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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:
Nolan: Magnum PI “Home from the Sea” – the one with the shark. Only marginally less effective at reducing grown men to tears than a kick to the stones.
Plageman: Cheers. Miami Vice. Moonlighting. NYPD Blue.
My first big break:
Nolan: The short story that my brother [Christopher Nolan] adapted into [the 2000 feature film] Memento. I was still in college. I had pitched it to Chris on a road trip, then gone back to school and forgotten all about it. He called and harassed me to send him what I had. If he hadn’t I’d probably still be working on it.
Plageman: I started out at Spelling Television, wrote a story for 90210, then wound up on 7th Heaven. But the first really tough gig I landed was when [Steven] Bochco hired me on NYPD Blue.
My TV mentor:
Nolan: Every writer on our staff. I’m the newbie.
Plageman: Never really felt like I had one. Bochco, [Dick] Wolf and [Jerry] Bruckheimer were more trial by fire kind of places, where they kind of throw you in the deepend. I just chose to swim.
My proudest accomplishment this year:
Nolan: One night we had Person of Interest and The Dark Knight Rises shooting side by side in Tribeca. Pretty great night.
Plageman: Launching a new show with Jonah, getting it to stay on the air. That’s a first for me. For years I swore I’d never work on a first year show if I could avoid it, just because of the outsized agony involved, especially when the ratings don’t come in. Thankfully, our numbers came in.
My toughest scene to write this year:
Plageman: I enjoyed writing the scene where Root poses as a professional shrink, psychoanalyzing Reese [James Caviezel]. Both characters are lying about their true identity while trying to elicit personal information about the other. The fact that Root manages to hit so close to home about Reese’s true nature is as fun as it is unsettling for him. And it’s even more fun to watch in hindsight when you realize who she really is.
The most absurd note I’ve ever gotten:
Plageman: Anything emanating from Broadcast Standards/Program Practices. Those folks have an impossibly absurd job.
The aspect of my job as showrunner that I’d rather delegate:
Nolan: The phone calls. There are a lot of ’em. Most days I feel more like the Time-Life operator than a writer.
Plageman: Everything outside of breaking and writing stories. Every other aspect feels interpretive to me, which is a fine recipe for madness.
My preferred method for breaking through writers’ block:
Nolan: Assigning the script to someone else.
Plageman: Taking the weekly hysterical call from production, asking when they’re going to get a script.
If I could add any writer to your staff, it would it be:
Nolan: Michael Mann. His work comes up enough in the room that we should be paying him royalties.
Plageman: Elwood Reid [Cold Case, Hawaii Five-O]. We speak a lot of the same language. We couldn’t steal him off another show and now he’s got a pilot [FX’s The Bridge]. He’s a fantastically blunt writer to have in the room, and ferociously economical on the page.
The three things I need in order to write:
Plageman: Chair, Spotify/Songza and lack of Internet connection.
If I could scrub one credit from your resume, it would it be:
Plageman: Not a one. I don’t really like people who lie about where they came from. If you want to be a working writer in this business, you take the break where it comes. We get paid to make up stories. Wear it like a badge.
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