Showrunners 2012: 'Sons of Anarchy's' Kurt Sutter

On absurd network notes, the showrunner says FX honcho John Landgraf once told him, "I don't think people are going to want to see the severed sack of rapist clown."

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. 

Kurt Sutter, Sons of Anarchy (FX)

The show that inspired me to write:
Sutter: I didn't know I wanted to be a writer until grad school. If I look back at the TV I watched growing up, I'd say Hill Street Blues probably impacted me the most creatively. That was the first TV show where I had the awareness of "writing and tone." It was different from anything else I had ever seen. It was the first show where I was pulled inside the world. 

My big break:
Sutter: The Shield.

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My TV mentor:
Sutter: I consider [The Shield creator] Shawn Ryan the guy who helped me find my voice. Shawn saw my potential and navigated around my "big personality," steered my ego and aggression in the right creative path. Also [FX Networks president] John Landgraf. John's helped me become a better showrunner, a better boss and generally less of a dick. And yes, clearly there's some more work to be done.

My proudest accomplishment this year:
Sutter: Personally, my greatest accomplishments are always my kids. Knowing that I got through another year without f---ing them up, always makes me happy. Professionally, it would be making the overall deal with FX and 20th. To know that I've grown enough as an artist and a man to gain the trust of Landgraf and [20th Century Fox TV Chairman] Dana Walden meant a great deal to me. The money was awesome, but it was the their confidence in me as a creator that meant the most.

My toughest scene to write this year:
Sutter: There are no tough scenes to write. I think when people view scenes that are gruesome or harrowing, they assume the resulting emotionality is somehow present in the process of creating it. That may be the case with some writers, but for me, I'm not a guy who lives that life; I'm not psychologically connected to the act, so I might as well be writing about wizards and fairies. I love writing the stuff that makes people scream and turn away from the TV.

The most absurd note I’ve ever gotten:
Sutter: "I don't think people are going to want to see the severed sack of rapist clown." -- John Landgraf.

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The one aspect of my job as showrunner that I’d rather delegate:
Sutter: It changes day to day. I'm a moody f---, so no one ever knows what's going to overwhelm on any given day. 

My preferred method for breaking through writers’ block:
Sutter: I game while I write. It's been my process for over 10 years. I just finished Max Payne 3 as I was writing 511.

If I could add any one writer to my staff, it would be:
Sutter: I’d love to add Tim Minear.

The show I’m embarrassed to admit I watch:
I embrace my guilty pleasures. I watch a f---load of HGTV. In fact, House Hunters International is destination TV for Katey [Sagal] and me.

The three things I need to write:
Sutter: I need quiet, a whiteboard, and lots of coffee.

If I could scrub one credit from my resume, it would be:
Sutter: I don't have that many credits. Check back in 10 years when I'm writing Sons of Anarchy: South Hampton Charter.