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The 3 Questions We Kept Asking About TV in 2015 (And How Actors and Producers Answered)

The 3 Questions We Kept Asking About TV in 2015 (And How Actors and Producers Answered)

The world of television in 2015 was a swirl of fascinating chaos, with an incredible diversity of new stories being told episode by episode, supported by an industry coping with incredible change. There were a lot of stories to be told in 2015, and, in order to get those stories, there were set visits, and the TCAs, and calls to England, and balancing cocktail party hors d’oeuvres in one hand and a recording device in the other. 

READ MORE: Indiewire’s Top Stories of 2015

As Indiewire took advantage of every interview opportunity it could over the last 12 months to capture one of television’s most intriguing years, there were plenty of things to be said. But there were also a couple of subjects we found ourselves bringing up over and over again with the people we spoke with. Below are just a few of their answers. 

“What are ‘dramedies,’ and how should awards shows handle them?”

Zander Lehmann (creator, “Casual”): “We don’t really write jokes or gags. We wrote it like a half-hour drama and let the actors and the characters exist in this place, and their chemistry together is a lot of what drives the humor. For me, the gag or the joke is the easy way out, but if you write something that’s authentic and true and feels real and have these characters perform it in a way that’s funny, that was always preferable to me. Any time I got a script with a joke in it, I would generally cut the joke out and then have the actors do their own version of the joke and that ended up being funnier… It’s ended up being a lot funnier than what I thought it was going to be! A testament again, to our actors and directors and to everyone who was involved. We wanted to write a real story with real characters that you could believe and we just happened to cast really funny actors who have great chemistry and they make everything heightened and funny, but still stuck in this grounded world. I would call it a comedy. I think it’s a dramedy. I don’t know how to necessarily describe it, but I find the show funny so I guess it’s a comedy.”

Bill Lawrence (executive producer, “Undateable”): “Man, do I like doing a half-hour comedy again where your ultimate goal is still to maybe make people laugh, you know? Because I think there’s half-hour dramedies on everywhere. And cable is doing so many amazing ones. I’m watching ‘Veep,’ and ‘Silicon Valley’ to the end of time. But network is still the home of big, juicy multi-cams. Critics might not love it at first, it doesn’t seem like anything new, but if you grow to love the characters… it’s what I grew up on, I love it… I feel like it’s really hard to categorize TV shows in any way, shape, or form. To me, there’s just good ones and bad ones. I don’t mean to sound holier-than-thou, I’m just not an awards guy, you know?”

Lea DeLaria (actor, “Orange is the New Black”): “You know, these old guys at the Academy, what’s wrong with them? Why won’t they just have a dramedy category?… We all know what a dramedy is, just like we know what a reality show is, and we know what a comedy is, and we know what a drama is. If it’s got equal parts of both, it’s a dramedy. I mean, we can look at, okay, ‘Better Call Saul,’ ‘Nurse Jackie.’ I mean, dramedy has been a part of American television since ‘Saint Elsewhere’ in the 1970s. Why in the world— [laughs] why is it we have a reality show category, but not a dramedy category? It’s just bizarre to me. Reality shows have only been on American television since the ’90s. All those shows like ‘Saint Elsewhere,’ ‘Hill Street Blues,’ all that stuff, those are all dramedies. Comedy and drama… Honey, if they have comic relief characters, then it’s a dramedy. [laughs] If it’s got a character whose sole purpose is to make you laugh, it’s a dramedy.”

Rob Huebel (actor, “Transparent”): “There’s a thing where I don’t think people really care if it’s comedy or it’s drama, if it’s a half hour or an hour. The only people that care about that is the Emmy Awards, which is weird to me. There’s such a thing about, ‘Oh, is this a half hour? Is this an hour?’ Who cares? A show can be dramatic and also be funny. A show can make you cry and make you laugh. I think people want all of that, so it’s been fun for me to cross over a little bit and kind of dip my toes in stuff that’s more serious… I know that people like to categorize everything, I guess it makes everybody more comfortable if you can put this in a box, but I think for the viewer, they don’t care and for the actors, they don’t care. If it’s good writing, it’s good writing. I think those lines are starting to blur, and I’m all for it.” 

“How important is the writing of a project?”

Patrick Stewart (actor, “Blunt Talk”): “I had already, a couple of years earlier, read one of [Jonathan Ames’s] novels, and LOVED it. The very sophisticated quality of his language, his writing, his dialogue; it was terrific. And I thought it would be marvelous to have somebody running our show who had that novelist’s interest in character and in the way individual characters express themselves.”

Thomas Schlamme (director, “Manhattan”): “Really smart writing — that is for me the key to getting deeply involved. I am not a writer, I have I hope an ability to take really good writing and translate it and become a collaborator, one of many that begins the journey of making any sort of film. But that’s the key to it… The process is so important in my life at this point, so the genre for what it is is infinite. Somebody gave me a great piece of science fiction, and I would love to do a Western, but genre means very little to me right now. It’s just really great writing and what do you want to tell stories about, and fascinating characters.”

Kirsten Dunst (actor, “Fargo”): “Usually, when you do a movie you’re like, ‘Mmm, I’m not sure how this is going to turn out in the end.’ But in this, you’re working with a great writer. [Noah Hawley] wrote the first season, the first season was brilliant. I know that whatever’s gonna happen, it’s going to be exciting for me to play and work on this, no matter what happens.”

Beau Bridges (actor, “Masters of Sex”): “The technology that’s involved is changing so fast. It’s going to be totally different in two years. It’s going to be a different business altogether, with the streaming and people binge-watching shows. It’s a total different fabric. I was talking to Matt Blank, one of our chiefs at Showtime, and I said, ‘Wow Matt, it must be amazing for you to be sitting in the driver’s seat trying to make all these decisions when the business is so fluid.’ And he said, ‘Yeah, but what it really comes down to is the stories themselves.’ He says, ‘If they’re worthy, then they’ll be there.’ That’s good.” 

Kyle MacLachlan (actor, “Twin Peaks”): “The beauty of television, and it’s been said by many different actors in many different ways, is the continuity of character, especially if you’ve got writers who are good writers and conscious of that; that they continue to build and expand and keep these characters interesting as the story unfolds. It can also be a little uncertain in that each week you’re presented with new material that’s gonna take your character in a direction that you may or may not be aware of. You have to roll with the punches a little bit and accept what’s happening with the character.”

David Tennant (actor, “Marvel’s Jessica Jones”): “Good writing is the thing you always chase. Storytelling that makes you want to come back for more. So when that presents itself, you kind of think it’s a bit of a gamble, but it’s probably a gamble worth taking.”

“How much do you want to know, as an actor, about what happens next?”

Carrie Coon (actor, “The Leftovers”): “I love a surprise. I come from the theater, and, of course, in the theater you always know how the thing ends. You’ve already read the script and you’ve rehearsed it. TV’s very different in that way, and I’ve found it to be a wonderful adventure not to know what’s coming, and embracing the spontaneity of getting a script and then acting it out two days later. It’s been a great acting challenge. And sometimes it is useful not to know, because you might try to overcraft the moment before, and I don’t think that’s always helpful. Because we certainly don’t get to live our lives that way, we don’t get to plot out how we’re going to respond to something. So why let Nora do it? It’s been fun to do it.”

Ron Perlman (actor, “Hand of God”): “I’m happy with just trying to figure out what’s in front of me… I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself because I’ll probably get overwhelmed. There better be trust, because if there’s no trust, you don’t really have anything to build on. If you look at this pilot and you don’t trust that Ben [Watkins, the creator of ‘Hand of God’] has the ability to take you on this journey, then you should not enter into it. And so my level of trust in Ben is such that, wherever he takes me, I know I’m in good hands, and I know that I’m going to be given things that are worth the effort.”

Yael Stone (actor, “Childhood’s End”): It’s wonderful [to know the ending]. You’re playing an arc. It’s a much more traditional way into acting.

Christopher Eccleston (actor, “The Leftovers”): “I’m a theater actor. ‘83-’86, I was in traditional British drama school. The whole approach there is that you know the arc of your character and you make choices on what you know. You go into a show like [‘The Leftovers’] and all of that is thrown out the window. And I made a decision. I’ve watched a lot of American television over the last 10 years and read books like [Brett Martin’s] ‘Difficult Men,’ and a couple other books that have come out, about how writers’ rooms work. And I made a decision to embrace a new way of working because it’s drawn up some extraordinary television. So, my take on it is that whatever comes, I can handle. But I’m not sure I would say that if I was working with any old showrunner.

Mike Vogel (actor, “Childhood’s End”): “When something like ‘Breaking Bad’ comes out and is as incredible as it is, having experience in film and television, I can look at that and go, ‘It’s not just incredible.’ It’s incredible because knowing all the challenges that go into it, the amount of lightning that has to strike multiple times to get something to line up — cast, story, writing, an audience grabbing on to what you’re doing — it’s tough. Because you’re playing at something that you don’t know, that’s evolving, that’s changing and the way that it changes may not grab people, may not resonate with people. But with [a miniseries], it frees us up to craft a performance so much more, because I know where I need to get.”

Justin Theroux (actor, “The Leftovers”): “In a weird way, you want to be just as surprised and shocked and moved as audiences hopefully are. I prefer to not know where the arrow is going to land and get the scripts as they come, rather than trying to read them all in one sitting or be told in short form… So much of these characters exist in a state of not knowing and the unexpected twists their lives take, so the closer you can be to that as an actor is beneficial for the show itself — to be in as real time as possible.”

Many thanks to everyone Indiewire was lucky enough to speak with in 2015, and a very Happy New Year to all. 

READ MORE: Where to Watch the Best TV of 2015

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