HRTS Panelists Answer: Is Twitter Helpful for Showrunners?
Executive producers from "The Walking Dead," "Justified," "New Girl" and "2 Broke Girls" join moderator Peter Tolan in a spirited discussion about career low points, pressure and the nature of the development process.
In a free-ranging and often R-rated conversation, showrunners and executive producers from Justified, New Girl, 2 Broke Girls and The Walking Dead joined moderator Peter Tolan onstage at the Beverly Hilton for the HRTS' Hitmakers panel.
While many of the quips are not fit for print in this publication — the "c" word was uttered twice in the first minute alone — the spirited discussion with Graham Yost, Liz Meriwether, Brett Baer, Dave Finkel, Michael Patrick King and Glen Mazzara hit on their career highs, lows, pressures and frustrations.
Here's a look at the highlights from Thursday's panel:
On the Pressure
Mazzara acknowledged that in taking over for fired showunner Frank Darabont on Walking Dead, he feared for his career. If what he did with the zombie show in season two did not work, he would be “branded as the guy that that f—ed up The Walking Dead,” he said. Ultimately, he didn’t and thus wasn’t, noting that he followed Darabont’s road map and was open with the show’s cast and crew about their expectations for him. His message: “I’m not going to try to be Darabont.”
On Career Lows
While Justified showrunner Yost admits he's still nursing a broken heart over the commercial failure of Boomtown, he points to his 9.5-week writing experience on Full House as an early low. To hear him tell it, he left just before he would have been fired, in part a byproduct of his desire to be edgy and his propensity for doodling in the writers room. Fortunately, he walked out of what he now describes as “an incredibly bitter and political” writers room on a Tuesday and sold Speed on a Friday.
On Standards and Practices
New Girl showrunner Meriwether remains flabbergasted by what does and not fly. On a recent episode, she said she tried to show a condom on a banana. She was informed that condoms and bananas were both OK; the combination, however, would not fly. Over on cable, "f—" and "God damn" are off limits along with full frontal nudity, added Yost, quipping that they're all for side nudity.
The verdict among this group was that Twitter isn’t a particularly helpful tool. While 2 Broke Girls showrunner King said his younger staff uses it as a way to track reactions in real time, a phenomenon that he calls “oddly intimate and cold at the same time," Meriwether suggested too much feedback can be overwhelming. Mazzara, who joined the site earlier this month, sees little point to it as the criticism can be hurtful and demoralizing. “You try not to take it personally,” he shrugged, “but how can you not?”
On the Development Process
King explained that he wrote 2 Broke Girls as a spec because he "wanted the read to be fresh." As he sees it, once a project goes through the various stages of development, it often looses its "wow" factor for the executives who already have seen it in various iterations. By turning in a finished product, he added, you get that "palpable 'what's this?' " experience. The strategy proved successful for his show, which found itself at the center of a bidding war.
On Favorite Shows
Yost selected FX’s Archer. Mazzara picked FX’s Its Always Sunny in Philadelphia. King chose FX’s American Horror Story. Meriwether opted for Showtime’s Homeland and, as a backup, NBC’s Law and Order: SVU. New Girl executive producer Baer said Homeland and Bravo’s Top Chef. Finkel, also an executive producer on New Girl, went for HBO’s Game of Thrones, Homeland and The Walking Dead.