child alive, The Newsroom.

    My toughest scene to write this year:
    Sorkin: The first scene of The Newsroom. Starting is always the hardest for me.

    The most absurd note I’ve ever gotten:Sorkin: At the end of the second episode of The West Wing, a U.S. Air Force jet is shot down when it accidentally wanders into Syrian airspace. NBC got an angry letter from the Arab-American Anti-Defamation League and a few episodes later I had Toby (Richard Schiff) make a reference to Hebrew slaves in Egypt 5000 years ago I got a note from the legal department, now sensitive to the issue, asking me to show my research. So I sent them Exodus.

    My preferred method for breaking through writer’s block:
    Sorkin: Talking it out with the writing staff. Sometimes beating up an intern.

    If I could add any one writer to my staff, it would be:
    Sorkin: Rod Serling.

    The show I’m embarrassed to admit I watch:
    Sorkin: There's no way to get out of this question alive.

    The three I need in order to write: 
    Sorkin: Dr. Pepper and long stretches of solitude.

  • Kurt Sutter

    Sons of Anarchy (FX)

    The show that inspired me to write:
    Sutter: I didn't know I wanted to be a writer until grad school. If I look back at the TV I watched growing up, I'd say Hill Street Blues probably impacted me the most creatively. That was the first TV show where I had the awareness of "writing and tone." It was different from anything else I had ever seen. It was the first show where I was pulled inside the world. 

    My big break:
    Sutter: The Shield.

    My TV mentor:
    Sutter: I consider [The Shield creator] Shawn Ryan the guy who helped me find my voice. Shawn saw my potential and navigated around my "big personality," steered my ego and aggression in the right creative path. Also [FX Networks president] John Landgraf. John's helped me become a better showrunner, a better boss and generally less of a dick. And yes, clearly there's some more work to be done.

    My proudest accomplishment this year:
    Sutter: Personally, my greatest accomplishments are always my kids. Knowing that I got through another year without f---ing them up, always makes me happy. Professionally, it would be making the overall deal with FX and 20th. To know that I've grown enough as an artist and a man to gain the trust of Landgraf and [20th Century Fox TV Chairman] Dana Walden meant a great deal to me. The money was awesome, but it was the their confidence in me as a creator that meant the most.

    My toughest scene to write this year:
    Sutter: There are no tough scenes to write. I think when people view scenes that are gruesome or harrowing, they assume the resulting emotionality is somehow present in the process of creating it. That may be the case with some writers, but for me, I'm not a guy who lives that life; I'm not psychologically connected to the act, so I might as well be writing about wizards and fairies. I love writing the stuff that makes people scream and turn away from the TV.

    The most absurd note I’ve ever gotten:
    Sutter: "I don't think people are going to want to see the severed sack of rapist clown." -- John Landgraf.

    PHOTOS: Broadcast TV's Returning Shows for 2012-13 Season

    The one aspect of my job as showrunner that I’d rather delegate:
    Sutter: It changes day to day. I'm a moody f---, so no one ever knows what's going to overwhelm on any given day. 

    My preferred method for breaking through writers’ block:
    Sutter: I game while I write. It's been my process for over 10 years. I just finished Max Payne 3 as I was writing 511.

    If I could add any one writer to my staff, it would be:
    Sutter: I’d love to add Tim Minear.

    The show I’m embarrassed to admit I watch:
    I embrace my guilty pleasures. I watch a f---load of HGTV. In fact, House Hunters International is destination TV for Katey [Sagal] and me.

    The three things I need to write:
    Sutter: I need quiet, a whiteboard, and lots of coffee.

    If I could scrub one credit from my resume, it would be:
    Sutter: I don't have that many credits. Check back in 10 years when I'm writing Sons of Anarchy: South Hampton Charter.

  • Janet Tamaro

    Rizzoli & Isles (TNT)

    The TV show that inspired me to write:
    Tamaro:
     It’s not that I didn’t and don’t love TV. I do. And it’s not because I’m sucking up to my parents, who wouldn’t let me watch TV when I was a kid. I nearly electrocuted myself trying to reconnect a plug to an electrical cord my father had severed because he caught us watching TV. The truth isn’t sexy: books made me want to be a writer. But maybe that’s because the TV didn’t work…

    My first big break:
    Tamaro:
     I wrote a freelance episode while still working as a journalist. That was season one of Law & Order: SVU.

    My TV mentor:
    Tamaro: My mentors were all from news. I was a television correspondent before I started writing TV dramas. Blame me. Could be I was a lousy mentee thanks to too many years of trying to learn the basics of nuclear physics in an hour so I wasn’t a complete blockhead when I interviewed the world expert in fission. Looking back, I wish I’d been less afraid of appearing “dumb” while asking a truckload of “dumb” questions. This whole thing might’ve gone faster. John Jacobs, great political reporter, told me I had the goods. Bob Young, John Tomlin and Bill O'Reilly assigned tough news stories without regard to age (I was goofy young) or gender. Every news director I worked for: you learn fast they don't suffer fools.  

    My proudest accomplishment this year:
    Tamaro:
     Not tapping my health insurance for a long stay in a sanitarium … and finding enough fun, fresh, produce-able ideas in a continuing series, while staying on a basic cable budget.

    My toughest scene to write this year:
    Tamaro: Pretend that you watch the show so you know what I'm talking about: the scene where Jane and Maura first meet. Too many fans had built up absurdly high hopes about that scene... Made me nauseous to think about writing it. I believe I typed it in the fetal position under my desk...

    The most absurd note I’ve ever gotten:
    Tamaro:
     OK, this is really unfair because my face still flushes scarlet at the memory of a few of my early pitches. Hart Hansen: I’m sorry I suggested using a playing card, albeit a metal-edged one, as a murder weapon. One executive gave this note on an interracial romance script I’d written: “Can they both be white?” Uh…not really…

    The one aspect of your job as showrunner that I’d rather delegate:
    Tamaro: There is honestly nothing I would ask someone else to do that I wouldn't do myself. That is the truth. I kinda love what I do. And I come from a big family. Once you stopped teething, you had chores.

    My preferred method for breaking through writers’ block:
    Tamaro: More geeky self-truths: I work out. Sounds better if I give you that whole “body-mind” speech. But exercise is my heroin. It’s one of the few times when I finally turn off RADIO K-F--- in my brain and chill. That’s when the ideas come to me.

    If I could add any one writer to my staff, it would be:
    Tamaro: Tom Wolfe. Please don’t tell him I said that…

    The show I’m embarrassed to admit I watch:
    Tamaro:
     Man, you really know how to embarrass a girl! Do I have to say? What if it was a reality show? Would you tell TNT & Warner Brothers and/or any of my writer friends?? Fine. Project Runway. Are you happy now?

    The three things I need in order to write:
    Tamaro: A chance to see my bed every night for an uninterrupted stretch, my treadmill, desk and Peet’s coffee. That’s a lie. Peet’s low-fat, flat, extra-hot latte. But I thought you might judge if I added all the adjectives.

    If I could scrub one credit from your resume, it would be:
    Tamaro:
     The year I scraped together enough money to go to graduate school by writing fabulous missives about pineapple cutters in Dole’s P.R. department: “It slices and dices." Aloha?

  • Matthew Weiner

    Mad Men (AMC)

    The TV show that inspired me to write:
    I can say that as a child I was really not allowed to watch television during the school week, but I was exposed to some incredible television events, like Roots, and All in the Family, because it was on Saturday. The first piece of television I was aware that someone was actually writing it was Queen of the Stardust Ballroom. It has a high tear quotient, like Brian's Song. I was already out of college when Twin Peaks came on, and that was where I became of what was possible on television.

    My big break:
    Party Girl, the show. The creator was the writer-director of the movie, and she brought me on as a joke writer. That was my first paid television job. My first paid writing job was on a CD-ROM about Richard Nixon. It was a companion encyclopedia to Oliver Stone's movie.

    My TV mentor:
    David Chase was someone who certainly showed me how to be a showrunner, but I have had a few TV mentors. Alan Burns, the creator of the Mary Tyler Moore Show, encouraged you me to go into television after he saw my high school graduation speech. He prodded me along through film school and after, he'd send me scripts, let me come and visit him and kept track of me.

    The aspect of my job as showrunner that I'd rather delegate:
    Responding to emails. I was very late to get a smartphone because I have a short temper, and I thought it would be destructive for me to be able to answer things in my pocket. I would always rather talk on the phone and have things settled.

    My preferred method for breaking through writer's block:
    If you notice 15 minutes into the Mad Men pilot, Don has one of the worst creative problems he's ever had -- and like no hero before him, he goes and takes a nap. I don't know if it's my body shutting down or my brain needing to go elsewhere, but it is a solution to the fatigue of the job and has always done me better than a long walk. Deadlines have also helped my writers' block. You really can't afford to have it, and you just work through it by writing badly and thinking you can fix it later.

    If I could add any one writer to your staff, it would it be:
    Billy Wilder. I love the way he writes and works with his various writing partners. I would take any half of any of those writing teams, and The Apartment has been very influential in Mad Men. His approach is always so surprising. He jumps from different time frames, and what's missing is what's most exciting in the scene.

    The three things I need in order to write:
    Writers assistant, coffee, couch.

    If I could scrub one credit from your resume, it would be:
    Already did it, so you don’t know.

  • D.B. Weiss and David Benioff

    Game of Thrones (HBO)

    The show that inspired me to write:
    Benioff/Weiss: Although television was a huge part of our lives, obviously, movies probably played a larger role in that choice. But if we're talking about the TV shows that made us want to be TV writers, it's that run of HBO classics: The Sopranos, Deadwood, The Wire.There were other great TV dramas before The Sopranos, but David Chase showed how ambitious a series could be; he took the big canvas eighty-odd hours provided and created an indelible work of American art.

    My TV mentor:
    Benioff/Weiss: Carolyn Strauss. When we started doing this, we'd never worked in television before. She stared at us with her hitman eyes when we went in to pitch HBO, but she bought it in spite of the fact that we'd never worked in television before. And when she came on board as a producer, she revealed herself to be one of the warmest, smartest and most generous people we've ever met. She held our hands through the trial by fire that was season one, and has been at our side ever since, saving us from ourselves, giving us lessons from the secret playbook that produced the television shows that made us want to get into television.

    My proudest accomplishment this year:
    Benioff/Weiss: Honestly, just getting through season two with all the material we wanted and needed so well shot and acted. It's an enormous logistical challenge, producing the show on even the most generous TV schedule, and there were times when we thought one more gale force wind blowing our sets into the sea would sink the ship. But we made it through, and we're very happy with the result. Now we get to spend our days wondering who or what will get blown into the sea this year.

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    The aspect of my job as showrunner that I’d rather delegate:
    Benioff/Weiss: Anything that happens before 8 a.m.

    My preferred method for breaking through writers' block:
    Benioff/Weiss: Fiber.

    If I could add any one writer to my staff, it would be:
    Benioff/Weiss: Robert Bolt or Dalton Trumbo. Are they available?

    The three things I need in order to write:
    Benioff/Weiss: Three hours in a row would be nice.

  • John Wells

    Shameless (Showtime)

    The TV show that inspired me to write:
    Wells: Hill Street Blues. The multiple-layered story, as well as the human element and drama, were all a revelation. It was the first time I realized episodic television could tackle the same complex themes that the films of the late '70s and early '80s were attempting.

    My big break:
    Wells: Shell Game for Warner Bros. with Marg Helgenberger and Margot Kidder. It was an unsuccessful attempt to knock off Moonlighting and my first script upheld the unsuccessful nature of that attempted mimicry. Although, with that experience, I met several other wonderful writers that have been important to me, including my great friend and one of my mentors, John Wirth.

    The most absurd note I’ve ever gotten:
    Wells: "Can’t the president be an ex-pro wrestler? Like that guy in Minnesota. Everybody loves that guy." You can't make this stuff up.

    My preferred method for breaking through writers’ block:
    Wells: Just start writing.  

    The three things I need in order to write:
    Wells: Time, inspiration and a power cord.

  • Kevin Williamson and Julie Plec

    The Vampire Diaries (CW)

    The TV show that inspired me to write:
    Plec:
     I watched soap operas religiously when I was a kid; I used to sneak them in when I was in elementary school with my cousin, who was my babysitter. In junior high, when we got our first VCR, I used to tape four soaps a day. I was a diehard General Hospital fan from when I was nine to 25.

    My big break:
    Plec:
     I didn’t get paid to write professionally until my first episode of Kyle XY, which was the fourth episode of the first season

    My TV mentor:
    Plec: 
    Prior to working for Kevin Williamson, I was so in love with the shows Zwick and Herskovitz produced, like My So-Called Life, Once & Again. I loved David E. Kelley, everything he did from Ally McBeal to The PracticeGreg Berlanti, one of my closest friends from college, and who was a staff writer on Dawson’s Creek the year I worked on the show, he and I would – on the weekends – watch Ally and The Practice.

    My proudest accomplishment this year:
    Plec: 
    When it got to season three, we thought, "Gosh, we really did it well for two years and now’s the time to maybe rest a little" but instead, we wanted to work harder because we wanted it to be even better. When it’s all said and done, as we go into our fourth season, there’s not a single episode of Vampire Diaries where I would hang my head low.

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    My toughest scene to write:
    Plec: 
    Episode eight [of season three] about the Originals, “Ordinary People,” was difficult because you don’t realize – until you sit down to tell the origin story of a whole species – just how hard it is to decide what story it is you want to tell. We struggled to pull that episode together on the page and we did it in about five minutes. We were starting episode eight and we did not have a script that was complete the day we started shooting it so we had to write around the clock to make sure production could keep shooting.

    The most absurd note I've ever gotten:
    Plec:
     On Kyle XY, one day we get the note "Kyle needs to be more of a superhero" and the next day, it’s "Why is this so comic book?" The next day, it’s "We need to write towards guys" and the following day, "Where’s all the stuff girls will like?"

    I'd rather delegate:
    Plec: 
    The part of the job I don’t particularly care of is unfortunately the part of the job that can’t really be delegated: being in the room and breaking story. You could poll 100 showrunners and at least 70 of them would say the same thing. Damon Lindelof said to me a couple years ago after I told him Kevin and I needed someone that’s good at that: "Hate to break it to you Julie, I needed the same thing. You are that person." That is where you are at your most insecure, when you’re staring at a blank white board.

    How I break through writer's block:
    Plec: 
    I’ve established two things. If it’s not working, it’s because it’s wrong. Not being afraid to throw it out and start over – even when you’re on deadline – is often the better way to go. The other, for me, is instituting the eight-hour sleep turnaround. No matter how late I work or am up writing, I get eight hours of sleep. It’s kept me sane, it’s kept me healthy and I haven’t had a complete mental breakdown, though I’ve certainly come close.

    If I could add any writer to my staff, it would be:
    Plec: My friend Liz Tigelaar, who is one of the most vibrant personalities and hilarious wonderful women.

    The show I'm embarrassed to admit I watch:
    Plec: 
    I think nothing’s better for a good cry than Fox's So You Think You Can Dance. Sometimes it tells a better story in a four-minute dance piece than other television shows.

    The three things I need in order to write:
    Plec:
     A case of ice-cold Diet Coke, my Bose noise-canceling headphones and Pandora with my eclectic playlist, from Snow Patrol to Adele to Josh Groban to Explosions in the Sky.

  • Terence Winter

    Boardwalk Empire (HBO)

    The TV show that inspired me to write:
    Winter: The Honeymooners.

    My big break:
    Winter: The Great Defender, which ran briefly on Fox in 1995. 

     My TV mentor:
    Winter: I have several. George Schenck, Frank Cardea on The Great Defender and The Cosby MysteriesFrank Renzulli on The Cosby Mysteries. And Renzulli and David Chase on The Sopranos.

    My proudest accomplishment this year:
    Winter:
     That Boardwalk Empire was once again nominated for Best Drama Series.    
    My toughest scene to write this year:
    Winter:
     Nucky killing Jimmy Darmody was extremely difficult to write, because even though I knew it had to happen, I didn't really want it to. 

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    The most absurd note I’ve ever gotten:
    Winter:
     When he tells her "I'd like to visit Uranus," is that a joke, or does he really want to go there? It was on an un-produced pilot I worked on that shall remain nameless.
     
    The one aspect of my job as showrunner that I’d rather delegate:
    Winter:
     Telling actors that their characters are going to get killed off. 
     
    My preferred method for breaking through writers’ block:
    Winter:
     I lie to everyone about how much progress I'm making on a script, and then let the waves of guilt and panic spur me on.  

    If I could add any one writer to my staff, it would be:
    Winter:
     Paddy Chayefsky. Is he available? 
     
    The show I’m embarrassed to admit I watch:
    Winter: I'll watch anything without shame.   
     
    The three things I need in order to write:
    Winter:
     A good night's sleep, a big chunk of time and a really serious deadline.  
     
    If you could scrub one credit from your resume, what would it be?
    Winter:
     Get Rich or Die Tryin', a film that bears absolutely no resemblance to the script I wrote.

  • Graham Yost

    Justified (FX)

    The TV show that inspired me to write:
    Yost: Hill Street Blues. Hill Street encouraged and allowed serialized storytelling. Big arcs for the characters, so their lives felt real and they were ongoing and it wasn't just the same world every week. But as well, they would have some kind of close-ended story every week. There would be something going on where you could go, "that was a satisfying hour of television." We shoot for that. Pretty much anything I've worked on tried to have that element.

    My big break:


    Yost: First, I wrote journalism in New York back in the ‘80s. I got a book contract for Spy-Tech, about espionage technology, and in the mid-‘80s. My first big scripted job was Hey Dude on Nickelodeon, and that was their first scripted show. I worked on the 65 episodes produced in two years. Just as a writer, we got to do all the classics. Have the boy and girl who say they don't like each other but really do, have them get handcuffed together, and someone loses the key. So, let's do that episode. Let's do the one where the middle-aged owner of the place gets hit on the head and thinks he's 15 years old again. Let's do that one. It was fun.

    My TV mentor:
    Yost: There have been a few. I would say, a really important one -- I first started coming out of Hey Dude I worked on half hour and did a short stint on Full House. Quit four days before I thought I was going to be fired. But then got on a show called The Powers That Be, created by Kauffman and Crane, who then went on to do Friends. The showrunner in the first season was Charlotte Brown who Ithink had been a showrunner (or higher-up anyway) on Rhoda. So she'd come out of the Jim Brooks school. And the other big executive producer the show, the guy behind the whole thing really, was Norman Lear. The two of them were very critical in helping to goose my writingalong. And then -- it'll sound like sucking up -- but it wasn't so much that he was a mentor as he gave me an opportunity, was Tom Hanks on From the Earth to the Moon. Just because we're telling a real story, a true story, the bar got set pretty high, so we had to hopefully do a good job and be honest and truthful and still dramatic and not screw it up. That really changed my writing.

    My proudest accomplishment this year:
    Yost: In the last year, you know what it would be. At the end of the third season, the very last scene between Raylan and Winona, the script was written by Fred Golan, but we all had a part in figuring out that last scene. I did a draft, Fred did a draft, Tim [Olyphant] weighed in. And the thing we landed on -- it's not a personal pride, but a group pride -- just this moment between Raylan and Winona when he tells her that his father was ready and willing to shoot a cop in a hat even if it was his son. It was a pretty great moment from the way Tim performed it and Natalie [Zea], and the way it was directed by Dean Parisot. It was one of those things that just came together. It was a great way to end the season. Not hit it over the head. And in editing, do we end on Winona, do we end on Raylan? A lot of choices to make, and it all just kind of came together, Steve Porcaro’s music, the theme he's developed over the years for Raylan and Winona, it was just a haunting little ballad. It all came together.

    The most absurd note I’ve ever gotten:
    Yost: I've been very lucky. Working with Katherine Pope at NBC and various other people at NBC, and then all the people at FX. I've had funny exchanges with people, but they're not acrimonious, or "you're an idiot." I now get written notes because I'm notorious for either just saying nothing on the phone call, if we do a notes call, or just saying repeatedly as if I'm pressing a button, "That's interesting. Let us take a look at it." Just over and over again. So I get written notes. But there have been times where I've snapped. People would set their watch by how long it would take for me to call back and say, "Sorry, I was such an idiot." We just figured that written notes work best. 

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    The one aspect of my job as showrunner that I’d rather delegate:
    Yost: I wouldn't say it's “rather delegate,” but there are things have become delegated. I don't go to casting sessions anymore. I see clips on my computer. So that becomes the duty of the writer who's producing the episode along the director and our brilliant casting people. I did a lot of editing on Boomtown with Avnet and also on Reins and thought I was going to do a lot on Justified. The first episode came in after the pilot and I had a bunch of notes, and Michael Dinner said, "Let me take a pass." And then he did a pass, and all my notes were answered. And I was like, "Well, that's done!" Michael will do the editing now. Stuff gets delegated. It'd be crazy not to. We're all very lucky on this show that we're all pulling in the same direction.

    My preferred method for breaking through writer's block:
    Yost: I'm a little superstitious by nature, so I'm afraid to say I don't. Sarah Timberman came into the room last week and our room is a pretty boisterous room and we were just dead silent and she said, "What's going on?" And we said, "We're thinking." You'll hit a beat in the story and it's like, "I don't know how we're going to make that work. I don't know how we get from A to C. Where the hell is B?" And we'll just sort of sit on it. My method, and there is a joke in the room about me and the yellow pad, is to say, "I'm just gonna go yellow pad this for a while." And one of the writers got a T-shirt made for me last year which has  ayellow pad on it, and the phrase, "The yellow pad giveth and the yellow pad taketh away" because you're not exactly sure what I'm going to come back with when I do some yellow padwork. That sort of helps me. Just writing things down. Write down questions. Why do we care about this character? Why do we care about this situation? And I'll just start to, not entirely stream of consciousness, but just free-form. Just start scribbling.

    If I could add any one writer to our staff, it would be:
    Yost: At the risk of insulting anyone, I would say I always ask Michelle Ashford if she's interested. But she wasn't for a long time, and now she's doing her own show on Showtime. She's busy. And we met when I was directing an episode of LA Doctors. She made a deal to come on Boomtown. She was pregnant, and due in September that year. She said, "I'll give you three months." We squeezed a couple scripts out of her, and they were just fantastic. I was so lucky to work with her on The Pacific as well.

    The show I’m embarrassed to admit I watch:
    Yost: I'm not embarrassed to admit I watch anything. I'm not ashamed to watch anything. I'm trying to think of any sort of guilty pleasures with the kids. We watch really good stuff. 

    The three things I need in order to write:
    Yost: I need a yellow pad. I sort of can get by with just the yellow pad. I wouldn't say I need quiet. I can't write with music on, I'll tell you that. I always need food. If I ever get cranky, and kids will justlook at me and say, "Have something to eat. Your blood sugar is low." I'm a salt and fat guy more than a sugar guy. I find that if I start sugar,that just starts an unhappy roller coaster of climbs and dives. So salt and fat is always good. Caffeine-Free Diet Coke. I'm right there with Gov. Romney on that one. Not much else, but we agree on the Caffeine-Free Diet Coke.

    If I could scrub one credit from my résumé, it would be:
    Yost: I'm lucky enough that I'm proud of everything I've done, and even stuff -- my dad really taught me this -- which is look for the positive. I did a credited re-write on the Howie Long movie, Firestorm, and you know what? They paid me. I got to go to Vancouver and meet Howie Long and the other cast members and Dean Semler who's directing. Howie got injured on the film, so I'm sure he doesn't look back on it all that fondly. We gave it a shot. There's nothing I would scrub.

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