News Roundup: One Tree Hill, Gossip Girl, 90210 and More

4 05 2010
  • Last night’s One Tree Hill (1.9 million viewers) and Gossip Girl (1.7 million viewers) both had drops in the ratings compared to last week. OTH’s was tiny, though.
  • Zap2it did a nice roundup of the tweets Robert Buckley (Clay, One Tree Hill) sent last night.
  • Zap2it also has a “first look” at two of The CW’s pilots, including Nomads, which stars Michaela McManus (Lindsey, One Tree Hill) but they don’t have photos with her.
  • Blake Lively (Serena, Gossip Girl), Leighton Meester (Blair, Gossip Girl), Jessica Szohr (Vanessa, Gossip Girl), Kristen Bell (Gossip Girl, Gossip Girl), Rachel Bilson (Summer, The O.C.), Penn Badgley (Dan, Gossip Girl), Sebastian Stan (Carter, Gossip Girl) and Joshua Jackson (Pacey, Dawson’s Creek) were among the attendees at last night’s annual MET Costume Gala. There may have been others from the teen dramas but those are the ones I know of.
  • Nicole Fiscella (Isabel, Gossip Girl) will give the commencement speech at the University of Bridgeport.
  • OnTheRedCarpet.com has short, spoilish video interviews with Taylor Momsen (Jenny, Gossip Girl) and Jessica Lowndes (Adrianna, 90210).
  • TVGuideMagazine.com also has a short but spoilish interview with Lowndes.
  • Examiner.com has a spoilish interview with Ryan Eggold (Ryan, 90210).
  • Jessica Walter (Tabitha, 90210) will appear on Make It Or Break It, which Paul Stupin (executive producer, Dawson’s Creek) EPs.
  • Shannen Doherty (Brenda, Beverly Hills 90210) tweeted that she is supposed to be on the Dancing With the Stars season finale.




Exclusive: Dawson’s Creek Scribe Gina Fattore Shares The Creative Process

14 02 2010

How does a writer get from King of the Hill to Dawson’s Creek and later Gilmore Girls to Californication? Who chooses episode titles? Do The Powers That Be buy into “ships”?

In our exclusive phone interview, Gina Fattore, who went from writer to co-executive producer in four seasons on Dawson’s Creek, gives her answers to those questions, sharing her personal journey in the world of television.

TeenDramaWhore: How did you first get involved with Dawson’s Creek?

Gina Fattore: It was very straight-forward in that my agent just called. I started out in comedy. The first show I worked on was a sitcom and the first episode of television I ever wrote was a show called King of the Hill. At the time my agent said to me, “You gotta write something with a girl in it. This King of the Hill script, not really working for you.” At the time Ally McBeal was on and it was during that moment when that was a really interesting show. I just decided that that was what I was going to write for my spec script, my writing sample. It seemed a good show to write but it was a one-hour show and I had never really written any one-hour shows before and I wasn’t consciously trying to move into drama. That was just the sample I chose to write. My agent showed it to this guy [Dawson’s Creek executive producer] Paul Stupin, who was also a client of my agent. He said, “You know, I have this comedy writer and she wrote this drama script for Ally McBeal. Would you give it a read and just tell me what you think, what your thoughts are?” Paul read it and brought me in for a meeting and then hired me. Then four years later, it was like I had written a zillion episodes of Dawson’s Creek without ever really intending to become a drama writer.

TDW: Wow. Can you walk me through the process of writing an episode? Viewers don’t usually know all the steps involved.

Fattore: Right. We always thought it was funny back in the day when I would go online and look at the recaps and stuff like that people had done, because obviously the episodes start as an outline. They always start as some sort of prose document and then you have to turn it into an actual script and then they film it and then people out there on the Internet are always turning it back into an outline, which always amuses me.

A typical episode of a show like Dawson’s back in the day, we’re in a room. We have ideas and we know what the larger arc of the season is. It’s either a 12-episode arc or a full-season arc. Within that framework, ideas will be pitched or presented. I didn’t write this particular episode but let’s say it’s prom. And you know in that particular episode it’s going to be promo. It just gets more specific as the week goes on and if things are going well, you might spend the week trying to break a story and figure out what each individual scene is going to be in the show, who’s in the scene, what’s the dramatic purpose of the scene and how does it move the story forward. You just spend a week getting it all outlined and then someone gets the assignment. You probably know going into the week that this is your assignment. You’ve probably been given [notice]. “Oh, here. Episode six is going to be yours. Here’s the heads-up.” So, especially if you know it’s your episode, you want to show up there prepared with ideas. Ultimately, the decisions all lie in the hands of the showrunner, the head writer, who’s going to decide and sign off on every single one of those scenes. Then once you’ve got your basic story in outline form, it has to be approved by the network and the studio, depending on who else is involved. Then once you have that approval, you go off and begin writing the script.

TDW: So when you’re not actually the person with the “written by” credit on an episode, you’re still responsible for generating ideas for it?

Fattore: Yes. That’s an interesting question. Different shows do it different ways. Most of the ideas, I think, on any given show are coming from the showrunner because he is the ultimate authority on what is going to end up going in the show. But if you have a group of writers–we had only four on the last year of Dawson’s Creek to as many as maybe 12 or 15 back in the glory days when the economy was different– you know your job is to show up every day and have ideas and ways of executing the stories that everyone has in mind for the larger arc. There aren’t a lot of serialized shows left on TV anymore. A lot of the crime shows, those people show up every day with lists of, “here’s stories about crime” but it’s harder on a serialized show because ultimately whatever you’re pitching has to track with what happened the episode before. But, yes, if you’re on staff, you’re definitely expected to show up with as many other ideas as you can. If you have a good idea in the room, you’re more likely to be given the assignment. If it was your idea originally, the showrunner might say, “Okay, this is going to be yours.” You get to go off and write that.

TDW: Focusing specifically on the ones you did write, a bunch of them happen to my favorites and some of the most memorable ones of the series. Going chronologically, the first one is The Longest Day [Episode 3.20], which has just such a fascinating frame to it, the way you tell the story repeatedly from all these different angles and it’s not until the end that the whole picture becomes clear. How did you come up with that?

Fattore: That is very funny because I was just telling that story to someone recently because I do remember it quite well. It was very exciting. At that point, in the overall arc of the season, the next thing that needed to happen in episode 20 was Dawson [James Van Der Beek] finds out about Joey [Katie Homes] and Pacey [Joshua Jackson]. That was the one thing that we had. In a traditional Dawson’s Creek story structure at that time, we’d start out and say, “How are we going to tell that story?” Probably we would put that event at the end of the third act. First act, establish the problem. Second act, talk about the problem further, because nothing ever happened on Dawson’s. There wasn’t a lot of action. But then third act, you would want the conflict to come to a head. So we were talking about the story and the most traditional possible way and I think it was [writer-producer] Greg Berlanti–at that time he was sort of the showrunner; he was an upper-level writer–who said, “How can we make the third act break the first act break?” So, essentially, we started talking about that. The idea of seeing that moment where Dawson finds out about them became the first act break.

People always mention Rashomon, the Japanese movie, which, frankly, I’ve never even seen. But the structure we came up, having three characters we would follow through the day, allowed us to have that moment everyone wanted to see before the first commercial break. I can’t remember exactly what the second act is but it takes that scene a little bit further and shows you a little bit more and then the third act, you understand finally what it is Dawson knows and how he already knows. To this day, it is one of the best creative experiences I ever had because it was just so much fun to do as a puzzle. It was really exciting. Telling stories is often about, what is the information you have left out? What have you not shown the audience? When you show it to them, it makes an impact. It’s a really great memory to think about that episode.

TDW: It really just has double the awesomeness, because we had been waiting for that story to climax for so long and then you added the unique storytelling on top of it.

Fattore: Yes. It was a question of, “Well, how can we have this thing happen but have it fill up that whole hour of television? And that was where it started from. My hat is really tipped to Greg Berlanti on that one because there were a bunch of us in the room that day or that week trying to figure out the story but it was his inspiration that kind of led us down that road. The whole thing was a really fun experience because it was kind of the only time in Dawson’s Creek history that I had such a warm reception to a script. Everybody really liked it and it was a great experience for me.

TDW: Continuing with that season, the season 3 finale was the first of several finales that you wrote. That one was True Love [Episode 3.23]. The title alone is nice because it harkens back to the name of the Pacey’s boat. It made me wonder, though, how episode titles are chosen.

Fattore: Usually the writer, when you’re writing the actual episode, has a shot at coming up with the title themselves. Like when you turn in your draft to the show runner, on most shows, you probably give it a title yourself based on what you’ve written. I am obsessed with the movie The Philadelphia Story [which has a boat named True Love]. I think it was probably Greg Berlanti writing one of those early episodes in season 3 that involved Pacey’s boat and I was just joking with him about The Philadelphia Story because it is one of my favorites. I think he used [the boat name] based on me joking with him about it. Then we all worked on the finale of season 3. I honestly don’t remember in that specific case who came up with the episode title but I would venture to guess it was probably Greg Berlanti who did. It could’ve actually been a title that we sort of knew all along because we knew we were going to end up having the boat be a big part of the whole year.

TDW: It was. And then the next season, season 4, you also wrote that finale, Coda [Episode 4.23], which is just cleverly named given the structure of a television show. But the final scene also mirrors the season 1 finale [Episode 1.13, Decisions].

Fattore: That episode [the season 4 finale] [writer-producer] Tom Kapinos and I wrote together. When he and I would do that, he would write the first act & the fourth act and I would write the second act & the third act, because he likes to begin things and he likes to end things. He doesn’t really like to do the middle of things. But the scene you’re referring to is a really long scene between Dawson and Joey in his bedroom.

TDW: Yes.

Fattore: Tom wrote that. That’s 100 percent Tom. I can’t take any credit for that. But for me, with season 1 of the show, I always tried to go back and reference it. I watched it over and over to keep in mind. Not every TV writer is like that but I like to re-watch things and keep it in mind. When you’re desperate for ideas, you can find inspiration anywhere.

TDW: Then the season 5 finale [Episode 5.23, Swan Song] you wind up with everyone in the airport.

Fattore: Yeah, that one I probably don’t remember quite so well but again, Tom and I wrote it together. He would’ve written the beginning and end. I wrote the middle. It’s so funny the things I remember now after all these years. I do remember there was a Jen [Michelle Williams] and Jack [Kerr Smith] scene in the airport that I was happy with and proud of. That was another thing I did–over the years I wrote a lot of little Jen-Jack moments that I was very happy with. It was fun. So obviously everybody was going on a trip or not going on a trip; that’s the whole point of the airport. But it’s kind of a dead zone in my memory. You hit upon one I really don’t remember that well.

TDW: Jen finally relented and was going to spend the summer with her parents. Jack stumbles across the guy in his fraternity who was secretly gay. Then Joey and Dawson had one of their confrontations.

Fattore: Of course.

TDW: And Pacey got onto the airport speaker system to profess his love for Audrey [Busy Philipps].

Fattore: Yes, it’s all sort of coming back to me now.

TDW: I understand it’s hard for you when you’ve done so much work since then.

Fattore: It’s funny because back in the day, I had a pretty amazing recall of the episodes. And to be honest, it’s funny what you asked about the episode titles because I often refer to the shows by their number. Like The Longest Day is 3.20 to me. I think it’s because the titles do change. The first draft might be called something and then there’s a legal clearance issue so it may change. But obviously we do the episodes in order and every episode has a number that never changes. So for me, it was always like, “Oh, episode 3.15 [Crime and Punishment] and 3.16 [To Green, With Love] is Joey paints a mural.” I just have it in my head based on the numbers and not what the actual titles of the episodes are.

TDW: That’s so interesting. There’s been random fans I come across that do know the episodes just by the numbers and it blows my mind.

Fattore: I realize that it sounds crazy. One of the executives from The WB used to tease me about it because it makes you sound a little crazy. But around here, around the office, there’s always about 5 different episodes in play. There’s one that’s shooting that day, one that’s prepping that day, one that’s in editing, one that’s being outlined, one that the first draft is being read by the showrunner. If a TV show is running successfully, there should be about five or six episodes in play at any time. To keep track of them all, it always just seemed easier to me to remember the numbers.

TDW: Wow. Well, I have a couple more episodes. In season 6 you have Spiderwebs [Episode 6.08], which is when No Doubt performs. I’m curious to know if you find it limiting or easier when you have a central event that everyone has to be at.

Fattore: That’s a very good question because a lot of times with TV, I think it is easier when you have something that’s so specific that you have to work around. I don’t remember when exactly that idea of the tie-in with the concert came up but in terms of what we knew we had to do–we were going to showcase the concert and we needed to get everyone to go to the concert–in a way, that is an easier assignment. Anything that narrows down your options is easier because you’re just like “This is what we’re doing this week. We’re gonna get those kids to a No Doubt concert if it’s the last thing we do!”

TDW: That episode really showcases Jensen Ackles [C.J.].

Fattore: Oh, yes! He’s on Supernatural now!

TDW: Yeah, he’s gone on to have a great career with that.

Fattore: He was a really nice guy, I have to say. I like people who just show up and know the material and they’re really professional. I didn’t know him all that well but he was a good guy so I was not surprised that he went on to do other things–with Dean [Jared Padalecki] of Gilmore Girls!

TDW: I do have a Gilmore Girls question a little later one . The next episode on my list is another one with unique storytelling and that’s Castaways [Episode 6.15]. You have a unique location, limited characters and a balance of tension, seriousness and fun.

Fattore: You’ve hit on my mom’s favorite episode of Dawson’s Creek that I ever wrote! Again, that was a really good experience for me. It was kind of a gift from Tom Kapinos. There’s some old 80s movie that involves being trapped in a department store. I had never actually seen the movie but we were just sitting around one day joking about it and the idea of Joey and Pacey being trapped in some sort of department store. It just seemed like, especially after all the years I had worked on the show and all the episodes I had written at that point, it was like a little present to me that I would get to do this and have it sort of be like a play. It was fun to write. Tom gave me little notes on it that helped me get the fight scene to a place where I was really happy with it. They shot it and they did a great job. I think it ended up being the Kmart where we actually shot it. I was really happy with the way it turned out.

TDW: The last one is Joey Potter and the Capeside Redemption [Episode 6.22], which, to me, is like a series finale but it wasn’t actually the series finale.

Fattore: I would agree with that. That’s how it was always intended, as a series finale. We knew at a certain point, I guess, that [creator] Kevin [Williamson] would come back and do his two hours of TV but we were operating under the assumption all year season 6 that it would be the last year of the show. From the beginning of the season, what we were doing was ending the series. That was a cool experience to have as a storyteller, to say, “This is what we’re going to do. We’re going to figure out a way to end this series.” We intended it to work, obviously, without anyone ever seeing the other [episodes, 6.23-4, All Good Things…Must Come To An End] and, again, that was a funny one because Tom wrote the beginning and the end and I wrote the middle parts. By that point, that was just the way that we did it. The end was so memorable. He wrote this huge voiceover for Joey. The song that plays at the end of that episode–maybe it didn’t make it on to the DVDs because all the music got changed–it’s one of my favorite songs and Tom ended up using it in the show. It was very meaningful to me at the time.

TDW: What song is that?

Fattore: It’s a Hollies song; The Air That I Breathe. It’s from the early 70s maybe or the late 60s. It was always one of my favorite songs from when I was kid and we didn’t usually use a lot of old songs. We used very much the more contemporary music. At the time, the “chick rock,” they called it.

TDW: In one of the episodes, it might’ve been True Love, Jen makes a joke about that. It was a very meta comment. She says something like “soon to be out-of-date contempo-pop songs plays” in the background of their lives.

Fattore: Oh, yes. That sounds like a Kapinos kind of thing. It really has been a long time since season 3.

TDW: Joey Potter and The Capeside Redemption was directed by Michael Lange, who I interviewed a few weeks ago. I was wondering, now that I’m also speaking with you, what relationship, if any, does the writer have with the director?

TDW: In TV its kind of interesting because the directors just come in and do an episode here or there. If you’re a writer and a producer on the show, you’re there the whole time for every episode and you’re involved in the conversations that are going on usually for all the episodes. But it’s a lot of fun if you’re allowed to participate in the filming. We always had to get on the plane and go to Wilmington to meet the director. Michael Lange also did one of my other episodes. 4.04 [Future Tense], actually, he did. When I was early in my career, just starting out, you can learn so much if you’re just sitting there in the chair next to the director, watching how things get from the script to actual film. That helps you with your writing immeasurably because you realize what can be accomplished in the time that we have. TV is like making an independent film. Every Dawson’s Creek episode was shot in seven days. We had, you know, not tons of money. The visual style of The WB was very conservative, so it’s not like the directors were doing amazing things visually. But Wilmington is a very pretty place and I always felt Dawson’s as a show looked great, compared to a lot of the shows that are shot mostly on stages.

TDW: You did a lot of episodes but several of them were key Joey-Pacey episodes. Did you find yourself getting into them as a couple or did you end up liking a particular character more than another?

Fattore: When you get a job on a TV show, you didn’t create the show. It’s not your voice or your vision. When I got the job on Dawson’s, there were already 35 episodes of the show in existence. All of season 1 and all of season 2. I watched them all and tried my hardest to make it my own and learn how to write it. Greg Berlanti would tease me sometimes because–I realized it I guess as we were doing it–there’s a lot of parts of my life that are sort of similar to the Joey Potter saga. I did grow up in a fairly small town. I did get very good grades. If you remember the snail episode from season 1 [Episode 1.10, Double Date], Joey was clearly established well before I worked there as the kind of girl who needed to get an A+. She was really a perfectionist when it came to her school work and she clearly saw that as a way to get out of this small town and go to a good college. In some odd way, that was exactly who I was as a person. I grew up in a small town and all I ever wanted to do was go away.

As writers, what we all had in common with the character of Dawson was that Dawson was essentially a writer. I know Dawson was a filmmaker but Kevin Williamson was a writer and that was his vision of his own teenage years. It was easiest for me to relate to Joey as a character and also Dawson. That’s how you find your way into something you didn’t create. You figure out where it intersects with your own life and your own concerns and issues. And it’s always been my own personal theory that to have succeeded on Dawson’s Creek and not get fired, it was crucial that you had a really horrible experience as a teenager. Because I think that anyone who was happy as a teenager couldn’t really understand that show and couldn’t really write it because it was about teen angst. So if you were a person who really thought it was awesome to be a teenager and you went to parties and had fun and no angst about it, probably you were not going to succeed writing that show.

TDW: With identifying with Joey and Dawson, does that mean they were also your romantic preference?

Fattore: No. You know, it was always funny to me at the time the way people got so invested in that stuff. I do love old movies, especially romantic comedies of the 30s and 40s. Joey and Pacey had really been established from the get-go as this bantering duo that argued with each other and writing them was always very fun for me. When you look at season 3, I wrote an incredibly large number of episodes and the main arc of that season was about Joey and Pacey coming together as a couple so I think people thought [I favored them]. I’m sure if you go back and ask everyone who worked on season 3, it wasn’t like I was pitching things that were particularly, “Oh, we have to do this with Joey and Pacey!” We all just got the assignments that we got and at the end of the year, I had all these assignments that seemed to involved those stories. I think it was easier for me to write–not easy but it was fun for me to write–because of my love for those old, traditional romantic comedies, like It Happened One Night, The Philadelphia Story, Holiday and all those movies which are about bickering people who discover they’re really meant for each other. That was a story I found interesting and fun to tell. It was so fun to hear what the fans were saying about it at the time, to look on the Internet and see what people were saying, because when you’re writing it, you just process it differently, I think. You’re not really rooting for anybody. You’re just doing your assignment.

TDW: At what point did you get the co-executive producer title?

Fattore: After season 4, Greg Berlanti left the show and went on to develop and do Everwood. Tom Kapinos took over as the showrunner and the head writer at the beginning of season 5. My original contact had been for two years, season 3 and season 4. When I came back for season 5, Tom became executive producer of the show and that’s when I became co-executive producer. That was my title for seasons 5 and 6, which just means you have a lot more responsibility for the day-to-day operations of the writing process. That was my big promotion between seasons 4 and 5.

TDW: About two years after Dawson’s ended, you had Reunion, which I was a big fan of.

Fattore: Well, that was not my show. I was just a co-executive producer on that show, which was created by a guy named Jon Harmon Feldman, who funnily enough worked on season 1 of Dawson’s Creek and season 2 of Dawson’s Creek. That was just a weird coincidence. He created Reunion and then he hired me to work with him on that show. It was just funny to meet him because we both worked on Dawson’s Creek but at different times. But, yeah, that was a show that not a lot of people saw. It was only on for a short time.

TDW: It left us with so many cliff-hangers! Do you think your experiences with Dawson’s Creek, which had a long run, and Reunion, which had a short run, prepared you for Gilmore Girls?

Fattore: You know what, what really did prepare me for Gilmore Girls was the Dawson’s Creek experience of actually ending a show. I had done that last year on Dawson’s, where we always knew it was going be the end of the series. On Gilmore Girls, I worked on the very last year and that whole year we weren’t certain that the show would end because there was talk about Lauren [Graham, Lorelai] and Alexis [Bledel, Rory] possibly renewing the deals and maybe the show would continue in some form. But we had to prepare in case the show was ending, so for me, it was an interesting experience to have again, from a storytelling standpoint of finishing something. More often, the more typical TV writer experience is just to be canceled. You come into work one day and it’s like “This is the day” and you’re canceled. There’s no sense of completion and there’s no ability to finish telling the story that you started telling. That was one of the reasons I took that job on Gilmore. It’s an interesting creative experience to have.

TDW: Were you executive producer on that?

Fattore: Nope. Still co-executive producer. I’m not as successful as you think I am!

TDW: Oh, goodness. Well, I want to give you the credit anyway.

Fattore: I really appreciate that. That’s good to know because, of course, in Hollywood how you’re perceived is really more important than who you are as a person.

TDW: I don’t really know if this question applies as much anymore but did you feel pressure coming into a show that was so established, had been nominated for many awards…

Fattore: Yeah. It’s a very unusual experience to come into something that late in the game. [Creator] Amy Sherman-Palladino is like a legend. That was her show and she wrote and directed so much of it, even more than a usual showrunner. Not all showrunners direct their work. It was her world for 6 seasons. That’s more than 100 episodes. I had to sit down and watch 6 seasons of Gilmore Girls because I wanted to do my homework and I had really only been an occasional viewer of the show over the years. It was daunting because so much of it had already been put down. It’s so far along in its history and that means everything  has already been done and there’s that frustrating feeling of, “Oh, this would work!” but no, we’ve already done that already.

TDW: From there, more or less, you went to Californication.

Fattore: Yes, that is exactly what happened. That year when I was doing Gilmore Girls, Tom Kapinos, who had been my old friend from Dawson’s Creek, was essentially doing a pilot and that pilot got picked up March of the year I was doing Gilmore and that was the time when we weren’t sure whether Gilmore would come back. It was looking like Lauren would walk away and the show would end. But he had said to me all along that he wanted me to come work with him if his show got picked up. Frankly, I was pretty much hoping at that point that Gilmore would end. There’s a part of me as a TV writer that wants every show to have a fair ending and not sort of continue in some other form with the stars doing limited commitments or changing it up in some odd way. It’s always nicer creatively if something can just end in the moment in its original form.

TDW: You know, that really applies to me and some others fan who look at One Tree Hill that way right now. This season, two of its main cast members didn’t return and there’s three new ones.

Fattore: Right. I heard about this.

TDW: Not everybody agrees but I think it should’ve ended last season with the cast still “intact.”

Fattore: Obviously the networks have a lot say over these types of things and Gilmore in its seventh season was still doing well, as far as I know. I’m not a big follower of the ratings. Every show I’ve ever been on, they just tell you when you’re canceled so I feel like you just keep doing the job and when the ratings are so bad that you’re canceled, they’ll come in and tell you you’re canceled. But Gilmore was still doing well at the end, at least by WB–I’m sorry–CW standards.

TDW: It’s interesting that you went from King of the Hill to Dawson’s Creek, which is very different in terms of audience, theme and content. And then you went from Gilmore Girls to Californication, which is also very different in terms of audience, theme and content.

Fattore: That’s true.

TDW: Is that a weird transition for you?

Fattore: It’s funny because most people that know me think it’s weird that I work on Californication because I’m not the sort of person who really watches a lot of that stuff. Like I said, I watch a lot of old movies and they’re Turner Classic Movies and they’re mostly rated G. But Tom is my friend and the experience of working on Dawson’s together was very bonding. TV is like boot camp. You’re making 23 hours of TV.  We did that every year on Dawson’s for four years in a row. The experience of making TV is so collaborative. So, really, when you’re taking a job, I feel like it’s almost less about the material and more about the people. Who’s doing it? Who wrote it? What are their creative goals? What are they trying to accomplish? And I have to say, it’s so cool to work on a Showtime show just because there’s such a reverence for the writer, a real respect. They really let the writers and the showrunners and the creators of the show have a real vision and do what they want to do without a lot of interference, and that’s a real gift and a blessing to anyone who’s trying to be TV writer because it just gets exhausting when you work in an environment where you get many, many, many notes and not just from the network but from actors and studios, too. So just imagine everything you write, you’ve written maybe 12 drafts of it before it even reaches the TV screen. It’s just very exhausting and it burns you out and it zaps your spirit so you just end up losing whatever joy you had originally in the job.

TDW: So how’s your spirit right now? What are you up to right now?

Fattore: That’s a good question. We’re just starting season 4 of Californication so we’re in the earlier planning stages, which is fun because you just have, like I said, so much freedom on a cable show to do whatever you want to do with the characters and that’s what we’re doing right now. I’m not a big multi-tasker. I try to focus on one thing at a time. All my years on Dawson’s Creek kind of led me to that. TV is very all-encompassing. Once you’re going and you’re in the middle of the season, you just start living completely in the world of that show.

TDW: It’s been about ten years since your first Dawson’s Creek episode. Besides making you feel old, how does that otherwise make you feel?

Fattore: It’s funny because I still every day work with Tom Kapinos. We met on season 3 of [Dawson‘s]. We had never met before. There weren’t enough offices so they forced us to share an office. We’re both kind of shy, like most writers, and I think we didn’t speak for like the first week or so and then we eventually became friends. For me, there were a lot of really stressful experiences, especially during season 3 when there were a lot changes at the last minute but it was really learning to write, learning to write TV. Instead of going to film school or taking a class, they paid me and I got to make these little films. It’s very unusual in TV to be writing something and not be rewritten substantially. Season 3 early on or parts of The Longest Day were probably written by Greg Berlanti. Obviously I was getting rewritten at various points. But it’s such an amazing feeling to have your work produced, to have millions of people see it. I just have nothing but warm feelings for that time. We joke about it and laugh about it and, you know, I’m not proud of every single episode I wrote but if you’re going to write hours and hours and hours of TV, not all of it is going to be great. Some of it is going to be at a certain level. And honestly, I’ve watched a lot of these other teen shows come on and I am an old fogie but I have to say I think Dawson’s was different and special because it was emotional. Almost all these other shows that I’ve seen–like I tried to watch Gossip Girl and I didn’t get very far with The O.C. I feel like there’s something about being a teenager and the friendships that you form when you’re a teenager and that they’re so important to you and capturing the essence of that is what I think Dawson’s captured so beautifully. It wasn’t about sex and partying and all of these sort of Gossip Girl-type things. Obviously all of these shows are different in different ways but I always look back to the moments, especially in season 1. Frankly, people, I think, like to be glib and cynical but I think when you’re teenager, you don’t want to be glib and cynical about your friends or your love life or what you think at the time is your love life. I think Dawson’s had something there that really captured people’s attention and the actors obviously really caught on at the time. It was able to convey this genuine teenage angst and this emotion that people make fun of but is real. I know I felt it and I think most teenagers felt it.

TDW: I agree and I think that was beautifully put. My last question was going to be asking what you thought the legacy of the show is but I think you really hit that already.

Fattore: I think about this stuff a lot, which is probably kind of sad but a lot of my career has been spent writing this kind of thing. I do try to watch these other shows because I think, “what are they trying to do?” And obviously all the writers I worked with on Dawson’s, we talked about this stuff all the time. Dawson’s was, originally from Kevin’s pilot, simultaneously funny and emotional. There are moments in that pilot that really are quite funny and there are moments where, like, Joey’s predicament just struck home for everyone involved. That idea that you like someone and he doesn’t like you back is so primal to every teenager. I guess that’s my weird way of saying that I am proud of it. And it’s always nice to talk to someone who has seen and understood and appreciated the work because it was a long time ago now but obviously it lives on.

Come back next week for another exclusive interview!

TDW Interview Index





News Roundup: One Tree Hill, 90210, Gossip Girl and More

2 02 2010




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





News Roundup: One Tree Hill, 90210, Gossip Girl and More

5 01 2010
  • As of tomorrow at 4pm, SoapNet will begin reairing One Tree Hill’s first season.
  • MTV summed up the latest news on The Notebook musical, which Bethany Joy Galeotti (Haley, One Tree Hill) talked about in the podcast I posted yesterday.
  • Matt Barr (Ian “Psycho Derek” Banks, One Tree Hill) will appear on Friday Night Lights. Have you read my interview with him?
  • Starpulse has a brief interview with Ryan Eggold (Ryan, 90210).
  • Jessica Walter (Tabitha, 90210) voices a character in Archer, a new animated show on FX premiering next week.
  • On Sunday, SoapNet is airing This Time Around, which stars Brian Austin Green (David, Beverly Hills 90210).
  • SoapCentral has an interesting article on Vanessa Marcil (Gina, Beverly Hills 90210) possibly returning to General Hospital. The article also mentions Marcil starring in the webseries The Bannen Way, which also features Autumn Reeser (Taylor, The O.C.).
  • Jezebel has a look at the Gossip Girl comic book/graphic novel.
  • Blair (Leighton Meester, Gossip Girl) is out of the Girl on Top tournament.
  • Josh Schwartz (creator, Gossip Girl & The O.C.) is now on Twitter. Added him to the Twitter Directory.
  • Worth noting, as Zap2it did, that The Secret Life of the American Teenager, starring Shailene Woodley (Kaitlin, The O.C.), and Make It Or Break It, produced by Paul Stupin (executive producer, Dawson’s Creek), did significantly better in the ratings last night than Gossip Girl and 90210 typically do.





TDW Look Back, Pt. 3

1 01 2010

Part 1, Part 2

ORIGINAL POSTS: Exclusive: Executive Producer Charles Rosin Reflects on 90210’s Early Years (10/4/09) and Exclusive: Executive Producer Paul Stupin Revisits Dawson’s Creek (11/15/09)

WHY I LOVE THEM: When I first started this site, I never dreamed I’d be interviewing anybody, much less the creators of the teen drama genre. (And major props go to Michael Cudlitz for being the first to agree to an interview!) These are the people that came up with the characters, cast the stars, generated the storylines. Sure, there’s also writers, story editors, casting agents. But these “showrunners,” as they’re called, shape the vision, connect the dots and generally turn a bunch of small parts into the large thing we’ve come to know and  love as teen dramas. There’s no greater treat than to hear about the decisions from the decision-makers themselves.

WHERE I’LL GO FROM HERE: Well, I’d like to fill in the holes. That means, Josh Schwartz (The O.C., Gossip Girl), Mark Schwahn (One Tree Hill) and Rebecca Sinclair (90210), step right up because I’m ready and willing to interview ya. And while I’ve already interviewed a number of others, the pool of teen drama role players is seemingly infinite. I’ve had the privilege of interviewing most of the current main stars in person when I interned at PEOPLE in ’08 but I hope to one day be able to do it again explicitly for TDW. And, of course, all the stars of yesteryear, too.








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