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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.
Janet Tamaro, Rizzoli & Isles (TNT)
The TV show that inspired me to write:
Tamaro: It’s not that I didn’t and don’t love TV. I do. And it’s not because I’m sucking up to my parents, who wouldn’t let me watch TV when I was a kid. I nearly electrocuted myself trying to reconnect a plug to an electrical cord my father had severed because he caught us watching TV. The truth isn’t sexy: books made me want to be a writer. But maybe that’s because the TV didn’t work…
My first big break:
Tamaro: I wrote a freelance episode while still working as a journalist. That was season one of Law & Order: SVU.
My TV mentor:
Tamaro: My mentors were all from news. I was a television correspondent before I started writing TV dramas. Blame me. Could be I was a lousy mentee thanks to too many years of trying to learn the basics of nuclear physics in an hour so I wasn’t a complete blockhead when I interviewed the world expert in fission. Looking back, I wish I’d been less afraid of appearing “dumb” while asking a truckload of “dumb” questions. This whole thing might’ve gone faster. John Jacobs, great political reporter, told me I had the goods. Bob Young, John Tomlin and Bill O’Reilly assigned tough news stories without regard to age (I was goofy young) or gender. Every news director I worked for: you learn fast they don’t suffer fools.
My proudest accomplishment this year:
Tamaro: Not tapping my health insurance for a long stay in a sanitarium … and finding enough fun, fresh, produce-able ideas in a continuing series, while staying on a basic cable budget.
My toughest scene to write this year:
Tamaro: Pretend that you watch the show so you know what I’m talking about: the scene where Jane and Maura first meet. Too many fans had built up absurdly high hopes about that scene… Made me nauseous to think about writing it. I believe I typed it in the fetal position under my desk…
The most absurd note I’ve ever gotten:
Tamaro: OK, this is really unfair because my face still flushes scarlet at the memory of a few of my early pitches. Hart Hansen: I’m sorry I suggested using a playing card, albeit a metal-edged one, as a murder weapon. One executive gave this note on an interracial romance script I’d written: “Can they both be white?” Uh…not really…
The one aspect of your job as showrunner that I’d rather delegate:
Tamaro: There is honestly nothing I would ask someone else to do that I wouldn’t do myself. That is the truth. I kinda love what I do. And I come from a big family. Once you stopped teething, you had chores.
My preferred method for breaking through writers’ block:
Tamaro: More geeky self-truths: I work out. Sounds better if I give you that whole “body-mind” speech. But exercise is my heroin. It’s one of the few times when I finally turn off RADIO K-F— in my brain and chill. That’s when the ideas come to me.
If I could add any one writer to my staff, it would be:
Tamaro: Tom Wolfe. Please don’t tell him I said that…
The show I’m embarrassed to admit I watch:
Tamaro: Man, you really know how to embarrass a girl! Do I have to say? What if it was a reality show? Would you tell TNT & Warner Brothers and/or any of my writer friends?? Fine. Project Runway. Are you happy now?
The three things I need in order to write:
Tamaro: A chance to see my bed every night for an uninterrupted stretch, my treadmill, desk and Peet’s coffee. That’s a lie. Peet’s low-fat, flat, extra-hot latte. But I thought you might judge if I added all the adjectives.
If I could scrub one credit from your resume, it would be:
Tamaro: The year I scraped together enough money to go to graduate school by writing fabulous missives about pineapple cutters in Dole’s P.R. department: “It slices and dices.” Aloha?
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