Charles "Chic" Eglee might be the most prolific television producer you've never heard of. His resume reads like a laundry list of Hall of Fame shows. The man worked on Moonlighting, NYPD Blue, The Shield, Dexter, The Walking Dead, and more. He comes across as one-part college professor, one-part no-nonsense street philosopher, and one-part grizzled industry veteran. He's the kind of guy you want to buy a beer just to hear him talk for hours.
Mr. Eglee sat down with us to talk signing onto Hemlock Grove in the middle of the series and the craft of TV writing.
On what attracted him to Hemlock Grove:
"The show that I saw produced last year was so beautiful and inviting. So beautifully rendered. Such a wonderful group of actors. Such talented people. I think Brian McGreevy set a table that I was more than happy to be a dinner guest at. And, I think the opportunity to do work with Netflix factored into my calculus. I began my television era in broadcast television, moved into basic cable, and then into premium TV. It's exciting to be part of this new wave of media. I'm interested in seeing how new media is going to impact the content, how we tell our stories. We told stories in a certain way for broadcast television. That morphed and became a certain way for basic cable. I think we're only now discovering what new media story telling is going to be like. I'm fascinated to see what the third act of my career is going to be like."
On what Hemlock Grove is really about:
"At the end of the day this is a family show. There are two families: Peter's family and Roman's family. It's about these boys becoming men and taking their place in the world. It's examining all the pathologies of family. Anybody who's been to a Thanksgiving dinner knows just how horrible and challenging it can be, yet in a time of need or struggle, that's who you go to. It's a dichotomy of attraction and revulsion to their genetic kindred."
On joining a show mid-run:
"It might be construed that I wait until it's well-established that there's no sharks in the water until I go on. [Laughs.] That would be wrong. It cuts both ways. On the one hand, you come into something that is underway and you understand that they sort of cleared the land and leveled the field so that you can pitch your tent. The other side of that is, you are coming into something that there is an awful lot to live up to. Some of these shows have set the bar pretty high. You have to come in and honor that. You come in with a great deal of humility because there is nothing harder than writing a pilot and selling a pilot. It is starting with an absolutely blank page and getting everyone to see the same thing. It is an entirely different process than actually producing a show. You come in with a sense of humility about what's been done before and you want to add to it, embellish it, expand it, take it further."
"I have not read Brian's book. I look forward to reading it after I'm done with the show. I didn't read any of the Dexter books. While I was doing The Shield I never watched The Wire. I wanted to have a pure experience. For me, on Dexter when we got out of the book – writer's weren't worried about this, but everyone else was – the sense was, 'what are we going to do?' We're going to think shit up.
On writing "genre" shows versus writing "realistic" shows:
"It's really the same process. I don't think of any of these shows because their genre. James Cameron taught me that. We sat down to talk about Dark Angel. What I wanted to do was an urban youth ensemble. I wanted to work with Chuck D. I wanted to work with Public Enemy. And James said, 'That's cool. What if the girl was genetically engineered? He just did a full Jim Cameron.' I said, 'I don't know anything about science fiction. I don't write science fiction.' He said, 'Don't you understand? That's the beauty of it.' You say science fiction to the production designer and they go get giant aluminum balls that shoot Tesla beams. It's just writing people in dramatic situations whatever the 'genre' is you're telling an emotional truth about where people are, whether they're being attacked by zombies or they're wrestling with their own pathology. What is it to be a human being."
On "when the light came on" for him as a writer:
"I was approaching writing as this task, as this job. It's very serious. We sit at our desks. The right pencils. The right tie. Work. And that was a really limiting thing. Then I went to work on Moonlinghting. It was this wacky fucking show about whatever you could think up. I remember one producer telling the art director 'I want a nine-foot tall piece of broccoli that has to be able to fly by Bruce Willis.' Whatever you could think of that was relevant to the story. We had fun. We were telling a love story and the vessel for the love story was a detective show. But it wasn't a detective story. It was a love story about two people who loved each other but couldn't find the words to say it.
Once I tapped into the notion that writing was play and writing is fun—not that it isn't hard, it's extremely difficult. But I had a phase shift about what the process of writing was and that's when I started learning how to write."