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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:
Mendelsohn: When I was growing up it was everything western: The Rifleman, The Virginian, The Big Valley. And then it was Hill Street Blues.
Veasey: The Carol Burnett Show.
What was your first major writing job?
Mendelsohn: The first job I got paid for was Fame. I freelanced three episodes and was perfectly content to stay on that show for the rest of my career. It was the producers of that show that encouraged me to get an agent and see what else was out there. Turns out there were shows other than Fame.
Veasey: A comedy that aired during the 8-track days just before the introduction of the cassette tape.
Who was/is your TV mentor?
Mendelsohn: It’s a split decision between Stephen J. Cannell and Aaron Spelling. And all the hard knocks I took throughout my career. The ups and downs of being a TV writer: the downs especially teach you more than any one person can ever teach you; nothing like getting fired to inspire you to move on.
Veasey: Hal Cooper, Arthur Julian and Rod Parker — comic geniuses and producers from the Norman Lear School of Comedy,
What is your proudest accomplishment in the last year?
Mendelsohn: To have figured out how to expand time. Over the lat year I shot two television pilots and got a summer reality show on the air, Dogs in the City for CBS, while continuing to run CSI with my co-showrunner Don McGill.
Veasey: Getting to both of my sons’ football games while running two shows [CSI: New York and the now canceled CW drama Ringer].
What was your toughest scene to write this past year, and why?
Mendelsohn: You only remember the last one: Episode 1308, “CSI on Fire,” which the day before Thanksgiving. The excavation of a mass grave. Top of act one. We thought the scene would kill us.
Veasey: I got through it, so let’s not talk about it.
What is the funniest/most absurd note you’ve ever gotten from a network exec?
Mendelsohn: Lose the nipples and the butt cracks on the “sexually suggestive” mannequins.
Veasey: Can you not do in this episode, the thing you did in the other episode, that we told you not to do?
What is one aspect of your job as showrunner that you’d rather delegate?
Mendelsohn: You cut your teeth on a writing staff, and as you move up, as your career grows, there is always someone that handles the tough stuff, the stuff no one ever wants to do. The buck stops with them. And one day, you’re the showrunner, and it’s you. You look around for the person that’s going to deliver the bad news, make the tough calls. Whether it’s the easiest thing in the world or the hardest, there’s no one left to delegate to. It’s you.
Veasey: Picking where we would go eat lunch!
What is your preferred method for breaking through writer’s block?
Mendelsohn: First of all, there is no time for writer’s block on a network television series. When you’re having trouble with a story the best thing to do is stop thinking: go to the gym; walk the dog; take a swim. By not thinking the answer always pops into your head.
Veasey: Häagen-Dazs ice cream.
If you could add any one writer to your staff, who would it be?
Mendelsohn: [CSI creator] Anthony Zuiker. I miss him. I love every time he drops in to do an episode. In my whole life I’ve never had a better time writing with anyone.
Veasey: Jimmy Fallon.
What is the show you’re embarrassed to admit you watch?
Mendelsohn: Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, but I’m not that embarrassed. Just got done shooting an episode of CSI guest starring Kyle Richards. She was fabulous.
Veasey: MTV’s Guy Code.
What are the three things you need in order to write?
Mendelsohn: Peppermint Patties. I’ll take three.
Veasey: Twizzlers, Spicy Nacho Doritos and five-hour Energy shots.
If you could scrub one credit from your resume, what would it be?
Mendelsohn: The Love Boat episode “Love Ain’t Illegal.” Because it’s not my credit, but I cannot get IMDB to remove it.
Veasey: Wouldn’t scrub a thing!
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