Difficult Men: Behind the Scenes of a Creative Revolution: from the Wire to Mad Men and Breaking Bad. (Is it OK for a title to have two colons? I don’t think so, personally.) Though at times it falls into a slightly rote magazine-profile mode, I found this a pretty interesting read. Some of the juiciest details relate to the weird and often nightmarish qualities of the some of the famous show-runners and head writers behind these shows.
So, for example, a young writer named Todd Kessler is basking in David Chase’s approval as a writer on The Sopranos. “He became close to the Chase family, often going out to dinner with them;” he co-writes an episode with Chase that is nominated for an Emmy. Within minutes of getting the call about the Emmy announcement, Chase calls him in and announces that he wants to fire Kessler: “I think you’ve lost the voice of the show.” Kessler, for whom the show is his entire life at that point, is devastated; Chase ends up giving him a second chance but then fires him for real soon afterward.
A few years later, Kessler wrote the pilot for a new series of his own….The plot revolved around a terrible boss — brilliant but manipulative, vain, imperious, unpredictable — and a young, talented, but impressionable employee who finds herself seduced, repelled, and ultimately both matured and corrupted by coming into her orbit. It was, he said, based on no small part on his experiences working on The Sopranos. The show was called Damages.
I love the thought that Glenn Close’s character is based on David Chase!
Mad Men‘s Matthew Weiner also sounds like a challenging boss. “Weiner demanded a strict protocol… based on age and experience” in the writers’ room. There’s a story about a time the legendary screenwriter Frank Pierson started visiting the show’s writers’ room.
One day, [Pierson] was telling a story about his dog, and a young writer made the error of interrupting with a story of his own pet. “This was somebody who was very low on the totem pole,” Weiner said. “I literally pulled them aside afterward and said, “No one gives a shit about your dog.” When Pierson was talking, he said, “only I interrupt him.”
addendum: I’ll add that Deadwood’s David Milch comes across as a
slightly quite nuts genius/ visionary (which I already knew from a memorable New Yorker profile of him years ago); Six Feet Under‘s Alan Ball and Breaking Bad’s Vince Gilligan as good guys/ reasonable people.