Six hit show creators, from ‘House of Cards’ to ‘Good Wife,’ gather for a heated, candid talk that reveals the state of opinion on Hollywood’s touchiest subjects.
“Just because the television business has made notable inroads in the realm of diversity this year doesn’t mean the subject is any more comfortable to discuss. So when Lee Daniels, co-creator of Fox’s Empire, recently questioned a table full of drama writer-producers about the racial makeup of their writers rooms, the group grew tense. But doing so ultimately led to an important discussion about the industry’s shortcomings — as well as the challenges of collaboration, their frustration with critics and the day that Beau Willimon, showrunner of Netflix’s House of Cards, danced shirtless on set with Russian punk-rock group Pussy Riot. Daniels, 55, and Willimon, 37, were joined April 28 in Hollywood for a frank conversation about the pressures and rewards of running TV’s hottest dramas by Damon Lindelof, 42 (HBO’s The Leftovers), Alex Gansa, 54 (Showtime’s Homeland), Michelle King, 53 (CBS’ The Good Wife), andSarah Treem, 34 (Showtime’s The Affair).
Lee just wrapped his first season as a TV producer, during which his Empire hit the zeitgeist in a major way. It’s an experience that many at this table have had. What advice would you give Lee about how to sustain it?
ALEX GANSA Oh, I did a terrible job. Stop now, you’re ahead! There’s no advice to give; you just have to submit to the process.
DAMON LINDELOF At the time that it happened to us [on Lost], the zeitgeist itself became immensely distracting, and we took our eye off the ball at times to pay attention to the zeitgeist. Any time that you’re not writing the show is probably not time particularly well spent. And I said yes to everything. I mean, everything. If your mom wanted me to come over, it would be, “Yes. When does she want me there?” I just should have said, “No,” more. The other thing I’d say is, you should enjoy it. When I was on the ride, I was terrified. You look like you’re having fun, though.
LEE DANIELS A party. (Laughter.) But I get nervous, especially as we approach season two. You have to live up to season one.
How are the rest of you coping with those expectations?
SARAH TREEM I love season two [of The Affair]. I feel like season one was the rough draft. I like coming back and knowing the characters really intimately, and our world is much more complex.
MICHELLE KING We’re starting season seven, so the pressure’s a bit different in that it’s just trying to remember what we have done and trying not to repeat. We’ve lost some favorite characters, so it’s about trying to make sure we honor them and pay deference to how much the audience liked them and keep the world rich enough that the loss isn’t felt…”