Chicagoist Talks To Matt Walsh About Veep, Improv & MoreMar 25, 2015
Matt Walsh is an influential improv comic and character actor, most recently known for his role as Mike McLintock on HBO's Veep. Walsh honed his comedy craft in Chicago, and he co-founded comedy sketch troupe Upright Citizens Brigade with Matt Besser, Ian Roberts and Amy Poehler.
A native of Darien, Ill., Walsh is an avid fan of the Chicago Bears and is one of the hosts of the Bear Down podcast, which is recording in Chicago on Wednesday as part of the Just For Laughs Comedy Festival. It was "started by a group of wayward Chicagoans stuck in the bright desert of Los Angeles." We had an opportunity to speak with Walsh by phone on Thursday in advance of his visit to Chicago.
The Bear Down Podcast records at UP Comedy Club on Wednesday, June 12 at 10:30 p.m. Hosts include Matt Walsh, Horatio Sanz, Joe Nunez and Brad Morris. Guests include Mongo McMichael, Marv Levy and Spice Adams. Tickets are on sale now. The Just For Laughs Comedy Festival is from June 11 to 16 at various Chicago venues.
Chicagoist: Tell me about Veep. Do you love how much you get to swear, and do you follow politics yourself?
Matt Walsh: Ha, I don't really swear more when I'm filming Veep. The language that we write for it is pretty vulgar and violent, so it is fun to get to do that. I try not to bring it home around my kids. I'm not really a political junkie. I vote and all that, but I don't really consider myself an expert on the political process. But as a result of the show, I think I'm slightly more informed on how things get done on Capitol Hill.
C: Have you met any real-life VP staffers?
MW: Yeah, we've met a lot of people inside the Vice President's office and from various congressional chiefs of staff, press agents and stuff like that. Joe Biden's son came out for one of our premieres. People of D.C. seem to think that our show is very accurate in how a job in politics goes.
C: Do you think it's more accurate than, say, House of Cards?
MW: Yeah. People ask this question a lot. I would say - I've watched all of House of Cards, I love that show - I think there is a certain gloss or shininess to House of Cards since there is conspiracy and intrigue, and I think it's a little inflated in terms of what really goes on for the majority of people who work in D.C., so yes, I think our show relates more to the majority of people in politics. Yes, I do. I think it's more realistic. Usually it's just regular people doing mundane things, and oftentimes they screw things up accidentally. I don't think the majority of them are Machiavellian or schemers like Kevin Spacey.
C: So you're a Chicago guy. When did you start performing?
MW: You know, I took my first improv class when I was a senior at Northern Illinois at a place called Player's Workshop at Second City. That was back in the late 80s, maybe '88. And then I moved into Chicago and started doing shows with a sketch group I met in my class, a group called Department of Works. We did shows at UIC, various arts clubs, and then I did some stand-up. Somewhere along the way I started getting involved with ImprovOlympic and a place called the Annoyance Theater. I did many shows at the Annoyance. I started with Del Close in the early 90s, and somewhere in the early 90s I met Matt Besser and Ian Roberts and Adam McKay.
C: Do you still do any stand-up?
MW: No. It's a very difficult profession, and hats off to anybody who can do that.
C: In acting, what has been your favorite role?
MW: Wow. Well, by the recency effect, I think Veep, to me, because we've got to do two seasons of it, because we get to improvise and contribute ideas. Veep would be up there. I did a show called Dog Bites Man, where I played a reporter from Spokane, Washington. That was very improvised. I also did a show on Spike where I played a bar owner in Phoenix which I really enjoyed. That was also improv-friendly. So I tend to like roles where they're comedic, and you can help write what you get to say.
C: You directed the film High Road, and I know that it was mostly improvised, and I was wondering, how does one direct improv in that environment?
MW: So to do an improv movie, you need a tight outline that has all the stories and character arcs and emotional turns and also the nuts and bolts of production, like locations and props and details in that outline. And then, you know, I like to spend a week or two rehearsing with the characters, so we can inform their backstory and understand their world, and also get a general tone of performance, so everybody is kind of acting in the same world. And then when you get on set and start filming, you try to stick to the story points. Like sometimes in improv you can be self-indulgent and just say things to make people laugh, but you really can't spend too much time doing that because it won't end up in the final edit, so you try to keep focused on what works and what won't end up in the cut. And then you just kind of rehearse that scene once, and then you're not looking to create real lines every page. You're just trying to get the best performance of what you need. So you just have to time-manage a bit.
C: So you've said before that Chicago is a great training ground for comedy and improv, but New York and LA launch careers. Does that still apply, and what is it about Chicago that makes it such a great training ground?
MW: Chicago is a great comedy and improv training ground because part of it is economics. You can have a great life, and you don't need to make a ton of money, and you can be a 20-something, have an apartment, still have beer money and also do shows seven nights a week. I think there are many great legit theaters like The Goodman and Steppenwolf and all of the great, legit, straight theater companies. And then the comedy scene is extremely thriving, and there are great teachers there at ImprovOlympic, at the Annoyance or Second City, so the training exists, the infrastructure to work on technique. And also, because there's great theater and comedy, you can do your homework by getting out and seeing a lot of stuff, seeing what people are doing and learn from people that are a little further ahead than yourself. And I think there's also no immediate pressure to get on TV in Chicago. I think a lot of people when they start in Chicago, there are occasional scouting trips from Saturday Night Live or various, you know, shows, but in general, you're just doing it to do it, you're just trying to get better, and you're trying to have a good show, and I think that's really healthy when you're starting out, not looking to get an agent every night or you're not concerned who is in the audience that night. I think LA and New York have a little bit of, not contaminated, but there's a certain show business element, that there are purchasers of comedy and television that come to your shows out here.
C: So how did you decide to make the leap out of Chicago and move on to start Upright Citizens Brigade?
MW: UCB was a group, there were four of us, and we wanted to stay together. And I think in the mid-90s or the late-90s, there was a lot of opportunity for individuals to jump onto different shows, either sketch shows or sitcoms, and we decided we wanted to join together as a group and have a show, so we knew that we had to either gain an audience in New York or LA, where the networks were. We thought New York was better to create a theater following, to get plugged in and do a month or two of shows and keep it going. LA felt like, we'd been out there a couple times, and it felt like a showcase town, where you do a showcase and try to get as many industry people as you can that night. And then a week or two later, you do another showcase. It didn't seem like you could get a following and build something.
C: Do you still often get to do any live improv/sketch work?
MW: We have a UCB theater here in Los Angeles, so I do a show called ASSSSCAT, either Saturday or Sunday. I occasionally do other shows. It's just live improv, and it keeps me sharp. It's like a fun pastime or pick-up game, if you will.
C: How much of Veep is improvised?
MW: I think in the second season, at the end of the day, I'd say about 10 percent of the final edit is spontaneous dialogue or whatever. But, in the process of creating the script, we improvise four or five weeks during the year. Before we put the scripts down, we try to work scenes and come up with different ideas and there will be jokes, and the writers are in the room and they sort of take what they think is useful and in the next draft comes a few days later, and we're constantly workshopping. Improv as a process informs the final drafts of the scripts, but on the day of actual shooting, there's really a lot to get shot, so there's not a lot of time to indulge yourself.
C: How is it working with Julia Louis-Dreyfus in that somewhat different environment because she's usually more of a script actress?
MW: She's great. She's a great, obviously a tremendous comedian, but she's a great improviser, and she's very playful and silly, and we just want the show to be good. She has the best attitude, and she sets the tone for everyone else, she's very giving and very smart, and she is a real strong perfectionist in the best way, like, can we get more wraps and can we get a better joke in here, so I've certainly learned a lot from her.
C: So you're coming back to Chicago. Are there things that you miss about Chicago, and do you come back often?
MW: I do come back. I still have family in Downers Grove and Darien. I get back three or four times a year for holidays and such and family vacations. What do I miss? I miss a ton of things now. I miss the people. It's a very friendly city, and I have a lot of friends there. I miss the food. I miss kind of the scene, like the comedy scene, you can hop around to different clubs, take a cab or walk to a different show. It's pretty densely populated, unlike LA, where you have to drive anywhere. I miss the scenery. There's no scenery like Chicago, it's just beautiful.
C: Are there any comedy venues that you'll want to visit while you're in town?
MW: I'll try to get up to ImprovOlympic. I might sneak into Second City and watch a show there, and I may head up to the Annoyance to see their space.
C: Are there any local comedians, comics, improv groups in Chicago that we should be paying attention to?
MW: You know, I'm embarrassed to say I don't cover the Chicago scene, so I don't know who the up-and-comers are. I mean, I know during the festival there are some great shows. Like Pete Holmes is funny. He's doing a couple of shows. The improvisers there at the Second City Alumni Show, which I don't think I can see, but they're great. I know all those guys. "T.J. & Dave" are a great show if you ever have a catch them there.
C: So let's talk Chicago sports. First of all, Cubs or Sox?
MW: I'm not a baseball fan, but if I had to say, I'm a Sox fan.
C: And can the Blackhawks make it?
MW: Oh yeah. Oh yeah. I think home-field advantage is going to be huge. I think we just need to get one here in LA, and tonight we might get lucky and get one. (Eds. Note: This interview was conducted on Thursday before the Blackhawks-Kings Game 4.) I think their offense is incredible. They're not as thick as the Kings, but I think if we can get through the Kings and get into the finals, it's a coin toss between them and it looks like Boston Their offense is so impressive. I think they can get goals. I don't know that they go through droughts like other teams.
C: As for the Bears, what do you think of the new coach?
MW: I'm pretty excited. I think their offense is going to be really good. I'm very optimistic that Trestman will bond with Cutler, he's a quarterback guy. I love the acquisitions and solidifying the offensive line. I think that's awesome for Cutler. He's probably one of the most beaten-up quarterbacks in the NFL in the last three or four years. I love that Martellus Bennett as a receiver. I'm curious to see if Alshon Jeffrey can stay healthy. I obviously like Forte and with Michael Bush, that's a great backfield. if he can get the run going and play the option fake or whatever, it could be really good. And Brandon Marshall is a beast, so I love the offense. The defense is a question, but I always have confidence that Chicago will have aggressive defense and we'll somehow pull it together.
C: What do you think of Jay Cutler? Is there a reason he's such a polarizing figure?
MW: (laughs) I like Cutler. I think he's probably one of the best quarterbacks we've had in Chicago forever. And he is a prickly person, he's not media-friendly. He seems moody at times, but I think he's confident, I think he's a team-player. I get why people don't like him, but I'm a fan.
C: Do you have any upcoming projects that we should look for? I saw on IMDB that you did an episode of Drunk History, which is something I'm really looking forward to.
MW: I did a Drunk History, I'm doing a movie this summer with David Cross that I'm excited about. I go back for Season Three of Veep in September. I'm doing the Del Close Marathon in New York at the end of June. It's like a 3-day, 72-hour, long-standing comedy festival.
C: What's the film with David Cross?
MW: It's about a small town, basically a town council where... I think it's an exploration of small towns and people with few options doing desperate things. That's how I would describe it.
C: Speaking of small towns, you were on Parks & Rec, the Emergency Response episode. What was it like working with Amy Poehler again?
MW: It was great. Amy and I are friends, and she's super funny. Their set, I think, is similar to Veep in that it's improv-friendly and really collaborative. No egos, but everyone just wants to be fun and funny. I was really glad to do one of them. Super fun.
C: Anything you want to add? I think I'm out of questions.
MW: No, I think for Bear Down that's coming up on June 12 we have Steve McMichael is going to make an appearance, Marv Levy is going to make an appearance and Anthony 'Spice' Adams, so we have a really good lineup, along with Horatio Sanz, Brad Morris and Joe Nunez.
John Murray: Comedy's Next Almost-Star on Esquire.comMar 25, 2015
Murray and his Springsteens.
"I'm impressed by John's ability to have kids and still improvise. Both passions are very demanding," Tina Fey says of Murray, who she cast in 30 Rock.
"I'm impressed by John's ability to have kids and still improvise. Both passions are very demanding," Tina Fey says of Murray, who she cast in 30 Rock.
Farts, sweat, cigarettes, and Pabst. That's what the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre in New York City smells like on Saturday at 5 a.m. or hour twelve of the fifteenth-annual Del Close Marathon, which took place this past weekend. Named for the improvisational comedy pioneer, the three-day, round-the-clock orgy of hilarity draws performers and spectators from throughout the world. By Sunday's end, there will have been some 400 shows across seven Manhattan venues, including this 150-seat black-box dungeon in the insufficiently-ventilated basement of a Gristedes grocery store. Over 56 hours, the theater will close and empty for just 90 minutes, to be cleaned. Otherwise, once ticket holders are inside, they can stay as long as they want. For much of the weekend, the line of hopefuls - some waiting three hours-plus - will stretch nearly the entire length of West 26th Street between Eighth and Ninth Avenues.
So far tonight, those fortunate enough to be among the standing room-only crowd have witnessed a Chaucer-worthy cavalcade of evangelical Christians, Mexican wrestlers, drive-time shock jocks, a Nazi clown hurling shaving-cream pies at grown men in diapers, send-ups of Ira Glass and the 1986 New York Mets, Guided by Voices-quoting hipsters, Entourage-quoting frat bros, at least two sets of bared testicles, and too many Game of Thrones references to count. Now through the stage curtain and to the sound of "Dancing in the Dark" file two-dozen male and female Bruce Springsteens - jeans, white tees with rolled sleeves, red bandanas - and one white-suited Ghost of Clarence Clemons. They grab audience members - those who haven't passed out in their chairs, exhausted or drunk or both - and pull them onto the tiny stage Courtney Cox-style to dance and sing along.
Leading them, microphone in hand and belting it out, is the man who concocted and organized the fifteen-minute bit: John Murray. Most performers will appear in three or four Marathon shows. This is already Murray's fifth. He'll do twelve in all.
For anyone who knows the 34-year-old Murray, a nine-year UCB veteran, it's not surprising that he'd come up with "Springsteen Prov." Originally from Colts Neck, New Jersey - where the Boss has a house - he's seen Bruce in concert five times and owns all but three of his albums on vinyl. ("Ghost of Tom Joad was a bitch to find - all those later albums before vinyl came back in style," he says.) He studied drama at Syracuse University - where he roomed with friend and Veep star Reid Scott - and had a bit of success upon moving to New York in 2000, booking commercials for Campbell's Soup and Comedy Central. But after a year or so things began to sputter. A few people suggested taking improv classes.
"I had all these excuses for not doing it," Murray says. "'I'm not funny. It's too cliquey.' Then my dad died. It was a big change. I thought, 'All I do is sit around waiting for my commercial agent to call.' So I decided to do something about it."
It's assumed that most talented comedians are bitter and unhappy, and Murray has plenty cause for such angst. His father, Jack, was killed on September 11. He normally worked in midtown but happened to be at Tower Two that morning for a meeting. Yet stewing in grief his son is not. "How much of the 9/11 stuff are you going to include in this?" Murray asks. "I don't want this to be, 'John Murray has never recovered from the tragic death of his father and finds no joy in life - except, that is, when he's performing comedy at the UCB Theatre and making others laugh. Lo, the sad clown.'"
In fact, after his talent, Murray's positivity is the first thing his peers cite.
"He is a very dedicated actor and improviser with a strong sense of what is funny and an ability to commit to any character or situation on stage," says John Frusciante, UCB Theatre's Associate Artistic Director. "He's also one of the nicest people you will meet."
"John's sharp as hell," says Adam Frucci, creator and editor-in-chief of the comedy website Splitsider and Murray's former teammate on Bastian, the longest-running Harold team in UCB Theatre history. "You never really have to worry about making a move that he won't pick up, and he's amazingly supportive. He's one of the nicest and most outgoing people I know."
"He's one of those rare talents," says Reid Scott. "That perfect balance of classical intelligence and raw goofiness. I've known John since the first day of freshman year at SU, and within moments I knew he was a real 'actor's actor.' He's a blast to perform with as well as watch."
His demeanor even impressed Tina Fey. For five years, Murray was among the select few UCB performers who appeared on Fey's Emmy Award-winning NBC series 30 Rock as non-speaking extras in the TGS writers' room. In season five, he was even awarded a brief bit of dialogue.
"I was always so happy to come in to shoot and see John and Bethany and Anthony around that fake writers' room table because it meant there would be good conversation and bits for the rest of the day," Fey says. "I am impressed by John's ability to have kids and still improvise. Both passions are very demanding."
Last September, Murray's wife, Weronika, gave birth to twins. Surprisingly, Murray's routine hasn't changed much. Most every night of the week, he performs at UCB or teaches classes to some of its 4,000-odd students or coaches various teams.
"The family has made an effort to keep my schedule the same, get my face out there. That was something I was worried about: My career getting lost. I owe it to my wife."
According to Weronika, becoming a father has even improved his performing: "He has an audience at home now. They're captive. I'm usually not a good audience. The babies laugh at everything."
But like all artists in their mid-thirties still striving to break through and suddenly faced with raising and providing for children, parenthood is a source of anxiety as well as elation for Murray. He's had a fair amount of success in the last few years - 30 Rock, several national commercials, appearing in a Daily Show skit, joining the popular UCB weekend team Death by Roo Roo, a Cooking Channel pilot - but nothing compared to others he came up with at UCB: Jenny Slate and Kate McKinnon (Saturday Night Live), Ellie Kemper and Zach Woods (The Office), Nick Kroll (The League and Kroll Show), Jessica Williams (The Daily Show), Chris Gethard (Big Lake and The Chris Gethard Show).
Weronika is supportive - "There's no timetable," she says - but she knows her husband feels pressure. He admits it himself.
"There's more of a sense of urgency now. But you can't let it, 'cause that's gonna screw you up. Put that pressure on yourself, it makes your failures more cataclysmic - not even 'failures' but things you don't get. You have to be grateful for what you have - in both work and in life."
Murray is certainly grateful to the audience that stuck around for "Springsteen Prov." He tells them so before jogging from the stage, "Born to Run" playing him off. In the cramped dressing room area, he also individually thanks each of the Springsteens - most of them his former students. He and a group of them walk a few blocks down Eighth Avenue to a diner for breakfast. It's light outside. When he gets home, Weronika and the babies are already up.
Ian Roberts ranked amongst Fast Company's 100 Most Creative People in Business 2013Mar 25, 2015
77-83. TV's Head of the Class
Once a wasteland, TV is now the most thoughtful, creative entertainment medium of them all. Here, the creators of six great shows talk about how the magic happens.
It's a golden age for TV, where on any given night, viewers can find multiple examples of American comedic and dramatic genius. We asked Ben Blacker, himself a TV writer, to interview the creators or showrunners of six stellar shows: Breaking Bad, Nashville, Key & Peele, Justified, Homeland, and New Girl. What follows are edited highlights of those conversations--a master class in creativity for anyone in any industry.
Ben Blacker: Ian Roberts and Jay Martel, why do you think you're on Fast Company's Most Creative People list?
Jay Martel: No idea.
Ian Roberts: Are we on the list . . .?
Martel: . . . because Ian's T-shirt matches the microphone perfectly?
Blacker: Liz, when last we met, four episodes of New Girl had aired.
Liz Meriwether: Yeah, I was a lot happier and skinnier.
Brett Baer: That was 45 episodes ago. That is not accurate.
Meriwether: I was full of energy.
Dave Finkel: You still had an ounce of wonder in you.
Meriwether: Yeah, I still had wonder.
Baer: There was also a lot of swearing.
Finkel: It's actually worse now.
Blacker: Howard, I know you're crazy busy so let's talk about why.
Howard Gordon: That's between me and my analyst.
Blacker: Vince, when we complete something, there is this avalanche of emotion. You've been living with for seven years, if not longer. How are you feeling now?
Vince Gilligan: We had our last day on the set a week and a day ago, and it still hasn't quite sunk in. The last day, I was able to just be a fly on the wall, and I kept thinking, I'm gonna start crying. After the last take, I said, "That's a cut!" and I thought I'd start tearing up. Then the Champagne bottles came out and we had a wonderful, heartfelt little moment with our crew. And still no tears. I'm thinking, What's wrong with me?
Blacker: The show turned you cold.
TV AS AUTOBIOGRAPHY
Blacker: How much of you is in this show, in these characters?
Callie Khouri: I used to live in Nashville in the late '70s and early '80s, and I waitressed at music clubs. So I had that point of view where I was kind of where Scarlett is. I don't sing or play anything. But plenty of the people who I worked with, you would ask, "Why are you working as a . . .?" So great. But it still would take years for somebody to get discovered. I saw so much incredible music when I lived here that I just felt like people have got to see this. You can come here and just walk down the street and hear fantastic music any night of the week. The bench here is 10 deep.
Blacker: Howard, looking at the shows you've developed and worked on for the past 10 to 15 years , it seems you clearly have topics you're interested in and ways you care to explore them. Have you been reflective in that way?
Gordon: My voice is not as overt or identifiable as, let's say, Aaron Sorkin's, but I suppose I do have one. It sounds pretentious to actually talk about these kinds of things, so I offer that caveat, but the truth is, I can trace what's interested me in every single show I've been part of. And they are basic questions of what it means to be alive, what it means to be a good person, or a person trying to do something that matters to you in this world. And I have obvious interests in foreign policy and a curiosity about the world and some of the challenges that we're all facing, whether it's issues of terrorism, security versus privacy, or the rights that we have as citizens in an open democracy. And trying to ask questions and have characters live through the complexities of those questions without offering too many answers. I've always been interested in how characters are put in a tough situation and have to navigate making the better of two bad choices.
Blacker: Vince, you've had this journey in mind for your protagonist , to turn him into this antagonist. As you lived in this world with the writers, did you ever think, I don't want to do this to this guy?
Gilligan: In the early going, thinking in Walter White terms was not so bad because he was basically me. On the Venn diagram of Walter White and Vince Gilligan, there was a fair bit of overlap. Frustrations, hopes and dreams, anxieties, free-form fears and middle-age crises. The darker he got, we still shared a lot. Because we all have darkness within us. When he got really, really dark, the more I felt like he was taking me along with him. So many, many months on end--years--of living with this mendacious son of a bitch in my head, what's the worst of it? Is it all the killing? The disregard for other people's feelings? The lying? Some combination of all of it? It's been hard, year after year, to live with this guy. There were times about a year ago where I was thinking, It's gonna be a relief when this ends because I can free myself of this guy. But these final eight episodes were different because, not to give away any plot details or anything, but as the writers and I were into a slightly different part of Walt's journey, I started to feel more sympathy for the devil, as it were.
THE COLLABORATIVE ART OF MAKING TELEVISION
Khouri: I had never worked with other writers . It's a lot less lonely. The luxury of having all those people there to help you, it's like the best deal ever. Really? Everybody's gonna help? Wow. Great.
Gilligan: I'm gonna miss the writers' room and I never thought I'd say that. Any of my writers who read this are gonna laugh their asses off. I'd be moping around every morning--Oh, God, another day of this shit. Their company made it more palatable, but another day of rolling the rock up the hill, you know? But what's the alternative? Writing movie scripts all by myself. A good day was maybe getting a paragraph written, and I hated myself.
Meriwether: Coming from theater and writing a movie, I was very afraid of group writing for most of the first season and then half of this year and then . . .
Finkel: Literally, January 3rd.
Meriwether: . . . I gave up.
Baer: When you work on a lot of sitcoms, like Dave and I have done, if the creator's voice isn't strong and you get that groupthink going, then you end up with banal, middle-of-the-road garbage.
Meriwether: But holding on tightly to the creator's voice can be really debilitating for a show. Our episode "Parking Spot" was the first one they group-wrote, and I didn't have that much to do with it. That's our funniest episode this year, and I didn't feel like, Oh, I wish I had had more of my hands on it. The real victory as a showrunner is when you've finally broken through with a group of people what you want the show to be and they're giving you that.
Graham Yost: We've got a big writers' room --nine people including me. When you get later into a series, you need more minds. I asked everyone if it would be okay to start really early. I wanted to get a jump on the season. Tim has a lot of input, and it's better to get that earlier rather than as we're scrambling and doing rewrites and while we're shooting. That's gonna happen anyway, but we're trying to reduce that. We did well. We had four scripts ready before we started shooting. Then we kind of hit the mud, and by our last episode, we were prepping off an outline.
Blacker: That's nuts.
Yost: My experience on Boomtown was much more, This is what we write, this is what you say. On Justified, it can get pretty wild sometimes: Even guest actors have ideas, notes. That can be very dangerous, though what we've found is, "Hey, bring it." If it's a good idea, we'll use it.
Blacker: Would the show be the same in a more controlled environment?
Yost: It wouldn't have the life. One of the things about Elmore Leonard is that he doesn't outline. He just starts writing. He doesn't always know where he's going and he will surprise himself. We do that as much as we can. We do need to kind of plan for the whole season; we don't wanna completely make it up on the fly. But within the box, we can play. We've just got to get here by the end of the scene. What's the most interesting and unexpected way we can get there? Sometimes that comes up on the set; sometimes it's in preproduction; sometimes it's the writer's first draft.
TRIUMPHS IN SHOWRUNNING
Roberts: My highest ideal in improv is when the enjoyment is "I know that! I had that idea!" But you didn't. It's just that it's so good. That's what a lot of our most humanly observed scenes are. I shouldn't give away scenes that are gonna be in next season , but anyway, some guy realized out there that his whole life he thought prog rock was rock that was from Prague, not progressive rock. Off that, we said, Everybody has those--those things you've been saying wrong your whole life and then you realize it.
Martel: "For all intensive purposes." "It's a doggy dog world."
Roberts: We have to challenge ourselves to say, "That seems old. I feel like that's been done." And sometimes, yes, it's been done. Other times it's that the scene is done in improv a lot, but that doesn't mean the average person knows it. The really interesting one is where it's so universal, it seems old.
Martel: That's what everyone is striving for.
Khouri: I have seen on television many, many times an older-man character with a younger woman, and I had to find a way to make the relationship between Deacon and Juliette not a stomach churner for me, you know? Because I wanted to have the Juliette character wanting to write with Deacon and aspiring to have somebody like that in her band; I had to find a way to take that relationship very quickly out of the fantasy part of "here's a guy who's gotten extremely lucky" into "guess what, her mom is a drug addict and you're gonna have to take her to rehab and this girl is gonna lean on you in a whole lot of ways that aren't gonna always be that much fun for you." All of that. All of a sudden, you're taking the polish off of that kind of relationship and putting it into the realm of reality that makes it something else entirely.
Yost: There were elements to this notion of crossing the line that Ava really personified in season 3. At the end of season 2, she said, "No whores," and by the end of season 3, she is running a whorehouse and she smacks around one of her prostitutes. It's that sense of, How did I get here? You've crossed that line and you don't realize you've crossed it. Raylan does some things in season 3 as well, which sort of cross the line, especially toward the end when he confronts Wynn Duffy in the trailer and you don't know if he's palmed the bullets or not. We don't tell the audience that, and we don't know for sure in a way, even in the writers' room. Was he gonna kill Wynn Duffy just to get this information? So that was sort of a thematic thing in season 3. In season 4, we wanted to explore the cliche "The road to hell is paved with good intentions." So Raylan has good intentions, which is making some extra money, maybe advancing his career for his child on the way. For Boyd and Ava, it's trying to build a future together. They end up doing all these things that they can excuse because they're for "the future," but they'll have harsh consequences.
TIME SHIFTERS AND CORD CUTTERS
Khouri: Broadcast television is in a very tough place these days because even I don't watch television at any appointed time.
Gordon: My viewing habits have changed since having an iPad. That kind of changed everything for me.
Khouri: Every single thing I watch is delayed to some degree. I don't know that networks have found a way to adapt to this new model. It's still really important to them that people are sitting there watching at the appointed time. The ratings are all based on that. Plus, the schedule is a little bit puzzling to an audience, because you're on for a week and then you're off for two weeks and then you're back for another week and then you're off for a month. It makes appointment television even more difficult than it is normally. There's only so much you can say about it. It's their schedule; you just want to keep being on it.
Martel: We hope people actually watch Key & Peele on TV. That's our hope. Please.
Blacker: Is that not what's happening?
Martel: Please, please watch it on TV. I think everyone knows about the show, but 80% of the people who know about the show just watch it online.
Roberts: I've had people self-identify as huge fans of the show, so I'll mention something that puts it on TV: "Did you see it last night?" They'll say, "Oh, no, no, I don't watch it on TV."
Martel: There is not going to be a fourth season unless people start watching it on TV.
Blacker: No kidding? Comedy Central's not cutting any slack, like "This is how people watch TV now"?
Martel: No. This show happens to be at this interesting intersection between these two eras.
Roberts: It's especially bad for a sketch show that's in pieces. You've only got so much time to watch anyway, so you catch half of it online; good enough. But not good enough. America, you're missing lots of good stuff.
Martel: You know they're gonna edit this.
Roberts: That's gonna go in.
Martel: That's good enough. Ian, what are you fucking doing? We'll get calls from the network.
LEARNING ON THE JOB
Khouri: This is my first television show. I know about writing, but the form and the storytelling is just a different pace and a different everything than feature films. I just kind of kept quiet as much as I possibly could and listened and asked questions and tried to learn. I wasn't gonna fool anybody. And hopefully if you're going into something like this, one of your strengths is that you have the good sense to know what you don't know.
Roberts: Although I've never had this kind of job before, my opinion about comedy is if you're not having fun while you're doing it, how is it gonna be funny at the end? On a dramatic show, if you could feel like you're kidnapped all day, it would help the drama.
Blacker: Vince, as you finish this experience of running and putting it together, what have you learned that you'll take with you?
Gilligan: The best, first answer is confidence. I've been confidence-deficient my whole life. It's like rickets or something. I'm going to state the screamingly obvious here, but I didn't know going into this job if I could run a show. I was scared shitless from day one. But if I had known how little I knew back then, I would have been scared to the point of petrification. I do not go forward brimming with confidence, because that's just not me, but I know I can run a show. And that's a wonderful, freeing thing.
Gordon: If this were a company, I'm a guy who started out on the assembly line. I've been doing this since 1984. I'm not a genius and not the best writer, but I probably have about as much experience as anyone doing it. And to the extent that I've kept my eyes open and learned a thing or two, I am able to leverage that and help other writers become better writers and other showrunners become better showrunners. Unlike other producers who don't write, I am able to take a pass on a script or speak a language that writers understand and that executives don't necessarily, because they haven't done it. There is a difference to managing talent. I have to persuade other people to see their own blind sides and hopefully also emphasize their strengths.
Blacker: Liz, when you were just starting, you told me that you had no idea what you were doing. Tell me how the last year and a half has been. What have you learned?
Meriwether: Shockingly little. This job is really humbling. It's great, but it definitely challenges you in a new way, every day, in things you didn't even think you would have to be dealing with. Like badger problems. We have a badger in the finale, and it's just like, Why am I in this situation? It's so many episodes, so much time, and so much work. It really pushes you to the brink of what you can do. And it's good because you're forced to get better, be a better person, a better leader, and a better writer. But it's not easy.
Baer: You're running an organization, ultimately, of about 200 people, if not more. Everybody's got personalities and needs and desires and wants. And you're talking about big money. Every episode is a multimillion-dollar endeavor, and people's jobs are always on the line.
Meriwether: For people like us who are perfectionists, there are moments where it's just not gonna be exactly what you wanted. Those are hard, but it also can be liberating. Okay, it's not exactly what I had in my mind, but then there is this other thing that might work.
Blacker: You can't be precious, right?
Meriwether: It ain't HBO. It's fucking TV.