Emmys: 8 Showrunners and Writers Reveal the Emotional Hurdles in Their Nominated Episodes
This story first appeared in the Aug. 23 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
"Q&A," Homeland (Showtime)
Bromell died March 8.
Executive producer Alex Gansa: It was originally conceived that Carrie (Claire Danes) would be the first person in that interrogation room and the last person to leave, and midway through Quinn (Rupert Friend) would storm in and stab Brody (Damian Lewis). But when Henry wrote the first draft, it felt like the power of that last sequence with Carrie and Brody was diminished by the preamble that had to happen upfront. So, the decision was to offload those scenes onto Quinn. He became the one to do the interrogation because Carrie was too close and not to be trusted. But there was a very powerful exchange that survived from Henry's very first draft: the business in the middle about, "Let's tell the truth to each other, I want you to leave your wife and be with me."
Henry could always get to the heart of things in a very singular way. He must have rewritten those pages dozens of times, but that section always survived because that's the one that we were trying to underscore -- everything was done in service of that moment.
JACK BURDITT & ROBERT CARLOCK
"Hogcock!" 30 Rock (NBC)
Burditt: Part one of the finale ends with a huge fight between Jack (Alec Baldwin) and Liz (Tina Fey), where they question their entire seven-year friendship. There was some talk in the writers room of, "Is this the best way to end the second-to-the-last episode?" But we wanted to do the best last hour of television that we could come up with. It was the most difficult scene, but the one I enjoyed writing the most. The core of the show was their relationship, and it comes so easily. It's hard to put them in such a raw place but, at the same time, you know there's this nice reconciliation around the corner. One thing I really liked about this episode is how personal it felt. It mirrored a lot of what we were going though on staff as 30 Rock was coming to an end.
DAVID CRANE & JEFFREY KLARIK
"Episode 209," Episodes (Showtime)
Crane: The toughest scene was the big fight at Merc's (John Pankow) Man of the Year event, where everything comes to a head. It was tough because we had 14 speaking characters and were bringing three or four different storylines together into one climactic battle.
Klarik: The question was which route would we take, and once we got there, how do we keep all these balls in the air and keep things natural, surprising and as crazy as the fight scene at the end of season one. We had a lot of stories we wanted to tie up, and that was the best place to tie everything up: the relationship between Carol (Kathleen Rose Perkins) and Merc, between Sean (Stephen Mangan) and Beverly (Tamsin Greig), Matt (Matt LeBlanc) and Jamie (Genevieve O'Reilly). Everybody was connected: Matt had issues with Merc, and Matt has issues with Sean and Beverly. It was really complex, but once we put all the pieces together, it all felt right. It all felt organic. Every little piece seemed to fit. It's a really satisfying feeling when you crack that. We thought that the episode could either be the season or series finale, and we wanted to leave everything in a satisfying place. We left a few balls up in the air -- like will Carol end up being the network head next season, or what would happen with Pucks. There were a few things we left vague, but everything else we tied up, which made it challenging at the start of season three. We'd backed ourselves into a corner!
"Finale," The Office (NBC)
There's a lot of pressure on the last moment of a series finale. I knew we would end with an image and an interview on top of it. That was our musical scoring, our best way of going for emotion and a classic feature of a documentary. But what image? Who would talk and what would they say? With Michael gone as the narrator, whose point of view is most compelling to sum up the show? Jim (John Krasinski)? Dwight (Rainn Wilson)? Andy (Ed Helms)? I chose Pam (Jenna Fischer), who had grown so much and seemed to me to be the heart of the show, although each character got their best shot at summing up their experiences in a sequence of talking heads, and we could have swapped them around in editing. The line she ended with, "There's a lot of beauty in ordinary things," this was really the credo of the show. In the beginning, I would always urge Randall Einhorn, our first DP and A-camera operator, to look for "truth and beauty" when he was shooting, though I was worried the line would be too on the nose. But if I were the documentarian and Pam had said it, I would totally use it. Then what image? We had a lot to work with from nine years of shooting in the same location. Ultimately the shot of their office building with the parking lot empty seemed to sum up the memories of what took place there and was as ordinary as you can get. Not a laugh riot, but in terms of mood and meaning, it felt right.
"Episode 4," Downton Abbey (PBS/Masterpiece)
Writing the death of Sybil was very tough. We'd known for a long time Jessica (Brown Findlay) only wanted to do three years on the show. I felt as the first major character to snuff it, we could give her some real added space and drama and make essentially the whole episode about it. At the same time, we had very carefully kept any knowledge from the public that she was going to die. So it was a complete surprise. Eclampsia, which is what she dies of, was invariably fatal in the 1920s, and it had this serious and rather cruel element, where you could have this period after the baby was born where things seemed to go back to normal. When I read about that, I thought, "That is exactly what we want." I constructed the death so that it would give us this false hope near the end. It was a very big, traumatic decision.
But we also were able to develop slightly new aspects of different characters. For me, there was a marvelous moment when Maggie Smith's character comes to the house the next day and Carson (Jim Carter) greets her. When I was writing it, I thought, "What can we do that shows the audience how bleak this has gone?" I thought I would have her touch Carson's hand, because for three years she has had no physical contact with him at all. It seemed right they would have that moment. And then Maggie walks across the hall and she stops, pulls herself together, stands up straight and goes on in, because a woman like Violet would not think it proper and kind to visit her grief on other people.
TINA FEY & TRACEY WIGFIELD
"Last Lunch," 30 Rock (NBC)
Wigfield: Two scenes that really seemed to be the crux of our episode were Tracy (Tracy Morgan) and Liz (Fey) in the strip club and Liz and Jack on the boat. Writing Liz and Jack on the boat was an undertaking. You want this moment to land. It's between these two characters who people really love and want to give a proper goodbye. It was intimidating up until the day we filmed. It was December, freezing cold, down at the very tip of Manhattan off the seaport. Alec and Tina are just so good, and watching that scene, it ended up perfect.
"Dead Freight," Breaking Bad (AMC)
There were a lot of difficulties here. We wanted to pay homage to the Western roots of the show, but also show the Breaking Bad version of a grand train heist. Instead of guns and horses, they're using science. The scene direction was very difficult, but the benefit is that I was directing too. So many questions: How I would shoot it? The camera angles? So much going on. The logistics were important, but the whole scene is about Walt's ego: "I'm going to build the empire." But also, how do we rob a train without hurting people? That's why when it happens to the kid at the end, it's such a crushing blow. We always knew it was going to be Todd (Jesse Plemons). His character was supposed to be the one you'd never expect to be psycho. It couldn't be Jesse (Aaron Paul); he's the peacemaker between Walt (Bryan Cranston) and Mike (Jonathan Banks), and it wouldn't make sense that one of those guys would bring a gun. So it would have to be this unknown person who's going to come between them and break the partnership and set all the chaos into motion.
"Say My Name," Breaking Bad (AMC)
Absolutely the hardest scenes to write were those long [meth] cooking montages. It's like a high school science textbook. "Add 15 drops per second, then put the aluminum in for the acidity." Those descriptions were the things I least looked forward to but were crucial to shooting the scene, especially for the prop department. The more interesting difficult scene was in the middle of the episode when Jesse visits Walt at Vamonos Pest Control and Walt is using different tactics to manipulate Jesse. But this time it's not working. Walt's trying everything, but Jesse says, "Screw you -- I don't want this, I don't care anymore." It was very satisfying to see the scene play out so well. The cast knocked it out of the park.
Nominees D.B. Weiss, David Benioff, Louis C.K. and Pamela Adlon were unable to participate.
Reported by Lesley Goldberg, Gregg Kilday, Philiana Ng, Michael O'Connell, Lacey Rose and Stacey Wilson.