Drama Writers From ‘Westworld,’ ‘Shades of Blue,’ ‘Queen Sugar,’ and More Talk Series Origins, Network Notes – Variety
The creative minds behind some of the biggest dramas on television convened forÂ Varietyâ€˜s A Night in the Writersâ€™ Room to discuss how they came to their shows and how their networks have or have not pushed back when it comes to pushing boundaries.
The panel was comprised of David E. Kelley from HBOâ€™s â€œBig Little Lies,â€ Ava DuVernay of OWNâ€™s â€œQueen Sugar,â€Â Jonathan Nolan from HBOâ€™s â€œWestworld,â€Â Graham Yost from Amazonâ€™s â€œSneaky Pete,â€ Jack Orman from NBCâ€™s â€œShades of Blue,â€ and Kyle Bradstreet from USAâ€™s â€œMr. Robot.â€
For DuVernay, she didnâ€™t so much chase after the source material for the show as much as OWNâ€™s founder, Oprah Winfrey, insisted that she read it during a vacation at Winfreyâ€™s home in Maui.
â€œWhile I was there, there was a book on the nightstand on the right hand side,â€ DuVernay said. â€œAnd there was a lot of books around because sheâ€™s really into books. Then the next night the book was on the right hand side and the left hand side. So I asked her, â€˜Do you have something to do with this book?â€™ and she said, â€˜Oh, yes.â€™ So she urged me to read the book. I read it on my flight home and called her and said, â€˜Gosh, I thought it was really fascinating.â€™ My father is from the Deep South in Montgomery, Alabama, and itâ€™s about a family where one of the main characters is in Los Angeles and the rest of her family is in Louisiana. So I felt like I could enter into it from her point of view.â€
Nolan, who works on the the new HBO series with his wife Lisa Joy, said their involvement came from their time collaborating with JJ Abrams, who had been formulating a plan to reboot the â€œWestworldâ€ film for years.
â€œIâ€™d been working with JJ Abrams for a few years on â€˜Person of Interest,â€™â€ Nolan said. â€œAnd doing broadcast, 23 episodes a year thing, we said, â€˜This isnâ€™t challenging enough. Letâ€™s throw something else on top of this.â€™ JJ had actually sat down with Michael Crichton 23 years earlier to talk about a reboot for the movie version of [â€˜Westworldâ€™]. JJ hadnâ€™t quite figured out how to remake it as a film, so in his way he sat on it for 20 years and called us and said, â€˜You can do something really special with this.â€™â€
Of course for some, the process was not quite so arduous, as Kelley explained that â€œBig Little Liesâ€ came to him practically ready to go by the time he signed on to write and executive produce the show.
â€œI would like to say it was a long ordeal. It was much easier. I didnâ€™t have to go to Hawaii, I didnâ€™t have to wait 20 years,â€ he joked. â€œThere was a book, it was a great book. And Nicole Kidman and Reese Witherspoon brought it so I thought, â€˜I donâ€™t even have to cast it.â€™ And HBO, we pitched it to them first, and they bought it. It was literally from book to series within a year. It doesnâ€™t always go that way. The ride is usually a lot more bumpy but this was a confluence of a lot of great circumstances, starting with a really terrific book.â€
The panelists also discussed how their various networks have either encouraged or discouraged them from pushing boundaries with their shows, with most saying that their networks have been very supportive about pushing the envelope if it helps the overall story.
â€œUSA and UCP really let us take a risk,â€ Bradstreet said. â€œIt was something that really seemed sort of like a first over there. It was like, â€˜OK this is absolutely batsâ€“t insane. Weâ€™re letting you guys go see what comes of it.â€™ And the notes that come back are very supportive. Theyâ€™re totally onboard. Thereâ€™s like one thing weâ€™re not allowed to do. Itâ€™s like somebody can hallucinate, we can do a sitcom episode, we can slice somebodyâ€™s throat, whatever, but if thereâ€™s vomit, thatâ€™s the line.â€
As the lone broadcast representative on the panel, Orman said he was surprised by how willing NBC was to allow â€œShades of Blueâ€ to go where other network shows typically did not.
â€œMy expectation was we werenâ€™t going to be able to push these anti-heroes as far as we needed to,â€ he said. â€œThis show is basically a morality play on steroids. And weâ€™re limited by language and other things. I call it a hybrid between a cable and network show. From a character point of view and pushing the boundaries I was actually quite surprised. I got a call at one point saying, â€˜Push more boundaries.â€™ So I said, â€˜OK.â€™â€
Yost also discussed the transition from working on cable shows like FXâ€™s â€œJustifiedâ€ to â€œSneaky Peteâ€ for Amazonâ€™s streaming service, something he says he enjoys but also said has its drawbacks.
â€œWhen you are binging, it can be a very compelling, fun weekend, but itâ€™s over just like that,â€ he said. â€œAnd you might miss out on a lot of dialogue that goes on between the viewers. The fantasy that we have in our heads is that people are talking about our shows. Thatâ€™s what we want, to hit that nerve. To have the opportunity not just to entertain them but if youâ€™re lucky, on a good night, to move them, to provoke them and get them to talk to each other.â€
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