Showrunners 2012: 'Gossip Girl,' 'Hart of Dixie's' Josh Schwartz and Stephanie Savage

"Pitching the pilot story of [NBC’s] 'Chuck' to a network executive who just looked at me when I finished and said, 'Why would you want to write that?'" Schwartz says.

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. 

Josh Schwartz and Stephanie SavageGossip GirlHart of Dixie (CW) 

The show that inspired me to write:
Schwartz: The Muppet Show. Family Ties.

My big break:
Schwartz: My retrospective on the career of Steven Spielberg for my camp newsletter when I was seven.  When you are not a gifted athlete you must find other ways to impress the campers.

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My TV Mentor:
Schwartz: Bob DeLaurentis was hired to help me run my first series, The O.C.  He taught me about balancing the insanity of television with the sanity of life. Also, Stephanie Savage has taught me a ton over the years. Her taste and work ethic are simultaneously daunting and inspiring.
Savage: John McNamara, Bob DeLaurentis, Shaun Cassidy. And Josh Schwartz gave me my first script, which is the job that changed my life. 

My proudest accomplishment this year:
Schwartz: That would have to be Stella, my nine-month-old daughter.  Also I directed my first movie Fun Size, which comes out in October for Paramount. Both have been tremendous experiences for growth and learning. Only one requires diaper changing at 6:30 in the morning. 
Savage: Gossip Girl finishing, The Carrie Diaries starting and our movie Fun Size coming out -- all in the same week. 

My toughest scene to write this year:
Savage: The final scene of Gossip Girl. Tears make it hard to see the keyboard.

My most absurd note I’ve ever gotten:
Schwartz: Pitching the pilot story of [NBC’s] Chuck to a network executive who just looked at me when I finished and said, “Why would you want to write that?”
Savage: “Could one of them be a cop/doctor/lawyer?” Writing serial dramas, we actually get that a lot.

The aspect of my job as showrunner that I’d rather delegate:
Schwartz: I am a firm believer that the key to surviving showrunning is delegating. On all our Fake Empire shows, we have incredible showrunners in place who are passionate, talented and surrounded by good people.
Savage: Anything that requires appearing in front of the camera.

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My preferred method for breaking through writers’ block:
Schwartz: Asking someone else to write it.
Savage: Writers’ block is not really an option when you’re shooting eight pages a day, five days a week, nine months a year.

The show I’m embarrassed to admit I watch:
Schwartz: I make teen dramas, I’m not embarrassed to admit I watch anything.
Savage: I don’t believe in “guilty” pleasure.  MSNBC’s LockupMy Big Fat Gypsy Wedding, every single show on Discovery ID -- if it feels good, do it.

The three things you need in order to write:
Schwartz: An idea, some time and the knowledge that failing to deliver could result in a network airing color bars.
Savage: I’ve written with a broken wrist, with pneumonia. I finished a script sitting at a bus stop on Banff Avenue during a snow storm. So long as I have headphones, a playlist and my laptop, I’m good.

If I could scrub one credit from your resume, it would it be:
Schwartz: I think the healthy answer to this is they have all been learning experiences.  
Savage: None. You fall in love with everything you make.