THR Emmy Roundtable: 'New Girl,' 'Big Bang' Showrunners on Dropping F-Bombs and Comedy's Tough Year
Matthew Carnahan, Greg Daniels, Bruce Helford, Liz Meriwether, Steve Molaro and Mike Schur also talk to THR about turning down product placement, their most absurd network notes and whether "Anger Management" is the model of the future.
Schur: When I was a kid, I watched Empty Nest. I was an 11-year-old in Connecticut, and I watched Empty Nest every week.
Daniels: You're always talking about Empty Nest.
Meriwether: What is that?
Schur: Empty Nest was a show about a retired doctor in Florida who lived next door to The Golden Girls.
Schur: It starred Richard Mulligan, who was excellent. He had two grown daughters living with him, stuff that was the opposite of an 11-year-old suburban Connecticut kid's [interests]. But I watched it every week. If I were 11 now, I wouldn't know that Empty Nest existed because every baseball game is available to me on my TV. There are 45 cartoons on my computer, on-demand, any moment I want. There are certain shows, like Big Bang and Modern Family, that were presented as these perfect whole, immensely appealing entities and that massive numbers of people watch them religiously every week.
Daniels: Great shows, but what's the rating for Modern Family? 4.7?
Schur: On the night, yeah, probably. I remember when the Lost finale aired, everyone I knew was captivated -- talking about what we liked, what we didn't like. Then I saw the rating for the finale of Lost, and it was like the 83rd-highest-rated finale. And No. 82 was Mr. Belvedere. Lost had dominated the conversation in American TV for the last seven years and Mr. Belvedere got more people!
Helford: Your parents were also controlling the TV when you were young. You didn't have the option of going to all these other places.
Daniels: I think we shouldn't feel bad about ourselves. There are still very talented people -- maybe not as talented as the staff of Mr. Belvedere! -- but a lot of good people in the industry now, and I don't think we should feel bad about the fact that our shows are not getting those huge numbers.
Schur: This fall you can see my pilot, Full Nest, which is a continuation of the character.
Carnahan: Is it a prequel?
Schur: It's a post-quel, and I did not get the rights to the original, which I don't think will be a problem.
Helford: The quality of the writing is every bit as good as it was. The broader audience just isn't there right now.
Daniels: You're making us feel bad again.
Meriwether: I'm from the Midwest, and I don't know if people in the Midwest are watching my show. I don't know what that would be to, like, to set out to try to reach a broader audience.
Helford: It'd be something blander. I always hold Roseanne up as a great example because it was taking a look at blue-collar people as a point of nobility as opposed to making fun of them, which is the current trend. You still never see people on TV paying their bills. I think that it was a little bit more of a job for a lot of the writers in those days, and it was like, "OK, what's your job? My job is to turn out a show that everybody will love. And so I'm not going to be offensive here, and I'm going to make sure this character does this right." It was all pretty politically correct. Except for Norman Lear's stuff.
Carnahan: I was just going to say …
Helford: He was able to break through with All in the Family -- again, so relatable, everybody knew those people. You just don't see as much of that now.
Schur: But the question that I would have is: Is anyone complaining in America about television? Yes, it's bad if you're on the business side of things, and that shows don't capture giant audiences the way they used to. But no matter where you live, there are 1,000 shows that are great for you.
THR: That seems to be the problem. There's actually too much to watch.
Schur: There's too much. I was complaining about this recently to my wife. I'd read a review of Bates Motel that said, "This show is amazing." And Carlton Cuse from Lost is running it? I'm going to die from starvation because I have too much TV to watch! Wherever you are in the world, and whatever kind of person you are, there's 50 shows that are great for you. No one's complaining because …
Meriwether: They don't have time.
Schur: They don't have time, and Bates Motel is backing up on the DVR.
THR: In your opinion, why is there so much showrunner turnover now? Is it pressures that are on the network executives? A lack of patience? Audience fragmentation?
Helford: When the power shifted to the networks, away from the creators, when numbers went down, you couldn't break people out. If somebody's getting a great number, you can't break those people out, and everybody's doing relatively well.
Daniels: Yeah, except with Roseanne, right? Weren't there wholesale changes of the writing staff every year?
Helford: But that wasn't the networks changing showrunners -- that was her. I don't think anybody spent over a year there, but that was, yeah, that was a different thing. Showrunners have been changing forever. It's just easier now for the networks to do it is because the power, right now, is still in the hands of the networks and not in the hands of the creators.
Daniels: I don't remember when the power was in the hands of the creators.
Helford: Gary David Goldberg and Norman Lear -- you could not have moved them out. They had failures at the same time, but no one ever would say boo to them.
Schur: Is it really happening more or is it that there are 7,000 websites reporting on every single thing that happens in show business? My mom, who works in Boston, will send me a text: "So Glen Mazzara is out at Walking Dead, what do you think?" And I'm like, "Why do you even care about him?" And everyone in the world knows that, like, Oblivion made $37 million at the box office. Why does everyone know this? And the question I would have, and it could be that it's happening more now, but it also could be that people just pounce on every little piece of information. And obviously when it's a show like Walking Dead, which is like the highest-rated show in the world, it's a story, but other times, it's like, well, that's just show business. It happens, people leave their jobs, they get fired, they get other jobs, and it's just that every tiny scrap of information is reported on by, quite literally, 20 websites. So I don't know that it's happening at a higher rate right now.
Helford: I would say it was less often the creators and more often that they would just grab an executive producer on the show and throw him off, and that's how they would say, "Well, that was the guy, that was the problem, we're changing it now, we'll take care of that," and the creators wouldn't leave.
Schur: And look at Big Bang. It's the most popular show on TV (to Molaro) and you're the third showrunner?
Molaro: Chuck Lorre and Bill Prady created it. … They were writing it, and …
Daniels: What happened to them?
Molaro: Chuck's a little busy!
Schur: Chuck's a miserable failure. No one knows where he is.
Molaro: And then Bill took a step back. He's there part-time.
Schur: Right, and so it's this perfect, like, peaceful, democratic transfer of power that has led to nothing but great and greater success.
Molaro: And your mom did not e-mail you that week?
Schur: No. You guys have to be a little crazier, and my mom will be all over it.
THR: If you could serve as an executive producer or write for any other show on television, what would it be? Comedy or drama.
Molaro: I want to say Louie, but he's so good at doing it, I would just ruin it.
Schur: You would screw it up, yeah.
Molaro: I would be honored to be offered a position at Louie, and then I would respectfully pass.
Schur: Game of Thrones, in a walk. I have read enough of the books, and I'm a big enough nerd, I feel like I could step in there and screw that one up instead.
THR: So when those showrunners get kicked off, you're right there.
Schur: Yeah. They won't, but if they do, call me!
Carnahan: I would like to go to Louie. Through a magical lightning-touching-the-metal-table-at-the-same-time type thing -- I would become Louis C.K. and run the show.
Schur: Oh, you'd actually become Louis C.K.?
Carnahan: I would like to, just for a season. He's got a van with all his gear in it. It sounds like fun.
Schur: Can I say that if you did do like an old-timey body-switch thing, it would be really funny to watch Louis C.K. run [House of Lies] for a year.
Meriwether: I think I would want to live inside the Justified world. I don't want to run it. I just want to put [Raylan's] hat on and date that character. That wasn't the question, but that's how I chose to answer it. I feel like he's a really good guy. He's really going to take care of me.
Carnahan: Good choice!
Helford: I love working with Charlie Sheen, so I would not switch with anything, but maybe write for Workaholics? I would love to work with that cast.
THR: Finally, Greg, you've just wrapped The Office for good after nine seasons. Do you have any advice or lessons you learned in saying goodbye that you can share with your peers here?
Daniels: I didn't know if I was going to like that we had an end date, but I would recommend it. I have a very happy feeling about how the final season went, wrapping up everything, having the crew know that this was the last time. So I recommend, if you can do it, calling your own ending. It keeps feeling like some kind of euthanasia; the terms always feel like an "end of life" discussion. But yeah, I think death with dignity.