Showrunners 2012: 'Longmire's' Greer Shephard
"Somewhere in my boxes is a framed copy of the Standards and Practices notes we got from FX after delivering the pilot of 'Nip/Tuck.' I remember thinking the notes were more pornographic than the film itself, with elaborate descriptions of thrusting and side nipples that had us all blushing. We finally resorted to the shorthand: 'no pink, no fuzz' to avoid further embarrassment," she says of insane network notes.
From their obsessive rituals (Peppermint Patties! Oatmeal! Bruce Springsteen!) to the parts of their jobs they hate most (killing characters off, dealing with agents), TV's most influential writer-producers featured on The Hollywood Reporter's annual list of the Top 50 Showrunners come clean about the people, things and quirky habits that keep them -- and their shows -- alive.
Greer Shephard, Longmire (A&E)
The show that inspired me to write:
Shephard: My inspiration wasn't a show -- it was my dad, Harvey Shephard. He had been the head of programming at CBS during my childhood, and then became the president of Warner Bros. The electricity and creativity surrounding his job was very alluring. It was a synthesis of art, intellectualism and psychology in a very social context with a parade of personalities. Throughout his career, he provided some great role models and opportunities for women by developing shows like Cagney and Lacey, Murphy Brown and China Beach. I saw the social importance of his contributions, and I wanted to be part of that legacy and continue that tradition. I hope I have made him proud. I also have to admit he introduced me to Bo and Luke Duke when I was 13. That was pretty big.
My first big break:
Shephard: Popular, a teen dramedy for The WB that I worked on with Ryan Murphy and my partner Mike Robin.
My TV mentor:
Shephard: Showrunner David Manson. I watched him run the writers' room on a show called Nothing Sacred with Solomon-like grace. He knew how to harness the strengths of very different personality types and manage differing creative processes. He instinctively knew when to deconstruct a story, and when to keep building upon it. He taught me the value of theme in storytelling, and reinforced the importance of never settling for a solution that "feels like TV." He constantly sought out the best artists for every department, even if they were not conventional choices. To this day, he maintains a standard of excellence and an intellectual rigor that I try to emulate.
My proudest accomplishment this year:
Shephard: I was able to juggle being a single mother of a 2-year-old while producing Longmire out of state.
My toughest scene to write this year:
Shephard: My fellow Longmire executive producers Hunt Baldwin and John Coveny and I toiled over the climactic emotional showdown between Walt and his daughter Cady when she confronts him for concealing the circumstances surrounding her mother's death. It was challenging to figure out how to crack open such a stoic character and show his pain and heartbreak without slipping into melodrama.
The most absurd note I've ever gotten:
Shephard: Somewhere in my boxes is a framed copy of the Standards and Practices notes we got from FX after delivering the pilot of Nip/Tuck. I remember thinking the notes were more pornographic than the film itself, with elaborate descriptions of thrusting and side nipples that had us all blushing. We finally resorted to the shorthand: "no pink, no fuzz" to avoid further embarrassment.
The one aspect of my job as showrunner that I’d rather delegate:
Shephard: I don't enjoy dealing with budget issues. Thankfully, my partner Mike Robin shoulders many of these burdens. I also try to avoid all issues concerning hair.
If you could add any one writer to your staff, who would it be?
Shephard: I would clone Hunt Baldwin and John Coveny. Mostly to see Coveny give notes to himself.
The show I’m embarrassed to admit I watch:
Shephard: It's not the show that embarrasses me -- it's the NUMBER OF TIMES I rewatch episodes of Friday Night Lights. There is something so soothing about the show's nostalgic portrait of high school and football and Texas … and something so reassuring about Coach Taylor's character. Longmire was borne out of my desire to develop a series equally escapist, romantic and quietly noble. We even cast Grandma Saracen!
The three things I need in order to work:
Shephard: Hot chocolate from Starbucks (preferably with whipped cream); a bottle of Advil; the ability to take breaks to play with my daughter.