EW’s The Visionaries - Showrunners: Comic Con Report - Give Me My Remote : Give Me My Remote

EW’s The Visionaries – Showrunners: Comic Con Report

July 26, 2008 by  

Showrunners Panel - Comic Con

 One of the best panels I attended yesterday was the EW Showrunners panel featuring Josh Schwartz (CHUCK, GOSSIP GIRL), Carlton Cuse & Damon Lindelof (LOST), Bryan Fuller (PUSHING DAISIES) and Josh Friedman (TERMINATOR: THE SARAH CONNOR CHRONICLES).  What a thrill for a TV lovers to have all these great minds on one panel.

As expected the panel became LOST centric as soon as the Q&A part of the session started (which became borderline annoying), but the other showrunners got in a few moments to jump in occasionally

Lucky for us all, friend of GMMR, Patrica Buckley took the time to pull together the highlights of the panel.

Entertainment Weekly’s The Visionaries: Showrunners
Meeting the People with the Answers
By Patricia Morris Buckley

Only at ComicCon — where attendees understand the value of the people behind-the-scenes who create and sustain TV shows — would a panel of showrunners fill to the brim a large hall of eager, hyper appreciative fans. So it’s no surprise that the crowd that showed up to applaud and ask probing questions of five of the best-known showrunners in Hollywood treated the panel like movie actors and rock stars.

After all, these are the people who really know: What happened to the island and why is Locke in a coffin? Why Olive is moving to a nunnery? Will Serena and Dan ever get together?

But pre-season spoilers weren’t the only draw of this panel — not by a longshot. These five men are not afraid to speak their minds about their shows, the networks that broadcast them and each other’s creative efforts. They may not be performers, but they had the audience laughing so hard tat several audience members almost fell out of their homemade superhero costumes.

Bryan Fuller and Josh Friedman  Showrunners Panel - Josh Schwartz and Carlton Cuse Showrunners Panel - Comic Con (1)

Sadly, when it came time for questions and answers, most of the love was shown to the Emmy-nominated show that posed the most burning and perplexing questions on TV — “Lost.” But true to their creative abilities, the other members of the panel turned it into a running joke. Ah, you had to be there.

The panel consisted of Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindelof of “Lost” (dropping jokes that only those who listen to their videocasts would get; Josh Schwartz of “Chuck” and “Gossip Girl”; Bryan Fuller of “Pushing Daisies”; and Josh Friedman of  “Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles.”

Moderator Jeff Jensen (JJ) of EW, obviously a fan of all the represented shows, started off the questions. Eventually, the panel started riffing off itself, flinging jokes and asking probing questions of each other and Jensen could only sit back and enjoy like the rest of us in the audience.

JJ: How the writer’s strike affect your show?

Bryan Fuller (BF): There was a time of trying to figure out if we should come back or not. But it really came down to ABC not wanting to throw us in front of the “American Idol” bus, which would have squashed us. I think that decision kept us on the air. This year’s season picks up 10 months later. It’s been 10 months of keeping secrets, secrets that are straining to be kept secrets. The characters are ready to burst. We will only get three minutes to recap last season. After that, we don’t get a “previously on.”

Josh Schwartz (JS): We are treating this season (of “Chuck”) as if we took several years off. So we have a lot of ground to cover.

Josh Friedman (JF or “Terminator Josh”): In the macro sense, we had a lot of story left to tell. But we’re starting the season two seconds after the end of last season – mid-explosion, actually.

JJ: Why did “Lost” ask for an additional hour for its finale?

Carlton Cuse (CC): We had this 75-page script and we spent hours trying to cut it down and had only taken out half a page.

Damon Lindelof (DL): If we’d done that, there wouldn’t be moments. Sawyer would have just jumped out of the helicopter without saying goodbye to Kate. So we knew we had to expand.

JJ: What was the inspiration for the world of your series?

BF: I am a very sensitive soul and I couldn’t do a series like “CSI” where I had to be in a negative headspace. I wanted to do a show with all the things I liked crammed into it — dogs, pies, bees.

DL: Why not cake?

BF: Cake is dry and a bit of a gamble. Pie is always moist.

JJ: What do you think of webisodes (short episodes created just for the web) and why do you do them?

JF: It’s a chance to play another with other characters we don’t always get to. It’s a chance to integrate them into the reality of the show.

CC: We’re seeing more and more that shows aren’t just show — they’re a brand and networks want to expand that brand. We created an alternate reality game that allowed us to do storytelling you wouldn’t see on the show.

JS: With “Gossip Girl,” we did a series of webisodes because they were inexpensive to produce and a way provide additional content using our own sets.

DL: We don’t kid ourselves that 12 million people are watching them. We don’t have any illusions. We’re doing it for the diehard fans of the show.

BF: We looked at doing them (webisodes). We have a new character on the show this year — a pig named Pigby. We came up with the idea of creating animated shorts about how Pigby came to the nunnery. But after the strike, things were so unionized and even signing contracts is an issue, and we encountered a lot of resistance.

CC: Maybe using webisodes is how we could finally do the zombie season (an inside joke for their videocast fans).

BF: I would rather do a feature.

JF: I don’t see much viability for “Terminator” as a feature (huge laugh).

JJ: How important is the mythology to your show?

CC: I don’t think of us as doing a genre show. I think that we’re doing a character show with the mythology. Character is the cake and mythology is the frosting. I think our show transcends being a genre show.

JJ: What shows have influenced you?

BF: I’m a diehard “Star Trek” fan. But the procedural element is the backbone of the show. I live for that sh*t.

DL: Have you noticed that the buzz here (at ComicCon) is always for genre shows? Last year it was “Pushing Daisies” and “Heroes.” This summer, the big movies are “Batman,” “Iron Man” and Indiana Jones” — all genre shows.

JJ: Will you ever explain the magic of the show?

BF: There’s a fine line that George Lucas drew when he came up with midichlorians and we’re not crossing it!

CC: There’s something about having a mystery that keeps things magical.

BF: We need more awe in our lives. When we talk about how it works in a no-nonsense way, it isn’t fun anymore.

JJ: How have comic books influenced you?

DL: “The Watchman” influenced me by telling a story out of order with flashbacks to explore the universe. And how — to know these four characters — you need to know about these six as well, and how they seem to not come together, but they do. We kept that in mind when creating the “Lost” universe. We learned that people will swallow a tremendous amount of story if it’s fed to them the right way.

BF: Comic books are a very visual medium. I like to watch movies that are beautiful. Comic books are a great map for a story.

JS: The best comic books are about characters. It’s about creating larger-than-life characters that you come to care about.

JJ: In the “Lost” episode “The Constant,” you addressed time travel — were you tempted to explain time travel to the audience?

DL: We didn’t want to spend an hour explaining time travel. We had a plot about a man who is time traveling, losing touch with the time he’s in and ending up making a phone date with the woman he loves. We wanted to find the emotional core of that story.

BF: I loved that episode. It was the best episode on the air last year.

Next the audience got its chance to ask questions, although most were about “Lost” and its many plot twists.

Audience (A): Were there any characters that you wished you had more time to work with?

CC: Mr. Echo. But the truth of the matter is that we shoot on Hawaii. Many of our cast members have fallen in love with the island and some even plan to live there after the series. But Adewai Akinnuoye-Agbaje, who played Mr. Echo, is from London and he just didn’t like the island. So that ended the arc of his character sooner than we would have wanted.

A: The shows that didn’t receive any Emmy nomination, do you feel robbed?

BF: I was thrilled with the 12 nominations our show got. But there were some others that didn’t get nominated that I think should have, such as “Battlestar Galatica.” “Buffy” never got nominated. I think there’s a stigma against genre shows and people think they are child’s play. Hopefully, that will change.

A: (“Lost question) I know you like to pick philosopher’s name. Why did you pick the name Jeremy Bentham and was it because of his “Principles of Legistlation” and thoughts on morality?

CC: We have a lit of philosopher’s names to be employed. We chose the name a year ago when we first showed the coffin. We liked the name, that’s why we chose it.

A: How do you work with the networks?

BF: It’s a collaboration at its most politic. It’s a challenge on both sides. It’s always an negotiation, sometimes easier and sometimes tense. It happened to us with Season 2, but we got there. Yet it was a path to get together.

JF: It is a negotiation that is often about clarity. The networks want people to understand the story. But I try to write right below the comprehension line. Some people want lines where it’s all there (completely explained).

A: Now that you are hit shows, is it easier to cast genre shows now?

BF: The thing about casting is that most actors want to work. I remember when Swoosie Kurtz (Aunt Lily) came in with all this paraphernalia, swimwear and such. I had to tell her “You already have the part!” She had already been cast.

JS: When we first cast “Chuck,” I think we looked at every young actor out there, except for Lee Pace. When Zachary Levi came in, we knew he had that he could play comedy and drama.

JF: (on casting Brian Austin Green) I had seen him in the “Freddy” and when I saw him in person, I wondered when he got so hot. I cast him right there. The part was shooting the next day. Everyone thought I was crazy until he appeared on the set and then they saw. Casting is like looking for your keys. It’s “panic, panic, panic — oh gosh, there they are!”

A: For “Lost” — Charlie died because Desmond had a vision of Claire getting on the helicopter with Aaron. But that didn’t happen this season. Isn’t this a problem?

DL: We are aware of the paradox, but one does not exclude the other. We have a plan. It will become clear. We’re hoping to put our own spin on time travel. There is no real paradox.

A: Bryan Fuller — Why a comedy about death?

BF: I went to a lot of funerals as a child, so I never saw them as a grim thing. The show is not so much an obsession with death as it is an obsession with life. Death is just the punctuation to everything that comes before.

A: Why is your universe so shiny and bright in such a grim time?

BF: That’s why it’s a necessity to do something shiny and bright. It’s a choice for the tone. When Barry Sonnenfeld entered the picture, I was very excited about how he created a feature film esthetic. Comedy is about precision, so it’s important to have a world that is precise.

JF: We feel pressure to have a feature film look to out show — it’s something we owe the franchise. People are watching these shows on larger screens (and, unfortunately, phones as well). We try to write large things that will show up well.

A: “Lost” — How much of writing the show is planned (plot-wise) and how much is made up in the spur of the moment?

CC: Up to Season 3, it was a little bit of both. But we didn’t know if we had to keep it running forever. Once we had a set ending, we knew the questions needed to begin diminishing and the more planning we did. We can have a groundplan, but the reality of TV is that the beast needs to be fed. Every six days, we have to write a new episode.

A: Which TV shows do you watch?

Most of the showrunners cited each other’s show.

BF: I like “Project Runway!”

Showrunners Panel - Comic Con (2)   Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindelof Josh Schwartz and Carlton Cuse Bryan Fuller Bryan Fuller and a puppy


2 Responses to “EW’s The Visionaries – Showrunners: Comic Con Report”

  1. Watching Lost » Blog Archive » Entertainment Weekly’s The Visionaries on July 27th, 2008 7:54 pm

    […] Give Me My Remote Technorati Tags: Carlton Cuse,Damon Lindelof,Lost,Josh Schwartz. Chuck,Gossip Girl,Bryan […]

  2. Pushing Daisies » Blog Archive » Entertainment Weekly’s The Visionaries on July 27th, 2008 7:55 pm

    […] Give Me My Remote Technorati Tags: Carlton Cuse,Damon Lindelof,Lost,Josh Schwartz. Chuck,Gossip Girl,Bryan […]