News Column

The News & Advance, Lynchburg, Va., Casey Gillis column

August 29, 2013


Aug. 29--I often wonder what the writers of my favorite, and even not-so-favorite, shows are thinking.

Now, thanks to The Sundance Channel series "The Writers' Room," we can all find out.

Each half-hour episode features a sit-down with host Jim Rash -- Dean Pelton to you "Community" fans, and the Oscar-winning writer of "The Descendants" to the movie lovers among us -- and the creators, writers and stars of popular television shows.

The series began in late July with "Breaking Bad" and has continued with "Parks and Recreation," "Dexter," "New Girl" and "Game of Thrones." It will conclude at 10 p.m. Monday with the "American Horror Story" crew, but the premiere episode and clips from the others are available to watch online.

I can't recommend them enough. It's a fascinating look at how the shows work, with plenty of entertaining candid moments -- like when Rash tasked "New Girl" creator Liz Meriwether, executive producers Brett Baer and Dave Finkel and star Jake Johnson to break a story for the comedy's third season, Mad Lib-style.

After asking Meriwether to come up with an object, Finkel a setting, Baer a line of dialogue and Johnson a scenario, Rash riffed off a silly storyline involving a superhero cape, an Ohio-themed restaurant and costar Lamorne Morris sporting an unfortunate mustache.

The "Breaking Bad" entry has been my favorite so far, thanks to the charms of creator Vince Gilligan and star Bryan Cranston.

It's so easy to forget that before he became Walter White, Cranston was hapless dad Hal on "Malcolm in the Middle."

During "The Writers' Room," he showed plenty of his trademark humor, especially while talking about how, when he first got the script, he had his meeting with Gilligan moved up: "I wanted to get in there and lift my leg on the material as soon as possible."

Here are some other highlights of the series so far (I hadn't seen the "Game of Thrones" episode as of press time):

Gilligan originally set "Breaking Bad" in Riverside, Calif., until the studio suggested New Mexico because of tax breaks.

Cranston and the writers joked that if a broadcast network had picked it up, "Breaking Bad" would have been called "White Lies" and starred, per Cranston's suggestion, "Beverly Hills 90210" alum Jason Priestley.

"Parks and Rec" creator Mike Schur talked about how the lines between Nick Offerman and his character, Ron Swanson, are often blurred. Both, he said, are red meat and whiskey enthusiasts who play the saxophone and count woodworking among their hobbies.

"Large chunks of Ron Swanson just come right out of Nick Offerman's real life," he said, adding that Offerman had to remind them that he's not superhuman after they wrote a scene requiring Ron to eat an entire hamburger in one bite.

"New Girl" creator Liz Meriweather often uses her own uncomfortable life experiences as fodder for the show. Going out with a guy who called her by the wrong name inspired the episode where main character Jess pretends to be a woman from a dating site after meeting a handsome stranger.

"Dexter" star Michael C. Hall summed up the transition from his previous role, mild-mannered funeral home director David Fisher on "Six Feet Under," to the titular vigilante serial killer: "I kind of feel like David Fisher was Dexter's first victim."

Executive producer Sara Colleton says she doesn't feel any pressure about the series finale, which airs Sept. 22. I'm not sure I believe her.


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