'Homeland' EP Alex Gansa Reveals an 'Infuriating' Network Note, Talks India's '24'

7:00 AM PST 11/20/2011 by Jethro Nededog
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The showrunner tells THR what it's like to produce for a cable channel versus a broadcast network and weighs in on the Indian adaptation of his Fox hit.

Alex Gansa’s television credits date back to the late-80s. During his career, he has had the opportunity of writing and producing for or creating some of the biggest cult shows in TV, including 24, Entourage, The X Files, Dawson’s Creek, and Beauty and the Beast.

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Currently, his new Showtime series, Homeland, is getting rave reviews and its viewership has been consistently growing week over week.

The Hollywood Reporter had an opportunity to pick his mind on the differences between producing a show on cable versus a broadcast network, as well as his thoughts on the Indian adaptation of his hit Fox show, 24.

The Hollywood Reporter: How would Homeland be different had it been on Fox or another broadcast network?

Alex Gansa: Well, I honestly think the show would be unrecognizable if it had been on a broadcast network. You know, first and foremost, you would have known from the very first episode, from the pilot, you would have known right away whether or not Brody was guilty, whether he had been turned in captivity. I mean, there would have been an incredible amount of pressure to identify a villain from square one. So, that would be the first major difference.

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The second one, obviously, you have to build to artificial act breaks on a network. And that means that you have to sort of tell more story rather than let the rhythm of the piece play out over the course of an hour. And it would have forced us to include more incident and more sort of plot in our storytelling. And not having to do that really allows us to live with the characters, and to tell those kind of sort of smaller, more personal stories.

And I think, obviously, the third thing is we can do language. We can do nudity. We can do really adult situations. We can make the audience profoundly uncomfortable in a way that I think, you know, a broadcast network would really bridle at.

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THR: In working with Showtime, what’s the most common edit note that you get on scripts and episodes?

Gansa: You know, I have to say Showtime has been a dream. [Showtime Networks’ Entertainment President] David Nevins, [Original Programming EVP] Gary Levine, and [Series Programming VP] Randy Runkel have not really been like a network. They have been creative partners on this show. So, their notes have done nothing but make the show better, consistently, from the pilot onward. And I’m really not just blowing smoke. I mean, I could tell you about other networks and other people that are obstacles, that throw obstacles in the way of your success, or your hopeful success.

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THR: OK, give me an example of a broadcast network note that could be particularly crippling to a storyline.

Gansa: Well, I recently did a police procedural for a major broadcast network. And the note came down from the network time and time again that there could be no conflict among the police officers and detectives who were trying to solve the crime. In other words, they didn’t want any dissention in the ranks among the good guys. Because if you showed dissention among the ranks, then people would begin to question if they were actually doing their jobs properly. And, of course, that robbed every single scene in the precinct of any drama whatsoever. They had to get along. They became just mouthpieces of exposition instead of real people.

And it was infuriating on a weekly basis to get that note. They couldn’t disagree. They couldn’t be wrong. They had to always be on the straight and narrow. And it was impossible to construct stories under those kinds of conditions.

There’s no conflict? I mean, that’s the first thing I ever learned as a writer in television. You know, you have to have conflict for any kind of drama. And this particular network just believed that there was enough drama in the good guys catching the bad guys, so that you didn’t have to muddy the good guys in any way, shape, or form. They just had to be right all of the time, and they had to be in sync all of the time. I mean, it was absurd.

THR: I can imagine… What are your thoughts about this 24 production in India?

Gansa: You know, Howard [Gordon], who created the show with me, he knows a lot more about that than I do. I know that Anil [Kapoor], who played the Iranian president in the last season of 24. He, after being on the set of 24, really decided that he wanted to play Jack Bauer in India.

So I understand that it’s up and running, that they’re going ahead. I think it’s great. I think it’s very cool. I’m actually dying to see how they do it because that part of the world, of course, is so interesting with the terrorist attacks in Mumbai. And it’s going to be fascinating to see how a half-Hindu, half-Muslim country deals with these issues of terrorism on the ground. I think it’s going to be fascinating. You know? Whether there’ll be singing or dancing is another issue. I don’t know. It’s going to be fun, though.

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THR: So, how involved is Howard going to be in it? 

Gansa: I don’t think he’s involved at all.

THR: Are you working on any other projects with other networks or is there something that you’d like to work on?

Gansa: If I had a moment to do that, I might of. This is all I’ve been doing for the last year and a half, and all I will be doing for awhile. It’s enough, believe me. I’ve got to take a break. I’ve got to go repair my marriage, and take a month off, and recharge. So I’m not doing anything. There are plenty of things I’d love to do, but this right now is front and center.

THR: You’ve wrapped shooting on Homeland’s last episode of the season. When do you all go into story conferences for Season 2?

Gansa: We’ll be back in early February in the writers’ room to start again. And then, we’ll be shooting again by early-May. I still have a lot of shows to post. So I’ll be working in the editing room and on the mix stage and stuff until, probably, the first or second week of December.

Homeland airs Sundays at 10 p.m. on Showtime.

Email: Jethro.Nededog@thr.com; Twitter: @TheRealJethro

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