Killed Characters, Fired Bosses and Canceled Shows: TV's Top Drama Showrunners Tell All
Six top writer-producers -- Vince Gilligan ("Breaking Bad"), Howard Gordon ("Homeland"), Shonda Rhimes ("Grey’s Anatomy," "Private Practice," "Scandal"), Glen Mazzara ("The Walking Dead"), Veena Sud ("The Killing") and Terence Winter ("Boardwalk Empire") -- talk writers' block cures, the "torture" of Twitter and the most painless way to kill off your lead.
THR: What has been your most challenging moment with an actor?
Gordon: Where’s this running? (Laughter.)
Gilligan: I remember a good learning moment for me. It was on The X-Files, and I had written the scene where Gillian Anderson was about to get an ice-pick lobotomy by this crazy guy who’d strapped her to a dentist chair. I wrote that she was coming out of some deep anesthetic, and the scene needed to be scary. But I’m like, “This is not scary, because she’s not scared. She is drugged!” So I had to ask them to reshoot it. She was very upset with me. I don’t blame her. I sent her flowers. I learned from that that you got to be careful what you put on the page.
Winter: I can’t say it was easy walking into a trailer and sitting across from Tony Soprano, telling him that he has to say the dialogue exactly as written. (Laughter.) But it was really great when I realized that Jim Gandolfini is not Tony, and you can actually talk to him. We were real sticklers for having the dialogue said verbatim, and then it’s down to something like “You motherf—ing asshole” and “You asshole motherf—er,” and I had to explain why it was better the other way. (Laughter.)
THR: You are all at the top of your game, careerwise. But is there something you haven’t done in your lives that you’d still like to do?
Sud: Not as a career. But I want to hike the Pacific Crest Trail. I want to go from Mexico to Canada. It takes three months to do that hike.
Gilligan: That would be cool. I’ve always wanted to do the Appalachian Trail, because I’m from back east. Both of those would be great.
Winter: I wouldn’t want to do anything else. I just wish I had more time to read things that weren’t related to what I’m working on. Some of the older books, all the CliffsNotes of books I was supposed to have read in college were great, but I just see people on the subway and on the street reading a book, and I say, “Wow. What’s that like?” I just really have no time.
Rhimes: About once a year, I announce to my sisters that I’m going to get my master’s in library science. I’m very serious about it. The idea of being a librarian is like the happiest job I can think of. My sisters laugh at me every single time, and they’re like, “It’s not going to happen, let it go.” But one day I’m going to have a library in Vermont somewhere.
Gordon: I’ve had on my desk a couple of applications to grad school. I haven’t filled them out, but I’ve actually done the research to see what it would take. Public diplomacy is one. International relations, I mean, I’ve always been interested in that and briefly considered a career in the state department until I saw the entrance exam.
Mazzara: I’d probably want to teach. I have a degree in English lit and was going to be a teacher at one point, and so I could see teaching, you know, English or maybe film. But this idea of the career ending is so scary. Let’s move on. (Laughter.)
From left: Vince Gilligan, Howard Gordon, Shonda Rhimes, Terence Winter, Veena Sud and Glen Mazzara, photographed at the historic Los Angeles Athletic Club
and hotel in downtown L.A. on May 3.