Showrunners 2012: 'Parenthood's' Jason Katims

8:00 AM PST 10/03/2012 by Lesley Goldberg
Jason Katims

The former "Roswell" showrunner on the most absurd network note he's ever received: "Aliens, aliens, aliens."

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. 

Jason Katims, Parenthood (NBC)

The show that inspired me to write:
Katims: I saw a production of True West, a Sam Shepard play that made me want to be a playwright. That's what made me want to start dramatic writing. In terms of TV shows, growing up I loved television and there were lots of shows with huge influences: M*A*S*H, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Taxi, The Odd Couple.

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My big break:
Katims: My So-Called Life. I was a story editor and I worked with Winnie Holtzman, Ed Zwick and Marshall Herskovitz. It would have been great to work on any TV show, but to have my first be on such a great show, it was like my graduate school. I didn't go to film school, I wasn't planning to write for TV - I'd never been on a set before that show. The basic way that I approach writing TV I learned there, and I still refer back to that show and the things I learned.

My TV mentor:
Katims: My mentors were definitely Winnie, Ed and Marshall. They very much were who I learned everything about writing TV from. I still have contact with them to this day. They had a very particular way of approaching character and story, and for me, it's definitely the foundation. I did Relativity with them, and that was another level of learning how to run a show and learn producing elements of TV.

My proudest accomplishment this year:
Katims: What I'm really most excited about over the last year, we're well into the fourth season of Parenthood, and it's my favorite season of the show. That's what I'm really excited about: to get to this point in the show and feel like we're still growing creatively and everybody involved with the show is so energized in doing it. That's what I'm most proud of. I feel like we're still very much finding new stories to tell and everybody is very energized.

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My toughest scene to write this year:
Katims: The story line of Kristina (Monica Potter) getting breast cancer is very personal to me. My wife went through that a couple of years ago, and I have other friends who have gone through that. It's definitely something I thought a lot about before doing and choosing to go down that path. When we talked about it for a few weeks and once we decided to do that story, Monica knowing nothing about it, emailed me that weekend and then brought up breast cancer. She emailed me about it and asked me how my wife was doing, and then she said, "I think this might be an interesting story to explore for Kristina." It was amazing  that we both came to that separately.

The most absurd note I've ever gotten:
Katims: My favorite network note was on Roswell, a show that was very much about aliens, but I always thought of it as a metaphor for adolescence and being a teenager. When we started doing the show, even though the characters are aliens, I wanted to approach it as if they were human and have the alien part of the show there, but have it be somewhat subtle. The person who was the head of the network at the time through someone else gave a note to me: "Aliens, aliens, aliens." It was an interesting question of finding the right balance. I don't think I had the perfect balance at the beginning. To me, that show was about finding balance, and it was a challenge. I came from My So-Called Life, I wasn't coming from a genre point of view. I always found it funny.

The one part of my job as showrunner that I’d rather delegate:
Katims: Giving characters names, that's the thing I hate. It could throw me off for hours. I start looking up different names on the Internet and going through everyone I've known. Some people love to name characters - I wish I did. Zeke (Craig T. Nelson) was named after my friend's dad who passed away right before I wrote the pilot, and the character shares similarities with him and my father. Hank (Ray Romano) the writers came up with - I struggled with that name.

If I could add any one writer to my staff, it would be:
Katims: The first person that comes to mind is Winnie Holtzman if we're in the world of fantasy. She's such an inventive writer and is incredible with characters.

The show I’m embarrassed to admit I watch:
Katims: I watched Cupcake Wars with my 11-year-old daughter, it's a fun thing to do with the family. As a family, we love watching American Idol.

If I could scrub one credit from the resume, it would be:
Katims: I worked on the remake of Bionic Woman, and that didn't go very well. 

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