Patty Lin, a former TV writer whose credits include “Breaking Bad,” “Friends” and “Desperate Housewives,” has a problem with Hollywood’s lionization of so-called “auteur showrunners” — such as her former boss, Vince Gilligan.
Lin, in an interview with Salon after the release of her memoir detailing much of her career, put the blame for the “hero worship” of such writers and producers in meta terms. She said that this sort of creatives makes for a good story — and an easy one — versus the tediousness of a collaborative leader and team.
“This idea of everybody heralding the ‘auteur genius showrunner,’ we’ve got to get rid of that,” Lin said. “That sort of worship is part of the toxic culture in Hollywood. I think it makes a great story. It’s very simple and clean, and it’s not as shiny as a story about a bunch of people in a writers’ room who are all collaborating and making each other feel included. That’s the problem: Hollywood creates stories about itself. And those things just get perpetuated. There are books written about it, right? You know, ‘Difficult Men.’ Ooh. So yeah, we need to get rid of that sort of hero worship.”
But the issues Lin took with these showrunners were twofold, the other of which flies in the face of the notion of minimum staffing requirements for writers’ rooms — a key point in the WGA’s strike demands with the AMPTP.
“There’s been talk about… essentially mandating that every show hire a certain number of writers,” Lin said. “I don’t know how I feel about that, and here’s why — if you take a showrunner who doesn’t want to have a staff, and you force them to hire a staff, I don’t see that being a good situation for those writers.”
Lin, whose revelations in her book, “End Credits: How I Broke Up With Hollywood,” have garnered national headlines, said the benefits of writing on the staff of an “auteur showrunner” such as “Breaking Bad” are illusory.
“To be on a staff where you are essentially being sidelined because the showrunner has no interest in training you how to write that show, that is a terrible, terrible experience,” Lin said. “Nobody wants to go through that. So that’s why when I hear, ‘We should make sure that all these shows have a minimum number of [writers],’ it’s just not going to work.”
Taylor Sheridan, the creator for the many shows of the “Yellowstone” universe, among others, fits the profile of “auteur genius showrunner” better than anyone in Hollywood at the moment. To the consternation of many WGA members, Sheridan had similar sentiments to Lin’s in June, telling The Hollywood Reporter that he didn’t like the creative format of a writers’ room.
“The freedom of the artist to create must be unfettered,” Sheridan said. “If they tell me, ‘You’re going to have to write a check for $540,000 to four people to sit in a room that you never have to meet,’ then that’s between the studio and the guild. But if I have to check in creatively with others for a story I’ve wholly built in my brain, that would probably be the end of me telling TV stories.”
Lin, who hasn’t worked as a TV writer in 15 years, also weighed in on the streaming trend toward shorter seasons with fewer episodes.
“As a consumer of entertainment, sometimes I’m thrilled that they’re only 10 episodes, because I go, ‘Wow, they got out before they had to jump the shark,'” she said. “There is a natural lifespan to every show. And that has to be determined organically. To say, ‘Yeah, we’re going to do seven seasons of this show,’ it just doesn’t make sense.”
On residuals, she had mixed feelings about her experience — and how they play into the landscape of the WGA strike.
“I think in general, we live in a gig culture, and that’s why we’re starting to see labor coming together and saying, ‘We can’t live like this,'” she said. “As a TV writer, you go through long stretches of time where you’re not working, and the residuals are very important to just keep you afloat.
“And here’s a hot take for you: There’s been a lot of talk about how, in the streaming era, the seasons now tend to be 10 episodes or something, and it used to be on network television, you would get a season of 22 or 23 episodes, and that was much greater job security for the writers who were on those shows,” Lin added. “And some writers would be on a show like that for years and years and years, and they could send their kids to college on that. A lot of people are talking about that aspect of it, and I get that. But when I was a TV writer during that era, I never had that job security, because I worked on shows that got canceled after one season or I was let go. So it’s not a stable, steady job. It just isn’t.”
Lin pointed to another show she worked on as the ideal scenario for a TV writer.
“Again, I don’t have the solution to this problem, unfortunately,” she told Salon. “I really wish I did. But all I can say is that there are showrunners out there or creators out there, who are interested in true collaboration. I mean, like, you know, when I worked on ‘Freaks and Geeks,’ Paul (Feig) and Judd (Apatow) were showrunners who knew that if they opened up the room to collaboration and created an environment where everybody felt like their ideas were welcomed and taken seriously, that they knew that was going to create a better product in the end. So we know that it can be done.”
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