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TV Mavens, Check Out 'The Writers' Room,' Hosted by Jim Rash (VIDEO PREVIEW)

Photo of Anne Thompson By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood July 29, 2013 at 9:35PM

This is my idea of a good time: a smart TV series about my fave TV shows and the writers who write them. So far I've seen three half-hour episodes (presented by The Sundance Channel and Entertainment Weekly). Each show features Oscar-winning screenwriter Jim Rash ("The Descendants")-- who also acts on "Community" and wrote, directed and stars in summer hit "The Way, Way Back"-- gently interviewing the showrunner and various writers and usually one star of a hit show. They talk shop, and luckily Rash--who is sharp, funny and curious--has a good sense of how to get entertaining intel out of these gifted people.
'The Writers' Room'
'The Writers' Room'

The ongoing question the writers ask on the show: "Where's Walt's head at?" Also, not going too far too fast. There's a line they have to be sensitive about not crossing.

And no, they never know where it's going exactly. Gilligan does, a bit. And he didn't initially set the series in New Mexico--they went to Albuquerque because of tax rebates. Now they feel that the landscape is a crucial character in the story. And yes, they're working on a new series. Maybe a spin-off. 

The "Parks and Recreation" episode is hilarious because Rash and Amy Poehler play well off each other--Leslie Knope was initially coming off as ditzy and they nipped that in the bud. "She has a sense of play but we do know who's in charge," says Poehler, who knows where her bread is buttered. "When we read our scripts every week it's like Christmas." I had never heard the term the "goldilocks" version of a story--the super-simple no details take. And the "candy bag" holds pitches for side jokes, or treats. 

Jake Johnson is also fun to watch on the "New Girl" episode, which is fascinating partly because Elizabeth Meriwether, television's youngest showrunner at age 29, had written the screenplay for "No Strings Attached," starring Johnson, but had never done a writers' room. She was so young and untried that she had to learn how to collaborate with the pros--as well as fight for her own voice, which comes through loud and clear. She's part of The Fempire, the Diablo Cody screenwriting posse. 

Sundance Channel approached EW, while Cagle's TV editorial team booked all the shows and negotiated the access. "The print product is not going to go away," he says. "It will never make the money it used to. Circulation figures are the same, 1.7 million, but we have to find a home for these advertising dollars. The website is successful. We're expanding it, looking for other streams of revenue, not to replace the magazine, which is still what readers want. It's the backbone of the brand."

Also still to come on The Writers' Room are "Dexter," "American Horror Story," and the one I can't wait to see, "Game of Thrones."

As for Rash, he and partner Nat Faxon just did a promo tour with "The Way, Way Back" to 30 cities around the world, and are back at writing, finishing an action comedy for Kristen Wiig with a "darker tone, more like 'Raising Arizona,' a farcical thing," Rash says. And they're writing another original for Fox Searchlight more like "The Way, Way Back," mining another complicated family. (My "Way, Way Back" interview is here.) 

This article is related to: Writers' Room, SundanceTV, SundanceTV, Entertainment Weekly, Jim Rash, Breaking Bad, Bryan Cranston, Jake Johnson, Amy Poehler, TV, TV Features, TV News, TV Reviews, Television

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Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.