THR Emmy Roundtable: Matthew Weiner, Aaron Sorkin and Other Drama Showrunners Debate Violence in Hollywood and Being Control Freaks
TV veterans including Alex Gansa, D.B. Weiss and Kevin Williamson and newbie Beau Willimon also reveal who consults with the CIA, who wants to write for "Girls" and what it's like when a show falls into someone else's hands.
Gansa: Because they know they're watching fiction.
Willimon: At least in a drama or comedy series, there's thought, narrative and framing put into it. In terms of our responsibility … the only responsibility is telling a good story.
Weiss: You start indicting violence in fiction, then you're indicting the cornerstones of our culture: The Iliad, the Bible, Shakespeare. Things happen in the Bible that you could not show on HBO.
Weiner: Because it's too expensive.
Weiss: Except for the History Channel!
THR: Another issue that's come up a lot in the TV business this year is the shuffling of showrunners. How do you personally deal with these changes? Is there less power now given to the person who's running the show to see his/her vision from start to middle to end?
Williamson: We'll let you know after they fire us. (Laughter.)
Weiss: Having the same people at the beginning through to the further stages of the process is helpful. Any time somebody new comes in, you're rewinding the clock and starting over. But the machine as a whole refines itself each successive season, and it's a steep, steep learning curve. Doing any show, you learn a shorthand that increases efficiencies and makes the show incrementally better, so I would imagine that starting over can shake things up and introduce fresh blood.
Williamson: Casting the writers room is like casting a show. You have all these great writers, but you don't know if they're going to fit.
Weiner: Success has a thousand fathers; failure has none. I think when the show starts to work, there is a mystery about why it's working. I joined The Sopranos in season five, and the idea that someone other than David Chase would be involved in that show was a mistake. I like to think I made a contribution -- I know Terence Winter made a contribution, no one does it alone -- but part of why that show was as good as it was was because David was there the entire time. It was very personal to him, and it was inspired by his energy.
THR: Matthew, the idea of anyone other than you doing Mad Men seems ludicrous, yet on AMC they've now had three showrunners on The Walking Dead, which has huge ratings.
Weiner: Well, when they threatened to get rid of me, it was like, "I knew someone would take that job." There's no doubt in my mind. I would not want that job, but I knew someone would take that job. Anyone who thinks they're not replaceable is crazy.
THR: Aaron, did they really approach you for Matthew's job, as was reported?
Sorkin: No, no, they did not. I got in touch with Matt right away, saying, "It isn't happening, and it won't ever happen, and this is your show. I can tell you that." I left The West Wing after the fourth season. It ran for seven seasons. And almost as soon as the press release went out saying that I was leaving, I got a call from Larry David, who'd left Seinfeld early, who said: "Listen to me. Under no circumstances can you ever watch the show again. Either it's going to be great and you're gonna be miserable, or it's gonna be less than great and you're gonna be miserable. But either way, you're gonna be miserable." I thought, well, you know, it's Larry David, he's kind of professionally miserable. (Laughter.) So, at the beginning of the fifth season, Warner Bros. sent over a DVD of what would be episode 89, the first episode that I didn't write. And I put it in the DVD player. And I can't tell you whether it was great or not because less than 30 seconds after it started, I dove at the DVD player and slammed it off. It was like watching somebody make out with my girlfriend … so difficult to watch these characters in this world that I had created no longer needing me at all. Just doing it by themselves. I've never seen an episode of The West Wing beyond season four.
Williamson: I had the same experience with Dawson's Creek. After the second season, I left the show, and Greg Berlanti took over. I couldn't watch it anymore. It was my personal story, it was my growing up, it was my life. It hurt too much. I also hadn't seen Scream 3, but I finally had to watch it when I did Scream 4. Big mistake. It was just torture.
Gansa: I can assure both you guys that when you get fired from a job, you feel the same way. (Laughter.) You don't watch it after you're let go.