Exclusive: Michael Lange On Being A Teen Drama Director

24 01 2010

What makes someone a teen drama director? Well, directing four–yes, four!–of them certainly helps! Michael Lange directed 12 episodes of Beverly Hills 90210, 7 episodes of Dawson’s Creek, 13 episodes of The O.C. and 3 episodes of One Tree Hill. Not too shabby, eh?

Lange is currently a producer on Greek and will soon start working on Drop Dead Diva. If you ever wondered what it was like working on more than one of the teen dramas–or on any show for that matter–let Lange give you some, ahem, direction.

TeenDramaWhore: How do you become a director for one of these shows or even any show?

Michael Lange: Well, I’ve been doing it for 26 years. I’m going onto my 27th year this July. I now have a long track record so I get jobs through my agent and just my reputation. I have pretty big network of people now that I’ve worked with so that’s kind of how I do it. How people get into doing it is a whole different question and is extremely different now than when I was doing it, because of technology. When I got into to directing, everything was on film. This was the early 80s–1983 to be exact. I got a job as a post-production assistant on a show and I made it my business to be in dailies, which is when everyone watched the film from the day before–every single day–and, of course, everyone showed up because it was all on film. So at lunch time, people would assemble in the screening room and everyone would watch the dailies. The same thing with all the editor’s cut, the director’s cut and the producer’s cut. It would all be screened in a screening room and anyone who was interested in having a vote on anything had to be there. That’s exactly how I got my first opportunity. We were watching a cut and it was missing a few pretty crucial pieces of footage and the producer said, “Oh my god. How are we going to fix this?” and I literally raised my hand and said “I know how to fix it,” which, of course, I didn’t know, and he said, “Okay, go.” And everything in those days was much more casual so I was able to book a facility for the next day and book talent and book a little production company to shoot it. None of that could happen today because everything is all purchase orders because of all the insurance stuff. Everything is much more regulated today. Anyway, I did my thing and everyone thought it was great and that was the beginning of my directing career.

Today, it’s more about relationships. For example, I am fairly influential in who gets to direct Greek. However, I have four colleagues–four other exec. producers on the show–all of whom want to see the footage, propose directors, take a look at their resumes, possibly meet them and then the network also gets involved. Whereas when I did it, one guy gave me a shot. No network. No other producers had to okay it. Just that one person. So now we have a big committee and also because the budgets are much tighter now than they were then, we don’t have a lot of room for missteps. So a lot of times we reject people who don’t have that much experience, even if they’re very talented. If they don’t have that much experience, we can’t really afford to take a chance in case they’re going to mess up, ‘cause then it affects everything. If someone goes seriously over-schedule, then it affects almost the rest of the season. You have to try and catch up for those extra costs. Like last year, I had an intern who was a very impressive guy, very smart, very personable and we actually wanted to give him a shot to direct an episode. Unfortunately it didn’t work out because a couple of people kind of balked at his lack of experience. So it’s tough today.

Sometimes a cameraman on a show–like our cameraman, if we go a 4th season, he’s sort of guaranteed to be able to direct an episode. Sometimes the actors on shows will make it part of their deal to direct an episode and then hope to continue directing. But for someone brand-new breaking in, it’s really, really hard now. One of the ways I suggest they can show people their work is if they make a short film. But, again, it has to be really good because they’re competing against people like me who have a lot of film on their resume and a lot of experience. It’s tough. It’s really tough. Tougher than I can ever remember it being to get in. I mean, it’s never been an easy thing to do, obviously, because there’s  a lot of people vying for not that many jobs but today even more so. It’s kind of a killer. We’ve done 64 episodes of Greek and I’ve produced on 54 of them and I think pretty much every one we have had directors that have quite a bit of experience. I don’t think we’ve given a shot to anyone that is brand-new. I think they have a better chance, in a way, on the bigger shows because they have a little bit more of a budget and therefore more room for missteps.

TDW: When you’re hired to be a director for an already established show, what are you responsible for?

Lange: Well, for example, next week the show I’m starting on is the finale of Make It Or Break It [Ed. note: Make It Or Break It is executive produced by Paul Stupin, who was the executive producer on Dawson’s Creek]. I’m not really familiar with that show. I’ve seen a couple of episodes. So what I’ll do is I’ll probably spend the first day of prep immersing myself in the show–reading as many scripts as I can and watching as many of the previous episodes of the show as they can show me. I obviously read the script I’m about to direct but I usually try to do all the other stuff first so that when I read the script, I’ll have some kind of context of what’s going on. Then once I familiarize myself with the show and the script, I try to meet the [director of photography] and maybe talk with him a bit about the style of the show that they like. I’ll try to interact a little bit with the actors and a little bit with the writer. The director does casting of any guest star roles and then also if there are any locations in the show that are not the normal ones that they shoot, you’re shown the [options] by the location manager and you figure out which ones are going to work best and that kind of stuff. They’ll run the schedule by the director to see if they’re comfortable with the amount of work each day. Then if there are any script suggestions that the director has, things that he or she doesn’t think work, obviously you’re able to weigh in on that also. It’s a little bit political and you have to sort of pick your battles a little bit. If there’s something in the script that really seriously bothers me, then I’ll usually ask around before I go to talk to the producer about it. I’ll sort of check out if that’s normally how the scenes go or maybe there’s something I don’t realize. Then if everything checks out, I’ll go and talk to the producer.

I remember once doing a David E. Kelley show. I did Ally McBeal and he was notorious for not liking anyone to comment on the scripts and there was something that really bothered me in one scene so I told the producer that I needed to go talk to him and they pretty much recommended against it. But my attitude as a director is if you’re doing it as a safe job, that’s not really what the job is. You really need to sort of put it on the line. So I decided to go in and talk to him about it and actually, luckily, he agreed with me so he made the change. But had he not agreed with me, I don’t know. But that’s a risk you take. You have to take those, I think.

TDW: So do you find it’s a balance between your vision and what the show has done thus far?

Lange: Yes, definitely. Television is a medium where each week the audience wants a version of the same show. Not literally the same story but they want the characters to be consistent, they want the show to look consistent. It’s their show. They’ve adopted it into their lives and I don’t think they want it to be different. So part of the responsibility of each director coming in is to sort of observe what the show is and basically do that. You’re sort of shepherding the show through that’s week episode and, at the end of it, it shouldn’t really look significantly different than all the other episodes. What a director can bring to a show is enthusiasm. A little bit of a different point of view is great as long as it fits what they like. Like on Drop Dead Diva, one of the things they liked about my episodes-which is why they offered me this producing position on the show–is that they felt I really got the tone of the show more than some of the other directors they had last season. So that’s something also; you try to pick up the tone of the show and basically do that. I always try to encourage a lightness on the set because I think people do their best work when they’re having a good time. That’s another thing that’s influenced by the director: the tone of the set. We’ve had some directors on Greek who are more serious and the tone of the set becomes more serious. It has some advantages but on Greek we’ve ended up leaning towards directors who are not that more serious. Well, serious about the work but not serious about how you got there.

TDW: I cover 6 shows on my site and you’ve directed 4 of them. I thought, if I was ever to interview a director for the site, it’s gotta be one that worked on as many of them as you did.

Lange: Oh my god. That’s wild.

TDW: I thought we could go chronologically and see what you remember from each of your experiences. Looking at the ones you did for Beverly Hills 90210, you directed some pretty huge episodes there. The season 4 finale [Episode 4.31-32, Mr. Walsh Goes To Washington], the season 5 premiere [Episode 5.01, What I Did On My Summer Vacation And Other Stories], the season 6 premiere [Episode 6.01, Home Is Where The Tart Is], the season 6 finale [Episode 6.31-32, You Say It’s Your Birthday], the season 9 finale [Episode 9.26, That‘s The Guy]. Those are huge benchmarks in the series. What do you remember about those? Is it different being called in for a premiere and a finale?

Lange: I had a great time doing the finales and the premieres. It is a little bit different. The finales usually–well, I think the 9 wasn’t but the other two finales were 2-hour episodes. So for the [one-hour], that show was shot in 7 days and for the two-hour, we ended up getting 14 days. And usually there was one sort of giant set piece sequence. I think in the season 4 finale, it was the carnival, right?

TDW: Yes. Season 4 you have the Greek carnival.

Lange: It was a huge amount of fun. And basically, because it’s 14 days you have more latitude in how everything is scheduled and you have more production value. I got a crane a couple of those days and everything is sort of bigger and better. So they were a huge amount of fun to direct and usually the stories are pretty epic in those finales. The same thing with the premieres, though those were 1-hour. But because it’s a premiere, you have more time to prepare. And there’s a little bit of a badge of courage thing. As a director, it’s a little more prestigious to do premieres and finales. At least in those days, on that show. Usually also there’s more publicity about them so pretty much every day on those episodes, there was someone, you know, doing interviews or behind-the-scenes stuff.

TDW: Does that translate to more pressure for you?

Lange: Well, I’m sure there is more pressure but you have to sort of train yourself as a director to not really notice the pressure too much. I’m sure it comes out somewhere in my body; I’m just not sure where. In a way, on the finale, which were, as I said, were 2-hours, it felt like to me there was less pressure in terms of time because you were able to have a little bit more time for everything. And was the Queen Mary–

TDW: That was the season 6 finale.

Lange: Yes, that was also a huge amount of fun.

TDW: I would imagine that it must be somewhat difficult to shoot on a cruise ship.

Lange: Actually, it wasn’t. It was completely a joyous experience. There were a number of scenes that were in the lobby of the ship and as soon as I got to the lobby, I said to the producer that there’s no way we’re going to shoot in this lobby because the actual lobby of the Queen Mary is extremely small. So I said we needed to build one on the stage. So that whole lobby was a set. So what you try to do is minimize the degree of difficulty that will hurt the actual shooting of the scenes but there’s a point at which, obviously, if it’s too easy, that’s not good either. It’s a bit of a judgment call. The lobby I just said we can’t do that. Then everything else–shooting on the deck, the ballroom scene with the Goo Goo Dolls–that was actually on the boat. That was great. The crew on that show, they had been doing it for a number of years and it was an excellent group of people. They knew the show well. A lot of making those sequences go well is just in the planning. When to shoot what and how to do it. That stuff. So it actually went really well on the Queen Mary.

In fact, I have one little personal anecdote, which is amusing about that one. The Queen Mary is in Long Beach, California, and I live in the Hollywood Hills. It’s like a 45-minute drive from my house to the Queen Mary. So I thought to myself that these were going to be some killer days and I decided to stay on the boat. We shot there for six days and it was actually a Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and then a Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday. So Wednesday night I stayed on the boat, Thursday night I stayed on the boat, and then the following week, Monday and Tuesday I stayed on the boat. And I thought that way I’ll eliminate an hour-and-a-half of driving in my day. The first day, I believe, was the day we did the Goo Goo Dolls sequence. They did 3 songs. We had a lot of scenes in the big ballroom and almost the entire cast was in the scenes. I thought, well, that’s going to easily be a 14-hour day. Well, we ended up finishing it in about 11 hours and every day there was actually shorter than I imagined it to be. But I still ended up staying on the boat, which was great. We actually pretended we were on a cruise. There were a number of us that were staying aboard and we would go up to the bar and have some cocktails and appetizers. It was just completely a fantastic experience.

TDW: Wow. It sounds like a lot of fun.

Lange: It was a huge amount of fun, I must say. I always enjoyed doing that show because it was so well-produced that it was–I’m not going to say easy, because easy is the wrong word. But relative to other shows that I directed, it was just all pleasurable. There really wasn’t that much pressure and the cast was fantastic. The producer was a great guy and everything about it was really great.

TDW: In season 9 you had another big one, You Say Goodbye, I Say Hello [9.07]. It wasn’t a finale or a premiere but it was big in the history of the show because it was the last episode with Tiffani Amber Thiessen [Valerie] and it was the return episode for Luke Perry [Dylan]. Were there high expectations with that?

Lange: Everyone was looking at the dailies more closely but that was a show where there was not a lot of presence on the set of the network or the writers. I remember a couple of times, actually more early on in my experience on 90210, where I didn’t do enough shots for them and I’d have to go back and pick up some more shots but pretty much by season 9, it was a pretty smoothly-run machine. The biggest job, honestly, by that time was just to get some enthusiasm out of the cast. Because they had been doing it for so long, they were sort of not always as energetic as they should’ve been. So I would often have to cheerlead them into getting a little more energy into the scenes.

TDW: With that episode, one of the things viewers who are fans of both Valerie and Dylan complain about is that there weren’t scenes with them together. Valerie leaves and a few minutes later, Dylan shows up. Was it just built into the script that way? Did it occur to anyone that there was an opportunity for another reunion here?

Lange: I think it was just built into the script. But there was not much that happened by accident in those scripts. They were pretty well thought through. I’m sure they had good reasons for doing it.

TDW: A little over a year after your last 90210 episode, you direct your first episode of Dawson’s Creek. You directed huge episodes there, too. There’s two I want to talk about but the first one is early in season 5, where Mitch [John Wesley Shipp] dies at the end [Episode 5.03, Capeside Revisited]. There was distinct choice there not to see the car crash. You sense something is about to go wrong and then there’s like a bright white light and you sort of hear it. I was just wondering about that decision.

Lange: Very honestly, a lot of it is budgetary. We discussed it at length. I remember that pretty vividly. It starts with budget. It was shot in Wilmington, North Carolina and the budget of the show was not huge because it was The WB. The budgets were a little bit lower. It would’ve been a big deal to actually crash the car. But we could’ve made an issue of it and figured out other ways to save money on the episode. Like if I had felt it was important enough, I probably could’ve probably convinced the producer to readjust the budget and have the car crash. That’s the kind of the stuff a director can have an influence on, even only as freelancer. But I actually felt that given the emotional punch of that sequence that, in a way, it would be better to leave it to the imagination of the audience rather than vividly show it. And also, the type of show it was, I felt it would better to do it more in a representational way rather than actually show the crash.

TDW: With crash you think physical impact but by not showing it, it also had an impact–an emotional one.

Lange: Right. We talked about it quite a lot and ultimately decided it was a win-win for everybody. A win for the budget and also for the emotional punch of the scene. We all ended up feeling it would be a much more powerful scene without the crash because then the audience would just sort of feel the loss as opposed to getting all caught up in, “Oh my god, wasn’t that an amazing crash?” I think ultimately it almost felt more real by not seeing it. Once you see the crash, you’re gonna think “Oh, it was a stunt guy,” “Oh, wasn’t that amazing?” “Oh, look at all the fire” or whatever we did for the crash. This way it was all about the heart of what was happening.

TDW: The next episode I wanted to discuss was the last one you did, Joey Potter and the Capeside Redemption [6.22]. Though it was the episode before the series finale, it was almost like a series finale itself. Dawson [James Van Der Beek] and Pacey [Joshua Jackson] make up. Jen [Michelle Williams] and Jack [Kerr Smith] move to New York. Joey [Katie Holmes] finally goes to Paris. It’s just a tremendous episode in terms of quality and significance.

Lange: I was literally just talking about this the other day, just from the technical aspects of the bit where Joey goes to Paris. We had at one point talked about recreating it in Wilmington and I kept saying that would be bogus. There’s nothing in Wilmington that looks like Paris. So we actually ended up having a small–you know, sometimes, you just have to sort of say things as a director that are just going to sound insane. And I just said, “Let’s do this. If we can get a shot in that mall, at the of which is the Eiffel Town and the other side is a museum. I’d love to have a shot that starts on the museum, pans around and ends up on the Eiffel Tower in the background and I will figure  a way to get Katie into that shot with a green screen.” They look at you like you’re crazy and then you call the visual effects guys and they say, “Yeah, I guess we can do that” and you just figure it out. So we ended up shooting the Katie part of it with her standing on a picnic table in the harbor in Wilmington and we just dolly-ed around her and stuck it into the green screen. It was pretty cool. And then we ended up doing a day in Montreal, where we took her up to Montreal, which does look a lot like Paris. So we shot for a day up there and that really sort of put her there, which was kind of cool.

TDW: It’s just such an amazing capstone to the series. If that was the series finale, that would’ve been perfectly okay. Anyway, later that year you moved onto The O.C. and with The O.C. you managed to direct an episode in every season.

Lange: I did!

TDW: But the first one you did [Episode 1.08, The Rescue] was kind of a big one because it was kind of like a season premiere. The first seven episodes of the series had aired all in a row, beginning in August, and then the show was on hiatus for a month and you had the responsibility of presenting the next episode where the network knew a whole bunch of new people would be tuning in. Was that like doing a season premiere?

Lange: Yes. It definitely was. There were a lot of eyes on that one. A lot of people on the set. It was a big episode for them, as you said, because it was effectively a premiere. And also there was pretty big cliff-hanger with Marissa [Mischa Barton] in Mexico. So in my episode, she was in the hospital for pretty much the entire episode. The big pressure in that one is that in a premiere, everyone wants it to be pretty splashy and yet I was sort of saddled with having Mischa Barton in the hospital in one room for most of the episode. It was a collaborative effort but you have to sort of figure out ways to keep it interesting visually so it doesn’t feel like she’s in the room the whole time. That was sort of the big pressure and challenge of that episode.

TDW: With The O.C., now you have your second teen drama that’s set in California but with different looks. Both are depictions of rich lifestyles in California but have different feels.

Lange: A lot of it is 90210 was started in…

TDW: 1990.

Lange: So The O.C. was like 10 years later, right?

TDW: Thirteen. 1990 to 2003.

Lange: So a lot of it is just because the times have changed and technology. A lot of the look of television has to do with what we think people are expecting to see, based on movies and stuff. The audience for television now is pretty sophisticated visually. So if you look at old television shows, although the content may be great, visually a lot of them are pretty crappy because I think in those days the audiences weren’t as sophisticated visually as they are now and not as demanding. So we’re always trying to keep up with that to some degree. And then 90210, because it was Spelling and they were very, very conscious of the budget there and it was a pretty inexpensive show to make, the look of that show they didn’t care so much. But The O.C., you know, [executive producer] McG was sort of one of the influences of the show and [creator, executive producer] Josh Schwartz was a brand-new young guy. They were wanting to appeal to a much more visually hip audience. It was the first show where the whole kind of concept of wish fulfillment was talked about. I remember in my first meeting with Josh, he said “Basically, what we want to do on this show is we want to create a show where the audience wants to go there and be in the show or be in that fictional community. Every scene needs be ‘I want to do that, I want to be there.’” So that’s all wrapped up in how it looks. The set design, everything about it, was much more thought through than on 90210.

TDW: Speaking of sophisticated direction, in one of those episodes, you directed George Lucas [Episode 2.23, The O.Sea].

Lange: I did! That was cool. That was actually the second time I had ever met him. The first time, coincidentally, was on 90210. We shot a scene at the airport in L.A. and it turns out it was George Lucas’ daughter’s 16th birthday and all she wanted–she was a huge fan of the show–for her birthday was to visit the set of 90210. So that was the day that worked out for them to visit. I knew in advance that was he coming so whatever the time was, this giant limousine pulls up at LAX with his daughter, who I can’t even remember, and him. So we met there, which was funny, so then the episode where Seth [Adam Brody] ends up having dinner with him, it was really cool that I was able to direct those scenes. It was fun. He’s an interesting guy. Obviously kind of a genius. But he’s completely interested in technology. That’s his big thing. He’s not a great actor.

TDW: No. It was very much him just reading the lines.

Lange: Right, exactly. At one point, I think in the second scene, I can’t remember specifically what the line was–it was something like “What?! You’re doing what?!”–and he just couldn’t do it. So finally I said, “George, it needs to be more Jewish.” And he actually said, “Oh, you should’ve gotten the other guy for that then,” meaning Steven Spielberg. But I said, “I’m not sure what you mean, George, because there’s a lot of Jewish directors in this business.” And he said, “No, I mean Spielberg” and I had to say, “No, I knew you meant that.” He didn’t have a great sense of humor, I must say.

TDW: I just remember being surprised that he even did the show at all.

Lange: I was surprised too, but I think, again, he had a daughter–not the same one that was at 90210 but his younger daughter–who was a huge fan of the show. So she came and it was like a visit from the Queen. All the cast was sort of commanded to be there and the daughter got to meet all of them and have pictures. It was quite the event.

TDW: Two other episodes that stand out to me for the drama in them is in season 3. There’s a sequence where you have Ryan [Benjamin McKenzie] and Marissa on the beach and they’re having sex for the first time but the sequence is inter-cut with Jimmy [Tate Donovan], Marissa’s father, getting the crap beat out of him [Episode 3.03, The End of Innocence]. And the scenes just go back and forth in rapid cuts. That was just intense.

Lange: That was very intense. I actually had a funny thing on that, too. He got the crap beat out of him underneath the pier and I wanted to have a bit where they smashed his head into one of those concrete columns and I said I really couldn’t do it with a stunt guy because it needed to be up close and personal to really sell. So I actually had them make an overlay piece out of foam that looked exactly like concrete so we were able to shoot his face being smashed into it. That was pretty cool.

TDW: Wow. The next one I was going to say is actually a death later that season. You have Johnny [Ryan Donowho] falling from the cliff [Episode 3.14, The Cliffhanger] and, like with Dawson’s Creek, we see it start to happen but we don’t see the point of impact.

Lange: Right. I think it’s the same sort of the thing. The value of showing this boy falling and hitting the ground is not huge, I think, emotionally. Both of the shows are emotional-based. You want to always have the heart and the emotion. If you show too much graphic stuff, it’s going to take away from the real story.

TDW: The last one I wanted to mention was in season 4, a really comedic episode [Episode 4.06, The Summer Bummer]. You had Ryan with all these crazy fantasies about Taylor [Autumn Reeser].

Lange: Oh my god. That was fantastic.

TDW: And you also had this character of Che [Chris Pratt], a hippie-ish guy Summer [Rachel Bilson] met at Brown, and he handcuffs himself to her. When you’re doing the dramatic episodes versus the lighter ones, what’s it like on set? Are things more tense in the dramatic ones?

Lange: I think that depends a lot on the director. I am always pretty much light. So when I direct, even in dramatic scenes, I always like to keep it light.

TDW: Your time on The O.C. overlapped with One Tree Hill and One Tree Hill brought you back to Wilmington. Do you have any comments on filming in Los Angeles versus Wilmington and do you prefer one to the other?

Lange: They both have their advantages. I love Wilmington. It’s a lot easier to get around there. The people there, because not that many things are filmed there, they’re always happy to help out and oblige when we use locations there. They’re always excited about it–“Oh, they’re filming a movie here!”–whereas in L.A., everyone’s much more jaded about the whole experience. In Wilmington you never have anyone turning up the music because they hate that you’re there, whereas in L.A., that happens more frequently than I’d like to say. So that aspect of it is great. For me, I live in L.A. and I have a family so I like being home. Being away from home is not that great. Also, although the crew on both Dawson’s and One Tree Hill were excellent, I think the best crews are in L.A. for sure. There’s no question about that. There’s definitely excellent crews in other places but if you want the best of the best, L.A. is the place and the same thing with casting. A lot of times with the smaller roles–although the talent pool in Wilmington is certainly wonderful; they’re all very nice people–the truth of it is you get a much deeper choice, many more choices, of actors in L.A. Like if you go out of for a small part, you’ll see 20 people in L.A., of which maybe 15 of them will be good for the part and 5 of them will be great. In Wilmington you’ll see maybe 5 people for the part and 4 of them will be okay and 1 of them will be good. So the talent pool, in every aspect–crew and cast–is just better in L.A.

TDW: Of the four shows, One Tree Hill you directed the least with your last episode in 2007 but of the four, it’s the only still on. Because of your commitment to Greek and other things, is it unlikely you’ll go back there at all?

Lange: Yeah, probably not. I don’t think I’ll go back there. They have called me a couple of times but I’m not available. But I like the show and I love Wilmington and the crew and everything is great about it. I always have a good time.

TDW: Looking at all four of these shows, they get lumped together in this teen drama category but do you see any distinct differences between them?

Lange: I think all things being equal–if you produced all of them at the same time–they’d probably be pretty similar. A lot of shows are reflections of the time in which they’re created and produced. Because, after all, these kind of dramas are reflecting the mores of the culture they’re about and that’s all sort of evolving and changing as time goes by. I think if you look back historically at the–it’d be interesting to look back 100 years from now; you can probably get a pretty good idea of what teenage culture was like from those shows. And if you looked at them together, you could probably see the evolution of how things have evolved. Obviously there’s many similarities that have concerned teenagers from pre-historic times, I’m sure.

TDW: Have you checked out the new 90210 at all?

Lange: No, I haven’t seen it. Most of it is because I’m pretty busy but part of it is because, to me, the real one is the one I did. The new one is just a pathetic copy. Well, that’s stupid of me to say because it’s based on nothing. I haven’t seen the show. It’s just an emotional reaction because I feel very close to [the original] 90210. It’s literally based on no knowledge [of the new show] whatsoever.

TDW: Have you see any of Gossip Girl?

Lange: Just one or two of them and I think that one, it’s not really my thing. And also working on Greek, because it’s so authentic–it’s a little bit heightened but it has an authenticity about it–it makes me sort of cringe when I see these shows that just don’t feel real to me and that’s one of them. I’m from New York and it’s not a New York that I recognize.

TDW: My last question is two-fold. What about Greek do you love so much and does working on it differ from a traditional broadcast teen drama, given that it’s on a cable channel?

Lange: What I love about it is I love the way it sort of evokes–even in me, I went to college a long time ago but it just has such an authentic quality to it–memories and feelings that are just kind of wonderful to sort of play around with in my head. I always figure a director is basically a highly paid and hopefully educated audience. So I assume it has a similar affect on people watching the show. The issues it deals with and the way it deals with issues between people, and the heart, which is just a big part of the show as well as the comedy, is just something that I love about it.

Because we’re on ABC Family we have to be a little more careful than we would like to be in terms of the drinking and the partying and language and stuff like that. There’s a little bit of battling occasionally between us and the network over stuff we want to do. We had this one sequence where it was supposed to be at a homecoming parade or whatever and there was an Antony and Cleopatra float. The float was built by the Omega Chis, who are kind of the straight-arrow guys. The KTs re-rigged it so it looked like Cleopatra was going down on Antony and at one point there was an explosion of foam from a beer, which was supposed to simulate, you know, an orgasm and the network wouldn’t let us do that. In fact, we had to carefully make sure it didn’t look like she was doing that. So there’s sort of those issues but those would probably be the same on network television. And then, of course, the cable budgets are significantly lower so there’s the production challenge of trying to make a show which has to look as good and feel as good. It can’t feel like it’s a low-budget show so that it a little more challenging but, truthfully, that is kind of fun to me. Other than that, it’s not dissimilar from how it would be on a regular network.

TDW: What is the outlook on a 4th season?

Lange: You know, it’s impossible to say really. It would be guessing. They’re going to let us know by the middle in February. It’s hard to tell.

TDW: Yeah. People are speculating now for all the other shows as well but with the upfronts still so far away, it’s a little premature.

Lange: Very. We’re back on the air a week from today [now tomorrow] and if the ratings are great, most likely we’ll get picked up and if the ratings are bad, most likely we won’t and if the ratings are medium, then we won’t know.

On that note, I encourage you all to tune in tomorrow night at 10pm eastern on ABC Family for Greek’s mid-season premiere.

Come back next week for another exclusive interview!

TDW Interview Index





Hiatus!

29 11 2009

From tomorrow through next Sunday, Dec. 6, 2009, TeenDramaWhore.com will be on hiatus.

I’ll be taking a solo trip to Cancun–a last-minute decision but a long-held desire.

Here’s the best way I can explain it:

Remember in season 1 of Dawson’s Creek when Joey had the opportunity to go to Paris but passed it up?

A few years later, she was at the airport and again had the option of going but decided not to.

Then, finally, in the last season and the second-to-last episode, Joey finally makes it there.

This is my Paris.

Not Cancun, specifically. But to take a trip by myself where I not only get some R & R but–more importantly–have the time to do some serious self-reflection.

I’ve made some big life changes in the last few months but have had little time to process as I’ve just been going going going. I worry that if I don’t stop and breathe or achieve this dream while I have the opportunity to do so, I’ll live to regret it.

Unfortunately, that means I won’t be here to live-blog this week’s One Tree Hill, Gossip Girl and 90210 or even provide each day’s news.

I feel very guilty, as if I’m abandoning you, but I hope you understand.

And I also hope that you’ll be here waiting for me when I get back!

See you in a week!





Exclusive: Executive Producer Charles Rosin Reflects on 90210’s Early Years

4 10 2009

Today is a huge milestone in the world of teen dramas.  It is the 19th anniversary of the premiere of Beverly Hills 90210, the show that started it all.

In honor of this momentous occasion, 90210 executive producer Charles Rosin, who now runs showbizzle,  revisited the show’s early years and development thereafter.

TeenDramaWhore: What was your reaction when Aaron Spelling contacted you to be part of this show, then-called Class of Beverly Hills?

Charles Rosin: Curiosity.  Mr. Spelling was a legend in this business whose deal with ABC had ended and who was struggling to re-invent himself and his company for a new generation of TV watchers.  Truthfully, I was not a big fan of his most  popular shows –“Dynasty,” “Charlie’s Angels,” “The Love Boat”  — which all seemed very old fashioned and predictable.  My taste was much more oriented to a more challenging and thought provoking television like “St.Elsewhere,” ” thirtysomething,” and “Northern Exposure,” of which I was the supervising producer for the first season and was working on when I first met “The Mister” in his office at the Warner Hollywood Studios.

TDW: As an executive producer, what exactly was your role?  How were you involved in the episode process?

Rosin: In the TV business, a creative executive producer is known as a showrunner, who literally runs all the creative aspects of a show while being responsible for its financial vitality. On 90210 I would either come up with the ideas, or approve ideas brought to me; make sure my partners (The Spelling Company and Fox) approved of these ideas; supervise my staff in writing the story and scripts (or write the stories or scripts myself) based on these ideas; re-write scenes, etc. in my capacity as “the last typewriter” if I felt the material needed punching up; incorporate legal clearances and network notes into the scripts; have a concept meeting with the directors (who I hired); cast the actors for that week’s show; supervise a production meeting with all the department heads (wardrobe, art. etc);  be available during production to deal with whatever situations might occur; work with the editors to cut the film which might require dropping scenes, changing the act breaks, changing the order of the story, etc.;  then get notes from my partners; then work with my associate producer in getting the locked film ready for airing by adding music, sound effects, correct color, dub voices — and then being the final “ear” when the show is mixed….all while developing three-five scripts simultaneously and prepping for the next episode in line to shoot.

TDW: 90210 essentially started the primetime teen drama genre.  What kind of challenges were you up against?

Rosin: Fox was all about edgy/raunchy guy-humor like “Married With Children” while 90210 was a show that not only celebrated girl-empowerment but had this wonderful character named Brenda Walsh [Shannen Doherty] who represented the notion that a teenager could be sexually active and not be a slut, but actually a role model. Unfortunately, my first set of network executives did not see the world as I did . Someday I will write a long article about the censorship that occurred after Brenda lost her virginity at the Spring Dance [ed. note: Episode 1.21, Spring Dance] to her boyfriend (who had been AIDS tested) because she was happy and not full of remorse.

TDW: When do you think 90210 crossed over that ‘initial hump’ and started achieving success?

Rosin: When the Gulf War started in February, 1991 the three networks (ABC, NBC, and CBS) suspended all commercial activity to cover the invasion. Fox didn’t have a news department back than (hard to believe; wish they didn’t have one now. ha!) so Fox broadcast whatever was on their schedule. The 90210 episodes that aired during this time included “BYOB” and “Slumber Party” [ed. note: Episodes 1.11 and 1.13].  By the time commercial activity started up again some three weeks later with the re-activation of the Nielsen ratings, our show was no longer a bottom feeder. The network took notice; gave us an extended order for season two with the understanding that we would be producing summer episodes — and we were off.

TDW: In an interview last year with The New York Times, you said you went to Beverly Hills High.  How did it compare to the fictional West Beverly?

Rosin: I graduated Beverly Hills High School in 1970 which makes me a child of the 60’s! Even though it was a time of political activism and emerging youth culture,  there were many traditions from the 1950’s that were a vital part of my high school culture — and which ultimately were incorporated into the series.  We meet Emily Valentine [Christine Elise, ed. note: see related interview] in season two at “Hello Day” where each class welcomes new students through parodies and funny skits [ed. note: Episode 2.8, Wildfire]. The dance where the cheerleader is date raped by a football player in “Teenline” in season one was called The Pigskin Prom, which was a big thang back in the day [ed. note: Episode 1.9, The Gentle Art of Listening].  And, of course, episodes in the third year season dealing with ditch day and the senior yearbook poll all were part of school life at BHHS [ed. note: Episodes 3.26 and 3.25 respectively, She Came In Through The Bathroom Window and Senior Poll]. Oddly enough,  I played baseball for Beverly against Torrance High School, which was our location for “West Beverly” and which later became the high school location for “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.”  [ed. note: click here for photos of Torrance/West Bev] One other odd connection — we filmed our summer episodes at the same beach in Santa Monica Bay where the kids from Beverly Hills High School used to hang out — which was known as Tee’s, not the Beverly Hills Beach Club which was filmed at the old Sand and Sea Club right after it got condemned.

TDW: Let’s talk about the episode where Scott [Douglas Emerson] kills himself (Episode 2.14, The New Fifty Years). Was that a product of Douglas wanting to leave the show or was it precipitated by the direction of the storylines? Was there backlash to that episode?

Rosin: Given our low license fee from the network, we were always trying to cut costs — and Doug Emerson was a nice young man, but not a gifted actor. I still wanted to find a memorable way to write him off the show — and that was when I read about an accidental killing of a high school student on Prom Night in a hotel room at the Disneyland Hotel.  So while David Silver [Brian Austin Green] was getting cool and into the Brenda/Kelly/Steve Beach Club crowd, I sent Scott to hang at his grandparents house in Oklahoma off-camera for six episodes as a way to show these two old friends drifting apart before our eyes. It should be known that this was the only story line that the network and Mr. Spelling worked together to try to squash — but they could sense my passion for the story, were very supportive of [our] script and were very satisfied with the episode, which also was highly promotable and did well in the ratings.

TDW: You were there during the high school to college transition, which all the teen dramas are doing these days.  What do you think that change added to the show?

Rosin: Not only was I “there” for the transition from high school to college, but I must take credit — along with my late producing partner, Paul Waigner — for spearheading the drive to move on and let these kids grow up. Part of the problem was that our cast looked to old/were too old to play believable high school students anymore — and I convinced network president Sandy Grushow that doing a high school show that did not deal with the prospect of college was bogus. Aaron was nervous about the change, of course. He was nervous about everything.  But once I agreed to let all the kids go to the same college, he let them graduate — which allowed me to write a senior year in “real time”. You ask what this added to the show? How ’bout four-five seasons worth of new episodes that would probably wouldn’t have been ordered if they stayed in high school.

TDW: Your wife also worked on the show, right?

Rosin: Karen’s first professional writing credit was for “Isn’t It Romantic?,” the AIDS episode where Brenda and Dylan [Luke Perry] first go out — and where an enraged Dylan slams the flower pot into the pavement before chasing after Brenda [ed. note: Episode 1.10].  Although Karen was never offered a staff position, chances are she wrote, or co-wrote your favorite episodes, including all the ones set in Paris [ed. note: Episodes 3.3-3.5], the condom in school episode [Episode 2.21, Everybody’s Talkin’ ‘Bout It ], the one where Scott  accidentally shoots himself, the one where Dylan meets his inner-child [Episode 3.22, The Child Is Father To The Man], the Christmas episode with the angels answer Donna’s [Tori Spelling] prayers by preventing a school bus from crashing bus [Episode 3.16, It’s A Totally Happening Life], and the graduation episode [Episode 3.29, Commencement], which we wrote together. You can hear our commentary for “Commencement” on the third season DVD. Karen,  a former actress and playwright,  has a great ear for dialogue. My strength as a writer was (and is) always story and story structure — so we were great collaborators. If Mr. Spelling and I had anything in common it was our love and appreciation of nepotism.

TDW: Your daughter is just a bit older than me.  Did she watch the show growing up?  What does she think knowing her parents played a big role in one of the biggest shows of the 90s?

Rosin: My eldest daughter Lindsey was five when I started working on the 90210. She’s the cutie-pie who asks Brandon to dance the hookelau at the end of summer luau at the Beverly Hills Beach Club [ed. note: Episode 2.6, Pass/Not Pass]. Growing up she never bragged about my job, in fact, didn’t tell her teen-aged camp counselors about me until the last day of the session. Lindsey knew at a young age she wanted to be a director, and is currently developing an hour pilot with CBS Paramount — in addition to be the creative force behind showbizzle.

TDW: You have said you left the show because it was “killing” you.  Can you elaborate on that?

Rosin: For the first two seasons, Beverly Hills 90210 had the lowest license fee in broadcast television — meaning that Fox paid the Spelling Company less money to make our show than any other show in prime time.  One of the ways we cut costs was to assemble a small writing staff composed of mostly new writers,  but once our production orders increased to anywhere from 28- 32 hours a year (a standard network order for a hit show is anywhere from 13-22 episodes a year; a cable show much less than that) the lack of a big staff took its toll and I found myself working 12-16 hours a day, 6 1/2 days a week, 11 1/2 months a year.  Six weeks after I mixed my last episode, “P.S. I Love You” [ed note: Episode 5.32], one of my arteries shut down. I was 43 years old.  We caught it early. I dodged a bullet. And 15 years later, I catch waves and feel great.

TDW: Did you keep up with the show after you left?

Rosin: I was a non-exclusive script consultant for the 6th season where I read outlines and offered my suggestions — most of which weren’t followed.  I do remember watching one episode that year where NFL star quarterback Steve Young was a guest star [ed. note: Episode 6.12, Breast Side Up] because it was written by Larry Mollin and directed by Dave Semel, who both remain good friends today.   I did not watch after that — and felt that show lost much of its cultural currency and degenerated into a more pedestrian and predictable soap opera– the kind of show more aligned with the traditional Spelling aesthetic.

TDW: Your last season–the fifth–was also Carol Potter’s last.  Did you agree with the decision to get rid of Jim [James Eckhouse] and Cindy?  (Ed. note: see my related interview here.)

Rosin: Reluctantly, yes. Creatively, the show no longer evolved around the Walsh House — and although we certainly could have come up with new storylines that included the parents in a supporting capacity, both Carol Potter and Jim Eckhouse were taking home a fairly big pay check — and by writing them off the show, those monies could be applied to other things — like paying Jason Priestley [Brandon] and Jennie Garth [Kelly] to stick around.

TDW: I have to ask:  Brenda and Dylan or Kelly and Dylan?

Rosin: Brenda was our favorite character to write; the scene where Dylan and Kelly hook up the night Jack McKay was released at the pool at the Bel Age in season three [ed. note: Episode 3.19,  Back in the High Life Again] was perhaps the hottest scene we ever shot — in other words, it’s a draw…

TDW: Kelly and Dylan or Kelly and Brandon?

Rosin: I’ll always be partial to Kelly and Steve.

TDW: What was your reaction when you found out the season 10 storyline (Episodes 10.18-10.20) that Jack McKay (Josh Taylor) was alive?

Rosin: Well, I first found out about Jack McKay when I opened your e-mail. (Like I said, I didn’t watch the show once I left). But we purposely filmed the sequence in such a way as to leave this “return from the dead” storyline available. I guess they had to wait until Luke Perry returned to the series to revive this plot.

TDW: What was your reaction when you found out David and Donna were marrying in the series finale?

Rosin: It seemed about right; Karen and I and our three kids visited the set at the Beverly Hilton the day they were filming the wedding — and it was the first time I visited since I left the show five years earlier.

TDW: Do you have a favorite storyline?

Rosin: Lots of them — my favorite episode was Commencement because with all the clips that were incorporated into the two hour episode, it felt like a retrospective of the high school years.

TDW: Do you have a favorite memory from working with the cast? A favorite guest star? (There were a lot of them!)

Rosin: I loved watching Jason directing the episode “The Time Has Come Today” from the 4th Season [ed. note: Episode 4.25] where Brenda discovers a diary from the 1960’s in her bedroom. My favorite guest star would be my wife Karen, who played a lesbian in the episode “Girls On The Side,” [Episode 5.28] which she also wrote. Also Marcy Kaplan, who played TV star Lydia Leeds in the episode in which Brenda worked at the Peach Pit and became Laverne [Episode 1.16, Fame is where You Find It]. Karen and I wrote that one together.

TDW: What surprised you most while working on the show?

Rosin: Like most writers I have an active imagination — and there have been times that I thought that the script I had just written would catapult me onto a podium for an awards ceremony. But I never could have imagined being a creative force behind an international television sensation! Or that you would be asking me these questions almost 20 years from the time that I started work on the show…

TDW: Do you have any regrets or anything you would do differently?

Rosin: Biggest regret is that I didn’t establish a relationship with media executive (and visionary) Barry Diller when he was running Fox. As far as doing things differently, I would have tried to take better care of my health, and maintain a sense of humor when dealing with the network instead of getting caught up in a war zone.

TDW: Looking back on the show today, what do you think is its place in television history?

Rosin: A footnote.

TDW: Are you still in touch with any of the cast?

Rosin: Yes — Jason Priestley is a buddy. James Eckhouse too. And Ian Ziering [Steve] is a great guy with whom I recently chatted about his early years in the business which we posted on Inside The Bizzle at showbizzle. Check it out. It is a must see for 90210 fans. [Ed. note: I linked to one of the Ian interviews here but there are many more here, including ones with BH90210 producer-writer John Eisendrath]

TDW: Have you watched the new 90210? Do you have any thoughts on it?

Rosin: I watched it once. It’s a good looking cast. But to do a show called 90210 and not allow your young characters to have any socio-political context in the age of Obama speaks to the cynicism and cowardice of commercial broadcasting.

TDW: You also worked on Dawson’s Creek a bit. How did your role differ there?

Rosin: I was more involved with the business side of producing than the writing of scripts — though I certainly had a hand in the creative development of the first episodes.

TDW: How do you think the shows themselves differ?

Rosin: I leave that for your community of readers to comment.

TDW: You’re now working on a site called showbizzle. What is it, and how did it come about?

Rosin: showbizzle is a digital showcase and destination website I created with daughter Lindsey (the Hookelau girl) for emerging talent away from the immediate pressures of the market place. We created a cool show featuring 29 young actors performing 141 two-minute scripted monologues about what they are doing to jump start their careers in Hollywood as told to Janey, a fictitious blogger who hangs out at an LA coffee house. Our goal here to create a vibrant community of young actors, writers, comedians, and performers around our showbizzle content where members are encouraged to upload their original videos with the chance to be paid $$ to perform on our digital showcase. So check showbizzle.com, become a member, work with us, tell your friends — and see why Cynopsis Digital said that it “should be required viewing for kids thinking of moving out to LA LA land to chase their dreams of stardom as it delves into the frustrations of being on the outside looking in.”

TDW: Anything else you want to add?

Rosin: Hard to believe the show’s 20th anniversary is coming up . To get to know what the early days were like check out Rolling Stone Magazine’s article “Smells Like Teen Spirit” (issue 624) originally published February 20th, 1992.

For more on showbizzle, head over to the site.

Come back next Sunday for another exclusive interview!

TDW Interview Index








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