Given its scathing (and very funny) critique of the television business, it will be interesting to see if the critically hailed Showtime comedy Episodes is embraced by Television Academy members when it’s time to vote for Emmys. One hurdle will be how well they remember it -- the series debuted in January and ended in March, having been launched with an order of just seven episodes. That’s because it was co-produced and mostly funded by the BBC (short runs are common in the U.K.).
Less well-known is that despite its iconic L.A. settings, it was also shot in London, where production designer Grenville Horner and FX house Stargate Studios created amazing likenesses of locales such as the Ivy restaurant on Robertson, a Malibu beach house and a hilltop Hollywood Hills house with a dazzling nighttime view. The series follows the disastrous results when a pair of married British TV writers, Sean and Beverly (Stephen Mangan and Tamsin Grieg) bring their BAFTA-winning comedy Lyman’s Boys across the pond for a Hollywood remake, having been wooed by an effusive network head, Merc Lapidus (John Pankow), who as it turns out, has never watched it.
Matt LeBlanc plays an evil-twin version of himself as an American TV star desperate for a comeback vehicle who contrives to get himself cast in the lead. The revamped series morphs into a mindless romp called Pucks! about a high school hockey coach, and the writers are left to adapt to the changes -- and the culture shock of Hollywood - as best they can. We talked to the creators, the American writing team of David Crane (Friends) and Jeffrey Klarik (Mad About You), who scripted all seven episodes, and have plenty of network experience to draw from.
Q: What do you have to report about working in the U.K.?
Klarik: That we’re now very spoiled because the BBC really stays out of it. Once they buy it, it’s “Okay, we’ll see you when you’re done.” They don’t’ visit the set; they don’t give you notes. And (Showtime’s) Bob Greenblatt pretty much promised us the same thing.
Crane: It was as far from our network experience as it could be. It was the exact opposite of the show we’re making up.
Q: You guys collaborated on The Class, which CBS cancelled after one season. Is it fair to say that experience helped inspire the show?
Klarik: We’ve both been doing this for a long time and we have a lot of war stories. David always says he doesn’t want to burn bridges. I say I don’t care, because I’m never going back to network television, so I don’t feel worried about it. Whatever we’re saying is true, and God knows that in fact, we pulled back on it to protect people.
Crane: (about Klarik) He’s out on the bridge with a gasoline can.
Klarik: And we’ve always said it’s not a behind-the-scenes industry show. It’s about relationships and what happens to this particular couple as they embark on this bizarre journey. And we can really identify with that, with working together 24 hours a day.
Q: Is Merc, the head of the network, based on anyone in particular?
Klarik: Merc is every executive. We certainly don’t know anyone who’s got a blind wife. We made a lot up. It’s a composite of a whole bunch of people, and Hitler.
Q: What kind of reaction have you gotten from people in the industry?
Crane: We got great emails from network presidents and former network presidents, and they say, “Yeah, you caught it.”
Klarik: These big heavy hitter guys were writing us fan letters. With all the shows we’ve worked on, we’ve never gotten this kind of response from people.
Crane: Maybe because it speaks to the world we all live in. It was pretty wonderful, and surprising. Even on Friends, it was never this kind of response – you were in more of a bubble. It’s been a really fun ride.