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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.
The TV show that inspired me to write:
Nix: M.A.S.H. I watched two episodes every day for a couple of years as a kid. I thoroughly memorized it – knew it backwards and forwards – and cried when it was over. I also can still remember where I was standing – outside at the pool when I was 10 or 11 – when someone mentioned someone we knew wrote a spec episode of WKRP in Cincinnati.
My big break:
Nix: Doing an adaptation of a Robert Parker novel for Helen Hunt, although I hesitate to call it a major writing job because the project was put into turnaround before I could turn in the script.
My TV mentor:
Nix: Since Burn Notice was my first TV job – I was never on a show before – my mentor was probably Jeff Melvoin, who ran the WGA’s showrunner training program.
My proudest accomplishment this year:
Nix: Changing the model of Burn Notice from a largely self-contained, episodic show into a highly serialized drama. That was a combination of something the network wanted and what we were interested in doing. Having the ratings go up in season six is unusual and it’s not supposed happen when you get more serialized.
My toughest scene to write:
Nix: The toughest scenes were the scenes having to do with the Michael’s brother’s death and his relationship with his mom because we had to find a way to make those scenes compatible with the show. Finding ways to carry this emotionally weighty story line, but at the same time maintaining some of the breeziness.
The most absurd note I’ve ever gotten:
Nix: A cut accidentally went out this year that was missing an entire act and we did get the note that the network felt the addition of the second act sort of slowed it down.
I’d rather delegate:
Nix: The endless rounds of booking directors. Anything having to do with scheduling is not my thing. Looking over long lists of actors for parts and trying to determine who is actually available, actually affordable and actually might do the show.
How I break through writer’s block:
Nix: I always tell myself I’m not writing the script yet, I’ll just write down the things that I know have to happen in the episode and go from there. By constantly telling myself I’m not writing the script, that I’m preparing to write the script, eventually the script emerges.
If I could add any writer to my staff, it would be:
Nix: Stephen J. Cannell.
The show I’m embarrassed to admit I watch:
Nix: Project Runway. My wife watches it but when it’s on, I accidentally get sucked in. Hell’s Kitchen is the other one; a screaming Gordon Ramsay I find entertaining.
The three things I need in order to write:
Nix: Coffee, almonds and gum.
If I could scrub one credit from my resume, it would be:
Nix: I don’t have enough credits! It doesn’t show up on my resume but I wrote a movie about the fashion industry, a topic I have no interest in.
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