ABC show-runner panel: Heigl, Lost's endpoint, and musical theater - TCA Report
I wanted to wait a bit before I posted about the ABC showrunner panel, because a) I already posted about the "news" from Shonda Rhimes about Katherine Heigl's statements, and b) I wanted to think about why these panels seem to be so much more informative than the individual show panels?
We'll get to that more later. On the panel were Rhimes (Grey's Anatomy, Private Practice), Marc Cherry (Desperate Housewives), Silvio Horta (Ugly Betty), Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse (Lost), and Greg Berlanti (seemingly the rest of ABC's schedule). As you'd expect, Rhimes got the Heigl questions, Lindelof and Cuse got the most esoteric questions, and Chery made the most jokes. The funniest line, though, came from Horta.
When the first question to Rhimes about Heigl was uttered, involving the "unbelievable" storyline she was writing for her opinionated actress, Rhimes didn't give up much information. This led Horta to crack, "I would put her in a coma. That's what I would do."
But then Marc Cherry got a question and the hilarity started rolling. He recounted the tale of how he and ABC Entertainment chief Steve McPherson hatched the plan to move DH forward five years, discussing it at a baseball game. "So literally I was at a baseball game with Steve McPherson, and the most surprising part of this story would be that I was at a baseball game."
Lindelof goes "Touchdown!", and Cuse chimed in with "He thought it was Damn Yankees." Oh, those Lost boys! Such scamps! But there's a backstory to it: "Carlton and I were on the Writers Guild negotiating committee together, and we would be in this room trying to plot strategy against the producers alliance, and people would always go, 'Okay. Look. It's the fourth down. We have to approach this.' I go, 'Why is it all sports metaphors? Why doesn't anybody use musical theater metaphors? So, I actually got them to try to use Eliza Doolittle as a comparison on occasion."
He'd continue that theme throughout; Cuse would give a sports metaphor and Cherry would translate it into a musical theater metaphor, mostly citing Gypsy. Though when Cuse talked about being refreshed after not thinking about Lost during the 100-day Writers' Strike, and likened it to Rosie Ruiz jumping into the Boston Marathon right before the end, Cherry did his translation: "It's like Mordred jumping in at the end of Camelot. He hasn't been set up."
Lindelof and Cuse said that getting an endpoint for the show made "all the difference in the world. We now basically knew exactly how much time we had left to tell our story, and we were basically able to blast towards that ending. I think that really completely changed our storytelling approach," said Cuse. Lindelof said that the strike allowed them to write episodes with feedback from viewers and friends, something they can't do this year because most of the episodes will be either produced or in production before the new season hits the air. "That scares the shit out of us," he said in no uncertain terms.
After Rhimes got cut off answering my first Heigl question ("Katherine and I have a great working relationship," and we were anticipating she might say more after that), the panel was asked how they handle the egos and personalities of their stars, citing the disastrous Vanity Fair cover shoot the Housewives did in their first season. "I hide. I just hide," said Cherry.
"The thing that was just so sad was that a writer, one of you guys, saw it, but from one perspective. And it was so much more complicated and so much more real and understandable, so really I ultimately solved it by hugging a sobbing actress for about 30 minutes in her trailer and telling her this, too, shall pass. So that's kind of what I do is I kind of just try to figure out what happened myself and then go down and give the best advice. Because it's not real life. It's showbiz. So you try to always explain to them, 'Yeah, it's controversial now, and people hate you or whatever. But pretty soon they're going to forget you and really attack Lost.'" Score another one for Cherry.
Rhimes said there we weren't seeing only one side of the Heigl story; when a reporter followed up by asking what the other side was, Cherry chimed in, "She was drunk." OK, then...
Other information came from the showrunners... Lindelof told the reporters that, "We've killed a lot of white people; I can almost guarantee you we will be killing more white people this season," when he was asked if they were concerned that they killed their only Korean character.
Horta talked about moving Betty to New York, and Berlanti got a question about the "missing sibling" storyline in Brothers & Sisters, which on the surface looks like he's done before. "Hopefully as it plays out, people won't feel that way, and we certainly aren't designing the story in the same way," he said.
That's why I think these panels are so effective. On most show-focused panels, the critics usually target the producers and show-runners for most of their questions, leaving most of the actors to sit there politely and quietly (which I'm sure they both like and are tortured by). But, since these are all show-runners, they are all ready to give us interesting information on their thought-process, writing process, management process, and other behind-the-scenes info that the critics and writers love. ABC has been doing a good job with these panels, and I hope they continue.