It’s Not TV, It’s … What?
Are any of you envious of the cable model, where shows only produce thirteen episodes at a time?
D.H.: In terms of workload and in terms of quality of scripts, thirteen would be awesome. On the other hand, a 22-episode order means they liked your show, and they wanted to have as many original episodes as possible.
L.M.: I definitely envy having time to write the episodes, and then having time to shoot them, and then having time to edit them. It’s amazing to me that any good network TV gets made, because the schedule is so crazy. But you know, the world’s smallest violin.
E.S.: It gets to the point where it feels like you’re just falling down an endless staircase, where it’s just like, “Oh my God, this feels so out of control.” We’re just putting our heads down and trying to get through it.
N.K.: We only did thirteen, but around episode eleven I started to break down, like James Brown at the end of his concerts, you know, when they have to put a cape on him. Like, “Take me away.”
L.M.: You’re just trying to keep your head above water.
D.H.: The train keeps moving. It doesn’t stop.
L.M.: All of our metaphors involve death. Standing in front of a train, trying to breathe underwater. [Laughter.]
All of your shows feature some serialized stories. That hasn’t always been the case with network sitcoms. Do you think that’s part of why they have resonated with viewers?
E.K.: For me, even as a viewer, I can’t really fully enjoy a show where I don’t have a growing sense of who these people are. So it was really important to me that the network be supportive of us doing these bigger story lines. And they have been.
L.M.: Maybe that is actually what’s been really innovative about this year of television comedy on networks: There have been a lot of emotional arcs in comedies. We definitely do it on our show, and it’s kind of the only way I know how to write.
D.H.: I do think networks were scared of any kind of arc that didn’t conclude within that episode.
L.M.: It’s something that TV can do really well, because it’s like reading a really long novel. You’re investing in the characters for over a year. I think I just said my sitcom is like reading a really long novel.
What’s the key to having a good writers’ room? And what are yours like?
E.K.: You want to create an environment where people feel like they can say anything. It needs to have a safety: You can let your mind go to a really weird, scary, not acceptable place in that room, and then carve a story out of that weird, dark hole in your mind.
D.H.: We’ve had a lot of male writers come in and say, “Oh, because women were writing the show, I didn’t think the writers’ room would be as raunchy.” And it’s more so.
L.M.: My writers’ room gets really dirty.
N.K.: I wanted people to feel comfortable to question me. I’ve been on staff before and people are afraid to say no to the showrunner or to be like, “Uh, that kind of sucks.”
L.M.: This is probably the most, like, woman-y thing that I’m going to say: It’s so emotional to me just having other writers connect to the show, and become passionate about the characters, and watch people have fights about the characters. TV is something that you create in your head, and you write the pilot, and it’s yours. It’s really cool to kind of watch as the characters become so many other people’s, as they belong to other writers.