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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 show that inspired me to write:
Gilligan: The Twilight Zone because it was so marvelously constructed.
My TV mentor:
Gilligan: Definitely Chris Carter, who created The X-Files. He gave me my first job in television and taught me everything I know about writing and producing television, and I use the things that I learned on X-Files every day on Breaking Bad.
My proudest accomplishment this year:
Gilligan: Directing two episodes of Breaking Bad back to back. I was worried whether or not I was going to get through it, physically speaking. I don’t have a lot of energy left these days. That was the closest I’ve come to directing a movie, which is definitely something I’d love to do in the future. Directing two hours of the show back-to-back and crossboarding and block-shooting them seemed to me a pretty good dry run for doing a movie when this is all said and done.
My toughest scene to write this year:
Gilligan: It would be a tossup between Gustavo Fring’s death and Mike Ehrmantraut’s death. I wrote the scene with Gustavo Fring getting killed; but I did not write the other scene. So I can’t speak to the difficulty of writing that scene, but I think those two episodes were tough on the writers and on the cast and crew because everyone loves those actors so much and it was a real shame to let them go. Telling them was much tougher than writing the scenes, though. Taking both of those gentlemen aside and telling them, “Guess what? The end is nigh,” that was uncomfortable. Both of them were gentlemen, although Jonathan Banks did threaten to punch me in the heart.
The thing about my job as showrunner that I’d most like to delegate:
Gilligan: Dealing with money and budget issues. It’s absolutely crucial to the job, and having a willful ignorance concerning money is not a wise thing to do when you’re a showrunner. Some days I find myself telling my producers: “Please just deal with the money stuff. Tell me what we can do and tell me what we can’t do.” I prefer to stay out of money and scheduling issues, though it is to my detriment and I know that. I remember when somebody first told me that you’re now in charge of a $40 million start-up, it kind of freaked me out.
The most absurd network note I’ve ever gotten:
Gilligan: We don’t get noted to death on this show. I remember on The X-Files we had episode with an ass genie — a little guy who would crawl up some people’s butts and then operate them like a meat puppet — and I’m sure the notes on that were pretty funny.
My preferred method of breaking through writer’s block:
Gilligan: I can’t even say the phrase. I get really wigged out at the very thought of it, and I refuse to acknowledge its existence when we’re in the middle of breaking story.
The three things I need to write:
Gilligan: A phone with a ringer turned off — in other words, no interruptions, no distractions. So it’s probably best not to sit over a picture window that looks out over a nude beach or something. And gallons and gallons of iced tea.
If I could add one writer in my writers room, who would it be:
Gilligan: Rod Serling. I would have put him on staff just to hang out with him.
The show I’m embarrassed to admit I watch:
Gilligan: I say this proudly being from the little town of Farmville, Va., I love the RFD network. It’s a channel way up in the nosebleed section of the cable dial. They have all of these shows about tractor pulls. There’s a show called Classic Tractor Fever, which I rather enjoy. It’s basically farmers in Saskatchewan showing off their old tractors from the 1930s or ‘40s. I find that oddly relaxing.
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