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Sundance 'Writers' Room' goes backstage at 'Breaking Bad'

New series offers glimpse inside the TV dream factory

July 29, 2013|By David Zurawik | The Baltimore Sun

But for all the staging and editing involved, such roundtables work best when the conversation feels organic — and that means not all eight members will have equal airtime. And not all will have something great to say. Some dominate, and some pull back in such situations. And as dominant as Cranston tries to be, he does seem accepted as a working member of this group — not a face added to the lineup for a little star power.

Rash, who in addition to being a screenwriter is also comedian and actor on NBC’s “Community” sitcom, can be a little camera-precious. He also seems given to the quip rather the question that will take the conversation to a deeper level.

To his credit, Rash does try to drill a little deeper, at one point asking Gilligan whether the series is trying to comment on the “disappearing middle class” in America.

I believe it does offer such commentary — if not an outright meditation on that disturbing state of American life. Further, I believe the series finds a deep source of psychic energy by tapping that current of shared anger and economic anxiety in the audience. It’s the same current that “Weeds” tried to address on Showtime.

“I honestly think we get a lot of credit for giving this kind of social criticism or commentary,” Gilligan says. “But for me personally, I think it’s this story of this one guy. … I was about to turn 40, and I was already thinking, ‘God, I’m going to have a hellacious midlife crisis. So, what about doing a story about a guy having an end-of-life crisis?’ But I studiously avoid putting politics into anything I’m working on.”

A better interviewer might have said, “I wasn’t really asking about politics. I was asking about the anxiety and anger of middle-class people today who find themselves after a lifetime of working hard not having the money to protect their family — just like Walter White. And didn’t you say earlier that you and Tom had been out of work for two years and were anxious and angry about being ‘almost penniless’ and about to lose your health insurance? Do you think some of that might have found its way into the world you created?”

Instead, Rash lets it drop and asks Gilligan whether he was surprised that the show was a hit.

In three decades of interviewing men and women who create TV shows, I have never heard anyone say they knew their show was going to be a hit.

Maybe that’s the difference between a one-on-one, in-depth print interview in a backlot bungalow with only a handheld recorder between reporter and producer, and a prime-time cable TV show staged in front of a bank of cameras.

Still, I wish Rash had pushed Gilligan — in a polite way, at least.

But I’ll be back in “The Writers’ Room” in weeks to come. Probably not for “Parks and Recreation” (Aug. 5) and “New Girl” (Aug. 19). But definitely for “Dexter” (Aug. 12), “Game of Thrones” (Aug. 26) and “American Horror Story” (Sept. 2).

Here’s hoping the host goes a little deeper as the series goes on.

david.zurawik@baltsun.com

twitter.com/davidzurawik

On TV

“The Writers’ Room” debuts at 10 p.m. Monday on the Sundance Channel.

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