Showrunners 2012: 'The Walking Dead's' Glen Mazzara

"I love 'Project Runway.' Since I have no fashion sense, I have no idea if what they're making is good or bad, I have to ask my wife. I love the idea that these people have to be creative and they're snapping at each other and they're so emotionally involved. It's a lot like working in a writers' room," he says of the show he's most embarrassed that he watches.

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. 

Glen Mazzara, The Walking Dead (AMC).

The show that inspired me to write:
Mazzara: The third season premiere of Hill Street Blues, called "Trial by Fury," written by David Milch. I remember the episode very clearly and Joyce Davenport gives a phenomenal speech at the end to Frank Furillo, and the way that the event of that story led to that character's speech, and what it meant in that relationship, really affected me at the time. It made me realize that there could be great, meaningful moments on TV that you could think about the next day and it really landed a punch. The other moment was the M*A*S*H finale, where there was an incident on a bus where Hawkeye has convinced a woman to choke her own baby to death so that the soldiers nearby didn't hear where they were hiding. Those two moments, Joyce's speech and that realization of what Hawkeye had gone through and what he had become at the end of the war really made me want to become a TV writer.

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My big break:
Mazzara: Nash Bridges. I wrote a freelance episode and was hired to staff and was mainly partnered with some young punk named Shawn Ryan. I learned story structure and how to write for a main character. I was originally told that Nash Bridges doesn't make mistakes because nobody wants to watch Don Johnson make mistakes, and you really had to make sure that your main character drives every scene and is compelling, watchable and entertaining. Those were rules that I have used on every single show.

My TV mentor:
Mazzara: John Wurth and Carlton Hughes, who were the executive producers on Nash Bridges, and then Shawn Ryan really taught me a lot about becoming a leader and becoming a showrunner. I learned a lot from Shawn whoreally had to figure out what he was he doing at a very early age. I give him a lot of credit.

My proudest accomplishment this year:
Mazzara: Our third season. The idea that we pulled together and that I was able to lead the show through a time of crisis, and that everybody pulled together, focused on the work. I think we've written and filmed our best season yet.

My toughest scene to write this year:
Mazzara: The toughest scene that we had to write was the scene in which Rick kills Shane. The actors had very different takes on what that scene should be, and I really had to stick to my guns as a showrunner and have faith in the material that my co-writer, Evan Reilly, and I had developed.

The most absurd note I've ever gotten:
Mazzara: I actually just received a note that a particular line was not good because it sounded "too TV." I don't remember the exact line, but I pointed out that it was a teleplay for a TV show. What was so bad about something sounding TV? What does that mean? It sounds TV? That was an odd note.

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The one aspect of my job as showrunner that I’d rather delegate:
Mazzara: Calling the actors and telling them their characters are being killed off. That's never fun. I have done it a lot and I have also done it for season three. I have done it on almost every show; I did it on The Shield, I told Kenny Johnson his character was being killed off. He was devastated. People are devastated to leave a job that they love. It's never easy. That is something that I would love to delegate but I can't; I feel like it's my job, it's my responsibility. When I call people just to talk or to bring up something, they all thinks it's the "Death Call," so all the actors are afraid when they get on the phone with me.

My preferred method for breaking through writer's block:
Mazzara: When I get stuck, I actually sit down and write the worst possible version of the scene I need to write. I try to make it as cheesy, goofy and ridiculous as possible. That way I don't have to worry about any other draft because it can't possibly be that bad. By writing the worst possible version, you get it out of the way and it takes the pressure off because anything else will just be an improvement. The downfall is that then, as a joke, I turned it in on The Shield and Kurt Sutter and Shawn Ryan just thought I was just very, very tired (laughs). They did not get the joke, but it was actually the worst scene possible. I think it was for one of Kurt's scripts. It was terrible.

If I could add one writer to my staff, it would be:
Mazzara: Rod Serling, because he is the best TV writer ever. Current writer would be David Milch. He is such a hero of mine.

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The show I’m embarrassed to admit I watch:
Mazzara: I love Project Runway. Since I have no fashion sense, I have no idea if what they're making is good or bad, I have to ask my wife. I love the idea that these people have to be creative and they're snapping at each other and they're so emotionally involved. It's a lot likeworking in a writers' room (laughs).

The three I need in order to write:
Mazzara: I can't write at a desk anymore, I need a big table in a library or a coffee shop or a dining room table. I write at our writers' room table or my dining room table. I need a yellow legal pad and I need a blue precise rolling ball marker. That's the only thing I can write with right now.

If I could scrub one credit from my résumé, it would be:
Mazzara: Fox's Standoff [2006-07]. I did not have a good experience there.