In general, no one asked me, while I was doing an interview, who was publishing it. I just said, "I'm doing a book, do you want to take part in it?" Pretty much everybody other than Matt Weiner and Joss Whedon [citing busy work schedules] said, "Sure."
Only a couple of times in interviews did it even come up, who was publishing it. I remember one time I was speaking with a TV executive and he did ask that question, and I said, "I am," and there was sort of this awkward moment where you could see him saying, "Oh, God, why did I do this?" [Laughs.] But everyone else understood it and got that the world was changing, and that it was possible for me to do this.
How much did the book change once you started doing fresh interviews?
It was just better for having done the interviews. I feel like it would have just been a rehash of what I'd written in column form if I went the original route. A lot of writers do that, just collecting their greatest hits, putting them in between two hardcovers, and selling it that way, and I think that would have been a good book, but it's a much more satisfying book now that I not only had archival stuff, but I have David Chase reflecting on The Sopranos finale five years later, and sort of thinking about the reaction to it.
The book has [Damon] Lindelof being relatively removed from the ending of Lost and mostly, though not entirely, at peace with how people have reacted to it. I got a lot more candor than when I interviewed these people when the shows were still on. The Lost guys were never that open before about the origins of the show as they were in that chapter.
That Lost chapter is definitely one of the book's highlights. It really does show just how Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse struggled to map out the show's overarching mythology during the first season. There's the really fascinating quote from Lindelof where he says that he was terrified once Lost's big ratings came in, since he then realized that they were actually going to have to find a way to sustain the show over a longer period of time. It puts these guys, who some hardcore fans love to either idolize or tear apart, into a much more human form, if that makes sense.
It definitely does. During the course of making that show, or making any of these shows, there are certain things you have to say publicly for the sake of the show and creative integrity and all of that, but now that these shows, except for Breaking Bad and Mad Men, they don't have to worry about that as much. For the most part, they're willing to be more open about some of the nitty-gritty and what they knew and when they knew it.
The book has much new information in it. For instance, I had no idea that when HBO green-lit The Sopranos, they were choosing between that project and a new show from the creator of My So-Called Life, about a female business executive. It's crazy to think how much different television as we know it would be if they'd gone for that other show back then.
Yeah, that's the first I'd ever heard of that, too. That had never come up before, and it was just, wow, the world would be a very different place, TV wise, if that had happened. There were a few casting stories I had never heard before. I had never heard that Eric Stoltz was being considered to lead The Shield. I had never heard that John C. Reilly was being considered for McNulty [on The Wire]; I had always been under the assumption that they had deliberately gone after unknowns for The Wire, when, as it turns out, they just couldn't get a more recognizable actor to do it.
While reading the book, it dawns on you just how differently things work today, as a result of all these shows hitting it big. But back when they were being made, executives weren't breathing down the showrunners' backs with notes and demands—the execs at channels like HBO, FX, and AMC didn't know if any of these shows would actually work, and just let the people who created them run wild. Is it sad to see how that model really doesn't exist anymore?
It does and it doesn't. I don't know that there's a cluster of shows as great as The Sopranos, The Wire, and Deadwood, but you have a lot of really good shows right now. Basically, all it ever takes for things to change is for a new player to enter the arena. The so-called "golden age" had started to already settle down when AMC showed up, and not only was AMC wide open, they forced HBO and Showtime to step up their games.
Now, we have Netflix, and I haven't necessarily any of the output that Netflix has put out so far, but I also haven't seen the new Arrested Development yet. They're approaching things in a new and different way that it could force the traditional TV networks to revisit and reevaluate how it is they present content. So that could be great. I hope Arrested Development is good. I hope that season 2 of House of Cards is great.
I don't know that I feel sad—the Wild West has settled, and it feels like, with the Internet and broadband, there are new frontiers to open up, whether or not you consider them to be quote-unquote "TV."
Does this new Netflix model remind you of how it used to be done? It didn't seem like they were bothering David Fincher too much while he was making House of Cards.
Yeah, my understanding is that Fincher had a lot of autonomy on House of Cards and that Mitch Hurwitz has a lot of autonomy on Arrested Development. That seems to be the way that Netflix wants it, at least for now. If Netflix becomes a huge success, or if the Amazon sitcoms suddenly become a success, maybe things become codified like how they did at HBO, AMC, and other places, but at least, for now, there's a chance for something new to happen. If House of Cards goes in and sweeps the Emmys, HBO and AMC are going to have to react to that. So we'll see what happens.
Another big difference between today's TV culture and how it was back when something like The Sopranos was in its prime is the widespread advent of online episode recaps. Since you're, in many ways, the godfather of TV recaps, is your job tougher these days, considering the amount of recaps popping up everyday? Does that water your stuff down at all?
It's only made it more challenging in that… Two things distinguished me early on. One, I was doing it, and, two, I was doing it on my own. AV Club has lots and lots of recappers—I have me. Even now that I'm at HitFix, and HitFix covers other shows, in terms of what appears on my blog, it's me doing it. I think one of the things I've learned over the last few years is that less is more. I'm probably not writing about as many shows as I used to, but I'm going more in-depth with most of the shows.
If you go back and look ay my blog on Blogspot, a lot of those reviews were a paragraph, or two paragraphs, or, "Here are five shows talked about in the same post," and now I'm really trying to go in-depth on episodes, whether it's sitcoms or dramas, and that takes up more time. That means I can write about fewer shows. And the other challenge is that there is simply more TV now than there was back then. There are so many channels doing stuff on top of things like Netflix. It's impossible to keep up with it all. I'm sure I'm missing a lot of really good shows that I would have written about back in the day, but there's just not enough time.