'Magic City' Creator Mitch Glazer on Probing His Past and an Uncomfortable Political Storyline (Q&A)

Mitch Glazer Magic City Red Carpet - P 2012
Jason Merritt/Getty Images

Mitch Glazer Magic City Red Carpet - P 2012

Mitch Glazer has been traveling on the road to Magic City for a long time -- how long, exactly, depends on the timeline you choose. There's the year and three months since he first sold his glitzy new hour drama to Starz; the seven years since he initially pitched and wrote the project; and the 59 years that he has been observing and organizing the political, sexual and existential storylines in his head.

Glazer, who has worked in Hollywood for over 30 years on various film and TV series, grew up in 1950s Miami, dropped into the middle of the lush cocktail of nightlife and the organized crime that made the parties happen. Now, he has returned to the city as the creator and executive producer of a highly anticipated (and already renewed) show that stars Jeffrey Dean Morgan as a conflicted hotel owner who signed a deal with the devil (or, gangster Danny Huston) to finance his operation and take care of his family.

The Hollywood Reporter spoke with Glazer at the New York City premiere of the show, which will air tonight following the season finale of Spartacus: Vengeance.

THR: What inspired the initial idea for the show?

Glazer: I was born and raised in Miami Beach in this period and most writers like to write what I know and this is the place that I know best. It was already, to my growing up, seven-year-old eye, a sexy, glamorous time and then I found out there were deeper things happening and as a writer it became kind of an obvious thing for me to write about.

THR: So you saw the sexy things as a seven-year-old, but where did you go to find out about those deeper things to put them in the show?

Glazer: A lot of the stories I heard as a kid, my dad was an electrical engineer and did all the lighting for those big hotels, so he got to work with them. So I got to hear the stories growing up about Meyer Lansky. And actually, when I was in high school, we would eat at Wolfie's and Meyer would have the booth behind us. So it was really part of the air that I was breathing at that time. But then, I just went back and looked at books and online and realized that that era in American politics was really dramatic and I think permanently changed the country.

TV Review: Magic City

THR: In the first episode of the season, Ike (Morgan's character) has to deal with a union strike, and because he's the protagonist with his hotel on the line, we're in an awkward position of rooting for some shady solutions to the "problem." You work in a unionized industry, so how do you bridge that gap?

Glazer: It was really a strange moment for the character and for the story, and a good friend of the family was a union lawyer in Miami Beach at that point. And he gave me the information about the hotel workers' strike of that period. And it was before the union became kind of involved -- which they eventually apparently did -- of other people getting involved. It was still a pure period. And my parents, my mother was a public high school English teacher, I'm a Writer's Guild guy from day one, but for the storytelling of it all, Ike had to be at heads with this. And it was a strange kind of, slightly uncomfortable but challenging writing moment, because in a human way, Ike sees it as a threat, but in a larger political way, clearly the unions were inevitable and the way things should go.

THR: Does Ike end up falling into a despair? Is he an anti-hero? How do you see him?

Glazer: I don't see him purely as an anti-hero. That feels a little limiting. I think he's an incredibly successful guy, kind of a powerful man who has learned to compartmentalized. And I keep thinking in my head of the moment watching Obama, President Obama speaks to the Correspondents' Dinner while the attack on Osama Bin Laden was happening. Not comparing them as far as the pressure they're under, but thinking of a man's ability to present as a witty, easy guy, and at the same time, have the pressure of the world on his shoulders. And that's really where Ike is; he's not really good or bad, he's all of us.

THR: What was the development process like for this show?

Glazer: I was going to say strange, but maybe by Hollywood standards, that's the way it is. I originally wrote it for CBS seven years ago and I don't think it ever was a comfortable network fit, and then I met Chris [Albrecht, CEO of Starz] when he was between jobs at HBO and Starz and really liked him. When he got the job at Starz, I sent it to him, feeling that the combination of mob and Miami would be attractive to him. And he called me two hours later, and from then to now, it's been a rocket sled. The first seven years of the draw were a little slower. And just as an aside, it was an incredibly generous and cool move on CBS's part to give it back to me.

THR: How did it change, going from broadcast network to premium cable?

Glazer: Well for all the reasons, obviously liberating in a way. It's a story that felt more comfortable, it was a better fit for premium cable, because of the violence and the sex and there are absolutely no censorship issues at Starz.

THR: You wrote this seven years ago, and people are giving it that Mad Men comparison, but you wrote it before that showed premiered.

Glazer: I did. I pitched it and wrote the treatment for CBS before Mad Men aired, for the same reason as I answered your previous question, because these are stories I've been carrying around with me since high school and I wanted to tell them. I actually thought that CBS was going to be excited by the advent of Mad Men but the numbers kind of not inspiring, to put it truthfully.