What was it like to work on Difficult Men without having been a TV critic?
There were periods when I was working on this where I needed to mute all the TV critics because it was too much for me. This is a river that keeps running, and the pressure to watch everything became hard. The sea of words every Monday morning on these shows is dazzling and intimidating. I personally do better with some distance. I had to come to a point where I thought it was a virtue rather than a handicap.
What do you think about the state of television criticism today?
There's no question at this point that there should be no difference in stature between a TV writer and a film writer, despite the age-old prejudice. There's some amazing stuff, and there's also more stuff than ever.
Alan Ball, show runner for Six Feet Under, said, "Heroes are much better suited for movies. I'm interested in real people. And real people are fucked up." Does TV lend itself to complex characters?
When you have the time to tell a 13-hour, 26-hour, 39-hour story, when you don't have to end artificially, that lends itself to serious work. Film in the last ten years, by and large, is more analogous to the networks--they still need a massive audience. I think there's something innate in television--the open-endedness--that makes it suited to evolve as long as the show can sustain, and that necessitates a dark view of life. One of the great themes of these shows is addiction and falling back into it. Nobody gets better. It keeps the story-engine moving.
Creating these shows is such a collaborative effort. How much credit should show runners get?
I think it's a bit of a false divide. You can believe that a show wouldn't exist without the show runner, that they are the creator with a capital "C," while also understanding that other people bring it to the mix. But ultimately it's the show runner's call. Fostering the right environment. Knowing when to say no and when to say yes. Hiring and firing the right people. All that is part of the collaboration and also doesn't take away from the authorship that belongs to the show runner. Even the most autocratic show runners would tell you that other people are vital to their success. And the most democratic ones, like Vince Gilligan, are still the final arbiters.
What about the women behind these shows--both behind the scenes and onscreen?
There have never been as many opportunities for women as there have been for men. But there are women that play vital roles in the story, whether it's Carolyn Strauss at HBO or Susie Fitzgerald, now at AMC, who was a huge part of the creation of The Sopranos, or the female writers in all the writers' rooms. The simple truth is that not only were all the top dogs behind the shows all men, but their shows were anchored by male characters. That said, Carmela Soprano is a rich, deep, complicated and heroic character. Skyler White, Peggy Olson, Joan Harris, and Betty Draper are all incredible roles that the actresses bring enormous depth to. So even in this mostly-male world, women are everywhere.