THE VIETNAM WAR Inside Ken Burns and Lynn Novick’s 18-hour documentary epic
THE LATE LATE SHOW Spend a day in the life of James Corden
WILL & GRACE How the 2016 election inspired a return for the classic sitcom
PRESENTS JUNE 6, 2018 EMMY PREVIEW/COMEDY
EXCLUSIVE OUTTAKES AT INSTAGRAM.COM/DEADLINE
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America’s most dysfunctional family returns with a stair-car full of new harebrained schemes. It’s Arrested Development
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FIRST TAKE A day in the life at The Late Late Show
The Bachelor’s ethical dilemma Will & Grace returns
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COVER STORY Bluth is the warmest color for Mitchell Hurwitz as Arrested Development returns
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ON THE COVER The cast of Arrested Development photographed for Deadline by Josh Telles ON THIS PAGE Yara Shahidi photographed for Deadline by Michael Buckner
6/1/18 2:07 PM
Corden Bleu On the set of The Late Late Show,
James Corden takes the mania of pulling together a topical daily comedy show in his stride. BY JOE UTIC HI
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RACHEL BROSNAHAN BEST TV ACTRESS, MUSICAL/COMEDY
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CONSIDER IT #MARVELOUS
I N A L L C AT E G O R I E S I N C L U D I N G O U T S TA N D I N G C O M E DY S E R I E S OUTSTA NDING LEA D ACTRESS IN A COMEDY SERIES
OUTSTAN DIN G DIR ECT I NG F O R A C O M E DY S E R I E S
AMY SHERM A N -PA L L A D IN O
OUTSTA NDING SUPPORTING ACTRESS IN A COMEDY SERIES
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ALEX BORSTEIN MA R IN HI NK LE
AMY SHERM A N -PA L L A D IN O
OUTSTA NDING SUPPO RTING ACTOR IN A COMEDY SERIES
TONY SHALHOUB MICHAEL ZEGEN
5/29/18 1:22 PM
LAUGH FACTORY Corden mics up in The Late Late Show’s greenroom, clearly full of pre-show tension.
This isn’t how it was supposed to be.
It’s a warm Spring day in Los Angeles, and James Corden is touring me around the rooftop space at CBS Television City that The Late Late Show calls home. In a half hour, the show’s writing staff will file into Corden’s office for their daily meeting, but right now, Corden is content to stop and smell the roses, pointing out the little details in the design of his show’s set that make him smile. The 3D model houses on the LA skyline behind his desk. The stack of beaten up records. The mini billboard they use for posters of guests’ latest projects. We climb the steps behind the
We meander to a neighboring
Now days,” I joked. “When it’s all going wrong.” “Some days are busier than others,” he told me, nonchalantly. There’s a show tonight, and
“At a certain point you start to realize, there’s no recognizable end point,” Corden says. “There’s always another show tomorrow.” So for Corden and his team,
another two before the week is out.
figuring out a language becomes
The workload on a late night show
important. It took a while to find,
seems like it must be impossibly
he says, but when segments like
intense. I imagine production assis-
‘Carpool Karaoke’ and ‘Crosswalk the
tants tearing their hair out. Writers
Musical’ started becoming viral hits,
mainlining coffee. Perhaps some
he knew the show was going in the
kind of direct line to the emergency
right direction. It’s no accident that
services. Maybe there are days like
on the awards wall in the green-
that. But it seems unlikely right now.
room, YouTube’s Golden Play Button
I wonder if things will get busier
award takes pride of place. That
audience bleachers and he shows
soundstage, where a Western saloon
once the day properly starts. Per-
kind of success is essential for late
me the photo-booth wall, which is
set is being built, in exacting detail.
haps this is the calm before the
night comedy in 2018, and The Late
spilling out to take up every inch of
“It’s a sketch we’re doing in a couple
storm that will be whipped up when
Late Show was amongst the first to
available space. “Why don’t you have
of days with Ryan Reynolds and Josh
the daily meeting lets out and every-
recognize its importance.
a picture?” he asks. Even as he waits
Brolin,” Corden says. “It was incon-
one has their marching orders. But
for it to print, he doesn’t seem at all
ceivable three years ago that two
nothing much changes as I spend
like this,” Corden insists. “You’ve
distracted. He finds a spot for me on
actors like that would be like, ‘Yeah,
the rest of the day with the Late
always got to be thinking, ‘What can
the wall, right under Neil DeGrasse
I’ll come down for two hours and
Late Show team. Corden isn’t really
we do next? What’s the next idea?
Tyson. Ashton Kutcher’s profile shot
shoot a sketch.’”
a ‘marching orders’ kind of host. It
Where can we take it?’”
will stare at me forevermore, as Kris-
This isn’t how it was supposed to
slowly starts to dawn on me that
“You can’t stand still on a show
On tonight’s show, he’ll air a
ten Stewart, Bryce Dallas Howard
be. I flash back to meeting Corden at
this kind of calm isn’t incidental. It’s
pre-recorded segment in which he
and Anjelica Huston live nearby. “I
Deadline’s Contenders event in April.
essential. The Hearts of Darkness
leads the ensemble cast of Aveng-
think you’re the first non-celebrity
“I want to come on one of those
version of this show does not make
ers: Infinity War on a ‘Star Star Tour’
guest we’ve had up here.”
it to air.
of Los Angeles, snapping photos of a
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“BOLD FILMMAKING ON THE GRANDEST SCALE” –USA Today
CONSIDER IT LOUD IN ALL CATEGORIES INCLUDING OUTSTANDING DIRECTING FOR A NONFICTION PROGRAM AMIR BAR-LEV
5/29/18 1:21 PM
interviews anyway. As show time approaches, the greenroom fills up. A stand-up comic, Michael Palascak, has landed five minutes on the show tonight, and he’s a bundle of energy as Foy and Method Man arrive with their entourages. Eventually, I find a seat in the audience bleachers as people arrive. Even before the show starts, the energy is palpable. “We always tried to make our show a 360-degree experience,” Corden says. “On a lot of shows like this, the audience is a kind of black hole, but we wanted to be in amongst the people. That’s why our guests enter through the audience, and it’s why we have seats in front of the cameras. We’re all in this together.” They’re with him as soon as his Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf like tour-
monologue starts. Donald Trump has
ists stopping off at Brad Pitt’s house.
given an interview to Fox & Friends
Corden, leading the tour, tells them:
this morning. Corden points out
“That is where, when you shout out
how many times Trump manages
of a room, ‘Can someone get me a
to use the word ‘business’ when
coffee?’ someone will run down to a
talking about Michael Cohen, and
shop very similar to this and they will
the embarrassment with which he
physically go in and wait in line and
admits he didn’t get Melania a pres-
bring you back the coffee.’”
ent for her birthday.
They shot the segment on a
Corden was nervous about being
previous weekend, after endless
a Brit, coming to America to talk
negotiations and preparations, EP
about its politics. “The country has
Rob Crabbe tells me, which involved,
gone through a seismic change,
for a start, sourcing a tour bus and
so you do think, ‘What do we do in
covering it with sketch-specific
this? What’s our show’s voice?’”
branding. At today’s meeting, it
he admits. “People are looking for
doesn’t even come up. Instead, the
voices that they trust, because they
meeting centers around continued refinements to a half dozen sketches that will be shot in the coming days
don’t trust news, and they don’t CHAT BACK Main image: Corden preps a sketch with Modern Family’s Jesse Tyler Ferguson. Above: in the greenroom with Tig Notaro.
and weeks. There’s a bit with Bene-
trust Twitter, and they don’t trust Facebook. I don’t think we could ever be naïve enough to think that we
dict Cumberbatch, who came up as
guess the answers, but when he
audience to show up,” Corden says.
have earned the right to be a voice in
an actor in Britain around the time
shoots this particular segment a few
“But we’ve never had to dip into
that conversation, but that doesn’t
Corden was breaking through in The
days after my visit, a primary school
those funds. It’s only when guests
mean we don’t have one.”
History Boys at the National The-
teacher Corden taps at random
come in and go, ‘This is the young-
atre. The gag is that they spent their
and blindly nails it. Corden insists
est audience I’ve ever seen at a
tions. So much so that it’s hard to
early careers trying to sabotage one
he wasn’t a plant. “That’s never
late night show,’ that I realize how
hear him over their cheering, which is
another. “Benedict was always a little
happened before! We were actually
engaged our audience is.”
fully encouraged by a floor manager
bit jealous of me,” Corden deadpans.
going to do three but we had to stop
Then there’s a fake gameshow, ‘Animals Riding Other Animals’, “Which is so stupid,” Corden laughs.
The rehearsal is over in a flash.
The audience loves his observa-
who offers up t-shirts for the most
after two. We maybe should never
Corden delivers a version of his
vocal members of the crowd. “There
do it again,” he laughs.
monologue, repurposed right at
are times where you can feel like the
the end to pay tribute to one of the
job might be an office job in a way,”
At 3 o’clock, after a break for
Corden steers into the audience to
lunch, the team gathers in the studio
writing staff who is moving on. The
Corden says. “But then every day you
ask people to guess, from segments
for a rehearsal. Already, people are
Avengers segment is still in the edit,
go down in front of that audience
of pictures, which unseen animal
lining up down Beverly Blvd. for a
so it doesn’t get played. And Claire
and think, this is what this is. It’s
is riding the animal in the picture.
spot in the audience. “Before the
Foy and Method Man, tonight’s
about being here, doing this, trying to
In case that needed explanation.
show launched, we had budgeted
guests, have yet to arrive. There’d
make people laugh and smile.”
It’s inconceivable that anyone will
that, at points, we’d have to pay an
be little sense in rehearsing their
This is how it is supposed to be. ★
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T V GUIDE “…WELL-MADE AND
BEAUTIFULLY ” PLAYED... LOS ANGELES TIMES
“THE PERFORMANCES ARE ”
SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE
THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER
TV WORTH WATCHING
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OUTSTANDING COMEDY SERIES
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At press time, here is how Gold Derby’s experts ranked Emmy chances in the Comedy categories. Follow all the races at GoldDerby.com
Brand New Colony The Handmaid’s Tale production designer introduces The Colonies in Season 2
COMING INTO THE DYSTOPIAN WORLD of Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale in Season 2, Emmy-nominated production designer Elisabeth Williams had the benefit of an established visual template, which freed her up to focus on those spaces only alluded to in Season 1— primarily, The Colonies. As with all the series’ environments, The Colonies’ aesthetic was all about contrasts, juxtaposing a “beautiful, bucolic setting” with horrific goings-on in this space contaminated by radioactive waste, where dissidents of various stripes are sent. “It’s reminiscent of Dutch paintings, and yet you have these women basically killing themselves to better Gilead,” Williams explains. With a color palette of ambers, golds and light blues, The Colonies were informed by Williams’ research into environmental disasters like that in Fukushima, “where mountains of contaminated soil in garbage bags were piled up. It’s quite unnerving to see those images. We wanted to integrate that.” —Matt Grobar
The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel
Will and Grace
ACTOR IN A COMEDY SERIES
Donald Glover Atlanta
Anthony Anderson Black-ish
Bill Hader Barry
William H. Macy Shameless
Eric McCormack Will and Grace
ACTRESS IN A COMEDY SERIES
Rachel Brosnahan The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel
Tracee Ellis Ross Black-ish
Allison Janney Mom
Alison Brie GLOW
Lily Tomlin Grace and Frankie
ABC SVP of Alternative Series Rob Mills discusses the controversy emerging from Season’s 22 dramatic finale OVERSEEING THE BACHELOR for 12 years, ABC SVP Rob Mills knows reality television’s ability to tug on America’s heartstrings. So when Season 22 bachelor Arie Luyendyk Jr. abruptly dumped Becca Kufrin—the bride he had chosen—to run back to runner-up Lauren Burnham, controversy was expected. “My mantra with this show is, ‘Apathy is the enemy.’ The worst thing is when you have a couple where people are like, ‘I don’t really care all that much,’” Mills explains. “We knew there was going to be
a strong reaction, but that’s certainly OK.” Expecting an outcry, Mills looked online and found a level of outage he couldn’t have foreseen—stemming, of course, from the decision to air a visceral, unedited cut of Arie and Becca’s breakup. “I was surprised at the vitriol of, ‘How could you guys film this?’ Even with Becca saying, ‘I understood, and it’s OK.’” Pursuing a compelling viewing experience for ‘Bachelor Nation’—as the show’s fanbase is dubbed—did the series’ producers go too far? “People can disagree,
but I think the feeling was, we’re not really crossing a boundary,” Mills says. “Was it a private moment? Yes. But it was also a universal moment.” Reflecting on the season’s conclusion, Mills points to the series’ ability to course correct toward a happy ending. As contentious as this season was, it produced a happy couple and a new, beloved Bachelorette in Becca K. “The season is always a bit of a roller coaster,” Mills says, “but it always has a happy ending.” —Matt Grobar
HAPPIER COUPLE Lauren Burnham with Arie Luyendyk Jr.
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RAY ROMANO, OUTSTANDING SUPPORTING ACTOR IN A COMEDY SERIES
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of this show. Mutchnick: We’re as much a part of this network as the gay bird that represents it. Will & Grace isn’t supposed to be anywhere else but at NBC. We can’t speak for NBC but we feel like we’re a part of this company because we built this show under this roof. So it feels like it’s there’s and it doesn’t feel like it should be anybody else’s. David, I read somewhere that you were the person who needed the
REUNION Will & Grace stars Eric McCormack, Debra Messing, Megan Mullally and Sean Hayes.
most convincing that the show should be revived. Why was that? Kohan: It’s not that I required a lot of convincing, it was more internal than that. It was more a question of why. Why
CONSCIOUS RECOUPLING After years off the air, Will & Grace makes its triumphant return BY N E L L I E A N D R E E VA
should this show come back? What conducted a laboratory test on this show
didn’t we say? What would be the pur-
and that was #VoteHoney. That was just
pose of it for us? When I saw reactions
something that we did with our own free
from people that the show was coming
time on our own dollar. But because of
back, it became clear to me that people
that, as Dave said, we got a chance to
want old friends back on their television
see how everybody looks and functions
sets who are comforting to them, who
and what they sound like. Can they still
are familiar to them and that will provide
IN THE SUMMER OF 2016, Will &
blame for the current lack of great, dis-
do it? It just is a labor of love, and it was
a kind of antidote to these uncertain,
Grace co-creator Max Mutchnick was
tinct broadcast comedies. The two also
an effortless experience. It was soon
nervous, not normal times. You know
on a trip to London when he told his
address the political references on the
after that, after we uploaded it and we
what I mean.
husband how frustrated he was with the
show, share their favorite episodes and
got a lot of attention online, that we
Mutchnick: He also didn’t know when
election and how powerless he felt. He
provide a glimpse into next season. The
heard from [NBC chairman] Bob Green-
he was asking these questions that
lamented that if Will & Grace was still on,
interview was conducted before ABC’s
blatt, who asked us to come to NBC for
Donald Trump was going to be president.
they would’ve found a way to talk about
abrupt cancellation of Roseanne follow-
lunch. We had not been in the building
Because when we met with Bob, the
it. He even pitched a couple of jokes.
ing a racist tweet by star Roseanne Barr.
for 11 years and you know why.
election had not happened yet.
Grace’s set, which had been on display
How quickly was the election mini-
Why, because of the lawsuit?
right. There’s a legacy here, and there
at Emerson College, was on its way back
episode written? Was it easy for you
Mutchnick: We hadn’t worked at NBC.
are people who really care about this
to Los Angeles. That was the spark that
to get back into the groove?
Bob Greenblatt gets all the credit for this
show, and are we going to do justice
resulted in the Will & Grace reunion elec-
Max Mutchnick: We had not written
happening but up until this, I think the
to it, in addition to what is the purpose
tion video that in turn led to new seasons
this show in 10 years but we sat down
stink of [former NBC boss] Jeff Zucker’s
of bringing it back? And all of those
of the Must See TV series.
and wrote that scene in one day, right?
lawsuit against us had reverberations
questions were answered within a short
David Kohan: If that. [For the show],
and kept out us out business at NBC
period of time.
Emmy-winning eight-season run, Will &
once we figured out how we wanted to
during the 11 years between the Will &
Grace returned to primetime to quickly
approach the season without marriages
Grace finale and the first episode back.
re-establish itself as the highest-rated
and children, and once we figured out
NBC comedy. It also opened the door
what the shorthand was to lose that last
Were you tempted to do Will & Grace
lead gay characters to mainstream
to other revivals of classic sitcoms with
incarnation, then it all came quickly. The
on a different platform, where you
comedy series. What is the show’s
their original casts, including Roseanne
voices came quickly because one of the
can say things that you cannot say
on ABC and Murphy Brown on CBS.
Kohan: Look, I’m a nervous person,
His husband reminded him that Will &
11 years after it had ended its original,
Back when it started, Will & Grace was groundbreaking, introducing
great joys about coming back is, in the
Kohan: My initial impetus was, things
Now, creators Mutchnick and David
intervening 11 years you realize just how
Kohan: We really didn’t intend anything,
started to feel so abnormal and so
Kohan reflect on what convinced them
good you had it with those four actors.
that was the thing. We thought that
uneasy and so stressful, and there is
to revive the acclaimed comedy at NBC,
There was a kind of excitement having
was a one-off. It wasn’t an audition, it
something about a television show with
returning to the network a decade after
just written for them for the get-out-
wasn’t a test run. We thought it was
characters that you care about and enjoy
their drawn-out, contentious legal battle
and-vote video that we had done. Their
one chance, a last hurrah on this set
that almost acts as an antidote, at least
with NBCU over profits from the show
voices were in our heads, they were like
that was going back to NBC. Our way of
for a very brief period of time, for half an
ended in a settlement. They discuss the
old friends that we knew intimately, so
thinking about it was, I don’t know that it
hour on a Thursday night.
reasons behind the ratings and critical
that it wasn’t that difficult for us to rec-
would be as effective on a different kind
Mutchnick: But it also should be on
success of sitcom reboots like Will &
reate it and to find those voices again.
of platform. I think the fact that there
the air because it’s worthy of being on
Grace and Roseanne, and have harsh
Mutchnick: We were very lucky with
are certain things that you can’t say on
a primetime schedule still. Because it’s
words for the network system that they
this reboot because we had essentially
network television works to the benefit
a very unique sitcom in that it has what
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nowadays it’s harder and harder to afford
about, this is what the characters are
concerned about, this is what the char-
Mutchnick: If it’s not there in two weeks,
acters are thinking about, this is what
matters to them.
Kohan: So, when you have something
Mutchnick: In fact, going into Season
that has a built-in, nine-year head start,
10, we’re really not as focused on any
it’s an advantage.
of that, because the characters have
Mutchnick: It’s unbelievable if you come
come to terms what’s going on in the
to the tapings of the show, to see what
world, and if things are organic for them,
it’s like to experience an audience that
to be talking about what’s happening
knows the characters, and the invest-
in Washington D.C., and it speaks to the
ment. But the only way that happens is if
show, we’ll probably write to it. But it’s
you give a show an initial run. And that’s
not what’s driving us.
just a luxury no one is afforded any longer. Since you mentioned Season 10,
IN CHARGE Will & Grace creators David Kohan & Max Mutchnick.
Is there a specific episode or story-
anything more you can say about the
line this season that you’re particu-
direction the show is going, the main
larly proud of?
themes and storylines?
Mutchnick: For me, it was the episode
Mutchnick: We’re trying to open up the series this year. Last year was about
I believe is the best four members of a
because the system no longer supports
titled “Grandpa Jack”, when Jack’s
sitcom cast that have ever been. I believe
that. We may very well be one of the last
son came back into his life with his
coming back and seeing how the audi-
that the talent of Eric [McCormack],
good ones, along with Roseanne and
son, Skip, and Jack and Will went to a
ence was going to respond, and they
Debra [Messing], Sean [Hayes] and
Raymond, because we’re the gamble
conversion therapy camp, to explain
embraced the show, and that was thrill-
Megan [Mullally] is so extraordinary that,
of a television show that was created
to him that that’s not a place. Those
ing. Now, we need to move forward.
just for that reason alone, we should still
where a network largely laid off. They let
are torture camps, and that he did not
Kohan: With relationships, with work.
be making shows. But I also think our
us cast this show, and they let us find its
belong there, and needed to leave, as
Those things will probably be new. And
job is the same as it was the first time
voice, and they allowed us to stick with
soon as he could. That was my favorite
also, when the show was first on the air,
around. You’re putting it in context of a
our voice, just as CBS did with [Raymond
episode of the year.
the characters were 30, and now, they’re
political meaning and its import in terms
creator] Phil Rosenthal, and NBC with
of the gay movement and all that stuff,
[Seinfeld co-creator] Larry David, and
Was it based on or inspired by
How does that affect them? Those are
which is none of our business. We still
ABC did with Roseanne Barr.
some of the episodes in the last season.
Mutchnick: Yeah, based on the fact that
The ones that I liked were the ones when
feel now like we did then, that our job is
Those are the examples of shows
much older, and what does that do?
to entertain as many people as we can
that worked and stayed on TV, and I
we have a vice president who supports
they realized that they’re at a new phase
on the night that the show is on the air.
hope that the networks take a look at
it as an acceptable form of therapy. Mike
of their lives, dating Ben Platt, or Will
That’s really what it’s about.
that and realize that the system has
Pence is on the record, in his stint as
desperately trying to rekindle things with
gotten so mucked up with mid-level
governor in the state of Indiana—and he’d
Michael, to expedite the whole relation-
Will & Grace was one of the last
management weighing in on drafts and
like to believe that he didn’t do this—he
ship process, because time is running
multi-camera sitcoms to win an
casting, and they’re taking so much
supported it as a form of therapy, and it’s
out. Grace dealing with her aging father.
Emmy for best comedy series—
power away from the people who write
a form, actually, of torture. And it’s a form
All of these sorts of things that are issues
Everybody Loves Raymond was the
the show that it waters down a vision.
of assisting a person, growing and figuring
of where these characters are today, as
last and it’s been 13 years since
It would be very nice to see the sitcoms
themselves out, to doubt themselves.
opposed to 15 years ago.
a multi-cam series has won best
reemerge, but that’s only going to be if
And because that was going on, it aligned
Mutchnick: No one’s going to convert
networks keep executives away from
itself just beautifully with the show,
to Hinduism. But we’re going to make
Kohan: Oh wow, I didn’t know that.
the pilot process.
because the architecture of the show,
an effort to grow the characters.
and the fact that this guy with these
Because they are, like us, 11 years
Did that play into your decision, try-
What do you make of the fact that
monstrous views is in the White House, it
older, and now we should be talking
ing to bring luster back to the multi-
Will & Grace is the NBC’s highest
felt like it was the right thing for us.
about some of the issues that these
rated comedy right now, and Rose-
Kohan: Ultimately it rises or falls on
anne is ABC’s highest rated comedy
Let’s talk a little bit about the poli-
its merits, and on the way audiences
so many years later?
tics of Will & Grace. There’s a lot of
respond to it, but we certainly believe
Kohan: I guess it shows that you have
references that seem that you added
Any big surprises in store for next
that there’s still life yet in a multi-camera
an advantage when you have a known
at the last second, because they’re
season? Any other favorites from
sitcom. It provides a certain kind of expe-
quantity, and it’s harder to build an
very timely. What drives that?
the original run coming back?
rience that other shows don’t. If you’ve
audience on network television these
Kohan: If it matters to the characters,
Mutchnick: I think we can give you one
grown up with television at all, it has just
days; to put something out there. To
that’s the thinking. It isn’t just, we want
exclusive. And that’s the title of the first
seeped in over the years. The rhythm
have it find its voice, to nurture it so that
to put this issue out there in public
episode of Season 10. The first episode
and the tone of it, and if it’s done well it’s
it gains traction, so that people feel a
consciousness for whoever is watching
that Dave and I are writing is titled,
good, and if it’s done poorly it’s bad.
relationship with these characters and
the show. It’s not like we have an axe
“Where in the World is Karen Walker?”,
Mutchnick: Another reason why there
to the tone and the voice of the show.
to grind, and we’re going to use these
and we can let you read into that as
haven’t been good sitcoms on TV is
That takes a little time, and it seems like
characters as our vehicle. It’s more
much or as little as you want. ★
characters would have, at the ages that they’re all at, respectively.
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TM & © 2018 truTV. A Time Warner Company. All Rights Reserved.
5/30/18 11:32 PM
WAR STORIES Clockwise from top left: construction workers march in support of the war in 1970; civilians endure an attack in Dong Xoai, 1965; Denton 'Mogie' Crocker shares a moment with his sister and brother before shipping out; students protest the war in Boston, 1965; American troops cross Vietnam; incoming President Nixon is briefed by outgoing President Johnson.
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THEATER OF CONFLICT MIKE FLEMING JR. MEETS KEN BURNS & LYNN NOVICK, WHO HAVE TAKEN THE DEEPEST OF DIVES INTO ONE OF THE WORLD’S MOST COMPLEX STRUGGLES WITH PBS DOCUMENTARY SERIES THE VIETNAM WAR
WITH THEIR 10-PART, 18-HOUR DOCUMENTARY MINISERIES THE VIETNAM WAR, co-directors Ken Burns & Lynn Novick have told amongst the most comprehensive stories ever seen, which deals not just with the endless war that tore America apart, but with the French occupation of the country and the fear of communism which tracked back to the seeds sewn by Harry S. Truman’s administration of the ’40s and ’50s. Burns and Novick chose an objective track, interviewing mostly those who fought the war from all three sides. But they came away with their own opinions about the challenges, and the relevance of what they found to current events. You previously covered the Civil War in 10 hours, and World War II in 14. What made Vietnam worthy of 18 hours, culled from a decade’s worth of work? Lynn Novick: We didn’t know how long the film would be when we set out, but everyone on our team understood it was such a defining, watershed event in American history, and extraordinarily important to understand our country now and our sense of ourselves in the world since World War II. It is painful subject matter, something we’ve avoided investigating in a deep way. The combination of its importance and the lack of general knowledge about the actual facts of what happened. On top of that there was the sense that Americans never had really availed ourselves of the opportunity to find out what the war meant for the Vietnamese, and you can’t understand the war, what happened and why, without knowing what they were thinking and doing. For those three reasons we felt it was worth taking a serious look at it. Ken Burns: When we decided to do it we weren’t certain it was going to be 18 hours. We thought would be more like our World War II documentary; probably seven parts. Then the material spoke to us, and it suggested the 10 episodes. What happened is, whether it’s the Civil War or WWII, you get a very close-up glimpse of human nature— exaggerated, and sometimes at its worst, but also at its best. It leaves you hungry for that experience. When we said in 2006 we were going to Vietnam next, it was a war that seemed beset by people not interested in what actually D E A D L I N E .C O M / AWA R D S L I N E
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happened, but with their arguments about what hap-
that public perception.
the presidency. That’s one theory.
pened. “If only we’d taken our pitcher out in the sixth
At the same time, at the end of the 1950s, Eisen-
inning instead of the seventh, we would’ve won that
hower warned of the military-industrial complex. He
Dirksen, the Republican leader in the Senate, and
game.” But 43 years since the fall of Saigon has pro-
was not warning of a phenomenon that had started
Dirksen said, “Yes, it is.” We’re not really pussyfooting
duced an extraordinary amount of scholarship. There
last Thursday. He was talking about a military-indus-
around with terminology. It was treason, and what
have been some Hollywood movies, a very excellent
trial complex that was at its height, at the end of the
makes the echoes to today so interesting is that we
PBS documentary early on, but nobody attempted to
Second World War, and then all of a sudden, that war
have the accusations, again, that a political campaign
put their arms around the whole thing, from the French
was over. There is of course an appetite for profits,
reached out to a foreign power at the time of a
arrival in the mid-19th Century up to today.
but it was not just evil people who want war to go on.
national election to help influence that election.
And no one had yet said what the Vietnamese
It was people who want factories to be employing
It was Johnson who called it treason to Everett
And the more it goes on, the more it proves
thought, and made it equally as important. So we
people and not see them on public assistance. All that
what Mark Twain is supposed to have said, that
were interviewing South Vietnamese civilians and sol-
has momentum. Combine that with an anti-Commu-
history doesn’t repeat itself, but it rhymes. There are
diers. And Viet Cong guerrillas, and North Vietnamese
nist fervor, a sensibility that you’re in a nuclear age, and
mass demonstrations taking place all across the
soldiers, and North Vietnamese civilians. You make
nobody wants to have the next world war that involves
country against the current administration; illegal,
a film like this because you’re curious and desperate
the nuclear exchange. So you have these limited or
big document drops of stolen classified information
to find things that can transcend the arguments, the
proxy wars, as they were called, in Vietnam. We were
into the public sphere that destabilizes the political
conventional wisdom, the superficial knowledge that
supposedly helping the South Vietnamese to fight the
conversation. From a White House in disarray and
just about all of us have.
Viet Cong, but really, it was a proxy war in which we
obsessed with leaks, to a president certain the press
were fighting the Soviets and the Communist Chinese.
is lying about him, to asymmetrical warfare. All of
I grew up during this period. I was on a college campus. I had a high draft number. I thought I knew some-
these things are going on now.
thing. And every day, there was a kind of humiliation,
Your documentary gave us the candid conver-
learning what I didn’t know, but also this great release
sations of Presidents Johnson and Nixon talking
historical subject you take, if you focus on just getting
of creative energy that comes from having to jettison
with advisors about the war. What surprised
it right, when you lift up, you will see all its correspond-
not only everyone else’s baggage, but your own.
you about how those presidents factored in the
ence with the present.
So, there’s a funny way in which, whatever
human loss in the waging of what proved an What was your biggest misnomer? We always
You showed the Viet Cong fighter famously
heard the LBJ line, that once Walter Cronkite was
Burns: You can clearly hear that Johnson was
executed by gunshot from the South Vietnamese
against the war, he’d lost the support of middle
wracked with guilt and worry and concern, but he
police chief who’d watched his own men get killed.
America, for instance…
still went right ahead with it, spending those men.
Carnage was brought into American living rooms
Burns: Well, just that; even that people hang onto
Nixon is perhaps the most cynical, because he knows
on TV news. Surely there is no shortage of horrible
something as flimsy as Cronkite. Cronkite’s moment is
going in that the war’s unwinnable and has to end.
footage. How did you decide what to include?
important. But going back to the Truman administra-
And yet, he drags it on for four more years in order
Novick: This is an important question and it’s the
tion in the early ’50s, they knew that any involvement
not to be tagged as the president who lost the war,
issue we wrestled with every day in editing. We
was unwinnable. So did the Eisenhower administra-
and so engaged in these machinations that cost tens
collected everything we could find and there were
tion, the Kennedy administration, the Johnson and
of thousands of American lives, and hundreds and
horrific images. The ones most disturbing to us were
Nixon administrations. The Pentagon Papers showed
hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese lives.
eviscerations, body parts, dismemberment, just vis-
it had been a mistake, that everyone had known,
That’s a bitter pill to swallow. Johnson’s a very
cera of what’s inside and what comes out when your
and had gone the opposite direction for domestic
tragic, Shakespearian figure and you can hear the
body is broken. It’s just so deeply disturbing, it offends
political considerations. It was devastating to find that
agony of his early comments to friends on tape about
our sense of order and what we can bear to see, and
out when the Pentagon Papers were released, and
it. And yet, there’s no letting him off the hook for hav-
you can’t ever un-see what you’ve seen.
devastating to find out almost 50 years later what
ing put the boots on the ground after Kennedy had
was going on. The war was unwinnable.
escalated significantly from several hundred advisors
have to show what it really does to people, and to the
to 17,000 or 18,000 advisors. So Kennedy’s [legacy is]
human body. It’s very hard to find that fine line. In our
not without its own concerns.
first pass of editing, the film was much longer, probably
Wars generate profits for munitions makers, create jobs and drive economies. In the five pres-
But we didn’t want to sugarcoat the war and so you
22 or 23 hours. Our editors put in everything—the most
idential administrations you mentioned, how
Hearing LBJ’s conversations when he was told
graphic footage—and over the process of a year or so
much of the futility in Vietnam was motivated by
the Republican candidate Nixon encouraged
we would extract something as being too much, and
fervent fear of the Communist scourge versus
the South Vietnamese leader to not show for
then we would feel we took out too much, and we’d
peace talks because it would’ve boosted his rival
put something back in because we never wanted to
Burns: At the heart of it, I don’t think you can
Hubert Humphrey—who campaigned on a get
lose sight of how terrible the war was. But we didn’t
separate them. They’re all intertwined like a vine going
out of Vietnam platform—seems treasonous.
want to have shown you something that was so awful
up a tree. In a post-WWII world, Communism and
How did you feel when you uncovered all that?
that you didn’t remember anything that happened for
the fervor of anti-Communism has its own seductive
We hear Nixon’s phony denial to LBJ, who knows
the next 10 minutes, or you turned off the TV.
siren song that plays well domestically. If you’re soft
he is lying. Why didn’t LBJ expose this when Hum-
on the Commies, that was political death. Truman
phrey clearly would have ended the war sooner?
gory, repulsive, and just horrific footage in. A lot of
was being accused of having lost China. Eisenhower
Burns: We don’t really know what happened. We
which was never shown to the American public
was a victor of World War II, and didn’t want to let the
think that Humphrey may have been given the
because the networks had a sense of decorum to
Communists in the front door. Kennedy said, “I have
information. Humphrey was catching up to Nixon,
some degree, for the same reasons that we’re talking
to draw a line in South Vietnam, otherwise I won’t
and probably if he’d had another week he would have
about. Tim O’Brien, the writer and veteran, was there,
get reelected,” and we know the kinds of political
overtaken him. He was worried that if he called out
and he said he was concerned with the first pass that
decisions that governed both LBJ and Nixon, based on
Nixon, it would have looked like he had backed into
the film, in showing the horrors of war, was too much.
At our first screening we had some of the most
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AT HOME AND ABROAD Clockwise from top left: American troops march; the Kent State shootings of 1970, amid an anti-Vietnam War protest; the Watergate scandal pushes Nixon out of office.
media, and there were censorships. We found the censored photos in archives. Back then, if you could see a young man who had been killed lying peacefully in a field, that’s one thing. If his head is blown off, that’s a whole different thing. Those images didn’t see the light of day during WWII and they did to some degree in Vietnam. In that sense we felt we had to show more because it reflected what the public saw. But I also think in Vietnam you have the deeper question: what are we fighting for? In WWII we had a willingness to sacrifice. Some 400,000 Americans were killed in WWII, and a much larger percentage of the population of smaller countries were killed and wounded. We tolerated that as a country; we felt it was the price to pay for freedom. But by the end of Vietnam, a lot of people felt we didn’t accomplish anything and people died, for what? So every wound, every death is so much harder to take. Not to take anything away from the sense of loss if you are a family who lost someone. It’s tragic, horrible, inescapable. But I
"FROM A WHITE HOUSE IN DISARRAY AND OBSESSED WITH LEAKS, TO A PRESIDENT CERTAIN THE PRESS IS LYING ABOUT HIM, TO ASYMMETRICAL WARFARE. ALL OF THESE THINGS ARE GOING ON NOW. SO, THERE’S A FUNNY WAY IN WHICH, WHATEVER HISTORICAL SUBJECT YOU TAKE, IF YOU FOCUS ON JUST GETTING IT RIGHT, WHEN YOU LIFT UP, YOU WILL SEE ALL ITS CORRESPONDENCE WITH THE PRESENT." — K E N B U R N S
do think as a country we were willing to sustain and tolerate the carnage of WWII, probably because we felt it was for a good cause. It was fascinating to watch how Cronkite and the war correspondents were viewed by America back then, and how media came of age in that war, as well as the way cynicism and skepticism of government grew organically. Can you compare the role of the media in that war to the polarized way that media works now, where people in this country get completely different views of the Trump administration and politics depending on which cable channel they watch?
Was he specific?
soldiers were all watching Full Metal Jacket. It’s an anti-
Burns: Well, you’ve just said what it is. We have a very,
Novick: Too much combat, too much shooting, and
war movie, but he said they loved the violence of it. He
very similar situation, but we have the proliferation of
too much graphic violence. He said, “I don’t know if
referred to it as war pornography, and that there’s this
a new kind of media that’s so divided up, and so disin-
my wife would watch this; she hates war movies, but
sort of deep, hardwired thing in us that we are drawn
terested in so many of its parts, that a lie goes around
I want her to watch it.” We all looked at each other,
to these violent images and to the carnage. So it’s a
the world three times before the truth gets started.
Ken and I, our writer Geoffrey Ward, and our producer
paradox. Even when you are trying to show how terrible
At that time, we weren’t free of fake news and
Sarah Botstein. We asked him, “What’s your wife’s
war is, you sort of glorify it at the same time in this very
accusations by politicians that the news media were
name?” It was Meredith. OK, we’re making the film
strange way. Any of us who deal with anything to do
behaving treasonously and all that sort of stuff. There
for Meredith. Meredith O’Brien, we want you to watch.
with war has to be very mindful of that. And we were
were concerns about leaks. Most Americans digested
And so whenever we were in the edit room for the
while making this film as well. It’s complicated.
the information they could get about Vietnam from
next two years we would think about how much is too
three different networks, and national newspapers or
much and tried to calibrate it so that we never lost
Maybe it’s because the wounds are fresher or
local papers picking up the wire service stories from
sight of it, but also didn’t overdo it.
the footage is in color, but the Vietnam imagery
AP and UPI. That’s it. Those three networks are still
seems more upsetting than what you showed in
there, doing more or less the same kind of excellent
The images are haunting but they don’t take you
your WWII documentary. Why?
job. But then you’ve got the proliferation of cable
out of the narrative flow.
Novick: I don’t have the answer. In making the film
channels, three of them in particular. Two of which are
Novick: We’re working on a film right now about
about WWII we did come across a lot of grotesque
attempting some kind of objectivity, and one that is
Ernest Hemingway, and the reason I bring it up
images. Some were in the film. Maybe not as much, as
just like Pravda, a kind of house organ.
is because I’m interviewing a writer named Elliot
there wasn’t quite as much available. Camera crews
Ackerman, who’s also a combat veteran. As he and I
were not free to roam around the way they were in
social media that doesn’t have the kind of journalistic
were talking, he said when he was in Afghanistan, his
Vietnam. It was a more controlled process for the
filter that those journalists did back then, or that the
You have millions of other outlets for news, and
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journalists in the traditional media today have, and that we had as we were working on this.
some parts of the film. He didn’t want to see any
ing their story in the best possible way, and McCain
"THE POWER OF JOHN MUSGRAVE'S TESTIMONY WAS LIFE ALTERING FOR ME. HE GOES FROM THE INCREDIBLE IDEALISM AND YOUTHFUL NAIVETÉ AND PATRIOTISM OF A YOUNG MAN WANTING TO BE A SOLDIER LIKE HIS DAD, TO THROWING HIS MEDALS AWAY AND CONTEMPLATING SUICIDE. I MEAN, HIS WHOLE STORY ENCAPSULATES SO MUCH OF THE AMERICAN EXPERIENCE AND THE WAR IN ONE PERSON’S LIFE."
and Kerry got it immediately, and they said, “How can
— LY N N
Watching your depiction of the suffering endured by Senator John McCain when the POW whose father was in charge of the war refused to be released as a propaganda ploy brings back the harsh things President Trump said about the Senator. Describe your feelings on this, and why didn’t McCain tell his story on camera for you? Burns: The first meetings we took were with John Kerry and John McCain. We said, “We’re going to do this, we need your help, but we’re not going to interview you.” We were going to interview no one, and I would add Jane Fonda and Henry Kissinger, who was still alive and might have wanted to polish their own images with regard to Vietnam. Most of the people that populate our film are not well-known, and it seemed best to receive your information from the sincerity of new people. Neil Sheehan is there, but we didn’t have ten Neil Sheehans and we didn’t interview Daniel Ellsberg for the same reason. We just felt these are people who are alive, they have an interest in spinning their story in the best possible way, present-
of the American stuff. He wanted to hear from the Vietnamese. He was just fascinated with the people that he was trying to kill. Who were they, these people who were trying to kill him? It was a very interesting and wonderful moment. These soldiers are still alive and many carry with them physical and psychological wounds and not everyone’s going to be happy with what they saw. What criticism stung the most? Burns: I heard some really stupid trolls from the far left and right, but they essentially exhibit the cowardice of what trolling is: the inability to have a civil conversation. The rest of it has been terrific. Every day that I am out in the world, somebody comes up and says a variation of, “My husband, my dad, my uncle, my grandfather, my brother was there, and he hadn’t talked about it, but we all watched your series together, and now he’s talking.” That’s all you want. You don’t have to agree with everything. But what is there to disagree with, though, right? Because we didn’t editorialize, we just said, “This is what happened.” We’ve had criticism from the far, far left that we’re some conservative force. And from the far, far right saying that we’re some liberal, pinko commies. And you just go, “Great, we must have done
To get back to your original question about
a good job,” because let’s just say the most important
McCain: he’s just an unvarnished hero of the kind
thing is that there were 39 million broadcast viewers
our draft-deferred current president could never be,
and 13 million streams. That’s 52 million who watched,
because courage and heroism involve sacrifice in
in something like 50 countries around the world.
the name of something bigger, and in the service of others, and this president doesn’t do anything that
We’ve always been told that soldiers don’t like
isn’t for himself, and has no real concept of the other.
to talk about their experiences. You not only got them to talk, but to share they were either
When you spend a decade soaking up this
complicit in atrocities, or that they turned their
history, it’s understandable to have opinions like
heads as they happened. How do you do that as
that one which might steer a narrative to depict
what you believe. What are the challenges in
Burns: By not being in a combative “gotcha” state. We
presenting history in documentaries that are publicly-funded, and consumed by audiences accustomed to an increasingly polarized media?
DRAFTED John Musgrave (left) and a friend in 1966.
What are your rules?
understand, and it’s very important that your readers understand that all these things happen in all wars. Vietnam had its own special circumstances. There are more sufferers of PTSD from WWII than there are
Burns: Just tell the truth. The Battle of Gettysburg
feel, in the way we select things, and where we might
from Vietnam, just by sheer demographic numbers.
can only happen in July of 1863. Just remember, we
be going. There are times when we stop and give
And you can show this massacre of German soldiers,
finished this film, the essential locking of it, before
Nixon his due, out loud. We’re totally happy to give
after a massacre of Belgian civilians and American
the Iowa caucuses. We didn’t make this film knowing
people their due, and to make sure that we don’t turn
soldiers that took place, and it’s what happens in war
that Donald Trump would be president. We just made
the so-called villains into villains and the so-called
all the time. I think when [the subjects] realize that
this film. That’s all we do, and we do a good job. We’re
heroes into heroes. Those heroes often have deep,
we’re not there as prosecutors, but as human beings
trusted across the aisle; just look at our funding bed.
complicated flaws, as our Roosevelt series showed.
asking people to exchange their experience…there are
We have people from the far right, people from the far
And the simplistic-villain thing is just bankrupt. Villains
many people who are very wounded in our film, and
left, and more importantly, lots of people in between.
have sometimes very positive character aspects, and
there are many people who saw bad things, and did
It is so important for us not to put our thumb on the
Nixon certainly does, if people presumed that he’s a
bad things. That’s what war is.
scale, even though there’s a wonderful, honorable tra-
villain. We just want to tell a complicated story. It’s very
dition of documentaries advocating certain political
interesting that our North Vietnamese soldiers and Viet
now call WWII, but that is flabbergasting to me.
points of view.
Cong guerrillas sound exactly like our American GIs.
Because the WWII is the worst war ever. How can 60
Sometimes you bite your tongue to let the facts
You did convey the feeling of some mutual
war”? I know why, but come on. Bear with me for a
respect. It was like they were warriors on
second. This stuff happened; we killed more Japanese
Burns: We check our baggage. Look, art is a very
and German civilians with our bombs than died in
complicated thing. There’s no objectivity. You go by
Burns: I had an opportunity to show John McCain
all of the Vietnam War, on all sides. And as William
We try to think you can have a good war, as we
million people die, and some people call it “the good
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Westmoreland said in Errol Morris’s great film Fog of
rarely in life and every once in a while happens when
War, he said, “If we’d lost, I would’ve have been hung.”
you’re making a film like this.
He and his boss, Curtis LeMay, were plotting the
That was a very brave moment and we did worry, but he hasn’t gotten in trouble. I can’t speak for the Communist party and the government of Vietnam, but I
bombing runs of Japan. And he said, “I would’ve been
What was the big surprise in getting American,
think they’re focused on the present and the future.
hung as a war criminal.” The Fog of War is one of the
South Vietnamese and North Vietnamese
So I guess they can tolerate this thing that happened
great films about war.
soldiers to reflect?
50 years ago not being covered up any more.
Novick: Just being in Vietnam was overwhelming. Was there some great “get”? An interview or
It was surprising, sitting down with people there, to
On the North Vietnamese side, one woman stuck
access to documents that made now the right
see how their recollections went against the grain of
out to me, calmly relaying how, when an Amer-
time to spring Vietnam?
what the Communist party’s official narrative of the
ican would stand up, boom, she would shoot
Burns: We originally planned for the fall of 2016, but
war is, to sense how conflicted people were about
him. She wasn’t saying it with any pleasure, but
realized we could not make that deadline. And we also
what their country went through. It was a different
somehow it hit hard, imagining this tiny woman
didn’t want to go out during a national election, not
kind of conflict than we have here in that there’s a
killing trained American soldiers that way…
when debates or scandals or breaking news distracts
lot of pride in having won the war, but a great deal of
Novick: She has told her story a few times before and
a good number of our viewers when we’re showing
bitterness and sadness and just loss and grief.
it was disturbing to see how matter of fact it was. But
something over the course of, as it turned out, ten straight nights over two weeks.
It exacerbated the question, was it really worth
she was a child soldier basically and fighting for her life
it? Was the sacrifice worth what we got in the
and her friends’ lives. Whether we agree or disagree
end, especially in the years right after the war,
with her motivation, everyone around her was doing
that our interview with John Musgrave, a Marine
which were so terrible when they tried to become
that and she felt it was important for her to do to save
from Missouri who now lives in Kansas, is kind of the
this Stalinist economy that totally failed if we’re
her country. We were the enemy and she had to fight
beating heart and soul of it. Not to take away from
starving. People told us the time after the war
us. She was very clear about that and it was hard to
any of the other extraordinary people. But I always
was much harder than the war itself, and that was
think about some American boy over there, trying to do
joked that if some evil god came and said, “We’re
surprising. People were open about how soldiers’
his job, same as her, and happened to get in her way.
taking away all your interviews but one,” I’d say, “Let us
morale suffered, the effects of PTSD, how people
have John Musgrave, and we’ll make a new film called
were deserting, what attrition like that did to a
important to try to see it through her eyes. One of
‘The Education of John Musgrave.’” In some ways, he’s
small country in a long war. They mostly wanted to
the things she says is, “We had so many friends killed
what the old Negro Leaguer Buck O’Neil was in our
liberate the country and unify it, but the price they
in the battle of Hue and we wanted to collect their
Baseball series, or Shelby Foote was in The Civil War, or
paid was so huge that the sense of unease about
bodies and we weren’t able to do it.” We had so much
Wynton Marsalis was in Jazz. He emerged as that kind
that was always right below the surface.
footage of enemy corpses sort of being dragged
Looking back at the film and what’s in it, I felt
of powerful voice.
It was very difficult to hear that story, but also
around and thrown around and just being disposed of, Why were they so willing to tell their stories to
and in that moment you realize how very dehuman-
voices in the film that are no less powerful. But there
American filmmakers? How as an interviewer do
izing it is. It was important to be reminded: that was
was something about John, the arc of his story, his
you gain trust?
somebody’s son, or somebody’s friend or somebody’s
honesty and his extraordinary presentation and mod-
Novick: One of my central of articles of faith is prepa-
comrade. On a human level, regardless of the policy,
esty. You’re there when he gung-ho signs up. You’re
ration, and being fully present and open. Cultivating
the war just used a lot of people up. I was grateful for
there when he’s fighting in the worst possible con-
a sense of listening without judgment and letting the
her testimony for that reason.
ditions. You’re there when he’s so horribly wounded
person tell you their story the way they want to tell it,
But the Vietnamese veterans who really affected
that he’s triaged three times before he’s finally on
and not trying to shape it the way you think it should
me tended to be more emotional than she was, and
the fourth time given to a doctor to be saved. You’re
be. I think that when it comes to some of the really
more sort of connected with the common humanity.
there when he’s putting a gun up to his head to blow
difficult taboo things that people spoke to us about in
There’s a guy named Lo Khac Tam, who gets very
his brains out, because he’s suffering from PTSD,
Vietnam, especially about the massacre at Hue, there
emotional describing things that happened. Like,
and you’re there when he joins the Vietnam veterans
was a bit of letting it off your chest. Carrying around
when the war ended, he didn’t want to go out and
against the war who are protesting, and you’re there
a secret so long is hard. It’s a relief to feel you’re not
celebrate the victory because all he could think
with him in the present moment as he’s trying to
the only one who knows something like that, and
about was all the men in his company who had
digest all of the things that he’s just now shared. He
particularly with the massacre at Hue, most people
died. He’s just so clearly wracked with survivor’s
just sort of poured his heart and soul out to us.
in Vietnam do not know about it. It’s like it never
guilt and even to this day he gets calls from families
Novick: The power of his testimony was life altering
happened. And I suspect that for the two veterans
of the men who were under his command who
for me. He goes from the incredible idealism and
that talked to us about it, they did not want it to be
want to know where their son’s body is. And he
youthful naiveté and patriotism of a young man
forgotten. Not because they feel responsible per se
has no idea because they have a million dead and
wanting to be a soldier like his dad, to throwing his
but just that their country has to face that there were
300,000 missing. His own brother is missing. So he’s
medals away and contemplating suicide. I mean, his
atrocities on all sides. That’s a very humane thing for
obsessed with trying to find remains.
whole story encapsulates so much of the American
them to want to communicate.
The minute I say that, I think about the other 78
experience and the war in one person’s life. To hear
One time when I was in Vietnam he told me he’d just come back from South Vietnam, from the Mekong
him tell us that story, sitting opposite him and asking
What feedback did you hear after, including
Delta where he’d been out in some battlefield looking
him the questions and listening to what he had to
them getting in trouble for speaking candidly?
at remains that were discovered. Hoping that one of
say…I was overwhelmed, and to be honest, unable to
Novick: We all worried about that, but we were
them might be his brother. He’s a really deep thinker
speak for about a day. I’d never had that experience
reassured that after the film came out there were no
and a very humane veteran who understands loss
before. I actually had to go lie down and I couldn’t
repercussions. At one point in the film, [Viet Cong
and that no one has the market cornered on loss.
talk to anyone for a while. I’ve done hundreds of
colonel] Ho Huu Lan, says, “I’m going to tell you the
He’s proud of being in the Army and having served his
interviews; this was a kind of almost sacred expe-
truth; we don’t normally speak about this and I might
country and all that but he can’t ever escape the true
rience, some kind of connection that happens very
get in trouble but I want to tell you what happened.”
cost of the war. His story really has stayed with me. ★
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Italian Masterpieces Let it Be sofa designed by Ludovica + Roberto Palomba. Sestiere Castello, Venice poltronafrau.com 8950 Beverly blvd Los Angeles Ca 90048 Ph. 310.858.1433
4/27/18 4:04 PM
Creator MITCHELL HURWITZ is weathering perhaps the greatest challenge of his career, as the fifth season of Arrested Development launches on Netflix amid harassment allegations against cast member Jeffrey Tambor. But Season 5 is also a welcome return to form for the show and, Hurwitz tells Joe Utichi, reuniting with the Bluth family remains an irresistible treat.
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PH OTOGRAPHY BY JOS H TELLES
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ITCHELL HURWITZ IS DEEP IN POST-PRODUCTION ON ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT’S FIFTH SEASON, at the show’s edit suite inside LA’s KTTV FOX 11 studios, when we first meet. It’s early April and the first three episodes of the new season are about to play for outside eyes for the first time. But if he’s nervous about showing them off it isn’t obvious. Really, the word for Hurwitz today is ‘serene’. He never thought he’d be here, 15 years after this show first debuted on FOX, and 12 years since its unceremonious cancellation after three seasons. It’s even been a whole half-decade since Season 4 debuted on Netflix, which made returning Arrested to screens a key early play in its push toward original content. The problems producing this show are twofold. First, Arrested Development must be one of the most complex comedies on television to write. What began, during the show’s FOX run, as an experiment to see how many jokes could be called forward in earlier episodes to hint at where the story might wind up has become the essential fabric of Arrested Development. There have been set-ups to jokes whose punchlines won’t come for several more episodes. One episode of Arrested might equate to a half season of material on something less dense. The dialogue and plot threads come so thick and fast that they’d give even Aaron Sorkin a nosebleed. The other problem is cast availability. When the show started there were a few recognizable comics in its ensemble cast, but by now they are all stars, scattered to the wind on myriad other projects. There were only two scenes during production of the fourth season where the entire Bluth family ensemble were gathered at the same time. That’s been a problem this time around too, but when Season 4 debuted, each episode followed a different character to get around the availability issues. Criticism ensued, and so this fifth season leans back into the ensemble, even if that adds an extra layer to the complication of shooting it. So Hurwitz’s serenity might have a little to do with the mounting feeling, in the last few weeks of production, that he’d managed to pull it off. The episodes are strong, the gags are sharp and the cast is right on point. But we meet again a few weeks before Netflix announces the fifth season’s premiere date, and a lot has changed by the time we sit down to properly discuss the show. Jeffrey Tambor, who was fired from Amazon Studios’ Transparent after sexual harassment allegations and an internal investigation, copped to an incident of verbal abuse on the Arrested set—what he described as a “blowup” directed at co-star Jessica Walter. In a New York Times interview with the cast, Walter, through tears, discussed how it made her feel. The male cast members who tried to arbitrate were accused of trivializing her pain. Hurwitz is acutely aware of the fractures forming so publicly within his on-screen family. Our conversation is, at times, emotional. He’ll tell me that he lost sight of the fact these aren’t real family members, and that framing them that way can be dangerous. But what’s clear from the mood of our cover shoot—which features both Tambor and Walter—is that there are complex, deep bonds within this ensemble that are tough to break. And as this season becomes the first to debut during the Trump era—after a narrative in Season 4, long before Trump’s Presidential run, in which the Bluth Company sets out to build a wall on the Mexican-American border—what remains undeniable is the potency of this most complex of comedy series.
"WAIT, HOLD ON A SECOND. I’D LIKE TO STRIKE THAT LAST COMMENT FROM THE RECORD. THEY MUST HAVE GOOD QUALITIES… THEY’RE FUNNY. THAT’S THEIR GOOD QUALITY."
You started on Arrested Development in the Bush era, and it’s hard not to see the Bluth family as an exaggerated version of a kind of privileged ignorance. Season 5 is the show’s first in the Trump era. How do you separate fact from comic fiction? That was a challenge. First of all, when we had come up with the idea of the Bluths building a wall in Season 4, it wasn’t parody of the news. I love news parody, but we can’t compete with Saturday Night Live, The Daily Show and everybody else who does it. And then the other problem that we were facing is Michael Cera’s 30, and if you really followed the timeline he would be… 30. There’s no getting around it. In the recut of Season 4 I put in some joke about George-Michael going out on a boat in 2005 and then coming back in 2013 “weathered by his trip to the sea”. His 20-minute trip to the sea. So we had this issue where this season couldn’t be set in 2017 or 2018; it wouldn’t make sense because everything’s changed. But it was sometime in 2015 when Trump came out and made his introductory bid for the presidency, and in that same breath started talking about how Mexicans are rapists and murderers and he was going to build a wall. So it seemed like that could be a good little element here. It led me to a theme for the year. And those things tend to emerge organically. I’m always a little leery of writers who say, “I wanted to do a show that explored the balance between the artificial and the real.” No, you wanted to do this show and then after the fact you said, “Oh, it’s about this.” But we have to deal with the Trump thing, because they were building a wall, and what emerged was this idea of retreating to the safety of old ideas. It does seem like that is the fundamental difference between the left and the right. I mean there are many differences of course, but
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the idea of fear of the future or embrace of the future—it’s probably just a very human split among people, that some people really crave new experiences and some people want to retreat to familiar experiences. It was kind of like that with the Bluths.
A NEW START
Scenes from Arrested Development's fifth season. From top: GeorgeMichael (Michael Cera) works on his abs; Michael (Jason Bateman) confronts Buster (Tony Hale) in the attic; Lindsay (Portia de Rossi) runs for office; Maeby (Alia Shawkat) ages disgracefully; the family gathers.
The idea they all started to grow and change because their old support system had fallen away, they were failures in that world, and suddenly they were pulled back into the things that ultimately made them unhappy, but that were safer. Their desire to cheat to try and get ahead. It’s not that conscious of a thing, but it just felt like now that some time has gone by, I look at that family and they’re just Americans. Not in the Roseanne way, but they’re more like a metaphor for America. Entitled. I mean… they also have good qualities. The Bluths? Where? Wait, hold on a second. I’d like to strike that last comment from the record. They must have good qualities… They’re funny. That’s their good quality. Only to us. Well, Michael is kind of funny. But nobody laughs at what he says, so only he knows he’s funny. Tobias is hilarious for reasons that are completely oblivious to him. Tobias doesn’t know. David [Cross] is so funny. They’re all so good now. I mean, they always were, but it’s more striking to me now. They’ve all matured. When I saw how that scene played out between Michael [Jason Bateman] and George-Michael in Episode 3… I love that scene. It didn’t have to be like this. They didn’t both have to turn out to be consummate, focused, concentrated actors. They were just guys that were cast in a sitcom. Those are masterful performances in comedy, and it’s hard to call something masterful because it’s either funny or it’s not. But just the subtlety of what they’re playing, they just both happen to have those gifts. This doesn’t really apply to some of the older actors, but I think a lot of them had this great education by being with each other. Like Alia [Shawkat] and Michael Cera, maybe they would have been just as talented, but they were raised by these consummate, comic actors that committed to the comedy at a time when that wasn’t happening. They all come from such different approaches, too. I know. They are different. I used to spend a lot of energy pulling them all to the same spot. At least at the start of the show, where everybody would underplay, underplay, underplay, and then we would get to these absurd places. But that is less of what I do now because the characters are them. In television that often happens, where you start off leading the way with the characters and very soon you’re following. But it is interesting. David Cross is perfectly placed as not a Bluth family member. He feels like an outsider, like he’s coming from a different place. Again, that too is happenstance. The Russo brothers used to say to me, “You gotta get a ringer, you gotta get a ringer.” And I didn’t really even know the term ringer. They meant a comedy guy who’s always going to deliver. This is before we knew we were going to have nine of them. So I called David Cross, who had read the script, and he said, “What do you have in mind for me?” I said, “Really, whatever you want to play.” And as I said it—this was my inexperience—I was like, what if he says Michael? I was so worried about it for a day. He’s going to say, “I want the lead,” and I have to say, “They’re not going to let you play the lead.” But he didn’t; he came back and he said two things. He was like, “I think I’d like to play Tobias.” And he said, “I think he should have a mustache.” Actually, the mustache thing might have been later. Yes, the mustache thing was later. Here’s the funny thing about the mustache. He never went through any audition process or anything. When he said he wanted to be Tobias, great, he got the part; FOX signed off on it, which was really good. So I never talked to him. And meanwhile the rest of the cast had to go through this audition process, work together to do these DEADLINE.COM
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You’re still wrestling with these questions, five seasons in?
kind of chemistry reads together, in different combinations. But David showed up probably the night before we were shooting the first
I know. Is he gay? Why does he want to be an actor? It’s funny, just recently I was
scene, or his first scene. And he called and said, “Hey, I thought maybe we could
asking myself why Gob wants to be a magician. I was really reflecting on that. I
talk about the character.” I didn’t really have much to say about him. “He shows
realized, they’re all choosing things that don’t require showing up. Even Lindsay
up, he says these lines.” But David didn’t have much to say either. He said, “Well, I
[Portia de Rossi], with her social justice thing, she doesn’t really have to show up.
have one thought. I think he should have a mustache.” Basically, that was all the
Actors, you’ve got an excuse for not working. Gob’s just got this expensive hobby.
character work we did.
He just likes applause.
Level with me. Is Tobias gay?
metaphor of a fraudulent personality, because magic is so funny that way. It’s
Hmm… No… I don’t think he’s gay. For us, the more interesting thing was giving
cloaked in this depth and mystery but really it’s just: get up in the morning, strap
Gob the gay storyline, because it’s usually the macho, overcompensating guy who
a bag of milk to your stomach, put the tube through your shirt, put a magnet on
turns out to be gay. It isn’t the guy who feels free to not cover up his Freudian slips.
your knee, get to the restaurant early, and put a six of diamonds in a salt shaker.
But the magician thing used to be more central to it. It used to be more a
I don’t think he’s gay. I don’t think he is. There’s very little evidence for it. We do have all these clues. I remember in Season 4 there were lines about his ‘nightly
There’s nothing mysterious about it. I got into magic when I was a kid and then I had this regression when I was in my
drives’. “There’s this acting clinic I came across recently on one of my nightly
30s. I had this big surgery and I started ordering magic tricks online. But I would fall for
drives.” What does he mean? Maybe he’s just driving around.
it every time. It would say, “Take a ring from a spectator, put it under a silk. It shows up
I don’t think he’s gay, he’s just in his head. He’s not self-involved, but…
on another spectator across the room. It’s the exact same ring, only one ring is used. 26 dollars.” I’d think, I’m doing it. I’m getting it. 26 dollars? Only one ring is used? I have
He’s in a reverie.
to know. And then the envelope would show up and you would just feel two rings in
Yeah. He’s not at all concerned with appearances. It’s a great quality. It speaks to
the envelope. Of course it’s two rings. Like, what did I expect, magic?
a confidence nobody else really has. And the fact he’s acting… I don’t think that level of self-delusion is such a crazy idea. I think that really exists. It’s really such a
It’s an affliction of that entire generation of the Bluths. Michael ostensibly
shame. Why does he want to be an actor?
wants to be a good father—the opposite of not showing up—but actually he’s terrible at it. It’s too much about his identity. I mean I think he really does adore his son, but it’s just too much wrapped up in his identity. This happens to a lot of parents, and that’s why Season 4 was so tragic because it is the thing that above all he holds up as being the quality that makes him unique and morally superior. It allows him to put up with the rest of his family because he has this smugness in knowing that he’s more enlightened. George-Michael is interesting too—and this is how long ago we did the pilot— because it’s almost a stock character. A lot of them are almost stock characters now. And maybe they always were; maybe they were always commedia dell’arte. But when I was going through the pitch and I was talking about the characters, I got to his character, and I said, “There are no distinguishing features. He’s self-conscious, he’s fairly buttoned-down, he’s not a wise guy, he’s a little nervous.” And I remember somebody—although I don’t remember who it was—said, “Boy, that doesn’t sound like a FOX kid.” Isn’t that funny? This was a network exec? Yeah. Like a FOX kid was maybe more like Bart Simpson at the time. You know, “We’re the radical network and we don’t play by the rules, and we have these smart aleck characters, and this isn’t a smart aleck character.” Well now—I mean within a short time—people were tired of smart aleck characters and the kind of nerdy self-conscious guy was much more a staple in entertainment. But I will never forget that. I really had no defense for it. And I said, “You know, he’s like me. He’s like I was.” I said, “I’ve known more people that are self-conscious and I think it’s funny to be self-conscious.” I mean, they were probably right in that had we had a heartthrob in there that was cocky, maybe they’d be selling plush toys of him. It’s always tricky because it’s a creative field, but it is first and primarily, especially
ALWAYS LEAVE A NOTE
Arrested Development's fourth season guest stars, including, from top: Liza Minnelli as Lucille 2, Henry Winkler as Barry Zuckerkorn, attorney at flaw; Kristen Wiig and Seth Rogen as the younger Lucille and George Sr.; Isla Fisher as Rebel Alley in a PSA directed by her 'father' Ron Howard, starring as 'himself'. COME ON!
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at that time, about a wide audience. It’s about a mass audience. And that’s why this was such an outlier. I look back on it and think, wow, I can’t believe this all happened. You did well to last three seasons on FOX. Well, they wanted the show off the air because it was very clear right away that it wasn’t making money. It only had probably 12 million viewers a night. That would have made it one of the top two shows right now, but the world is different. And then we quickly got press and we got an early nomination. I guess it was the Golden Globe or something. So it was suddenly like, “Oh, now we can’t cancel it.” I think Rupert [Murdoch] was even on the record saying, “Love the show, but it’s an HBO show. It’s not a FOX show.” And they were kind of saddled with it. Why did it end up at FOX in the first place? It’s funny, we pitched it everywhere and NBC was interested. We didn’t pitch it to any of the cable channels. 20th Century Fox was producing it because I made it through Imagine, which is Ron Howard’s company and it was underwritten by 20th. So they had a predisposition to want to sell it to themselves if they were going to do anything with it. At the time I really wanted it to go to NBC because I thought if you were able to do this at NBC, that would be something. I can’t even remember why. But it felt like: FOX does experimental shows, NBC doesn’t. I don’t know that that’s really true, because they did Seinfeld. But it really did feel like this would be the first of those shows on NBC, where they really do something out of the ordinary. But I think it also wouldn’t have gotten on the air at NBC. And so I ended up having a meeting with the guy who was running the Fox Broadcasting Company, Channel 11 out here. He said, “I want to compel you to do it here. I don’t want you to do it at NBC. I believe in the show.” So we decided that was for the best. And I think it was. You never thought about cable? It wasn’t really up to me. The one part of it that I was pushing for, and even continued to push for as we brought back Season 4, is I wanted an audience that doesn’t have HBO to get it. There was something more
"THAT’S JASON BY THE WAY. HE’S ALWAYS THIS FORCE FOR HARMONY. HE’S MICHAEL BLUTH. IT’S EXTRAORDINARY THAT SOMEONE THAT TALENTED IS ALSO THAT KIND AND THAT CONSISTENTLY GENEROUS. OFFERING TO HELP WHERE OTHERS MIGHT JUST COMPLAIN."
democratic about it. I felt like young people were going to like this. Even when we had the chance to go to Showtime at one point, and my good friend and former executive producer of the show, David Nevins, was running it at the time. It still felt like this was for young people. They don’t have Showtime. Maybe
moral adjudicator of who works and who doesn’t without evidence is also an abuse
when they go home over college break they’ll watch it at their parents’ house…
of power—albeit a lesser one—that I would hope I also wouldn’t intentionally or
What I was always proud of was that we were giving a subtle show to people who didn’t have cable. But now everybody has something—everybody has Hulu or Netflix—so that distinction just doesn’t exist anymore.
inadvertently commit. Here’s what I do have experience of with Jeffrey. He can be difficult. He’s not a rager, although clearly there was an outburst to Jessica. But outside of that and in general he is an emotional guy who either likes his performance or doesn’t like his
Even though you never find out how many people are watching.
performance, and he’s outspoken about it all, and that’s going to be a problem when
The one clue I got was one time when Ted Sarandos said to me, “Hey, are they ever
dealing with people. I do think he’ll learn from this, that there’s cause and effect in
going to release the DVD of Season 4?” This was years ago. And I said, “They did.”
the world, and—this goes for all of us, myself completely included—if you put yourself
“They did? With no promotions?” “No, of course not.” He said, “Do they know how
first and other people don’t feel welcomed by you, you’re asking for trouble. But he
popular the show is?” It was like, “Would you mind telling them?”
really cares about the quality of his work, as does the rest of this cast, as do I about
I mean, I don’t know if that’s still the case, but for sure the one thing it has going for it is rewatchability. There’s just enough still to catch.
mine, and all of us struggle to preserve that while trying to play well with others. I don’t know what happened on the Amazon set, but I would not be surprised if this kind of behavior was a problem for him on that set. Well, he’s admitted as
Netflix and the show made a decision to stick by Jeffrey Tambor in the face
much to me. I guess that’s why I wouldn’t be surprised. For the record I think I acted
of sexual harassment accusations on the Transparent set. Do you still feel
surprised when he told me. But I wasn’t surprised. Does that surprise you?
that was the right call?
What I’ll say about Jeffrey is he’s always impressed me as someone who was will-
I do. Jeffrey refutes those claims, Amazon hasn’t shared details with us, and we’ve
ing to grow. I’ve seen it. In general he’s a guy who’s open to learning and reading and
never had any sexual harassment allegations of any type on our show—a point that
changing, and seeking a spiritual path that’s uncommon in somebody over a certain
Jessica Walter has made as well. To be clear: in saying this I’m not defending sexual
age. I do think he’ll work to learn and improve himself from this whole experience.
harassment. It is and should be a job-terminating offense. I just don’t have any information on whatever happened there. Nor do I have any evidence of him ever
On the eve of your Season 5 launch, there was an accusation—which Jeffrey
sexually harassing anyone in the 20 years, off and on, that I’ve worked with him. So,
had first copped to in an interview—that he had been verbally abusive to
right or wrong, sticking with Jeffrey wasn’t really a decision I made at all. And while it
doesn’t rise to the level of abuse of power that sexual harassment does, becoming a
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felt about it—there was more to it than I realized, and it’s not my place to opine about what I believe was the weight of it. I misinterpreted what I understood to have played out, and more importantly the depth of Jessica’s pain about it. I feel so bad about that. I feel bad because I love these people—I feel bad for very personal reasons. And because I had been viewing this through the lens of a family member who assumed that any discord—regardless of who was upset with who—existed within the context of a family that cared about each other, and that was a mistake. Of course we were at work, and we’re not really related. That’s why we have different last names! And I wish I’d known, or made a greater effort to know, the pain that it caused. You ended up shooting much of Season 4 and Season 5 around cast availability, and using green screen and doubles to put parts of scenes together. But was it more than availability? Did they not want to work with one another? Oh, no, not at all. These guys seem to love working together—the Jeffrey/Jessica situation we just talked about notwithstanding. But really, when we did the big group scenes in Season 4 I think there were only two scenes we had everyone in town on the same day for and it was, like, our best experience. Everyone was just so enthused. I remember Will [Arnett] saying, just before we were going to read, “Mitch! Look at this.” Like he was saying, “Say something dude—this is a big deal!” And I was embarrassed to have not addressed it. I think I said, “This is an amazing gift. This didn’t have to happen. The show ended six years ago,” and at that time nothing like that had really happened. And I think I said, “How lucky we are all healthy and we all still look like ourselves.” You have to remember, this is back when David Cross still had all his teeth. No, but it was a total joy, and everyone felt it, and I think still feels it. The green screens were truly because… Well, on a typical TV show, job one is, all the actors sign
"I REALIZE NOW I CLEARLY MISREAD THE SITUATION, GIVEN HOW JESSICA HAS REVEALED SHE FELT ABOUT IT. I MISINTERPRETED WHAT I UNDERSTOOD TO HAVE PLAYED OUT, AND MORE IMPORTANTLY THE DEPTH OF JESSICA’S PAIN ABOUT IT. I FEEL SO BAD ABOUT THAT. I FEEL BAD BECAUSE I LOVE THESE PEOPLE."
contracts and have to be there. On this they hadn’t kept, you know, 15 weeks in their schedules free. They all had other jobs. I felt like it was amazing we even had two scenes where everyone was there. It seemed like everyone was happy to be together at the premiere. After all the Jeffrey Tambor news, did you get the sense that there were lingering bad feelings underneath it? It didn’t appear that way to me. I mean, I would’ve said, “Of course not… it was great,” before Jessica expressed her feelings. I’m sure the night was challenging for Jeffrey in ways that weren’t superficially evident. But sometimes that can coexist with a happy reunion, and it was a fun night. These people all really care about each other. Jessica and Jeffrey have shared as much. And it was a really fun and special night. The show was so well-received, which was what everybody’s work was in service of. Everyone got laughs. And in the right places.
about it and saw part of it in the dailies, although the part I saw didn’t seem that—I don’t know—momentous. But fights and outbursts always start with things that are
How has your relationship with this cast developed over the years? Do you
smaller. It was something minor, like he was doing a speech and Jessica wanted to
immediately fall into old patterns?
redo something in her speech. She’s a perfectionist, which I have a horrible case of
Oh, definitely. Too much so. It’s like going home to a family reunion, which is a
myself, and he’s sort of loose with it, finds his way back if he gets off course within
wonderful thing, but you tend to fall into old behavior. I mean, at least I did. I started
the speech, for instance… And she was resetting and he got upset and was like, “Oh,
off really doing things the way I’d always done them, which meant last minute scripts
come on! You always do this!” He continued for a bit and she apologized. “I’m sorry,
and changes, et cetera. But for so many reasons—many to do with the fact that
Jeffrey, I’m sorry.” But he continued and then walked off—the set apparently, but he
guest cast availability, and even some main cast availability, changed—I was really
walked out of frame.
playing catchup in our storytelling, and as a result I just wasn’t on stage with them
It felt like your jaw would not have dropped if you saw this daily. On the set itself
the way I usually am. They were getting script changes without context—scenes
it must have been incredibly uncomfortable, because we’re all sensitive to that kind
that they didn’t have time to prep for. It was hard for them. And no doubt even more
of interruption. But apparently he came back and continued some more, and I defer
aggravating for them than they let on when they shared that with me.
to Jeffrey and Jessica’s depiction of what happened after, which I think they’re in accord about.
It was actually an amazing kind of intervention they had for me at one point! And they did the right thing. This wasn’t like the old show, in that it wasn’t a show where
Jessica did let me know she was upset about it afterward—and then Jeffrey
characters had four lines per scene and we were just in service of the complexity of
apologized and Jessica was really gracious about that—and, you know, was profes-
the plot we're jamming into a 20-minute episode. These were longer, more complex
sional in that she didn’t let on that it was still upsetting and present for her. She’s
scenes and they needed to have their process given as much importance as mine.
a total pro and the set went back to functioning as well as it always has due to her professionalism, and that’s to her immense credit. I realize now I clearly misread the situation, given how Jessica has revealed she
That’s what it was really was. I was putting my process ahead of theirs, selfishly, and feeling like I had the right to because I’m under the gun and trying so hard, and they were saying, “No, we want to help, we want to try hard.” I’m fortunate to be with
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"WHAT I’LL SAY ABOUT JEFFREY IS HE’S ALWAYS IMPRESSED ME AS SOMEONE WHO WAS WILLING TO GROW. I’VE SEEN IT. I DO THINK HE’LL WORK TO LEARN AND IMPROVE HIMSELF FROM THIS WHOLE EXPERIENCE.
I mean, you don’t hope for, “This is horrible,” but you do hope to do something that’s novel enough at a certain point in your career that people have strong reactions to it. It felt to me like the first show that was built with an idea about how streaming audiences were going to consume it. That was the goal. I felt like I did when we did the show for FOX. When I did the show for FOX, it was, “What do I actually want to see?” This is kind of a cliché, but what rules can I do away with in this world? And what rules do I not do away with? That show is very traditional in a certain sense. Guy in the middle, act break, where the issue is, “Oh no, now what do we do?” I didn’t throw that stuff out. But there were a lot of other things like, “OK, let me call forward, let me plant things, let me know what’s going to happen at the end of the season and build to it,” which was audacious because we didn’t know if we’d have an end to the season. And when this started at Netflix, there were two things that inspired that. One was that I was just going to make them little webisodes about each character. And it really is what I pitched to Ted Sarandos. The plan was, we were going to make the movie, but the movie was going to take a year and a half. And then immediately, all of this press love came out about the show. “It’s back, it’s back!” It was really so well-received that I thought, “Oh no! I’ve only got the actors for one week each”—and we ended up getting more than that—but it was sort of designed out of that; how do I make the most of it? But it was also thinking, OK, what would be interesting on Netflix when you can jump around? It became more fun for me. The other way to say that is, what was fun about Arrested the first time around was that there was a lot that was going to be hard about it, but the fun stuff was, “Oh, we could do this, we could actually put this hint in there.” With Season 4, there was so much work that went into these ideas that I didn’t even know would get a laugh. There was something about the puzzle of it, like, what if we put Michael at a place people confuse for an MRI lab? Orange County Imagine, and it looks just like Orange County Imaging, which was just lucky. So many of these jokes were just luck, just writing it on the board. “Oh, it looks like Imaging.” So then it became, “How can we get George Sr. to show up at Orange County Imaging, and Michael thinks he’s there to apologize, but later, we find out, no, he’s getting an MRI?” There’s literally nowhere to laugh at that. It’s adding a degree of difficulty that no one is asking for. What’s trippy right now is that all the rules have been broken. The fun of breaking
these people who are really, really good and whose process matters. It matters to
rules isn’t as prominent because it isn’t as central to the process. You don’t have to
me. It does matter to me. But I didn’t see how I was interfering with it.
bleep that joke, you can let them curse, because it’s Netflix. Can we pretend we can’t curse? We have to have some rules so that we have rules to break.
Did you figure it out? No, was I supposed to? No, of course. Because they were very loving about it. I benefitted from that
Does that mean you’re reaching the end with Arrested? Well, I actually had big ambitions this year. I’m actually sort of heartbroken about
immensely. But it was embarrassing to realize that, having done this for as long as
all the things I didn’t do. We had a short time to shoot it in, and it came up so
I have, I still have a lot to learn. It was embarrassing but valuable. I was making my
quickly. My big plan was to have Episode 8 end with a big fundraiser for Buster
own job harder too. That’s what Jason said to me. He said, “Leave it to us. We can
[Tony Hale]. “Get Buster out of jail.” And right before the fundraiser, he’s released,
take the ball a little further. We’re good. You don’t have to do what you did in the
so they decide, “Well, people are coming, so let’s go ahead anyway...”
first year.” He was absolutely right. It was like, “Take the help.” I had been underwa-
The idea was to do the fundraiser as a live show. Maybe we do it in a few cities. We
ter and it was like, “Yeah, why don’t I take the help?” Taking help is hard.
do a concert film where they are the characters having this fundraiser, but they
That’s Jason by the way. He’s always this force for harmony. He’s Michael
do skits. It became a rally, because suddenly rallies had become in vogue. But the
Bluth. It’s extraordinary that someone that talented is also that kind and that
thing would devolve and become Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? People storming
consistently generous. Offering to help where others might just complain. They’re
off stage, and Gob getting in an actual cab, sending a cameraman with him and
really all wonderful people, which is just a coincidence. We all met a long time ago.
turning it into this three-dimensional thing. It still makes me sad to think we won’t
Some of them were teenagers! And they’re all so talented and such good people.
do this, but we just didn’t have time.
You faced a lot of criticism about Season 4. Its structure was different, and
innovation. There’s still room to break the rules.
But those were the kinds of things where you realized there was still room for people balked. I didn’t realize this at the time, because I loved it. Yeah, you were the one. No, I loved it too, by the way. It got positioned in the press,
It seems like you’ve ended up in the situation Larry David finds himself in
saying, “Even Hurwitz thought it wasn’t his best work.” Well, actually I did think it was
with Curb Your Enthusiasm. Bring it back every few years once the ideas
my best work, but I did acknowledge that it was and it wasn’t. The other thing that
was interesting about it is that some articles will say “so-so reception”. But it wasn’t
That would be amazing. But I always feel, “Oh, they’re not going to want to do this
so-so. It was, “This is great,” or, “This is horrible.” And even that is what you hope for.
again.” I’ve always felt that way. ★
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D THE DIALOGUE
E M M Y P R E V I E W/C O M E DY
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Ya r a
She’s upper middle class, borderline wealthy. Her family had always been very blunt, in terms
of talking about politics and social issues, bringing those into conversation. Even though Zoey’s had an opinion in all of these conversations, it’s been very theoretical on her part. She hasn’t had to experience it in real life, in the world. She’s had that kind of socioeconomic, beautiful little bubble around her. In college, she realizes that you can no longer talk about things in theory. What Aaron and
The Grown-ish breakout takes control of her own narrative
Ana push her to do is to realize that she can’t have a theoretical opinion. As beautiful as it is to say, “I
BY M AT T G RO BA R
believe in friendship,” she has to figure out what that means in the real world. Just a side note: Grown-ish has meant that I’ve been able to give great theoretical college advice to all of my friends who are first years right now. Zoey’s troubles and all of the antics her and her
BECOMING A HOUSEHOLD NAME as the privileged, whip-smart Zoey Johnson on ABC’s Black-ish before transitioning to Freeform spin-off Grown-ish, Yara Shahidi recognizes that she has “hit the jackpot twice.” While Black-ish creator Kenya Barris recognized Zoey as a vital voice in the Johnson family, he also saw that the character needed to pursue her own journey—in college, specifically—to be able to continue to evolve. With Grown-ish, Shahidi relished the chance to tell a story through Zoey’s unique lens, as this self-assured young woman realizes she still has a lot to learn about the world.
friends get into, it’s been really useful. Did you worry about pushing Zoey into territory that might be shocking to the audience? The one thing that we were cognizant of, moving into this new journey, was the fact that we didn’t want to do anything for shock value. Just the pure level of, “Wow, I can’t believe she did that.” There had to be a deeper meaning or reasoning behind
What did you discuss with Kenya Barris in
away. I don’t know if having been in college for a
early conversations about Grown-ish?
year would have informed who Zoey is.
It was honestly just a conversation about figuring
everything that was happening. A good example is the Adderall storyline. That was Episode 2, which means we were only at Day
out all the places that Zoey could go. He was talk-
Are there ways in which you identify with
5 on set, and my character has two love interests
ing about the idea, which really resonated with me,
Zoey—as we see her in Grown-ish—despite dif-
and is on Adderall. It was a moment to really dive
that her growth will be stagnant if we can’t follow
ferences in your experiences?
in—to figure out, what’s the plan? One, Adderall is
her onto this next leg of her journey, meaning that
Definitely. There’s certain storylines that Yara, as
a real thing on campus; we’re not making this up. I
[Grown-ish] is such a large opportunity to witness
a square, just wouldn’t get into. But in terms of
think you can turn to most any college student and
what life is like through her lens. Black-ish is the ori-
who she is as a human, I’d have to say what I really
they’re either well aware that it’s happening, or in it
gin story. I loved Black-ish, [but] it’s through Dre’s
appreciated about her was the fact that it’s the
themselves. It was like, OK, this is important for us
lens. We get to experience characters’ growth, but
first time you really see any uncertainty in her.
to address, and to not gloss over.
it’s altogether a different story when you hear it through the lens of Zoey.
It was nice because it’s what I saw not only
I feel like the larger point with that storyline was
in myself, but in a whole lot of my friends. In the
not so much, “Wow, I can’t believe she’s on Adder-
Johnson family dynamic, Zoey’s always been very
all; what happened to our little Zoey?” But more
didn’t have a problem with a 17-year-old lead, and
sure of herself. If anything, she’s always the one
so, just the normalization of drug use on campus,
they didn’t have a problem with what subjects we
who’s extremely grounded in the idea that she
how that affects somebody. I really appreciated
were going to tackle. They wanted it to be authen-
doesn’t get caught up in the hysterics of the John-
the fact that that was basically an eight-episode
tic, so it allowed us to go into the Adderall storyline;
son family. It was interesting because if anything,
arc, of it either being mentioned or seen in the
it allowed us to go into all sorts of storylines with
Black-ish taught me a certain bravado level of
background. It’s not a pretty storyline; it’s not one
each character, without having to give a beautiful
confidence. Then Grown-ish taught me how to be
that’s even expected.
ending, all wrapped up in a little bow. It’s been a
comfortable with uncertainty.
Freeform was so supportive in saying that they
That was a major flip and I feel like it was really
Grown-ish has been renewed for a second
apropos given that it was a moment of uncertainty
season. Where would you like to see Zoey go
You’re planning to continue your education at
in my life. Our journeys are parallel just in that we’re
as the series continues?
Harvard. Has it been strange acting out the
both doing some major growing up.
By the end of the season, Zoey has more of a
trials and tribulations of college life before
certain opinion. It seems as though she has her life
experiencing them yourself?
How has she changed?
together, temporarily. I guess I’m looking forward
It’s been a nice trial and error. What’s funny is that
Going to college meant that a lot of her emo-
to having some more episodes to play with—the
I’d already planned on taking a gap year. In this
tions and a lot of the storylines were very unprec-
more mundane conversations, and going to class.
trial run of college, what I love is the fact that Zoey
edented for what we had already established on
And it’s time to choose her major. I’m looking
and Yara will have very different experiences, so
Black-ish. I don’t know a better way to describe it
forward to the more academic pressure of it, her
any initial hesitation towards, “Am I killing the fun
than like a second coming of the character.
thinking she has her social stuff figured out from
of experiencing college for the first time?” went
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[In Black-ish], she was a big fish in a small pond.
year one. ★
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temporary thing. Now, does he fight for it? Does he not fight for it? Is this his life? I think at the end of Season 1, he’s sort of set
up as a guy that took a lot of blows, personally and creatively and financially. Now he’s entering Season 2 as sort of a humbled person, but still full of ego. Throughout the season, you see him rise to the
occasion, take some hits, share responsibility for
The GLOW star leans into his acting breakthrough, bringing pathos to a misanthropic B-movie director B Y M AT T G R O B A R
stuff, stand up to the bad guys, and become a better man in a lot of ways. Over the years on your WTF podcast, you’ve reflected on your discomfort with being labeled an ‘actor’. It seemed like you’ve always identified as a comedian first. Are you beginning to feel more comfortable as an actor? Yeah, I do feel more comfortable. I certainly felt
ARNING CRITICS’ CHOICE AND SAG AWARD NOMINATIONS for his breakthrough role as B-movie director Sam Sylvia in Netflix original series GLOW, Marc Maron has stretched himself creatively and seen rewards for it. An accomplished stand-up comedian known for his groundbreaking podcast WTF, Maron has acted for decades, while admitting his own imposter syndrome when it comes to the craft. Getting an extended crash course with his IFC series Maron, it’s with GLOW that he has stepped outside himself. With Season 1 a resounding hit, and a second season coming in June, Maron reflects on his journey with the series to date.
very comfortable on set first season, because of the work I’d done on my own show, learning on the job. I felt like I was showing up and doing something, and this season, I felt even more comfortable. But I still want to challenge myself. A lot of times on the podcast lately, in the last year or two, I really press actors for some guidance or some tools. Certainly, I think more about it now. Recently, realizing you do wait around a lot on set, to really enjoy the time on camera is important, and I don’t know that I was necessarily doing that with my show as much as I should have,
What were your first impressions as the
Can this guy be an asshole? Yes. Was he a guy
or even first season, because I was kind of like,
scripts for GLOW’s second season came in?
that was possibly guilty of transgressing in the way
“You’ve got to do the work. Let’s do the work.” But
Well, we didn’t know what was going to hap-
of the casting couch, or showing favor to women
that’s also the fun of it. It’s important to realize
pen. The thing about the show is you sort of get
professionally for sexual attention? Probably. I
that if you’re doing what you want to be doing and
delivered the scripts week to week, so it kind of
think that’s sort of established at the beginning.
it’s your work, just remember to enjoy it. It’s so rare
unfolds in real time. It’s exciting like that, in the
This guy’s no saint, but he also shows up for these
that you get to be doing what you want to be doing
sense that you get the first couple and it was still
women. I think that it’s a personal thing.
for your job.
hard to know exactly what was going to go on. I
I don’t think, given the climate that we’re living
was excited that with my character, there were
in, that this story is about that kind of stuff hap-
Recently, you’ve gone through a major life
definitely some professional issues and some
pening throughout the history of entertainment
transition, moving out of your home of many
personal issues that were revealing themselves
and the history of human beings, but this guy dealt
years and leaving your original WTF garage
with it personally. He was not virtue signaling in the
behind. How are you sitting with the situation
way that people call that out now. He was defi-
at the moment?
Was it easy to slip back into the character?
nitely white knighting old school, you know what I
I’m starting to feel pretty good about it. I’m not
Yeah, I was worried about that a little, but once
really feeling like I made a mistake. I like my new
I put those pants, boots and glasses on, and I
house and I like the new recording situation.
shave off my little soul patch and they do my hair,
What challenges is Sam confronting in this
I’ve got to get it together. I’ve been working; I’ve
it comes back to me. You have these moments
been away for a while. The new house is coming
where it’s sort of like, where does he start and
This is a guy that needed to grow up and never
together. I’m very comfortable in it—I love this
where do I stop?
had to on some level. This is a guy that just kind
place. I guess I miss the old place, but I really feel
of burned out his opportunities, and thought the
like it was time for a change. I’d been there a long
You start off Season 1 thinking Sam is the
world of himself. He had a few opportunities and
time and it was starting to close in on me a little bit
show’s misogynistic antagonist, but you real-
he did whatever the hell he wanted, and then the
ize he’s more than that.
world passed him by. There he is, raging and arro-
It’s interesting because his reaction to what’s hap-
gant and full of swagger, but with no real emotional
sations with people lately. I talked to Josh Brolin a
pened is fundamentally male, and fundamentally
substance to his life.
couple weeks ago and Mary Steenburgen yes-
It’s funny, I’ve been having really good conver-
driven by a certain amount of emotional bravado,
I think that this season, he has to take respon-
but also protectionism. He felt protective, and he
sibility for a lot of that stuff, because things didn’t
working out. I had some kid build me some sound
felt personally offended because of his own prob-
work out with GLOW, and he’s at a crossroads.
panels, to keep the sound from bouncing around a
lems with power.
What’s he going to do? This was supposed to be a
bit. It’s starting to work out in there. ★
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terday in the new space, and it’s working out. It’s
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Pa m el a
show how lonely it can be—if you have a house full of people, even—when you’re a parent. I have this theory that every mom is a single
mom, whether she’s married or not, because moms really do everything. There’s a few exceptions with dads who are there and show up in a mom-ing kind of way. But showing the loneliness within the chaos,
and showing that she kind of blows a gasket every
The creative force behind Better Things took on Season 2 as the series’ sole director and showrunner B Y M AT T G R O B A R
once in a while... She’s like, “Why doesn’t anybody appreciate me? Does anybody work in this store?” She kind of just goes balls to the wall with certain things, and her kids roll their eyes at her. When you’re a parent, you could never imagine that you could get as angry as you could get at your own kids. You could never imagine how hurt you could be—and it’s by these people, your children.
MMY-NOMINATED FOR SEASON 1 OF BETTER THINGS, Pamela Adlon reached new creative heights in Season 2 as the series’ showrunner and sole director. Creating the show with Louis C.K., Adlon is now down one critical collaborator heading into Season 3—but even in the midst of #MeToo turbulence, she is as engaged and optimistic as ever. “For the first time, I made a writers’ room,” she shares. “I don’t think I ever want to go back to the way it was before.” Fictionalizing her life as a single mother, the series remains a loving tribute to her three daughters.
How did you put together that elaborate dance sequence for your season finale? I was obsessed with this video, Christine and the Queens’ “Tilted”. It just kept running through my head, and I knew that I wanted to do the dance with the girls. It so happened that the graduation episode was the perfect place. From the first production meeting until the day we did it, Mikey Madison never knew about it. I couldn’t even talk about it to my DP or anybody without getting teary
What were your thoughts as you set out to
there’s stuff that happened to my friends. There’s
and getting chills, because I always knew it was
create Season 2?
stuff that happened to my daughters. It all lives
going to work.
Season 1 was more like a mishmash, putting a
within the value of my show.
puzzle together, and Season 2 had its own stride
I’m able to tell stories that I wanted to tell.
I did secret choreography on the weekends. I would go pick up Celia [Imrie] at her hotel in West
and momentum. The log line for Season 2 for me
Some stories have a shelf life, because kids get
Hollywood, and we drove to Debbie Reynolds’
is, “It takes a village,” which really culminates in
older, and the kids in my show are getting older.
dance studio in Van Nuys, and we would dance on
that last episode, when Max’s dad doesn’t come
But that gives me opportunities to tell new stories.
the weekends with Kat Burns, my choreographer.
take you. I’ll take you.” That, to me, is the defining
What was it like stepping up to direct all of the
do that and have everybody be in on this big gag.
moment of the season.
episodes in Season 2?
It was extraordinary. I don’t think any of us will ever
for graduation, and all her circle is there saying, “I’ll
Certainly for me, in my life, there was a time
It was just a dream on that day, to be able to
It’s something that was never on my radar. If the
forget it. I said to Olivia [Edward] and Hannah [Alli-
where it was just me and my daughters. There
thought ever crossed my mind, I would be like, “I
good], “We can’t say the word ‘tilted’. Nobody can
weren’t a lot of people, and then after my divorce,
could never do that.” I would be so afraid of it if I
ever hum the song. We’ve got to think of a code
I really started embracing my friendships that
thought about doing it. I never thought I would get
word for it.” She goes, “How about ‘straight’?” I’m
were there. When you share your kids with your
the opportunity; I never thought anybody would let
like, “That’s perfect.”
friends, and your friends with your kids, it’s the
me do it. I never had ambition to do it. Then all of a
most miraculous thing in the world. In the “Eulogy”
sudden, it just happened.
episode, when Diedrich [Bader] and Rebecca
For Season 1, I started looking for a director
Building the stage outside, I wasn’t sure how it was going to turn out, and then of course, we finally found the perfect placement for it—the
[Metz] and the kids are there, and they’re interact-
and a showrunner, and by the end of the season
gorgeous trees, and the stage. Then we had to
ing like peers, it’s kind of an incredible thing to see
I became my own director and showrunner. I’m
build another smaller stage for when we’re reach-
an adult and a kid, who aren’t related, talk on the
there every day, anyway. I’m in all the scenes—I
ing down and the camera’s shooting up. My stunt
might as well. It’s a very handmade show, so it kind
coordinator Jim Vickers—who I’ve been working
of lends itself to that. I love doing it. I’m a natural
with for, I don’t know, 15 years, since Californica-
Making a series loosely based on your own
mom. Since I was a kid, I’ve always been like a
tion—and his son did the fall-offs, where the kids
life, are you cultivating stories from memory,
mother, and being a director is being a mother.
jump off the stage.
have happened to you and your family?
Sam’s been trying to bring her walls down and
You’re writing Season 3 right now.
Absolutely. This is a unique situation, because
let herself be vulnerable.
I can tell you that it’s far more linear of a season
the bones of the show are my life. The thing is,
Some people are like, “She’s so hard. She’s a
than I’ve ever done. It’s a journey for Sam and for a
I’m able to go back and excavate stories from my
passive parent,” or whatever. And I’m like, “No,
few other people this season. It’s about growing up
childhood. There’s stuff that happened to me, and
she’s not.” You know what I mean? I want to
and getting older. ★
cherry-picking from a series of events that
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everything three-dimensional. O’Hara: I love doing the role because she’s so silly,
and tries to pretend. There’s a moment where she goes to buy a car at a used car lot and Moira gets to use her immense acting skills. I think it was the end of Season 2 where they’re at a fancy restaurant with old rich friends. Johnny treats me out
to dinner, but we run into friends from our past lives and have to keep up a face that we’re still like
them. Moira wants to feel like she’s back in that world. She relishes that moment. But slowly they reveal to their old friends who they are with Johnny being completely honest.
The veteran comic performers and lifelong friends rule the roost in Schitt’s Creek B Y A N T H O N Y D ’A L E S S A N D R O
What can you tell us about season 5? Levy: Well, I can’t really get into specifics, but we do have some fun with Moira, theatrically speaking. Both her and Johnny put on a show in the town were the cast members do things that they haven’t normally done. We’re kind of pushing the
ECOND CITY AND SCTV ALUMS Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara established a reputation early on for respectively playing nerdy and brassy alter-egos. Yet underneath their characters’ quirks was a humanity, emphasized during their pairing in the Christopher Guest . mockumentaries, and even more so in Schitt’s Creek created by Levy and his son Dan. O’Hara and Levy play former soap opera star and bankrupt video store king Moira and Johnny Rose who take refuge in a small town they bought. Season 4 marks a turning point where they learn to shed their superficial exteriors and connect with those around them.
envelope a little bit. Shooting is halfway through. We finished the studio shoot and now we start location work. Did the two of you know each other before SCTV? What’s your earliest memory of your shorthand as performers? Levy: I met Catherine when I was in Godspell in 1972. Her brother Marcus was going out with Gilda Radner in our company, and on occasion I would bump into Marcus’s kid sister Catherine. Then she started working at the Second City Theater
There’s an endearing element to Schitt’s Creek where it doesn’t treat the locals like punching bags, which can be the case for a comedy
that they really cared for David, that’s killer. I love doing the family scenes with the four of them. Those are the most fun.
series of this kind.
[in Toronto] and she auditioned for the show and took Gilda’s place after she left to join the National Lampoon touring company. O’Hara: [On SCTV] there were these Vegas
Eugene Levy: The Rose family are kind of the
While your show is scripted, does improvisa-
characters Bobby Bittman and Lola Heatherton on
freaks and the town is a civil place with relatively
tion ever take over?
‘The Sammy Maudlin Show’. They were the first
normal people. It’s an all-inclusive town where
Levy: No, not really. Occasionally while we’re
ones we did that were in sync. I think of [the quiz
people deal with people based on who they are,
writing for Johnny [Levy’s character] we’ll get into
show parody] ‘High Q’ with my ridiculous Margaret
not what they are. The first three seasons we were
a situation at the writer’s table and improvise.
Meehan and you as host Alex Trebel. You really
dealing with this fish-out-of-water element, but
You occasionally get some nuggets from that,
kept making the scene happen, kept it paced and
once we settled down we see how the Rose family
but mostly, the writers lay down their ideas and
moved it along with me interrupting you. We didn’t
was evolving and integrating themselves in the
lay everything out with a situation, premise and a
do team work until the Guest movies.
town. The Roses’ daughter Alexis [Annie Murphy]
good chunk of dialogue.
Levy: Catherine and I have the same ground rules.
has come a long way. She can now rule out her
We don’t consider ourselves comedians. I don’t
former life. When her old friend comes to visit,
Catherine, how did the role of Moira
know stand-up or jokes. I don’t look at life through
Alexis sees the shallowness. Her friend says, “It’s
speak to you?
a comedic prism. Catherine is the same way.
been too long. We can’t let this happen again,” and
O’Hara: They had this story about an ex-soap
We get our laughs by the comedy in a situation
Alexis responds “It won’t.” That’s a big step for her.
star and there was some great dialogue. We really
through the characters we create.
developed the character together; there was What’s one of your takeaway moments from
always a lot to play with.
Is there an end point to Schitt’s Creek where
Levy: Her role was written in a much different
the Roses finally move out of town?
Levy: When Patrick [Noah Reid] is at an open mic
way, a different perception of who this soap star
Levy: No end point right now. They’re having prob-
and he decides to sing to David [Dan Levy], who is
could be. When we started the series, Dan and I
lems getting out of Schitt’s Creek. What used to be,
quite embarrassed that his boyfriend is singing in
had these magical ideas and Catherine brought in
“We’ll get out of here as quick as we can,” is now,
public. But when he realizes the song is about him,
fantastic touches with Moira, making her funnier
“No one is interested in buying this town.” Their
it gets emotional. Moira then touches David’s arm
than what was conceived. We know that comes
lives are in Schitt’s Creek for the time being.
and that’s a bring-out-the-Kleenex moment.
with the territory when you’re involved in a project;
O’Hara: I think Moira thinks they’re getting out.
O’Hara: For someone who’s proud to say in public
it’s more than learning your lines, you really make
She believes Johnny has a plan. ★
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Fra n k i e
positively to my early shorts that were very feminist leaning, so we just had this mutual trust right away. I could not have predicted what an emo-
S H AW
tional, grounded and moving performance she was going to give. Has it been a challenge to balance your various roles on this series, as creator, star, writer
and director? I really feel like I’m my best self when I am multi-
The SMILF creator explores the raw truth of the female experience
tasking, so that part of it was really fun and exciting for me. I really loved being at the center of all the
B Y M AT T G R O B A R
creative decisions, it being a collaborative effort, because you’re not making TV in a bubble. I just really enjoy all of those elements. I really, truly feel most at home when I’m directing, so it was such a joy. I felt really lucky to be in that position, to be able to be doing it at that level.
FTER WINNING SUNDANCE’S SHORT FILM JURY PRIZE with SMILF, her first short, Frankie Shaw was able to take the rare leap and develop it into a full television series, which digs into the female experience—good, bad, ugly and hilarious. Deftly blending realism with fits of surrealism and fantasy, the creator/star spoke her truth before the dawn of #MeToo, creating a series that resonates undeniably with this moment in time. Playing Bridgette Bird—a struggling actress managing life as a single mom—Shaw taps into her own story.
What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced with SMILF so far? I think every showrunner will say you’re fighting against time. I wish we had more time for episodes; I wish we had more time to write; I wish we had more time to edit. It’s the normal things, but that’s also the thrill of it. You just have to make a decision and go. Sometimes time can thwart creativity if you have too much of it to obsess over a choice. What are your feelings about the current state of representation for women in film and
SMILF is loosely autobiographical. How much
moment of true connection. There’s a fantasy there,
television, operating in front of the camera
of the series is coming from a directly per-
and then in the next moment when she’s violated,
and behind the scenes?
she’s able to punch him in the face, which I think
We’re in this wonderful era of Peak TV, so there’s
If you look at the optics of it, the fact that I was
a lot of women always wish that they can do. But
more opportunities for representation. I don’t think
a single mom for a while who was struggling
the reality is, you’re usually going to freeze because
this show would have been made five or 10 years
financially and otherwise, and then my son’s dad
you’re in shock, with your face and body being vio-
ago in the way that I’m making it.
started a relationship with a beautiful blonde
lated like that. We got to have this wish-fulfillment
woman—that is all true. It really, on one hand,
experience, popping the guy in the nose.
starts and ends there, but it’s very important when
Then, in the very next episode, she’s enacting
So there is a certain methodology in mind in the way you’re making your series.
we’re writing the show to stay true to real experi-
in a grocery store where her violation happened.
I’m really a huge advocate for representation. My
ences, and true stories, and issues that I care
We’re acting out the male role of violent sex that
writers’ room has four black writers. There were
about. It’s always rooted in truth.
you see in porn, experimenting with things, taking
women and gay men, except for my husband, so it
control back that way. It’s really staying in the truth
didn’t look like what a lot of rooms look like—and
What would you say the show is exploring, in
of the character. But it’s just because she is this
that’s important. We only hire women directors on
its depiction of contemporary women?
blue-collar woman who’s struggling, and we have
the show, so being the one who is hiring people,
We’re a show that gets into the female experi-
this very intersectional, diverse story and cast, that
I’m able to implement the [inclusion] rider that
ence. Almost everyone I know has an experience
we can go into these storylines that happen to be
Frances McDormand was talking about.
of sexual discrimination, harassment, abuse or
political. It is political, being any sort of woman
violence on one level or another, so just by the fact
who’s experienced whatever kind of oppression.
that the show’s being made by a woman, it’s going
Also, we wrote everything before the #MeToo hashtag was in, and before the Harvey Weinstein article broke, but it was in the air—it was in the
to be talking about those things. It’s not like, “Hey,
You cast Rosie O’Donnell to play Bridgette’s
zeitgeist. So it was sort of kismet, a perfect oppor-
let’s go make a show about sexual violence,” but
mother. How did that particular casting hap-
tunity, that our show happens to really resonate
because this is a show about different women, it’s
pen to come about?
with everything that’s going on right now, and this
part of the fabric of the show.
I credit it to our casting director, Deanna Brigidi,
is all happening now for a reason. Now is the time.
For example, when Bridgette is struggling for
who suggested her, because she wasn’t in my
money, and we’re going to go on Craigslist and meet
realm of focus in the beginning of who this char-
Will you take this way of working with you as
a sugar daddy, we’re going to deal with what people
acter was. Then, we had a FaceTime meeting, and
you develop future projects?
think the fantasy of prostitution is, and then what it
she comes from a big Irish Catholic family, and
Oh, yeah. I feel like it’ll be in the next contract, that
actually is. It’s important that her and Craig have a
she grew up blue collar. She also really reacted
it’s actually mandated, in terms of inclusion. ★
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