As FX turns 20, fifteen of TV’s top scribes — from Rescue Me’s Denis Leary to Louie’s Louis C.K. — reveal what it’s like to write for a network that encourages smart TV (almost) without rules as part of a series that The Hollywood Reporter is rolling out this week. This story first appeared in the May 23 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
Season one of Sons of Anarchy was insane. The writers’ strike had staggered everything, so when we got the series order we jumped into a major pilot reshoot and rolled immediately into shooting the first season. I was totally out of my depth: Suddenly I had to channel my highly dysfunctional artistic temperament into a functional process that included expediting a vision, staying on budget and the management of hundreds of people. Let’s just say I struggled. Although I had been at the network for seven years on The Shield, I was still forging my relationship with John Landgraf. He, too, had a lot riding on SOA. John’s boss at the time told him he didn’t think John should make it. He took a huge risk on me. I remember an email exchange with John a few months into the process. I’m not sure of the specifics, but it was about “tone.” I was fighting for the bloody, pulp quality the show needed, and he was trying to pull me back enough so as not to terrify viewers. The only detail I recall is that I ended the exchange with something that sounded like, “Go f— yourself.” I woke up the next morning with the realization that I had told the president of my network to go f— himself. I wondered if I still had a job. When I read John’s response — again, I don’t remember details, but I’m sure he intelligently refuted my bombastic stand. The one thing I do remember, and this is key, is that he ended his email with something that sounded like, “And go f— yourself, too.” It was in that moment I knew John Landgraf and I were destined to have a long and loving relationship at FX.
Kurt Sutter is the creator of and an executive producer on Sons of Anarchy, which returns for its seventh and final season in the fall.