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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.
Oliver Goldstick and Marlene King, Pretty Little Liars (ABC Family)
The TV show that inspired me to write:
King: The West Wing. To me, it was must-see TV. I was devastated when it went off the air. I still think they should recast that show and start all over again with a new administration.
Goldstick: It was St. Elsewhere. I loved that show. There were shows I liked as a child, like the Mary Tyler Moore Show, all of Norman Lear’s projects, but I can pinpoint, as an adult, that St. Elsewhere was smart, moving, complex and funny.
THR’s Top 50 Showrunners 2012 — the Complete List
My big break:
King: I wrote a spec called Now and Then that got sold and made.
Goldstick: I worked on a half-hour sitcom called Coach years ago. I also worked on Caroline in the City.
My TV mentor:
King: I’m a fan of Josh Schwartz and Kevin Williamson’s shows. If I could even remotely come close to the paths they’ve carved out for themselves, I’d be thrilled.
Goldstick: I learned a lot from Greer Shephard and Michael Robin, because they took me out of the half-hour world and gave me the courage and the license to do one-hours.
My proudest accomplishment this year:
King: To direct while we were in the middle of the season and keep the show on track, and doing both simultaneously was a huge accomplishment.
Goldstick: Getting eight hours of sleep after the summer finale aired, uninterrupted. We did 25 one-hour episodes in seven months. We were never not on time, we never shut down, we never had a script that was thrown out. It’s a sense of pride that the show stays on track.
My toughest scene to write:
King: The reveal that Toby (Keegan Allen) was on ‘A’s’ team. He is my most favorite character on the show and I’ve said from the beginning that he is the moral compass. To then write that scene, where the black hoodie turns around and it’s Toby, it was like, “Oh my god!” It was one of those things where you knew it had to be done, it was the right thing to do, but I knew with the way people reacted when Maya died that Toby fans were going to be devastated. A viewer’s mom called the show the day after the episode aired and said, “I need to speak to the head of television.”
Goldstick: When Aria’s brother hits his mother. It was a, no pun intended, a tender scene. It was a story that someone had told his friend and it was a question of how far I could take it. The network was concerned too; they did not want to damage his character and make him unredeemable and unforgivable. We had a whole arc of his depression; with teenagers, it’s very real but something we have to treat with some reverence. That to me was treacherous, it was potentially a minefield to walk through because you don’t want to trivialize something that is quite real and profound.
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The most absurd note I’ve ever gotten:
Goldstick: I was working on a project about the Pilgrims and the Mayflower for NBC. It was a serious special event made-for-television film. At outline stage, I was asked why the Pilgrims were in their 30s. I said, “Well, that’s their actual ages.” “They can’t be, these people have to look hot when they’re wet.”
How I break through writer’s block:
King: Diet Mountain Dew and lots of naps.
Goldstick: Saul Bellow once said, “A writer is only a reader moved to emulation.” And read. It can be a magazine or literature, but you constantly have to be reading. I feel like that is what gets you out of it. Also, when you first wake up, journaling is important because it’s unfiltered.
If I could add any writer to my staff, it would be:
King: If we could get Stephen King to sit in for a week, we would have so much fun. If we could him to do one of our Halloween episodes, it’d be killer.
Goldstick: David Sedaris, just to be entertained every day.
The show I’m embarrassed to admit I watch:
King: I’m not embarrassed to watch it but people tell me I should be. I’m excited for the last season of Gossip Girl. Chuck and Blair forever!
Goldstick: One of the writers got me hooked on Hoarders. After watching four episodes, we had to clean house to get rid of so many things.
The three things I need in order to write:
King: Diet Mountain Dew, a bathtub and my laptop.
Goldstick: I have to have quiet, my glasses and a deadline.
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