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A Late-Blooming Writer on the Complicated Business of Time and Television

Q: Have you hypothesized why that might be? Is there a basis for it?

A: To some extent it might be valid. I mean, it’s certainly true in rock ‘n roll. Pop culture is this wave that is completely kinetic and never stands still for a second and it’s moving through 20-year-olds, basically. Everybody else is a little too young or a little too old. So for a brief moment you’re at that peak, and maybe that’s the way pop culture should be. And television is not quite as intense as rock n roll, but there are hip shows and people want to be on the hip shows. And the network executives, it might be an illusion or not, they have this sense that there’s this aura of coolness to certain things and certain writers.

Q: And that younger people can –

A: — understand that.

Q: — channel the cool.

A: Can channel the cool, right.

Q: That’s interesting. So you think there’s a connection between the target demographic and the creative demographic.

A: I don’t know if it’s scientifically-based or not, but that is the belief. It may or may not be true. I honestly don’t know. I don’t know if 30-year-olds write things that 30-year-olds want to see, but that is the belief of the networks who want 20 to 30-year-olds or 18 to 30-year-olds to be watching their shows and aren’t interested in 55-year-olds watching their shows.

Q: Do you think that you could write a show for a 20-year-old as well as –

A: No, probably not.

Q: What is television’s target demographic?

A: Well, 18 to 49.

Q: That’s pretty broad.

A: 18 to 30 is what they prefer. There’s this myth out there, I’m sure you’ve heard it, that it all comes down to advertising. That people pick brands and are more vulnerable to picking brands when they’re younger. The myth part is that then they will stick with that brand forever, that if you can convince somebody to smoke Camel cigarettes when they’re 20, they may smoke Camel cigarettes for 50 years. But it has been scientifically proven that 50 and 60 year olds are just as likely to try something new and they have more cash. But advertisers want to get 20-year-olds. They’re not interested in 55-year-olds.

Q: So television shows are geared to please the advertisers who want to sell to 20-year-olds.

A: And that trickles into –

Q: No wonder television sucks.

A: Well, it trickles into the kind of shows that get made, and then that trickles into the kind of writers that they want.

Q: But what about a show like Mad Men or Treme which are geared toward older, more sophisticated viewers.

A: With cable, there are all these niche shows, on niche stations even, networks that can afford to just hit a high brow audience and if they reach two or three million people then they’re perfectly happy and perfectly successful. It’s a different financial model than network television, which has to have 15 million people watching their shows to be successful.

Q: And you’re exclusively network?

A: I have been. I would like to move into cable, except that it doesn’t pay as well.

Q: So let me ask you this. Do you differentiate, in terms of quality or creativity, between what you do when you’re writing a spec script or a novel at home and what you come to work every day to do?

A: Yeah.

Q: Do those feel like two different creative tasks?

A: They are. Because you know what I do here everyday, writing my show, is just being like a carpenter. You’re making this building and the blueprint to some extent is there already. And writing a spec script you’re an architect –

Q: But you’re still creating. You’re dreaming up words and sentences and dialogue and –

A: — but the basic framework of a show about FBI agents is every week we’re going to see a horrible murderer in the beginning and then we’re going to spend the rest of the show catching him.

Q: It’s pretty prescribed.

A: And we’re going to catch him somewhere between page 42 and 50. So within that context you can do it really well or you can do it really badly. But it’s a different muscle. I am very good, I think, and the world has told me that I’ve been very good, at fitting into that model and knowing how to do that and digging something a little deeper and little richer out of that and finding something real there in the context of FBI guys chasing a bad guy. But it is a more of a technique than an inspiration.

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