'Atlanta,' 'Silicon Valley,' More TV Show Bosses on Trump, Best Zingers and Biggest Challenges

11:02 AM 8/11/2017

by THR staff

The showrunners and executive producers of this year's Emmy-nominated comedy series open up about everything from Snoop Dogg envy and which network actually wants more raunchiness.

Awards in Focus - Atlanta-  Silicon Valley- Black-ish-Split- Publicity-H 2017
Courtesy of FX; HBO; ABC

Which comedy writers think they took a joke too far? What network wanted it even raunchier? And how did Netflix react to eight minutes of silence on Master of None? The showrunners, executive producers and even one director of the Emmys' seven best comedy contenders  sound off on that and more as they look back on the seasons that got them nominated.

  • Atlanta

    If any comedy stands to challenge Veep's Emmy dominance, it's creator Donald Glover's existential take on Atlanta's hip-hop scene. It won the comedy Golden Globe as well as the comedy actor trophy for Glover last January, and made HBO's political satire look like less of a sure thing than it has in six years. Director and executive producer Hiro Murai spoke with THR about the unexpected hit.

    I still can't believe we got away with …

    I'm surprised we got away with the entire show. We were expecting it to not last past a season, just because everything we were doing felt like it was so much for us and not anybody else. I'm surprised there was no pushback and that it actually got on air. And this is a small thing, but a big part of it is the language in the show. It's about trap rappers in Atlanta, and there's a lot of music in it with explicit language. Obviously it was all in the script, but we never explicitly talked about what was airable and what wasn't. We just approached it, like, "If they're not telling us not to say it, then we can say it." (Laughs.) But throughout the whole production process, we kept looking around, like, "Are they really going to air all this language?" That was a big surprise. FX made a very bold decision to let us air everything because that was the authentic language of the world we were making.

    The biggest misconception about Atlanta is …

    I don't know if this is a misconception, but I think people would be surprised to know how fast the show is put together. We're shooting four-day episodes, so production really flies. The process is a lot more condensed than people assume it is.

    Read the full Q&A here.

  • Black-ish

    Couched in this traditional ABC sitcom — about a black couple raising their four (soon to be five) children in a predominantly white neighborhood in L.A. — is sharp commentary on the news of the day: gun control, the N-word, police brutality. Showrunner and creator Kenya Barris knows how to weave these seemingly disparate themes with a finesse that has helped the series receive not only the expected Emmy, Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild recognition but also a Peabody Award, the Humanitas Prize (for Barris) and the Banff World Media Festival's inaugural Impact Award. Barris recently answered some of THR's burning questions.

    The most challenging scene to write this season was …

    The conference room scene at Stevens & Lido in the "Lemons" episode. It was a really personal moment that I knew I wanted to be scored for me over a montage, but I also knew it was coming off a joke. The challenge was to balance the comedy with the emotion of the scene with what was going on in our country at that time.

    I still can't believe we got away with …

    Having one of our characters, Charlie, have an inner-office fish fry at his desk.

    Read the full Q&A here.

  • Master of None

    As artsy a comedy as they come — the pilot was helmed by indie filmmaker James Ponsoldt — Netflix's very bingeable series by Aziz Ansari and Alan Yang loves to play with convention. A great example: The second season opened with an episode, "The Thief," that was shot entirely in black and white (an homage to Italian filmmakers of the 1960s). Yang recently spoke with THR about other risks that were taken in the new season.

    I still can't believe we got away with …

    We have about eight minutes of silence in the episode "New York, I Love You." It's a hard sell for any network, but I think especially for Netflix, because a lot of their customers are using their laptops or phones to watch. Very early on, when we sent a cut to Netflix, they very gently said, "Are you sure you want to do this? Because we were watching the episode, and we thought our computers broke, so we restarted them." (Laughs.) And we're like, "Yeah, that's the point of that section." The episode is about putting yourself in other people's shoes, and we thought that this was a really interesting way [of showing that].

    The most challenging scene to write this season was …

    We talked a lot about what would happen at the end of the "Religion" episode, because it's a very specific situation, and we didn't want to come down too hard on either Dev's [Ansari] side or the parents' side. The episode isn't ultimately about what your take on religion is; it's more about learning to communicate with your parents and your parents learning to communicate with you and seeing you as an adult as well. Some of us are so repressed, especially people in the Asian and South Asian communities, that you don't talk to your parents until you're old. That's one of the themes of the show, too.

    Read the full Q&A here.

  • Modern Family

    The Goliath in this category (to Davids like Master of None and Atlanta), ABC's multigenerational family sitcom from creators Chris Lloyd and Steve Levitan boasts 80 Emmy nominations and 22 wins during its eight-year history, including five consecutive outstanding comedy series trophies for its first five seasons. Veep interrupted that streak in 2015, but the pioneering series continues to score nominations.

    The biggest misconception about Modern Family is …

    CHRIS LLOYD That Ty Burrell has gone unspoiled by Hollywood. The mat you step across to go into his trailer says "You're Welcome" on it.

    The most challenging scene to write this season was …

    LLOYD When Gloria [Sofia Vergara] intimidates two Russians who are bothering Mitch [Jesse Tyler Ferguson] and Cam [Eric Stonestreet] by using some phrases she has overheard from a Russian nanny at the park. Gloria knows she will be taken for a powerful man's girlfriend. The difficulty didn't end with finding these phrases — "Playtime is over!" — given that the scene required Sofia to phonetically pronounce Russian, while referring to subtitles in English, a language she speaks only marginally better than Russian.

    If I could switch gigs with any other nominee for a day, it would be …

    LEVITAN Snoop Dogg [of Martha & Snoop's Potluck Dinner Party].

    Read the full Q&A here.

  • Silicon Valley

    Mike Judge and Alec Berg's all-too-realistic parody of the Silicon Valley tech startup culture took a dark turn in its fourth season, with Thomas Middleditch's Pied Piper founder Richard Hendricks starting to become the type of tech-industry jerk that audiences are more used to seeing played by Matt Ross (as Gavin Belson) or even Chris Diamantopoulos (as Russ Hanneman). Maybe it's the continual self-defeating pivots of his compression software strategy or the battles with mutinous partners (at one point, Kumail Nanjiani's Dinesh was running things) or the blink-and-you-miss-it affair he had with the wife of a financial backer. Judge recently broke down the season and its challenges — for the characters and the creators — for THR.

    I still can't believe we got away with …

    There's no sneaking anything past a network. You can kind of get away with anything on HBO. If anything, HBO wants you to be raunchier. We're not all that raunchy. I mean, sometimes we are. No horse sex or giant dick jokes this season. (Laughs.) But I can't believe we got away with getting all these tech companies to show up to our fake Hooli-Con. Almost all those companies at the tech convention were real companies that are successful and wealthy. And they all came and sat there for two or three days, set up all their stuff and got yelled at by assistant directors and were all very nice about it. It feels like we pulled off something with that.

    The person on Silicon Valley that has the most difficult job is …

    I'd say the gaffers and grips. I mean, I complain about a 6:30 a.m. call time. I would say any of the crew who is loading in and loading out because they're getting there earlier and staying later. I would say they have the hardest job. Hair and makeup actually have a pretty tough job, too. I won't say which castmembers, but they have to put wigs on people and start way earlier than the rest of us.

    Wait, some of the cast wear wigs?

    There's been … uh … some people who have another movie and their hair gets cut short and they have to. (Laughs.)

    Read the full Q&A here.

  • Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt

    In season three of Unbreakable Kimmy Schimdt, the Netflix comedy went out of its way to up its absurdity quotient. That included an elaborate parody of Beyonce's Lemonade, a brutal critique of the NFL and the Washington Redskins, and — perhaps most left field — a flashback-fueled subplot that incorporated a cruise ship, cannibalism and Dionne Warwick. Beneath all that ridiculousness, the show earnestly tackled gentrification, racism and — as it has from the start — the psychological and social aftermath of forced captivity. It's enough to attract top-tier talent. Jon Hamm, Laura Dern, Daveed Diggs, Amy Sedaris and Fey herself were among the season's guest stars, joining mainstays Kemper, Carol Kane, Jane Krakowski and supporting actor nominee Tituss Burgess.

    The line of dialogue I'm most proud of this season is …

    TINA FEY Titus saying, "It's just one of the many ways in which I'm stronger than Beyonce." His delusion knows no bounds.

    ROBERT CARLOCK Maybe Ray Liotta talking about retirement and then looking at a picture of a sailboat and saying, "Someday … I'm gonna see a real sailboat."

    The most challenging scene to write this season was …

    FEY The scene where Kimmy meets the reverend's [Hamm] fiance, because it was a tricky tone line to walk and also because we wanted it to be good enough for Laura Dern.

    CARLOCK It's always important to knock Kimmy down from time to time; she can't just march through the world like Pippi Longstocking. The world is still mean, after all. But those scenes are always tricky, and this season especially, her failures with college and crossing guarding, etc., really piled up in the final episode. We knew she'd get her nose up by the end, but the road there was a challenge.

    Read the full Q&A here.

  • Veep

    David Mandel delivered yet another game-changing finale this season. The showrunner wrote and directed the episode "Groundbreaking," earning him two Emmy noms among the HBO political comedy's total of 17, a record. And now, after a season away from the White House — a fortuitous decision in Trump's America — Selina Meyer, played by Julia Louis-Dreyfus, will get back on the campaign trail next year. Despite getting everything an ex-president could want — a memoir, a presidential library and a loving relationship — Selina's sights are, once again, firmly set on becoming POTUS, an elected one this time around. "She threw away the happy ending," Mandel told THR of Selina being a political addict. The ending brought Mandel’s Veep tenure full circle, after he dashed her hopes during his first season as showrunner last year. Selina was thrilled to have the potential of her dream, but to Mandel the decision was a sad one, and the episode presented two specific challenges in order to get that dichotomy just right. 

    The most challenging scene to write this season was …

    Selina breaking up with Jaffar [Usman Ally] in the final episode and trying to make it real and heartbreaking and funny at the same time. The joke about Germany really helped in the middle there. The scene also kept getting too long — both in the writing and then when we shot it. Less was more.

    I still can't believe we got away with …

    Selina delivering a speech in Qatar defending female genital mutilation.

    The biggest misconception about Veep is …

    That Selina is getting meaner and nastier. She lost the presidency; she is responding properly. Also, that we curse too much. If you think that, fuck you.

    Read the full Q&A here.