The original post for this episode can be found here.
John August: Hello and welcome. My name is John August and this is Scriptnotes, a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters. Craig is gone this week but luckily I have two guests who more than make up for that absence. Dailyn Rodriguez is a television writer-producer whose credits include Ugly Betty, The Night Shift, and USA’s Queen of the South for which she serves as executive producer. Next up she’s moving to the DC universe where she’s writing the pilot for a new Wonder Girl series. Dailyn, welcome to the show.
Dailyn Rodriguez: Thank you so much. I’m so happy to be here.
John: So you are actually in the writing process now. You’re starting on this new pilot. What is it like to start on a new show after having run a show?
Dailyn: You know, it’s really exciting. I’ve been in the Queen of the South world and in that headspace for four years, so it’s exciting to branch out, try something new. Also I’ve never worked in the superhero genre, so I’m learning a lot and it’s really exciting. It’s something very different for me, although I make jokes that Queen of the South is kind of a superhero show except she doesn’t have super powers. She’s really smart. But it’s her against the bad guys kind of storyline. So, it’s also a different studio and a different network, so it’s relearning the notes process with different people and their rhythms are different and their likes and dislikes are different and etc., etc.
John: Yeah, I want to get into all that with you, both running an ongoing show but changing up to develop new stuff. So, I want to get into that. But first I want to welcome our second guest, Chad Gomez Creasey, whose TV credits include Pushing Daisies, Castle, NCIS: New Orleans where he serves as executive producer. But way back before Scriptnotes he had roughly Megana’s job as my assistant. Chad, welcome to the show.
Chad Gomez Creasey: Thank you so much for having me on. It’s a pleasure to be here today.
John: Now, seven seasons into NCIS: New Orleans and I’ve been meaning to ask you why is there so much crime in the Navy. What’s happening here? Is it a Murder She Wrote situation? Why is there so much crime in the Navy?
Chad: You know, the best thing too about New Orleans is that in reality there isn’t an actual naval base there. There’s like a naval reserve, an air-naval reserve base that is shared by the Navy and Marines and the Coast Guard. So, yeah, it’s definitely you wonder why a small city of half a million has so much crime, but you know, it’s New Orleans. What happens there stays there.
John: Cool. Now, generally on the show we talk about limited series like The Queen’s Gambit or Chernobyl, but today because I have you guys here I want to get back to the meat and potatoes of one-hour dramas on broadcast and basic cable, because even in this age of streaming it’s still the bulk of TV writing jobs out there. So I want to talk about the format, about writer’s rooms, about the role of the writer-producer. And because it’s 2020 I also need to talk about the pandemic and how you guys are handling that for your shows.
Also, in our bonus segment for Premium members I want to look at ambient TV. So what does it mean to watch television that you don’t even have to watch? So stick around in the Premium segment for that.
But let’s get into some basic terms here. What do we mean by normal television or traditional television? Dailyn, what does traditional television mean to you compared to limited series or streaming? What do you think of with the kind of show that you’re writing for Wonder Girl or for Queen of the South? What does that look like?
Dailyn: Well, there’s a different way that you sort of look at the storyline vis-à-vis breaking structurally, because you really have to work towards the act breaks because of commercial breaks. So it’s a much more strict way of looking at structure. And working dramatically towards that dun-dun-dun commercial. So that makes it sort of a different beast to write.
John: In features we talk about act breaks, you know, first act, second act, third act, but those act breaks are not real strict things. Whereas in a broadcast show that has commercial breaks those are real things. So for a show like Queen of the South how many act breaks are there?
Dailyn: We have a teaser and five acts. But the teaser really is just a long act. So technically it’s six acts.
John: Great. So that teaser is from the minute the program starts up to some reveal and then after the teaser is some title sequence, a commercial, and then we’re getting back into the real meat of the show.
Dailyn: That’s correct. And there’s sort of like a rule, at least for Queen of the South, that no act can be really shorter than five pages. So, that’s why acts have just gotten shorter because of that, but it can’t be shorter than five pages.
John: Now, Chad, on a NCIS: New Orleans show how many acts are there and how regimented are the act breaks for something like your show?
Chad: Yeah, I mean, look, we’re a traditional network show on CBS, so we have a teaser plus four acts, so it’s really five acts. And we are very regimented. We aim to be about 42 minutes and 30 second for the entire episode. We can be under by a certain amount. I think it’s up to 2.5 minutes. But we can’t ever be over that amount, because we still have to have the correct amount of time in the commercial breaks. And sort of similar with Queen of the South, I think at a minimum each act break we try to aim for minimum of six pages. But I think on air CBS has pretty strict rules that we have to be around three to 3.5 minutes is the shortest that any act can be.
John: Now, it’s not just what the scripts look like on the page and how you’re writing towards those act breaks, but there’s also an expectation with these kind of shows of some return to a kind of stasis, especially on a crime procedural like NCIS: New Orleans. But you’ll also see this in superhero shows that Dailyn is writing right now is that there’s a thing that happens over the course of the episode, but by the end of the episode the world is pretty much the same. Is that something that is challenging for you after four years and now seven years of writing your shows?
Chad: Yeah, I mean, I think in terms of NCIS: New Orleans in a good way we have a formula. And, I mean, now that we are seven seasons in and I think going upwards of 150 episodes we’re constantly in our writer’s room pitching stories where it’s like, wait, did we do something like that beforehand? And we then have to look back and be, oh yeah, we did something like that season one, but how much of the episode was it, was that really the crime, can we do it slightly differently? Because there only are so many crimes that you can be doing or versions of that crime. So for us it’s always looking at the procedural story and how can we close out something every episode. But the stuff that is definitely more enjoyable is with our characters and how can we sort of be playing with them, advancing their individual stories.
But, yeah, it’s definitely a challenge and we are constantly looking back. We kind of have a rule that if we did something at least three seasons ago we can kind of repeat it again in some way, shape, or form. But definitely not within the past couple of seasons.
John: And Dailyn for your show how do you balance that needing to feel like there’s some progress overall over the course of a season versus how much happens over the course of an episode? What is that discussion like for you guys?
Dailyn: Well, our show is more serialized, because it has more of a soap opera element to it. So for us it’s very much sitting down at the beginning of the season and figuring out where we want to end the main character, Teresa Mendoza. And we work towards that. But even though it’s more serialized than like NCIS: New Orleans we still have a little bit of a formula. Almost always act four there’s an action sequence or it culminates into some shootout or something like that. There are tropes that you sort of have to repeat, even though you don’t want to. It’s like somebody always gets kidnapped every season. [laughs] You know, there’s somebody that you thought was good turns bad. I mean, there’s only so many things you can do in a crime show. So there are – for us the challenge is how do you make that new and fresh every season knowing that we’re sort of treading in similar areas.
John: Now, I hear both of you saying we and us and other writers will talk about we and us and they’re being sort of generous because really they’re talking about the work that they’re doing, but you have writing staffs who are all working together to do this thing. So, that’s a huge difference between Craig writing Chernobyl or Scott Frank writing Queen’s Gambit. They were just doing it by themselves, whereas you guys have to coordinate a team to all be working on something together. So let’s get into that. Let’s talk about writing staffs and how you’re figuring out the course of a season.
So, Chad, something like NCIS: New Orleans what is the blue sky process at the start of a season figuring out these are the kinds of things we’re trying to do this season?
Chad: Yeah, I mean, usually we have to pick up from our previous season where we generally leave things on a cliffhanger, or sometimes we do sort of close out a storyline that we’ve been following for at least maybe half the season but we kind of tease up something at the end that we’re going to continue into the next season. And it’s a challenge because we’re 24 episodes. And I think we’re one of only maybe ten shows left on traditional network that do that many episodes in a season. And so we generally come in at the start of the season and the first week is generally blue sky and we’re just kind of looking at our main characters and just sort of deciding where we want them to go. We usually only look at it for half a season at a time, because we generally have a midseason break, usually around episode 10 to 12. So we’ll kind of tackle that first chunk.
And then we kind of let the season then evolve naturally. Things that we’re enjoying, storylines, how some of the characters are evolving. Then at that midseason point that’s when we kind of look at the rest of the season and sort of map out what we’re aiming toward. Because doing 24 episodes we really are slaves to the calendar. So there isn’t a ton of time to waste before we have to really get in there and start breaking individual episodes.
I wish we had the luxury of spending an entire month or more kind of really mapping out where we’re going, but we just don’t get the chance to do that.
John: Now, Dailyn, as a more serialized show do you spend more time figuring out the whole arc of what the season is at the start? And if so, if you were to look back at a season how closely does it match your plan for how a season was going to go?
Dailyn: Yeah, we are fortunate that we have more preproduction time. So we have more time in the writer’s room with our writers. And I co-showrun Queen of the South with Ben Lobato, so what we try and do – at least season four and season five we work just us two together and come up with the shape of what we want for the season and sort of have a middle point and an endpoint and some sort of storylines for our other characters, not just the protagonist, because we serialize all of our characters. They sort of have a character arc through the season.
And then we bring it to the writer’s room and we lay it out on the board. We sort of have the whole season out on a big board, like every episode, because we had 13 episodes season four and 10 episodes this last season, season five. And so we have a general idea of what we want to do. And then we throw it to the room and we go, “What do you guys think? Should we move this over here? Do you have a pitch for this?” And then the writers help us fill out the missing pieces.
So it’s really a great environment and it’s really creative. And having the same writers pretty much for two seasons really helps us because they know how we work, we know how they work, so it’s a well-oiled machine at this point.
John: How big is the staff on Queen of the South?
Dailyn: Oh my gosh. We had eight writers this season I believe.
John: And of those writers is everyone writing at least one episode, or are there teams, or how does that work?
Dailyn: Everybody wrote their own episode. And a couple of episodes were co-written. But everybody got their own episode.
John: And Chad how big is the writing staff on NCIS: New Orleans?
Chad: On any given season we’re roughly 10 to 11 writers.
John: Great. And so of those everyone is going to be writing one or two or three? How does that work out number wise?
Chad: Yeah, I would say on average the upper levels will write upwards of three episodes, and then some newer, younger writers might be doing one or they’ll maybe co-write another. But we always try really hard with our support staff to give them an opportunity. So generally one or two of the support staff as well, the writer’s assistant or one of the PAs will be co-writing an episode, or in some circumstances they’ll even get to write an individual episode on their own.
John: Now, we talk about writing an episode, writing a script, but there’s actually writing that happens before then. So Chad can you talk about on NCIS: New Orleans what are the written documents that precede a script?
Chad: Yeah, so on NCIS: New Orleans we first have to offer up something to the network, just to sort of say that, hey, this is the story arena that we’re doing, which is generally a single page document which kind of just goes over what the crime is going to be and how we’re going to advance the individual character storylines. From there, once we it’s off the board it goes to an outline, and then we have a pretty regimented process where the writer of record they get to take that first stab at the outline. We have an upper level producer who is overseeing that episode. So then they’ll give notes on it first and let that writer kind of tinker with it before it then goes to our two showrunners. And then they bless it or sometimes they’ll take a little pass through their individual typewriter.
But then from there once that gets submitted to the network we get network notes. And then the writer goes off and they take a whack at the script. And usually it’ll go back and forth, again that supervising producer who is sort of overseeing it will be giving notes to the individual writer. We try, just again on a 24 episode show, our two co-showrunners are busy putting out all sorts of other fires all the time. So before any scripts really get to their hands we really try to get them as polished as possible, just because time is limited.
And so sometimes the producer who is overseeing things will kind of take a pass through it and then usually sometimes one of our two co-showrunners will kind of do the final little pass. You know, we’re lucky right now because in seven seasons we have kind of a top heavy staff and a bottom heavy staff. We don’t have a whole lot of middle ladder rung right now. So we’ve got a pretty good system where for the most part our two co-showrunners can be doing all of the other necessary work of putting out all the fires and keeping the train running.
John: Now talking about page count on these documents we’re talking about, so you said it’s a one-pager for the story area. How long is an outline for one of your episodes?
Chad: They used to be longer. They were upwards of 15 pages. We’ve kind of got them now pared down to about 10 to 11 pages, because the studio network kind of trusts that they know what we’re doing. And then our scripts generally come in, we shoot anywhere between 52 to 55 pages is kind of the maximum that we’ll be able to shoot in order to get the cut down.
John: Now, Dailyn, what is that process seem like on your side? So do you have a similar kind of story area document before it becomes an outline before it becomes a script? What is your process?
Dailyn: It’s pretty much the exact same thing. So we’ll have a story doc that’s about a page to a page and a half. And we’ll get notes on that. With us it’s a little harder since it’s not as easy – like here’s a crime. It’s so character-driven. So there’s a lot of like document-itis is what we call from like studio/network. It always ends up presenting more questions. You think it’s normally just simple, you just get the story document approved and move on, but it always raises a bunch of questions that you hopefully answer in outline. And our outlines are about 12 pages long. And then we get studio notes on that and network notes. And then we go out to script and our script page count is about the same as Chad, about 55. About that.
Our episodes are 42 minutes when they air. So, yeah, that’s about right.
John: Now, you talk about getting notes. What is the process of getting notes? Is it a notes documents or is that a phone call where you get the notes from the network and from the studio.
Dailyn: I mean, for us it’s always a phone call. Sometimes – as we’ve gone throughout the seasons and now we’re in season five, a lot of times if it’s not huge we’ll just an email from the network. The studio always likes to get on a call. I think it’s their way to be cheerleaders, or however they see it, you know. So they like getting on calls. I don’t think we’ve ever had actually just page notes from the studio. But the network will often just give us some thoughts in an email if they don’t have time to get on a phone.
John: Now both of you are on incredibly successful shows for your respective networks, but have you guys been in the process where things are not going well? And what is it like working on a show that is struggling? Do you have any insights on how it feels differently on those situations? Like Chad I know you’ve worked on some difficult shows. What is the challenge? What is the morale? What are the opportunities on a show that’s struggling?
Chad: I think it’s always a little bit different on every show. Thankfully my last two shows, NCIS: New Orleans and Castle, I came on board when those shows were well established. You know, came on board for season three of NCIS: New Orleans, but we also had a new showrunner who took over for that season. So, and he really wanted to put his stamp on it and kind of take the ship in a different direction, which for the most part we were lucky – we’re aligned where we are CBS studios for the CBS network. So often with notes, you know, they can just both jump on at the same time and they’re able to get on the same page before they give notes to us.
But I’ve also been on the challenging shows like Pushing Daisies I loved and adored and that was a – you know, I remember the first season of that show we were Warner Bros airing on ABC. And it was just such a unique vision from Bryan Fuller, the creator, that I think everybody was trying to kind of wrap their heads around what Bryan had his head wrapped around, which you know not everything was always aligned. And so they were definitely much longer individual phone calls with the studio and then with the network. And trying to sift through all those different notes so that we could try to please everyone as best that we could while at the same time kind of keeping what was just so special about that from Bryan’s mind.
So every show is just going to offer its own unique challenges and you never know until you join that staff.
John: Dailyn, what’s been your experience on a show that’s still finding its footing?
Dailyn: I’ve unfortunately been in a lot of situations where the dilemma in the show was actually within the ranks of the writer’s room and the showrunner. So I’ve been in a lot of shows that have had regime changes, new showrunners, meanwhile the show is doing well on the air but nobody would know the chaos behind the scenes. So I’ve unfortunately been in a few of those situations. And the reality is that Queen of the South was one of those situations. The first season was a mitigated disaster. It got put together very well in post. It was way over budget. Everybody thought it was going to be a failure and then it ended up being a huge hit for USA. So they searched for a new showrunner. After the first season I believe had two or three different showrunners. I can’t remember. Because the creators had not television experience and they paired them with a showrunner and it didn’t work out. And they tossed out a bunch of stuff that they shot. It was utter chaos.
When I say people were shooting scenes that were being emailed an hour before they were shooting, stuff like that. And I wasn’t on the show then. And then I came on second season when Natalie Chaidez took over and it was very much her trying to right that ship and actually do the work of finding a character arc for the season and what are we doing this season, what is the show thematically this season.
And so she worked on the show, I worked with her for season two and three, and then she decided to leave, so that’s another regime change. And that’s when I took over with Ben Lobato. And so what’s interesting in that situation is that there are just a lot of eyes on you. There’s a lot of pressure. People want to make sure they made the right decision picking first Natalie in those two seasons and then us. Are we people that are going to take the reins?
And I think we probably got a lot of scrutiny early on in our early episodes and a lot of probably maybe got over-noted just because there was for lack of a better word a paranoia or a worry or neurosis about new showrunners. And then we found our groove and we all figured it out and we started working together, the studio and the network and the writers and us, the showrunners, and we figured it out. But there were a lot of stressful moments where you’re thinking, oh shoot, am I messing this up? Is this a disaster waiting to happen? Because I’ve been on those shows that have just – I’ve been in a lot of midseason regime changes. It can be pretty stressful.
John: Yeah. I went through one of those midseason regime changes when I got fired off my show for the WB. And we talk about experience and you guys have experience, you’ve come up through the ranks, you know a writer’s room but you also know how to work on a set. And I came into the show that I created not having any of that experience. And Chad you were talking about how you guys are bottom heavy and top heavy, but there are not a lot of midlevel people. Is that a problem that we don’t have a lot of writers who have sort of some experience under their belt and some experience making TV shows? Because I do wonder about sort of this next generation of shows, whether we’re going to have people who know how to really run them. Dailyn are encountering any of this?
Dailyn: Yeah. I think that that’s a serious problem. I talk about this a lot, John, actually. Because more shows are remote and studios are not willing to pay for writers to travel, so that’s one problem. So you can’t send writers off to the set. Luckily on Queen of the South we did, so that was good, because then we got people having set experience. That’s a serious problem.
The shorter orders is also causing that as a problem. And so you finish your writer’s room, the writers are done, they’re done with their weeks, and now you’re shooting a show and you have no writers to go produce the episodes. So I fear that there’s going to be a problem in midlevel writers not having the right set experience. And then I fear that when they go up the ranks and become co-EPs and running their own shows that – I mean, some people just pick it up and get it and it’s amazing and they figure it out. But there is a lack of experience that’s going on and I think that those are – in my experience those are the two reasons that that’s happening.
John: Chad, are you seeing that on a more traditional procedural show?
Chad: Absolutely. I mean, I will echo what Dailyn is saying. I was fortunate enough that every single I’ve been on I was also able to be on set and get that experience. And that is wildly different than being in a writer’s room. And it takes a certain type of personality to work well in the writer’s room. But you also then have to have the correct on set personality, which is often something that you need to learn. In dealing with the problems that come up on set, you know, it just takes experience, which means just being on set for a certain number of hours.
And I know plenty of writers now who they have risen up that ladder, they’re co-executive producers and they have not once been on a single set for an episode that they’ve ever written. And I think we’re seeing this definitely in the streaming world, but it’s also starting to bleed over into the traditional network space where just with the speed of TV they decide, “Uh, it’s not worth it to have the writers down there.” And I really do find that writers are so crucial, you know, just the cohesiveness of the storytelling. And we’re lucky to work with so many great directors, but they’re focused on a million things. And there’s also dozens of tiny things over the course of shooting an episode that can really change the story that you’re trying to create within that. Having a writer there to kind of catch that and then to work with a director who oftentimes is very grateful I’ve found to be like, “Oh my gosh, I didn’t realize that’s what you guys were going for,” or that’s going to be a key point that’s going to affect an episode that’s shooting three episodes down the road. It’s just really necessary.
And so many writers, they just are not getting this experience and it’s going to be detrimental over the next few seasons for sure.
John: Now, making a television show in a normal world is difficult, but you guys are both in production right now on shows that are filming during a pandemic. So let’s talk a little bit about how that’s impacted you. We’ll start with the writer’s room. Dailyn, I assume that your writer’s room was virtual, or had you already written the season before stuff went south?
Dailyn: Yeah, so we luckily were very far ahead in scripts. We started shooting in March. End of February, I think, early March. So basically we were cross-boarding the first two episodes which is for people that don’t know you shoot them, sort of block shoot them. You’re shooting them at the same time with the same director. And we had a week left to finish those two episodes. And I was down in New Orleans, actually Chad and I we both – both of our shows shoot in New Orleans. And I had to shut down set. So all the shows were starting to shut down. And luckily we only had – we had already broken the rest of the season with the exception with the exception of the season finale which I was co-writing with the co-showrunner. So we were already broken, so that’s great.
So we just had a few Zoom conversations with the co-EP that was writing episode nine. So we actually were able to finish up all the episodes and have all production-ready scripts for when we started up again. And we just started up.
John: Now are you traveling down there as a writer on set? How are you guys handling production? And are you acknowledging that the pandemic is happening, or does it not happen in the world of your show?
Dailyn: A couple things. One thing is because we wrapped all of the writers we don’t have any writers to go produce the episodes. So it’s me and Ben. What we decided to do, because we’re both kind of concerned of travelling too much and adding another element to the Covid hell that’s going on, so we went down for the first episode. He went down first and then I went down, just to show our faces and for morale and show the crew and the cast that we’re there for them and we want to be part of the team.
And then we left because we have a director that used to be a producing director that’s directing episode three and four, so we felt like that was in good hands. And if there was an issue the lead actress of my show is an executive producer. So if there’s a massive issue she just calls us directly and says, “Hey, can we go through something?” So we felt like that was in good hands.
So Ben will probably go down in a couple weeks and then I’ll go down after Christmas. And then we’ll probably go down for the season finale. So that’s basically how we’re doing it. We feel like the actors like having us there, so they’re bummed that we’re not there the whole time. But this is sort of the compromise that we came up with to make us feel like we’re involved but not living in New Orleans for the unforeseeable future.
John: Now, Chad, I’m flipping past from watching NCIS: New Orleans and I see everyone on that show is wearing masks. It occurs to me like, wow, this must be a dream in post because you can just ADR them saying anything. You can just have Scott Bakula standing there saying whatever – he can just be going yada yada and you can put the words in in post.
Talk to me about sort of your writer’s room, because this all had to happen during the pandemic, and moving into production. So what has that been like on your show?
Chad: Yeah, I mean, it’s been a challenge like for any show that is trying to get back to work during a global pandemic. We had to shut down like one scene into shooting. It was episode 21 last season. We had broken the entire rest of the season already, but we ended up just kind of having to scrap it. We were lucky that episode 20 actually had one of our character’s storylines had kind of hit a high point, so it sort of served a little bit as pseudo finale for the season.
But you know we just jumped right back into the room in June. And the first question really was whether or not we were going to acknowledge the pandemic or not. And after talking about things for a few days, but really it was with talking with production down in New Orleans that we realized that by acknowledging the pandemic it would allow us to actually potentially start shooting sooner, because if we’re shooting people onscreen who are wearing masks and who look like they’re socially distanced they also will be in real life as we’re filming them.
And so that was a way for us to kind of safely get back into production right away. You know, we had all the delays. We were waiting for the whitepaper and, you know, our production team in New Orleans did an amazing job, basically spent all of summer gathering PPE and getting everything ready. But the first two episodes we did we decided to do flashback episodes. And we flashed back to the end of March when the pandemic was really starting to catch fire in New Orleans. And it really did. After New York, New Orleans was one of the really early hot spots because Covid started to circulate during Mardi Gras. So you can imagine how quickly it just started to spread.
And we really wanted to acknowledge that for the city because New Orleans really is one of the main characters in our show. And so we sort of devised this two-parter that allowed us to start shooting right away but to be able to, again, just safely shoot. And one of the things that we kind of adapted to in terms of safety protocols was we started designing our season by doing every two episodes was a two-parter. And we sort of saw them as mini movies in which we were also able to bring down the same director who was directing two episodes at a time. And so that then allowed us to have fewer people who were having to come down and quarantine. Even guest actors and guest cast, we were able to cast people who would carry over from one episode to the next.
So the whole goal was just how do we reduce our footprint. And so fewer actors, fewer people on set. And so we’ve been able to do that pretty successfully. You know, our testing protocols are rigid. Everyone gets tested pretty much four times a week down there. You know, if something does happen we’re able to isolate them quickly. But thankfully we have not had a shutdown yet.
As far as writers, you know, reducing our footprint does mean not sending our writers down. We did have one of our sort of two-parters which were episodes three and four which were also trying to tackle some of the more topical issues as well in terms of Black Lives Matter and defunding the police. And so it was a very sensitive two-parter that we did send one of our co-EPs down who is just a really fantastic writer and really sort of clued into everything. And she was able to be the one person on set to kind of help out when necessary.
But aside from that, you know, we’ve been lucky. Again, we’re season seven so we have a stable of directors we’ve worked with who know the show, and who also feel comfortable with the writers. And they’re able to call up anyone 24/7. We’ve even done sometimes like FaceTime of rehearsals on set, you know, if it’s kind of a key scene so that the writer back in LA can really make sure that, yeah, yeah, yeah, you’re getting all the moments that we need.
So, you know, we’ve adapted and so far – knock on wood – it’s working and we haven’t had to shut down yet.
John: Now you haven’t had to shut down the set, but you had sort of your own personal shutdown, because you got Covid recently.
Chad: I did.
John: Can you tell us about that? Your experience trying to work through this and what Covid was like for you?
Chad: Yeah. It was definitely a shock because you know me…
John: I should say that Chad is paranoid and Chad does all the protocols fully and still somehow got it.
Chad: Yes. I am mister OCD and was definitely stocking up back in January because I kind of felt like this thing could get worse. I never imagined it would get as bad as it has become. But, yeah, it was kind of a shock when I got it, but was very fortunate. We were doing a very small pod with my family and one other family because we both have daughters who are only children and we just wanted to give the kids somebody to be studying with every day.
But to try to keep things safe we were – each of the adults we were kind of on a rolling testing schedule where one adult would get tested once a week, just to try to catch anything. And we were able to do that. I was kind of shocked where I get tested on a Saturday and then Monday morning signed onto my email and saw that I was positive, which was definitely terrifying. But I immediately just went outside and my fiancé had to call the parents of the other child who was here studying with my daughter that day. And everybody kind of immediately isolated. And I basically spent two straight weeks just in my bedroom. Walked away from everybody.
But even on day 14 when I got tested again I was still positive, so we followed the protocols and did another two week quarantine. So basically for 30 days straight I was locked in my master bedroom, kind of away from the world. But it worked. And my fiancé and my daughter, neither of them fell sick, nor did my co-parent or the family that we were doing our little pod with. So we feel really lucky that I didn’t pass it along to anyone.
John: One thing I want to stress for listeners is that it’s not just that you tested positive. You got really sick. Can you tell us about what it felt like in relation to other illnesses you’ve had?
Chad: Yeah, it was definitely the strangest illness I’ve ever been through. I kind of had a tickle in my nose on Sunday evening. I thought, ah, it’s probably allergies. But then Monday when I got my positive test back, you know, by Monday evening it really did start to hit me. And I was fortunate and lucky in that I was only running a fever for about one day. I never had the shortness of breath. I had a pulse oximeter that I was constantly checking every few others and was staying at a stable level with that.
But it was just the exhaustion. Like nothing I’ve ever felt. I mean, imagine the worst flu double or triple. Unfortunately, you know, right now when you’re just sort of isolating at home you treat it like a flu and over the counter meds and just a lot of fluids. And I said that was the tricky Catch-22 is that you need to be drinking as many fluids as you can which means having to use the restroom very often. And that ten-foot trip from my bed to the bathroom was perilous and would take about five minutes each way just to make sure I wasn’t toppling over and cracking my head open on the corner of the sink.
So, yeah, those ten days were just very, very exhausting. You know, just sleeping as much as I could, which also was the challenge in that I was starting preproduction on episodes five and six which was a two-parter. And I wrote episode five, another writer had written episode six, but I was the executive producer who was overseeing the two of them. So it was just – everybody down in New Orleans on the production side they got very used to seeing my bedroom and seeing me propped up in bed as I was just trying to get through prep.
John: Oy. And you’re feeling better now?
Chad: I am, yes. I thankfully at the end, you know, even though it was not fun I caught very much a mild case of it and I’ve been able to bounce back pretty quickly and 100 percent now.
John: Knowing that you guys were going to be on the show I emailed out to our Premium subscribers asking if they had any specific questions about one-hour dramas and people sent in with some great questions. Let’s invite our producer Megana Rao on to talk us through some of these questions because there’s some good ones here. Megana, what do you have for us?
Megana Rao: Great. So, Pierre from France had a question about how US network television deals with politics in its series.
Pierre: Hello, thank you. My name is Pierre. I’m a French writer based in Berlin. I have a question about politics in network series because I’m often amazed how American series can deal with very current hot topics, social issues, ripped from the headline subjects for procedural episodes. I’m thinking of course about The Good Wife or The Good Fight. But even like Law & Order and every legal and cop drama I can think of are never afraid to go quite frontally into hot political topics. How do you deal with those? How do you choose those? Do you make sure it’s balanced or on the contrary are you doing it to show your opinion? Do you think it’s a mission for us writers to deal with these topics and put it on TV in primetime? How do you deal with a network with potential self-censorship? Because here in Europe I feel a lot of networks are still shy and risk adverse with these kind of topics in primetime entertainment shows. So I’m really curious how you deal with it and it’s probably more difficult than it sounds. Thank you.
John: So, Dailyn, maybe we’ll start with you. So Chad had mentioned that this season they were looking at Black Lives Matter, they were looking at police violence, obviously the pandemic. With your show how much do politics come into things? How sensitive do you have to be to those types of issues?
Dailyn: Season four we started grappling with issues about government corruption and sort of subtle story about race relations between Latinos and African Americans and sort of how people in power sort of benefit from minorities at each other’s throats. And so we sort of played that as part of a storyline in season four.
But our show – I don’t think USA – whenever I would throw in a political joke here and there they tend to ask us to remove it. So the stuff that we did was very what I think is pretty subtle and it was OK sort of in storyline playing it as conflict but if there was something that was very pointed, like I remember I wrote a joke for one of the characters, Pote, about saying he really didn’t trust Russians. And someone said why and he goes, “They stole the election.” We had to cut the line.
And so, you know, anything that was too blatantly political I think USA had us sort of move away from it. But our show is inherently kind of political in a way because it is about a Mexican woman in America that runs a cartel. And our biggest thing for us when we took over season four was that most of the show was dealing with border violence and Mexican on Mexican violence. And because of the election of the president we made a very conscious decision to shift the narrative of the show. That’s when we decided to move to New Orleans and make the show a little bit more of a slightly traditional organized crime show and lean more towards classic mob tropes and a mafia storyline to get away from the Narcos of it all. Because of the election and because of the atmosphere in the country. So that’s when we moved to New Orleans and decided to do this storyline about a corrupt judge and the corrupt system and who are the bigger crooks, the drug dealers or the corrupt government.
So that’s what we did and they let us do that. And inherently that’s political. I think whenever it was very, very specific lines and stuff like that is when they would feel slightly uncomfortable. And it was always about, you know, making sure that we didn’t alienate a certain audience.
John: I can see that. Chad, for something like NCIS: New Orleans I perceive CBS as being very conservative, not the people who necessarily work there but just the audience for CBS shows being fairly conservative. So if you’re talking about something like Black Lives Matter how do you discuss that in the room and how do you try to narrativize that in a crime procedural show?
Chad: It’s a challenge but we always start with our character city New Orleans. And New Orleans has a very large Black population. And there has been a history at different points. I mean, at one point we had talked a lot about the ideas of consent decrees in cities that are put under those. And so we try to look at well what’s actually happening in New Orleans and how can we kind of tell an honest story about that, while at the same time never talking about parties.
You know, we never mention anyone being a Republican or a Democrat or Independent. We just kind of stay away from that and just try to tell the real stories that happened. We had in one of our early seasons a big storyline about a very corrupt mayor of New Orleans. And part of that was a nod to New Orleans had gone through long histories of corruption within the political ranks, but more at sort of that local level.
But yeah when we are looking at real issues that are happening on a nationwide scale in terms of systemic inequality it’s, OK, we know this is happening but how do we boil it down to what is happening in New Orleans and how is it affecting the population here? And that always allows then to tackle a political story, but when that sort of feels small and local. But since we do have an audience that serves the masses across the entire nation and really the world, where we are popular in many different nations, you know, for us it feels like, OK, where can we as a writer’s room sort of slip in what we would like to see happening in the world and what we would hope. But even in the writer’s room we’re very aware to sort of go, OK, what are the two sides to this and where is that middle ground that everybody can usually say, hey, that’s not right. You know, a corrupt cop, nobody, no matter what side of the political aisle you’re on nobody wants a corrupt cop running around town. You know, so then how can we wrap a story around stopping that one bad apple.
And that’s a way that we feel like we can sort of please everyone but also showcase a story that everybody would, yes, hope that the world would want, you know, bad cops to be rooted out.
Megana: Great. So Alison asked is there anything fundamentally different between a pilot for a one-hour drama and the first episode of a limited series?
John: Dailyn, how about you tackle that? Do you think there’s something different between a one-hour pilot and the first episode of a limited series?
Dailyn: I mean, I’ve never written a limited series, but I would have to think that not really, because you really are setting up the world, setting up the character conflict at the beginning of the story. So I don’t know how different it could possibly be. I don’t know. Chad, have you ever worked on a limited series?
Chad: I haven’t. Not on a limited series myself either. But, I mean, I just feel like everything is storytelling in terms of you’re aiming toward some sort of climax. And whether that’s closing out something like in Mazin’s Chernobyl, you know, he knew what he was aiming toward. But even on I think shows like ours you kind of have an idea at the end of the season like, oh, what are the seeds that we need to plant in the pilot that are going to kind of point us in the direction of this is where we’re headed. And depending on how many episodes you have to tell that story you’re going to be planting more or fewer of those seeds.
John: So Dailyn let’s say you’re trying to staff your show and you’re reading scripts. Maybe you’re reading scripts for Wonder Girl. If you’re reading a one-hour script would you rather read something that has act breaks in it or something that has no act breaks and is more like a streaming one-hour.
Dailyn: I honestly don’t have a preference. For me it’s all about is this well-written? Is it an interesting character? Is the dialogue popping off the page? Does the story work? Because ultimately even if it doesn’t have act breaks you can read a script and realize that the structure naturally has breaks to it. Do you know what I mean? So, I don’t have a preference seeing act breaks or not act breaks when I’m reading.
John: Chad, if you’re writing something, because I’ve seen over the years you’ve written other pilots for things, you’ve written other stuff as samples, do you write stuff now with act breaks or without act breaks?
Chad: It very much depends on who I’m writing a pilot for. I wrote a pilot for HBO Max which was a delight to not have to have act breaks in there. And I was able to go straight through to page 55. But there of course was those natural ebbs and flows of the story and those highpoints which would have been traditional act breaks. And even on something like over at HBO Max they did sort of tell me that think about where those act breaks might be because very often no matter what you’re writing for whatever streaming service it could end up when you go into the foreign market on a different service that does have commercial breaks in a way.
So, you know, I just think for me whether I’m putting the act break in or not it’s where is the natural point in the story where I need to be bringing the audience to some new high point in the story. So I think they’re always naturally there for me.
Megana: OK, Cool, and I think Vito asks a great follow up question. He says, “I’ve received the note that my pilot didn’t have enough to support multiple seasons, but I feel like I pack in so many nods to potential storylines. I don’t know what I’m missing. When reading a pilot how do you judge the engine of a show? What do you look for to give an idea of the story potential and longevity?”
And I guess I also have the question when you guys are staffing is this something that you look for in the samples that you’re reading? And also in your work in projects that you’re developing how do you think about the engines for your shows? Because especially Chad you have to come up with so many episodes of them.
John: Yeah. What makes reading a one-hour script make you feel like, OK, this could go for seven seasons versus this is just a ten and done? What’s the difference there?
Chad: That is I think a really, really great question. And I think the key words that I look for are story engine. And for me it’s like every time I even look at trying to pitch something of my own, or coming up with an idea, I’m often asking myself, OK, what is episode 100? And that’s a tough question because you’re looking then at four to five seasons. And if I don’t know what episode 100 might be that’s when I really have to question like, OK, is this an idea that is sustainable for network? Or is this something that maybe only goes for three seasons? And is that then a story that works better in the streaming sphere?
So I think that is – it’s like when I’m reading samples, especially for something like NCIS: New Orleans, I’m trying to get that sense of is there a story engine there. Do they know kind of where they’re going – even in reading that pilot is there enough of those little Easter eggs there where I can sort of go, oh OK, I can sort of see what the climax for the season is going to be. Because I do, I unfortunately read a lot of pilots which are really, really great stories but I’m sort of sitting there going like this isn’t a series. This is a movie. Or this is Queen’s Gambit. This is a wonderful six-episode limited series, but this isn’t something that’s going to sustain for the traditional – you know, I think at a minimum now we’re kind of looking at ten-episode seasons. So, yeah, it’s just all about what is that story engine that you’re holding onto that you can keep coming back to episode by episode.
John: Now, Dailyn, you’re having a different engine for your Wonder Girl series. Is that something you’re thinking about right now as you’re writing this pilot, setting up the kind of stuff that can go on for 100 episodes?
Dailyn: Yeah, I mean, 100 percent. I think to add to what Chad was saying, it’s not just story engine. Honestly sometimes it’s just premise. I mean, I’ve lucked out on the fact that this is a premise people know. This is Wonder Girl, you know. She eventually will be the new Wonder Woman in the DC universe, right? So you already have sort of a built in premise to the character and the world and it is her fighting to save the world. And there’s a built in premise because you know every week it’s going to be like she’s going to fight someone, she’s going to save somebody. So there’s a built in premise and story engine sort of to the show.
But that being said, you know, I still have to figure out who is the big bad this season. And is this the bad guy she’s going to fight for two seasons, or is it one season and he’s gone and you bring in a new bad guy or bad girl for season two? And what are those fights? And what are the fights for her as Wonder Girl versus what are her struggles and fights as Yara Flor, the human superhero? So you sort of have to figure out what are those challenges going forward from the pilot. And setting up, OK, this is going to be her human struggle for the season. This is her superhero struggle for the season.
So this has been a very interesting process for me because there’s a duality of character. And then at what point do those two things meet and become sort of one in the same? And these two identities meet at some point. It’s very interesting. Superhero stuff is really interesting character work.
John: And so the pilot that you’re writing has to show this is going to be the engine that can drive the superhero story for a hundred episodes, but also make it clear that this is the character story, the human story and sort of this is the character who grows and changes over the course of that time.
John: And you look at the Super Girl pilot, and the Super Girl pilot did a very good job of both of those threads. And so when you say that there’s a premise that’s sustainable, I know what a Wonder Girl show can be. And so the specificity you bring to your version of it is what’s going to make it unique and special. But there’s underlying potential there that’s really clear.
Dailyn: That’s right.
John: Cool. Megana, thank you for these questions. Thank you to everybody who wrote in with questions. It’s always nice when we have things that are tailored to our guests, so we’re going to try to do this more in the future. Thanks Megana.
Megana: Of course, thank you.
John: All right, it’s time for our One Cool Things. My One Cool Thing this week is this new translation of Beowulf by Maria Dahvana Headley. It’s really just fantastic. And I’ve tried to read Beowulf so many times and I tried to read that Seamus one that had the chain mail head on it. And Beowulf is a really cool story but it’s just really hard to get into. And what I love about this translation is it’s just very much common vernacular speech.
And so you can just actually follow what’s happening in it. It still feels like verse. It still feels like a person who is telling you a story. It’s just really great. So I’m about halfway through it and just greatly enjoying it.
If you’ve avoided reading Beowulf because it just seems like torture really check this out and check out the first two pages and see if it sparks for you. But I’ve really enjoyed it. So, it’s Beowulf: A New Translation by Maria Dahvana Headley.
Chad, do you have a One Cool Thing to share?
Chad: I do have a One Cool Thing. And it may not be particularly cool to your larger audience, but for the newer WGA members who for the first time ever have qualified for WGA healthcare, it is now open enrollment season through the end of the year on December 31. And I have always kind of been a little bit of a WGA health insurance evangelist to younger and newer members to the guild because not a lot of people know, and it’s something I always talk to the younger and newer writers on the various staffs I’ve been on who are for the first time qualified for this really amazing healthcare we have.
But they often don’t know that the WGA healthcare it kind of works both as a PPO and also as an HMO option. And one of the things that I always tell them that not a lot of people know is that we have this $400 deductible that you have to meet every year before the insurance kicks in. And, look, if you’re an assistant who was maybe thrown a script for the first time ever and you finally have this healthcare, or somebody who is starting out, that’s a lot of money. And there’s also a way that you can really maximize your benefits and save yourself a lot of money which is by using the HMO portion of our healthcare which is called The Industry Health Network, TIHN. And we actually have these individual centers, I believe there’s four of them across the LA area. I use the Bob Hope Medical Center on La Brea all the time. There’s also the Toluca Lake Medical Center, which is great.
And the amazing thing if you go through this HMO part, The Industry Health Network, is that you show up, you find a great primary care doctor there, and there’s plenty of them, and it’s only $10 a pop to go see a doctor. And that doesn’t ever get counted against your deductible. And then if they have to give you a referral to a specialist as long as you start your journey through the initial Industry Health Network and you get your referral from one of those doctors every time you go see that specialist it’s only $10.
And so a lot of people have doctors who they love and they just want to use the PPO version of it, which is great. That always does cover 85% of the cost. But that other 15% can really, really add up.
John: Yeah. You should listen to Chad because Chad has always been the person in my life who has like researched all the options and found the one that makes the most cost-benefit analysis work out. So, trust Chad and definitely check it out. And we’ll put a link in the show notes to what Chad is talking about in terms of the FAQs for like which plan you should choose if you’re newly going into the WGA health insurance.
Dailyn, what is your One Cool Thing?
Dailyn: Mine is not writer related. My One Cool Thing is that my husband is a visual artist and a graphic designer, so I’ve always super been into art, museums, all that kind of stuff. And during the apex of the Black Lives Matter movement during the pandemic and all the protests and everything I really used my social media to try and expose and sort of promote African American visual artists. And I found this amazing artist. Her name is Calida Garcia Rawles. And she does these phenomenal paintings of African American men and women in water. And they’re hyper realistic. They’re really, really beautiful. And she is – you can see a couple of her works at the Wallis Annenberg Center for Performing Arts in Beverly Hills, unfortunately only until the 29th November.
But if you would like to look her up and check out her art, I think she’s really special. And I just think it’s really important to support new voices in art. So, that’s my One Cool Thing.
John: Yeah, I’m Googling this as you’re talking and her images are absolutely stunning. And so you look at them and it feels like you’re – almost like you’re looking at islands in a beautiful ocean.
Dailyn: They’re phenomenal.
John: Yeah. So, great. And just tranquil and terrific. So we’ll put a link in the show notes to that as well. It looks like Ta-Nehisi Coates, one of his books maybe uses her imagery as well.
Dailyn: Yes. Yes.
John: That’s great. And that’s our show for this week. Scriptnotes is produced by Megana Rao. It is edited by Matthew Chilelli. Our outro this week is by Alex Winder. If you have an outro you can send us a link to firstname.lastname@example.org. That’s also the place where you send longer questions like the ones we answered today, but for short questions on Twitter Craig is @clmazin, I am @johnaugust.
Chad, you’re on Twitter, correct?
Chad: I am. I am @chadgcreasey with an SEY at the end.
John: And Dailyn are you on Twitter?
Dailyn: I am. I’m @dailynrod on Twitter.
John: Excellent. We have t-shirts. They’re great. They’re at Cotton Bureau. You can still get them in time for Christmas if you order now.
You can find the show notes for this episode and all episodes at johnaugust.com. That’s also where you find the transcripts and sign up for our weekly-ish newsletter called Inneresting which has a lot of links to things about writing.
You can sign up to become a Premium member at Scriptnotes.net where you get all the back episodes and bonus segments like the one we’re about to record on ambient TV. Chad, Dailyn, thank you so much for being on the show. I actually learned a ton this week so thank you very much.
Dailyn: You’re welcome and thank you for having me.
Chad: Yeah, thanks so much. This was a blast.
John: All right, we’re back and here in this bonus segment this is something that Megana actually found, so I’m going to invite her back on to set us up for this article about ambient TV.
Megana: Great. So this article is called Emily in Paris and the Rise of Ambient TV by Kyle Chayka in The New Yorker. And it came out about two weeks ago. And in the article he basically says that Netflix is pioneering a new genre of television, ambient TV, meant to be played in the background with low dramatic stakes that you can kind of just keep on as you are on your phone and scrolling through Instagram or Twitter or cleaning around the house. And he also brings up the new slate of reality makeover shows that Netflix has, you know, shows about organizing your closet, wardrobe makeover sort of things. And he also talks about soap operas and sort of the history of what he calls ambient television through different media.
John: Yeah. So one of the things I liked about his description of it is that some of these shows are sort of like Instagram but on TV, where it’s like Instagram is very kind of low engagement. You’re looking at it but there’s no stakes to Instagram. It’s just something that is sort of there in the background. And I think about you guys and your shows. You have storylines that you sort of have to follow. You are asking the audience to actually pay attention to them, whereas some of these other shows don’t seem to require attention.
Dailyn, as you look at this, what’s your take on ambient TV? Do you think it’s a meaningful thing to be thinking about?
Dailyn: Well, I have to be honest, I love ambient TV. [laughs] And I love that there’s a term that now I can use to refer to it. I watch a lot of HGTV. And I watch all those Chef’s Tables and all that kind of stuff. I like ambient TV in that world.
When it starts going into the Emily in Paris, which I tried to watch, that loses me. Because that really should have a narrative that’s interesting. When it’s more like a makeover show or a reality show like that that’s just sort of – like I watched a lot of Grand Designs where you go to see these houses and I can kind of be checking emails while I’m watching it. I find it very soothing. But I have this weird thing with television, because when I grew up watching TV when I was a little kid my mom and dad didn’t speak English and so they would just plop me in front of the TV and it was like my babysitter. But I used it as an emotional blanket, like whenever I would have a tantrum or get upset I’d turn on the TV and I’ve have my blanket and I would suck my thumb and I’d watch TV.
So TV is already this kind of soothing ambient thing. So those shows really appeal to this deep psychological part of my brain when I was a kid and could just soothe myself. So I think those shows are great. I’m just a little bit concerned with sort of the more Emily in Paris, like that didn’t appeal to me as much because I wanted more story. I liked the production value of it, but it felt a little too light and airy for me if I was really going to sit and commit to a series like that that has an arc. You know what I mean?
But the other stuff, the HGTV stuff and that kind of stuff I can just eat that up all day long.
John: Now, Chad, so we’re talking about HGTV which clearly has a formula, like you’re going to look at three houses and you’re going to fix this up and the home owner is going to be just delighted at the end and the episode is over. There’s really no stakes to it.
But I look at a CBS crime procedural which one could argue is similar in a way. There is a clear resolution. The evil will be punished. It’ll get to an end. Do you see any of these crime procedurals, like the one you’re working on, as functioning like ambient TV?
Chad: I don’t think that we would ever design or anyone would design a scripted show to be ambient TV. I mean, when you first sort of mentioned this and when I was reading through the article, I mean, I know Craig is not here but I was having umbrage wanting to defend writers who spend hours and lots of brain space coming up with the twists and turns of a story.
That being said, I do recognize and it’s something that we talk a lot about on our show. Which is that there’s never a desire to be ambient TV, but we know that people’s lives are busy. And I often bring up my own brother who watches our show but he’s a single father with four kids. And so at any moment he’s going to be helping one with homework and nuking dinner for another and getting another ready for bed, and so he’s only maybe able to catch every other minute of the episode. But by the end of it he still wants to feel satisfied. He wants to feel like he was maybe able to guess who the killer was. Or know where, oh yeah, I can see where that’s where they were going with those two characters.
And so, you know, it’s often that we sort of bake that into our formula that at the top of every act we kind of have a reset scene, you know, where we’re back in the squad room and we’re catching our characters up but we’re really catching our audience up on, OK, this is what we know about the crime right now. This is where the case is. And we kind of restate for them this is what we know and this is where we’re going so that if you happened to have missed a couple of minutes out of that previous act you don’t necessarily feel like the entire story has been ruined for you.
John: And that also matches up to an HGTV home makeover show. We’ll constantly recap what has just happened. And it feels necessary for that form.
Now, Chad, you had some umbrage but Megana you actually had a stronger reaction to this piece as well. So tell me about what you felt reading this.
Megana: Yeah. So I think like my biggest issue was that I felt like it was unfair to group Emily in Paris with these other unscripted shows. And to say that the things that Emily is dealing with drift into the background and the dramatic points don’t matter, I think, you know, a part of the reason why this show resonated with so many people was because it has that element of escapism and fantasy and sort of like wish fulfillment. And so I understand like the criticism around that, but I think to say that the story of a young woman moving to a foreign country and sort of navigating coming of age there, to say that that journey doesn’t matter, to me that’s like the hero’s journey and I think there’s a long history of cultural critics dismissing stories centered around women as unimportant or having low stakes.
And to me that just feels like unexamined misogyny a little bit.
John: Yeah. I think it’s good that you bring that up. You can imagine the period version of this story would seem to be more important, or the period version of the story with a man involved would seem to be more important and be like it’s about a young person’s self-discovery over the course of moving to Paris. If it’s Hemingway then it’s like, oh, then it matters. But if it’s this young woman moving to Paris it doesn’t matter as much. It seems low stakes because you personally don’t care, but that doesn’t mean that you are necessarily the only audience for something.
John: Now, this idea of ambient TV comes from Brian Enos’ description of ambient music, which is music that you don’t even have to listen to. You don’t have to actively listen. And definitely I noticed with me and Mike watching TV there are certain shows where I’m fully focused on what’s happening. So I watch The Crown and I’m fully watching The Crown, or Game of Thrones, because you actually have to engage. But there’s other shows that honestly I’ve got my iPad out and I’m playing some Hearthstone while it’s happening and that’s fine. I don’t have to direct all my attention to it.
And I think there’s a place for both things. I’m not a person who watches repeats. I don’t watch repeats of The Golden Girls. But some shows fill that same kind of space. You know, one of the shows I’ve loved over this pandemic has been Selena + Chef which is Selena Gomez learning how to cook. I mean, the stakes could not be lower except for her terrible knife skills. And yet it’s really comforting, the ability to wind down and not have to worry about something, or feel like I’m going to miss something. It’s like, nope, she’s going to make this dish. It’s going to turn out pretty well and Papa will enjoy it.
So there’s something nice to be said about that. And the fact that we have so much quality TV that’s better than ever before and so cinematic doesn’t mean that everything has to be up to that level. Dailyn what are your go-tos for ambient TV? What do you go to when you need some comforting?
Dailyn: Yeah, I mean, like I said I really can turn on that HGTV, and I also watch a lot of Bravo. I’m from New York and New Jersey, so I’m going to watch The Real Housewives of New York and The Real Housewives of New Jersey. I just am. And I can answer emails and do my taxes while that’s on in the background. So that’s a bit of my go-to.
I definitely have found myself, my husband and I right now during the pandemic we find ourselves going towards comfort shows also. I realized this morning my husband woke up and turned on the TV and I think it’s on Hulu, he just literally started watching Ted Lasso again from the beginning. I think because that’s an example of something, it’s not ambient TV, you really have to pay attention, but it’s very soothing and it’s a palate cleanser after everything we’ve just been through for the last few months.
But for sure I’m definitely somebody that likes watching these home renovation shows and some of these reality shows when they’re not too crazy.
John: And, Chad, do you have any go-tos for ambient TV?
Chad: Yeah. Again, you know me very well and I tend to be a completist. So if I start something and I’m hooked for a little bit I will – I watch television with purpose. So, again, I don’t want to dismiss any of the writers who have been, I know, putting in so many hours to create things. So I don’t l know if it’s so much ambient, but similar list to Dailyn, Ted Lasso when I had Covid I think made Covid feel not nearly as horrible, because it was just this bright shining little star of television for me. As well as my fiancé and I we had never watched Schitt’s Creek. And so that was just the comfort we needed during the pandemic.
You, John, turned us onto The Good Place and we’re almost all caught up with that. And being child of the ‘80s and ‘90s I think Cobra Kai I just think is this little piece of brilliance in terms of how they’ve taken something old and just completely turned it on its head.
You know, if there’s anything I would say ambient that I watch it’s because I have a daughter who is now being home-schooled all the time, Disney+ has been our saving grace. And she has discovered all sorts of shows, you know, sort of like how your daughter had her–
Chad: Jessie. And Bunked. And there are things that we can watch together that I can definitely be on my phone and signing emails and she’s watching again and again. But every now and then I kind of get sucked into it as well and it’s just sort of delightful to have during these crazy times.
John: Megana, I’ll leave this with you since you proposed the topic. Do you think ambient TV is a meaningful concept and if so what recommendations would you have for ambient TV?
Megana: I do think it’s a meaningful concept because I do think that there is a place for shows that you have on in the background to kind of keep you company. So I guess my go-to for this sort of thing, I don’t like the negative connotation of ambient TV because I think even reality television producers are amazing at their jobs, but there are times where I just want to watch something that doesn’t have high stakes because we already live in a world with so much going on.
So, sometimes I’ll put Say Yes to the Dress on because I want the worst outcome of what I’m watching is that that person doesn’t find their perfect wedding dress on that day. And I feel like that’s all that I can handle in terms of conflict. And then in terms of comforting television have watched Ted Lasso like three times. And I’m so grateful for Schitt’s Creek and being able to work my way through that.
John: Excellent. Thank you all very much for this and hopefully this was some good ambient podcasting for you to get you through your day. Thanks all.
- Beowulf: A New Translation by Maria Dahvana Headley
- WGA Health Plans
- Calida Garcia Rawles
- “Emily in Paris” and the Rise of Ambient TV for the New Yorker by Kyle Chayka
- Dailyn Rodriguez on Twitter
- Chad Gomez Creasey on Twitter
- Get a Scriptnotes T-shirt!
- John August on Twitter
- Craig Mazin on Twitter
- John on Instagram
- Outro by Alex Winder (send us yours!)
- Scriptnotes is produced by Megana Rao and edited by Matthew Chilelli.
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