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Writing duo David Crane and Jeffrey Klarik made a fortune off of such multicamera comedies as Friends, Veronica’s Closet and Mad About You. Ironically, they can’t watch that format anymore.
“We spent so many years doing it, and now we can’t bear it. It’s a weird phenomenon,” says Crane, a co-creator of Friends. Adds Klarik, “’Cause they don’t make us laugh.”
The thing that does make them chuckle is frequent collaborator Matt LeBlanc’s delivery. Emmy voters would seem to agree. The Showtime series Episodes, which Crane and Klarik co-created, has earned 10 nominations throughout its run, including four for LeBlanc as lead actor in a comedy.
The pair, who also are a longtime couple, will receive the 2017 Creative Impact in Television Writing Award from the Nantucket Film Festival, which kicked off Wednesday with an opening-night screening of The Big Sick and runs through Monday. They spoke to The Hollywood Reporter from their home in Montecito, which Klarik described as a perfectly compatible setting for writing: “The weather is perfection, and it’s quiet, peaceful — except for Oprah making her racket.”
The duo tell THR about their start on the trailblazing series Dream On, what they’re currently binge-watching and how LeBlanc is a far cry from his Joey persona.
You both got your start on HBO’s Dream On. What’s the biggest difference between the TV industry then vs. now?
CRANE There’s so much more television than there ever was. Back then, we were one of two shows on HBO. The other one was O.J. Simpson’s comedy 1st & Ten. Now there are so many avenues. Television was television then. And our friends who did movies were the real successes. We were sort of the bastard children. But the quality today — you watch some of these shows, The Handmaid’s Tale or Bloodline.
KLARIK Game of Thrones.
CRANE The most exciting stuff is being done on television now. So there’s never been a better time to be writing for television. Even on network. (Laughs.) The irony is because of freedom we had with HBO, we were kind of ahead of our time (with Dream On). We were only their second scripted comedy ever, so hands were off. Which is now what television finally has come to.
KLARIK Certainly the BBC and Showtime have let us make episodes exactly the way we want.
Describe Matt LeBlanc in three words.
CRANE Smart, surprisingly talented. The thing about him is you think, “Oh, it’s Joey. That’s who he is.” And it’s so not who he is.
KLARIK Funny, generous, manly.
You’re writing partners and a couple as well. How does that work?
KLARIK The real process is it’s our life, you know? It’s every minute of our waking day, especially when we’re in production. We talk about it when we wake up, in the car, at dinner, if we go for a walk. It really is all-consuming.
CRANE We don’t have a writers room, it’s just us. We write all the scripts in advance, just the two of us. So, our kitchen is our writers room. We cross-board the whole season and then shoot the whole season like a giant movie.
KLARIK It gets to the point where sometimes we’ll be in the car driving down to L.A., and I’ll just say to David, “Can we not talk about the show for one minute? That’s all I’m asking. One minute.” We turn on Howard Stern for a few minutes, and then, all of the sudden, one of us will say, “What about if Beverly said…”
CRANE Yeah, and it’s usually you.
TV is fast becoming a staple at film festivals. Did you ever think you’d be honored at a film festival?
KLARIK No, but that’s the thing about television today. It isn’t the poor relative anymore. It’s as viable and vibrant.
CRANE Television permits you to tell a story in a longer period of time. I mean, a movie is always gonna be, you’re restricted to, let’s call it two hours, more or less. But, you know, you get to really dive deep with the characters and the storytelling, and you’re telling it over many episodes and many seasons, you know? And you can invest in people in a way that, I think, it’s sometimes much richer than you can in a film. We went to see Manchester by the Sea. As good as it was, and the acting was terrific, and the writing was terrific, we kind of walked out and went, “I want to feel more.”
KLARIK We’re all now so familiar with that three-act structure. Whereas in television now, you don’t know how many episodes there are gonna be. It depends on what the writer needs to tell the story. I’m watching Fargo right now, and I have no idea where they’re going from episode to episode. It’s a really exciting time, and no network would ever have allowed that back in the day.
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