Buckle Up. The Hitmakers 2012 – Luncheon Recap
On January 19th 2011, a group of our industry’s hottest hitmakers gathered at the annual HRTS Hitmakers luncheon at the Beverly Hilton for a raucous, free-flowing discussion. The inimitably uninhibited Peter Tolan found himself giving an encore command performance as panel moderator and joining him on stage were Glen Mazzara of THE WALKING DEAD, Graham Yost of JUSTIFIED, Liz Meriwether, Dave Finkel & Brett Baer of NEW GIRL and veteran hitmaker Michael Patrick King of 2 BROKE GIRLS.
Tolan began his remarks by stating for the record that “I decided this year to be polite and to not go after anybody” though he was quick to note that “anybody who thinks I’m just going to randomly go at it, well you’re a fucking cunt”.
The tone appropriately set, Tolan explained to Mazzara that he hadn’t seen THE WALKING DEAD since he mistakenly “thought it was the story of the viewership of CBS”. Yost inquired and Tolan was quick to confirm that “none of my pilots are at CBS”. Tolan told Meriwether how much he loves NEW GIRL though he noted that there was “a danger that [the title character] might be a little too cute”. Meriwether and Baer agreed, the latter noting that they shoot eight different versions of their show every week then carefully select segments in order to balance sentiment with humor.
Tolan noted that JUSTIFIED has become a must-watch show, growing in buzz from its first season to its second and so he asked Yost about that growth, about how it happened. Yost said that “in terms of finding the show, you don’t know how long it’s going to take until you really know what you’re doing”, adding that “we had more standalone episodes in the first season, fewer in the second season and we worked a little harder at the big arc of the year”. Yost referred most of the credit to his cast, saying that “frankly, the big thing was that we lucked out when we cast Margo Martindale”.
Following up on a backstage discussion, Tolan asked Mazzara to kindly repeat an interesting analogy for career. Mazzara got a big laugh when he deadpanned “to understand my career you have to watch HURT LOCKER. I’m that guy in the suit and I get sent in there”. Tolan noted that Mazzara had previously worked on HAWTHORNE with Will and Jada Pinkett Smith and so “you had to deal with two people who in the last 15 years have never heard anyone say ‘that’s not a good idea’”, Tolan going on to ask about the best way for dealing with celebrities on that level. Mazzara generated knowing laughter when he quipped “you try not to answer questions on public panels”.
As to taking over showrunner duties from Frank Darabont, Mazzara said that he felt a lot of pressure, since “I was convinced that if this didn’t come together I would be branded as the guy who fucked up the show”. Shortly after taking the reins, Mazzara told his cast that “I’m not going to try and be Darabont, this is now going to be the next chapter of the show”. He added that a key to making the transition was to tune out of all the chatter on the Internet and to really focus on the work.
As for the ways in which modern technology affects creativity, King told Tolan that “I have a very young staff on 2 BROKE GIRLS and we’re sometimes working at 6:30, which is after New York, and the phones come out and as the show airs they’re watching the critical feedback on Twitter, it’s part of their DNA as that generation”. King then shared a profound summary of the social media world, saying “it’s oddly intimate and cold at the same time”.
Meriwether said that her show’s lead actress, Zooey Deschanel, encouraged her to join Twitter. She did so and described her experiences by saying that “I find it really weird and I go into a weird, dark hole sometimes. The show is airing and you’re getting feedback as it happens and it’s really weird, I feel like an old lady”, leading Tolan to quip “if you feel like an old lady then I should just start digging right now”. Finkel spoke of himself and Baer, saying “for a couple of old hacks like us, it’s interesting that anyone responds at all to stuff that we’ve worked on, good and bad”. Baer concurred, adding that “I find it really constructive, as long as you don’t take any one piece of it too seriously”. Yost joked that he’s solved the problem of excessive social media feedback by having his staff go through everything then only give him the positive stuff, and so “we’re doing absolutely nothing wrong”.
Tolan noted a programming trend in that “this year is supposedly the Year of the Woman on television, do you feel any of that?” King said that “what I felt was missing for the audience was girls that were funny”, adding that “I didn’t feel that there was a Jennifer Aniston or a Lisa Kudrow on TV” and so there was a hole there waiting to be filled. Speaking of NEW GIRL, King said “I’m sure Liz wrote from her heart”, leading Meriwether to generate a huge laugh when she quipped “I write from my hole”. King summarized the current state of our industry and our culture when he said that “we’re basically talking about characters not sexes now, we’re talking about that character drinks too much and she doesn’t have to represent women, she can represent just that character”.
As for the development process, Finkel and Baer confirmed that it was a good experience for them, since as per Baer “we got put in a protective bubble by Kevin Reilly at the beginning”, adding that since he and Finkel had worked in cable for three years “we had forgotten how network television has so many layers and levels” and so they were fortunate to have support at the top. Meriwether concurred, relating how in an early meeting with Peter Chernin he encouraged her to go for it creatively, since “99% of shows fail and so you might as well fail with something good”.
As has become tradition at the Hitmakers, Tolan closed by asking the panelists about their favorite TV shows, what do they watch? Yost said that fellow FX show ARCHER is his favorite, Mazzara chose another FX hit with IT’S ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA, King continued the FX theme when he singled out the network’s AMERICAN HORROR STORY for the boldness of its storytelling, Meriwether admitted to religiously watching recent Golden Globe winner HOMELAND and Finkel concurred, thus leading Baer to quip “I was gonna say HOMELAND but I’ll go with TOP CHEF just to be different”.
Photos by Chyna Photography
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