TV's Top Showrunners Talk Deleted Scenes, Network Censorship, More
"Convincing security to let me back on the lot," jokes "Community's" Dan Harmon of his biggest accomplishment as he and other hit-makers open up about wins, losses and the toughest scene they had to write this year.
How I Met Your Mother's Carter Bays is still mourning the loss of Goodwin Games. New Girl's Liz Meriwether is coming clean about the do's and don'ts of "vagina" talk. And Community's reinstalled showrunner Dan Harmon is simply relieved security let him back on the lot.
Below, 13 top showrunners from this year's Power List offer candid responses about scrapped plans, debates in their writers room and the thing they wish they knew before becoming a showrunner.
Before I became a showrunner, I wish someone had warned me about …
Beau Willimon (House of Cards): Fraturday -- when a night shoot on Friday night continues until Saturday morning. Think long weekend, but the opposite of that.
Aaron Sorkin (Newsroom): Having to write a second episode after the pilot.
Liz Meriwether (New Girl): All the sleep I would get! It's almost too much sleep!
Christopher Lloyd (Modern Family): Executives and notes. I'm often reminded of a story about Marvin Gaye. In his prime, he was a big strong guy, who fancied himself a decent boxer. One day he met this heavyweight fighter (not a champion, but a contender) and told him he wanted to spar with him. They made the date and Marvin Gaye came in kind of cocky, sure he was going to beat this guy, demanding that the guy not go easy on him, and … the guy kind of beat him up. Afterward, a reporter who had observed the whole thing asked the boxer why he'd done so and he said, "This is what I do all day long. This is all I've ever done. How could he disrespect me like that? This ring is my office."
Dan Harmon (Community): Capitalism.
Mara Brock Akil (The Game): The hair and makeup department! There should be a whole course on how to negotiate that!
Betsy Beers (Grey's Anatomy, Scandal) Keeping up with a network episodic schedule. The pace takes your breath away -- especially when you first start out -- and living at the office becomes the new normal. Oh, and the constant and endless supply of sugary food groups at said office. Beware …
The most memorable debate in our writers room this past year was …
Kurt Sutter (Sons of Anarchy): If the skittish white guy in the alley outside our office was dealing crack or meth.
Carter Bays (How I Met Your Mother): First prize: Did Walt mean what he said on the phone with Skyler or was it all a smokescreen because he knew the cops were listening in? Runner up: Should we do a season nine?
Sorkin: Whether a particular line should reference Bridget Jones or Holly Golightly.
Harmon: Whether to replace departing castmembers with NFL players or just keep grabbing dead people from Breaking Bad.
Bill Lawrence (Cougar Town): Generally, these are about where to order lunch when we're working. No one has nailed this yet.
Craig Thomas (How I Met Your Mother): Whether or not to reveal "The Mother" from our show's title (Side-bar: I've decided to start avoiding the phrase "titular mother," because gross).
The toughest scene I had to write this past year was …
Sutter: Figuring out new and imaginative ways to blow shit up, kill a guy, chase down/run from an enemy. Adding original, organic action to the show gets more difficult every season.
Meriwether: Some reshoot stuff. But a lady never talks about reshoots unless the lady has a drink in her. Half a drink, to be honest.
Matthew Weiner (Mad Men): Don and Ted deciding to merge their companies.
Sorkin: The scene that opened with the season premiere and ended with the season finale.
I can't believe I got away with …
Meriwether: Getting Nick and Jess together. But now I feel like I jinxed it.
Weiner: Bob Benson's shorts.
Harmon: Seasons four, three, one and two in that order.
The moment I wish had made it to air but didn't was …
Meriwether: So many moments. There was one particular joke for Winston in the premiere that we couldn't get away with because of Standards and Practices. Lamorne [Morris] knocked it out of the park. I guess you're not allowed to use the word "in" as it relates to the word "vagina." It turns out almost no prepositions are allowed near that noun.
Beers: There was a wonderful scene from last season in episode 219 -- Olivia Pope, who is starting to undress in her bedroom, remembers Jake Ballard has placed surveillance in there. She proceeds to taunt him through the camera. A terrific performance from Kerry Washington -- and a nice twist at the end when we find out it isn't Jake Ballard who is watching!
Bays: The last six episodes of The Goodwin Games.
Sorkin: The scene in "One Step Too Many" that explained the title of the episode.
The episode from this past year that I wish we could do over would be …
Meriwether: The premiere.
Thomas: I'll up the ante on this question and go from "episode" to "series": I wish we could do The Goodwin Games over with the same amazing cast and crew, but on a network that would give it a real shot.
Bays: It's not from this last year, but season seven's "The Burning Beekeeper" will follow me to my grave. One more week of writing, one more week of shooting, one more week of editing, and it could have been something awesome. But that's how it goes when you have a 24 episode season. Sometimes you run out of time.
Sorkin: I've never written anything I wish I couldn't do over.
Weiner: What are you trying to say?
My proudest accomplishment this year was …
Harmon: Convincing security to let me back on the lot.
Lloyd: Finding a way to take two common sitcom stories -- a birth story and a proposal story -- and make them both funny and surprising, and ultimately touching.
Willimon: Remaining sane. Writing and producing 13 hours of story in six months is a form of voluntary insanity. A delicious, rewarding, exhilarating form of insanity, mind you. It takes a special breed of folks to put in 80 hour weeks for half a year. Luckily on our show the inmates get to run the asylum, and between our cast, crew, writers and designers, there's not other asylum I'd rather be committed to.
Thomas: The brief three or four seconds in May/June when Carter and I had two shows on TV (HIMYM and the all-too-short-lived The Goodwin Games.)
Lawrence: Hiring and empowering talented people like Adam Sztykiel (Undateable), Jeff Astrof (Ground Floor), Justin Halpern and Patrick Schumacker (Surviving Jack) and Blake McCormick (Cougar Town) to run our TV shows. Then I just step in and take credit for all their hard work. Any work they can't do is handled by Jeff Ingold and Randall Winston (my partners). I generally just drink a lot of coffee.
If my writers were to describe my style as a showrunner in five words or less, they might say …
Salim Akil (The Game): Salim -- Loveable asshole.
Sutter: Control. Control. Control. Control. Weepy.
Lloyd: Respectful, respectfully demanding, always late.
Meriwether: "Go back to set, Liz."
Weiner: "You're looking tall today, sir."
Harmon: "Quick, he's sleeping, stab him."
Lawrence: Moderately effective, disorganized chaos.
Bays: Handsome, handsome, handsome, handsome, handsome!
Sorkin: Nobody on our show uses five words or less.