S1: This ad free podcast is part of your Slate plus membership.
S2: I never really wanted to be a writer, and I was very much set on a career in military medicine. It was only when I responded to an ad in the British Medical Journal, a TV show in development, was looking for medical advisers that I kind of got switched on to the idea of making some kind of contribution.
S3: Welcome to Working, I’m your host, Isaac Butler,
S1: and I’m your other host, June Thomas,
S3: and that voice heard at the top of the episode belongs to Jed Mercurio. June, you spoke to Jed Mercurio. Who is he and why did you seek him out for the show?
S1: So Jed Mercurio, which is such a great name, I’m glad we get to say it a whole bunch of times. Jeff Mercurio, Jed Mercurio, he is a British TV writer. He made Bodyguard, which was well received on Netflix a couple of years ago. But I especially love his show Line of Duty, which by my lights is one of the best cop shows of the last decade or a little bit more. There are now six seasons, though only five have aired in the U.S. at this point, which is causing some challenges for those of us who have text exchange with British people because all they want to talk about is line of duty. And I have to la la la la la. But anyway, I wanted to talk to him because he recently executive produced a show for the first time. That show was Bloodlands, which aired on the BBC in the U.K. and is now available on ACORN TV here in the States. And Executive Producer is one of those jobs that I’m always really curious about. So I wanted to learn more about what exactly he did on that project.
S3: So for people like me, ignoramuses who have seen neither Bloodlands or line of duty, what should we know about them?
S1: Well, the first thing to know is that there are police procedurals, which is a genre that I am very fond of. Bloodlands is set in Northern Ireland and the case that the first season follows is one that digs into the way that the tribbles, the sectarian conflict between Catholics and Protestants, which was officially settled at the end of the 1990s, keeps resurfacing. And, you know, there are riots happening in Belfast right now. So obviously that is a real issue in the real world line of duty, which I really, really recommend to anyone who hasn’t seen, who has even the vaguest interest in cop shows. It’s set in a police anti-corruption unit, what a US cop show would call internal affairs. And I will just note two of the basic ingredients that make it great. It is very twisty with huge but totally believable surprises being sprung on a regular basis. And a lot of the action takes place in very realistic seeming police interviews. Now it sounds like and it could be very dull, but Mercurio is absolutely fantastic at building tension into those conversations. And he’s clearly interested in what the Brits call bank coppers. So there’s very little of the valorization of cops that we often see in US police procedurals.
S3: Great. And after your discussion with Jed, we’ve got a voicemail from a friend of the program, Roxane Gay, with a bit of creative advice for our listeners. And also, I do believe if you’re a slate plus getthere, you get a little something extra with your episode this week, right?
S1: You sure do. Yes. Members will hear Jed Mercurio’s thoughts about why. Although lots of top British actors work in the US, very few TV writers, including the big stars, cross the Atlantic to work on U.S. TV shows.
S3: Well, I mean, if you can resist the appeal of that, I suppose you can resist the appeal of anything like ice cream sundaes or the delightful music of the BJ’s or joining Slate. Plus, but if your soul is not dead and if you like nice things, why not subscribe to Slate? Plus, you’ll get exclusive members only content zero ads on any podcast bonus episodes of shows like Slow Burn and Dear Prudence. And you’ll be supporting the work we do right here on working. It’s only one dollar for the first month to sign up. Go to Slate Dotcom working plus. All right, that’s enough pitching out of me. Let’s listen to Jeunes conversation with Jed Mercurio.
S1: So who are you and what do you do?
S2: I’m Jed Mecurio and I’m a television writer.
S1: So I would say that you are mostly known, especially over here, for two shows that you created and wrote A Line of duty and bodyguard. But we’re going to begin today by talking about a show that you executive produced, Bloodlands. Could you describe that show for anyone who hasn’t seen it yet?
S2: Yeah. Bloodlands is the first production that I’ve produced through my production company, FTM Television. It’s a show created by Chris Brender and it’s set in Northern Ireland in the present day. And it follows a cold case investigation, which is triggered by a crime in the present. And there’s a lot of people know the particular kind of cultural and political legacy in Northern Ireland is informed by the troubles, which was a kind of sectarian conflict that took place in the recent past. And peace was restored at the end of the 90s. And it’s now very prosperous area. But one of the things that makes it a great setting for Bloodlands is the fact that there are still enormous difficulties that arise from from that conflict.
S1: I do want to ask you about your the way that you love to kind of resurface the past in your work. But I’m curious about the role of executive producer. It’s one of those titles or roles that can mean different things in different shows. And people hear that role. They don’t always have a clear vision of what it means. Could you say what kind of work your being executive producer on Bloodlands involved?
S2: Initially, I worked with the writer, Chris, I read his script, which was being sent out to various production companies, and I I really liked what he’d done. I thought it was a great way into an area of drama that isn’t examined that much, which is that the legacy of recent social conflict. Yeah, great characters, really great hooks in the work. And so it was really about finding a way to bring that to the screen. So I worked pretty closely with Chris and then with another executive producer, Readhead, and we got the script into really good shape. And then we were able to attach James Nesbitt to play the lead. And then we had the package that we were able to take to the broadcast broadcaster, the BBC. So as was an executive producer, I was just doing my best to facilitate Chris’s vision for the show that he wanted to write.
S1: I know it’s not a role that exactly exists in Britain, but you weren’t the showrunner of this show. It was a facilitation mostly.
S2: There wasn’t really a show runner on Bloodlands because Chris is a brand new writer. I was a director who directed all the episodes, a producer and executive producers who were all involved in the series. So I served as an executive producer throughout the production period in post-production. So I was part of the editorial team. So during the shoot, it’s looking at assemblies and cuts and deciding whether we’ve got the right material or enough of the right material. Then when we’re into the post-production period, just being very involved in the editorial process of deciding the final cut. You know, the process with TV is that the post-production period isn’t very long. We have we have to get all the episodes into shape and approved by the network. So it’s a team process.
S1: I know that for Line of Duty, which is set in on the mainland in England, Northern Ireland is somehow like sponsoring or something. Is that was it the same with with Bloodlands? And can you kind of sort me out of what the relationship is?
S2: Exactly, yeah. So Bloodlands was shot in Northern Ireland and they set the line of duty from season two onwards, has been shot in Northern Ireland. I’m Belfast. Oh. But it is set in an anonymous English city. So we have to disguise that it’s Belfast, whereas in Bloodlands, because it’s very much part of the the atmosphere and the location of the piece, we were kind of showcasing the Northern Irish location. So we had some setting in Belfast, which is the largest city, but the majority was in and around Stratford. Lock, which is an England like that, is quite eerie, quite rugged. Yeah. And that was a big part of creating the atmosphere of the series.
S1: Yeah. It’s a beautiful setting, but also very eerie that that ferry ride over, you know, you do have that feeling of like we’re moving from the normal world maybe into the past. It is a very it’s nice that you’re able to to kind of make that journey and have it be a very kind of part of the the way that the show looks as well.
S2: Yeah, if I said that I described Strafford Locke as being an inland lake and I misspoke, it’s actually it looks like it’s an inland lake, but it’s actually continuous with the sea. It’s kind of it’s almost completely bounded by land. But there’s an inlet to the sea which contributes to the currents and the the overall ruggedness of the location.
S1: When you talked about what attracted you to the project, you talked about Northern Ireland and the troubles and the history and that feeling of the past resurfacing. Let’s listen to a clip from Bloodlands where those elements are on display in the clip. Two police officers are talking about an unsolved case from the past
S4: and the early part of 1998. And in the months leading up to the peace agreement, a handful of us were made aware of a possible assassin who it seemed had access to police intelligence. He was never identified, but the suspicion was that it could only have been an inside man.
S1: That concept of the past resurfacing seems like a common theme in your work. So, for example, in line of duty, it’s often the case that characters from previous episodes or even previous seasons come back to old storylines are revived. Is that just a recurring interest of yours as a writer?
S2: Well, I think that distinct in these two examples and bloodlands, it’s very much part of the DNA of the the pitch that it’s set in Northern Ireland. It’s set around the story of a protagonist who’s a police officer, who was a serving detective in the present day, but whose career stretches back into the past when the role of policing was was somewhat different because of the social conflict that was going on within the communities in line of duty. We kind of told the story in the present. It’s just that with each season we inherited the legacy of what’s gone before. So we very rarely in line of duty delve into a past that predates season one.
S1: But it still feels like it’s unusual and wonderful to have past seasons returning because like that’s what happens in life. People from your past resurface and it very rarely happens in television. I think for logistical reasons, people don’t want to presume that they can get actors back when you’re doing something like that, which comes first, the storyline or the availability of the actor.
S2: It’s something that we have to explore with each season so we don’t plan ahead to the extent that we can book an actor to be in the following season or the season after. So it’s only when we’re in the process of constructing the season that we’re working on, that we might then start that conversation so we would explore whether a particular actor is available to serve a certain storyline. And if we’re lucky enough that they are, then we can go ahead and include that storyline. If it turns out that they’re not, then we have to explore alternatives.
S1: As I mentioned earlier, when we’re recording this line of duty, the current season is airing in the U.K. It’s not quite here yet, although I’m sure it will be soon. It’s the watercooler show right now. You know, it’s the show that’s getting the episodic recaps in the newspapers. Post our podcasts, actually, before I go on. I’m curious what you think about all those recaps and post er podcasts like how do you feel about that obsessive attention to your work? Has it changed the way you write at all?
S2: No, it hasn’t made any difference at all. I mean, I don’t follow those things. I mean, I’m I’m thrilled that that. Yeah. And I know people do take part in them and listen to them. And I think that it really adds to the enjoyment of the dedicated fans. Yeah. And, you know, over the years of my career, I’ve I’ve always wanted to write dramas that people would have to pay real attention to, and that by remembering events from previous episodes or spotting connections early and so on, it enhanced the viewer experience. What’s happened is that the technology has changed. So now, with the advent of streaming platforms and catch up technology, people can go back and re watch and they can catch up on an episode they may have missed so they don’t miss out on the connections within the story. These are all things that have only been around for a decade or so. If you go back into the more distant past in television than shows, really struggled to convince networks that have been very complex, connected storylines. Whether the viewers had to watch every single minute of every single episode would succeed. Of course, some of them did. But that didn’t mean that networks were averse to the risk of that kind of storytelling.
S1: One of the things that really you know, you’ve talked about the twists, the spotting, the connections you do twisty really well, I mean, there are definitely twists and surprises in Bloodlands. You know, line of duty constantly has them. So I’m curious. How you kind of manage that, because this shows that you’ve made are also often really about bureaucracy and process, line of duty is about investigations in a very detailed way, as was Bloodlands. Art Twistin is an accurate representation of bureaucracy, things that you’re thinking about when you sit down to either create a new show or to write a new season of one of your existing shows.
S2: Well, I think any writer, when they’re creating the world of the show has to look at whether they’re attempting to draw on the real world or they’re deciding on a more escapist route. Yeah, you know, generally I’ve looked at real world correlates of the kinds of stories and settings and characters that I’ve employed. And that’s helped me make decisions about how a story might be told and how much investment an audience is going to have in believing the outcomes, believing that the events they’re watching could happen in some kind of plausible version of our recognized reality. That doesn’t mean that shows that are entirely escapist, which reject all of that don’t don’t work. Of course they do. I mean, the classic example of it in the genre, that line of duty and bloodlands is is the the idea of the amateur sleuth, amateur sleuth don’t exist in the real world. You wouldn’t know it from watching TV. And it doesn’t seem to matter on TV that anybody seems to be able to to investigate a crime if they’re minded to. Whereas, you know, those of us who are familiar with the real world know that that is a rarer and at times unlikely event.
S3: We’ll be back with more of Jeunes conversation with Jed Mercurio after this. Hey, listeners, a couple of things real quick, first, if you’re enjoying this podcast, great, please take a moment to subscribe to our feed wherever you get your podcast so you don’t miss a second of working. And if you happen to be listening on overcast, please recommend the episode by hitting the star icon also. Well, I’ve got your attention. If you have any questions about the creative process, big or small, whether it’s how to figure out a big pivot at work or tackle an ambitious writing project or just find more time in your day to be creative, we would love to help. You can drop us a line at working at Slate Dotcom or give us an old fashioned phone call at three four nine three three w o r k. That’s three oh four nine three three nine six seven five. We really, really like phone calls. OK, let’s rejoin June’s conversation with Jeff Mercurio.
S1: Your police procedurals are very heavy on procedure. There’s a lot about the requirements for police interviews, you know, how many levels above in rank, the person who’s questioning needs to be, you know, the specifics of the way the things the the the exhibits are presented. Let’s actually listen to a clip of Line of Duty so listeners can hear what I’m talking about. Here is a police interview from the show.
S5: Questions will be put to you by Superintendent Hastings. Is it your right to be questioned by an officer or at least one rank senior? I will furnish factual information only starting with the image 47 from a CCTV.
S1: I think of those restrictions as being like creative restrictions, which can be quite helpful when it comes to writing. You know, it’s not quite a blank page. It’s, you know, like restricted by what real life cops have to do. Is that how you think of those real life restrictions that you present in your shows?
S2: I think that the way they work is that they give the show a distinctive identity, so. If you’re going to go down that road of trying to be as true to life as possible, then. I think you can’t do it with half measures, because I think most shows do it with half measures, they they do enough that it feels like it’s in a realistic depiction of law enforcement, but they’re prepared for whatever reasons. And I think the reasons are usually justified to apply artistic license, to cut corners, to to platform stories and in ways that maybe be wouldn’t happen in the real world. And obviously, we do that to an extent and in line of duty and in Bloodlands. But I think our aim is to do it as little as possible.
S1: I mean, again, I’ve never seen an actual police interview, so I, I maybe I’m falling for your for your fiction, you know, that that’s not exactly how they do it. Is it actually accurate? And if it is, you know, how do you how do you find out how cops actually do their interviews?
S2: Well, it’s accurate up to a point. And I think that applies to to drama in general. But drama isn’t reality. And we view the two things differently, and that’s certainly constructed very differently. So with line of duty, we’ve not sought to emulate what a real police interview is that we’ve watched. We’ve sought to apply the procedures that we know real police officers have to to follow. And from those first principles, we’ve created a way that we approach police interviews. So it’s just really things like the way in which evidence is itemise the way in which if a question is being put to a suspect, then the basis of that question has to has to stand up legally. And so by doing that and doing as rigorously as possible within what is an internally consistent approach, then we create the verisimilitude of the interview. And the way that we do it is distinctive and contributes to the identity of the show. I think if you were to put one of our interviews against a real police interview, you would see significant differences. But then I think if you put an interview from a regular cop show against a police interview, you’d probably see even greater differences.
S1: I know that you’re a fully qualified doctor, or so I believe, was it a tough decision to switch from practicing medicine to becoming a screenwriter?
S2: Well, I was very fortunate that I never really had to make the decision. I was working as a as a resident in internal medicine when my first show was on the air. And then it got ordered for a second season. So I ended up taking a sabbatical to work on the second season. And then I just kept extending that sabbatical. And so I never really felt that I was turning my back on medicine. I always thought that there was an opportunity to go back if TV didn’t work out. And it’s just as the years went by and I got more involved in TV and farther away from medicine, that it became clear that I was on a different career path.
S1: Not to be too crass, but physicians make much less in the U.K. It’s hard for me to imagine many American doctors making that move, although I know there are some, like Neal Baer, who is also a physician. But are there things from your medical training that you use in your writing practice?
S2: Well, a number of the shows that I’ve worked on have been set in the medical world. So that was a big part of certainly my early career and that the first show I did was it was a little like Scrubs is probably the best example. It was a kind of comedy drama built around the experiences of kind of interns and residents. And then I did another show a few years later that was a much darker and more complex pace. It was an outand out drama in obstetrics and gynecology and in a department that had multiple dysfunctions. And it was kind of a, you know, an examination of how things can go wrong in the medical world. But I guess the universal factor is that. I got primary experience of seeing sort of very stressful life or death situations, and I’ve seen lots of people in those situations coping with them and responding to them in a different way. So that sort of gives me a template to write about that kind of scenario.
S1: I’m curious about when the desire to kind of break into writing came, when you go through the onerous training and the difficult to get into medical school, you go through all that. I think you also served in the Air Force during all those years where you thinking this is great and all, but I just really want to be a writer. When did that seed get planted?
S2: I never really wanted to be a writer until I got the opportunity. I, I was a fan of TV and film and I certainly would have jumped at the opportunity. But I went to a very ordinary high school. There was no real opportunity to do creative things. That was a lot of pressure to do well and in high school and give yourself the opportunity to get into a secure profession. And that was the path I took. I, I was a very science kid and I ended up going to medical school and boiler’s at medical school. I joined the Air Force and I was very much set on a career in military medicine. And it was only when I responded to an ad in the British Medical Journal or a TV show in development, was looking for medical advisers that I kind of got switched on to the idea of of making some kind of contribution. And I honestly never expected it to lead anywhere. So I was incredibly fortunate that it did.
S1: So when you did get that break, as it were, were there things that you did to kind of figure out how to be a good writer? Like were there books that you read? Were there? I don’t imagine there were online courses that you took. But like, how did you figure out how to be a good writer?
S2: Well, initially, I was very fortunate to serve what you might describe as an apprenticeship with the producers on the show who were very experienced. And so they mentored me through a process of of the absolute basics from how you lay out a script to some fundamental guidance on on how you structure your story. And then once I was delivering drafts, they were giving me great notes, which I was learning from. And it was only when the first season Adam was a hit and there were more seasons to be written. But I thought, well, I need to take this a little more seriously now. And and that’s the point where I kind of did the screenwriting workshops, you know, the weekend courses and read, you know, books on story structure and story construction and so on.
S1: What was that show that that first show that you worked on?
S2: It was called Cardiac Arrest, and it aired in the UK from 1994. So it came out a few months before E.R. And like I said, it probably that the thing that it was closest to was scrubs, but I think scrubs that lighter as well.
S1: So when you did make that move from medicine to writing, did what did you feel that you were using different parts of your brain? Did it feel like you were stretching different muscles? What did it feel like to make that switch?
S2: Oh, definitely. It felt like I was getting into a new area and I’d always done very technical things. So to do something that was quite creative was a real challenge, but also something that I really enjoyed. And as the process went on and as I learned more about it, it was something that I became more confident with. But initially, you know, I have to be honest, I was very naive about writing, very naive about how TV worked. So it was something that I was kind of doing as a hobby or as a sideline and with no real expectation that it would would change my career path.
S1: Jed Mercurio, thank you so much for spending this time with us. Appreciate it.
S2: My pleasure. Thank you.
S3: June, what a delightful down to earth conversation the two of you had, this is the second time you’ve talked with the writer for UK television and I am struck a new by how different they do it over there, like I did a double take when he said that Bloodlands doesn’t have a show runner.
S1: Yeah. I mean, Bloodlands has one writer for all the episode, Chris Brandon, and also the same director directed all four episodes. And Jed Mercurio has written every episode of the six seasons of Line of Duty. You know, it’s a different way of making TV. It’s still very collaborative. It’s not like they are One-Man bands, but Line of Duty is most definitely Jed Mercurio’s show in the way that it’s a sin. Was Russell T. Daviss or Gentleman a Sally Wainwright show like all that is possible without there having a direct analogue of the US showrunner role?
S3: Right. Totally. Because I guess if you don’t have a writer’s room, what are you running off? If if it’s just you you know, June, I loved that you asked Jed about recap and post er podcasts because you hosted a wonderful one about the Americans and you and I cohosted, if I do say so myself, pretty delightful one about Game of Thrones in its final seasons. And you know, he seem like he’s done the really healthy thing as a creator and now totally avoids them. But I do feel like more and more people who work on long running shows are taking the audience’s reaction into account in a really overt way. Do you see that in your TV viewing? Are fans becoming a more important or perhaps even too important part of the television creative process?
S1: Yeah, they are. And I’m really conflicted about this. I think it’s awesome that there are these fandoms that can unite and kick up a fuss when a show does something deeply uncool. Like I’m thinking of the way that fans of a CW drama called The 100 rose up when that show built up its really strong relationship between two of the female leads and then very suddenly killed one of them in a way that followed the script of the classic lesbian baiting barangays trope. And so that response and that protest really warmed my heart and I thought it was totally justified. At the same time, I also want creators to be in charge of their creations, like to be responsible for the successes and the delights, but also to have the freedom to fail to please. Like there’s an amazing episode of Slate’s Decoder Ring podcast called The John Locke Conspiracy, about how the Sherlock fandom got totally out of hand and effectively killed the show. I mean, that is fandom at its worst. I’d say that even though I have some sympathy for what those fans wanted, like it can get out of hand so easily.
S3: Right. I was also fascinated to learn that he did not train as a TV writer. He trained as a doctor. Now, maybe this is because writing is my second career, too. But it’s worth saying that in any creative industry, no two people’s paths are really the same and that there is nothing wrong. I want to underline this. There’s nothing wrong with having a second career.
S1: Absolutely not. I’ve done a couple of projects around Sekine acts, which is when a person moves from one career to another. And it’s often the case that the shift is driven by passion. Like I remember speaking with Nicole Auerbach, an attorney who became a rabbi, and Jerry Allen, the guy who started from the bottom, the very bottom of the national park system and eventually did become a park ranger in his 60s. I think after a multi decade career at Delta Airlines, like they were just both so driven to kind of start over. And with Jet Mecurio, I got the impression that he would have been happy if he’d stayed in medicine like it wasn’t. I just must become a writer. But, you know, I was a fan of his TV shows, so I’m glad he did. Isaac, would you describe your career shift as being about getting a chance to live out a dream?
S3: I mean, it’s worked out that way, but no, not really. I mean, if I’m going to be completely honest, it was because I so I was working as a director is kind of my primary occupation. And writer was a kind of secondary thing. And what really happened was my now wife and I wanted to get married and have a kid, and I realized that the career I was chasing is a director. Like if I actually got the success I wanted, I’d be on the road like six months out of the year and I just didn’t want to. That’s not how I wanted to raise a family. I just didn’t want to do that. And at the same time, my wife wanted to quit theater and get her MBA. And so I started to explore what some alternatives would be. That would be a more manageable, sustainable life for us. And I started exploring the kind of thing that had been on the back burner, the writing thing, and I sort of switched which burner’s they were on. Right. And so writing became primary and directing became secondary. But one of the things that happened as a result of that, weirdly, was I got the biggest gigs I’d ever had as a director. Right when I made that decision, right. When I was like, I’m quitting and I’m going to graduate school. And also I discovered like a real a true love, love of writing. And, you know, I’m glad it’s what I do every day to be complete. Well, you’ve, of course, you know, have many different roles within within Slate. And currently, you know, it’s not all one job that you’ve had this whole time. And currently your focus is much more on podcasts than it was, you know, five, 10 years ago. What was that transition like for you? What was that second act like?
S1: Well, you know, I think it’s more that that is kind of a career path. You know, in journalism, like in most I don’t know, in some fields, the sort of more senior you get, the less you do the thing that got you into that profession. I mean, it happens in teaching where you become an administrator. It happens in in journalism. You probably start you know, pretty much everybody starts as a writer and you become an editor. And if you become more senior as an editor, you don’t really do any editing. So it is that odd progression of doing something in a way that kind of stops you doing the thing that you love. But, you know, at Slate, we get to, you know, it’s not a very territorial place. So, you know, occasionally I’ll write a TV review or something. You can kind of keep your hand and if there’s something that you really want to write. So it just feels like it’s it’s part of the seasons of a career. It just seems more of a natural progression kind of thing.
S3: Interesting. You know, I have a friend who has this theory that that creative types fall into two categories which are eel’s and squid’s, because eel’s at every stage of their maturity, they are radically different organisms like a Babille and an adult deal or nothing alike. Basically, they’re like very, very different creatures, whereas squid’s just start a small squid’s and become ever larger and larger squid’s. Right. So you sort of lead a bunch of different lives and you do a whole variety of things. Or, you know, from the age of 10, you know that you’re going to be, let’s say, a writer and then you just become more and more yourself a larger and larger squid as you go along. And I like the both of those are valid ways of absolutely. You know, pursuing a creative life.
S3: I am also excited because a friend of the program, Roxane Gay, left us a voicemail with some writing advice. And I want to get your opinion on it. Let’s take a listen.
S6: Hello, my name is Roxanne Gay and I am a writer. I’ve written books like Bad Feminist and Hunger in terms of a piece of general creative advice. You know, these days I’m really fond of talking about how first drafts aren’t necessarily terrible people. Let’s talk about how terrible first drafts are and sometimes they are. But sometimes there’s some really interesting stuff happening there. And I wish more writers would trust their initial instincts. So first draft aren’t necessarily terrible.
S3: Jim, what do you make of Roxanne’s advice?
S1: Oh, I loved it, I found it bracing and, you know, useful corrective to this popular narrative that first drafts a universally awful I mean, I get why that is such a popular refrain. A lot of people, me included, you know, you need to hear it because first versions can be crap and you really shouldn’t give up if you’re hating what you’re typing. But the first version of an idea can also be the best one. It’s definitely possible to work a thing to death and drain the life all the way out of it. What did you think?
S3: Yeah, you know, there’s that wonderful essay by an Lamarr called Shitty First Draft. And I think amongst writing teachers, that’s where a lot of this idea comes from. But the whole point of that essay is generosity, right? It’s like don’t torture yourself before you start writing the thing. Just write the thing and then you can make it better. Don’t be anxious about it. Just do it. It’s OK. You can always change it later. Like there’s a real generosity behind that piece that I think has turned that can curdle and become well, you’re the first draft is just a garbage dump. And then all you’re going to do is you’re going to go through that garbage dump, but you’re going to look for the like one or two little gems there. And then you’re going to like the rest on fire and you’re going to hate yourself. And, you know, so I like that Roxanne is questioning that. You know, there are certainly I mean, there are parts of the book I’m doing the final pass of edits with my editor on on the method right now. And there are sentences in that book that come from the first draft, you know, because I got it right. That’s right. And sometimes meddling for the sake of meddling is not helpful. Yeah. I think that if you can just find ways to be as generous and kind to yourself throughout while still being rigorous, you know, to me that’s the key. And sometimes that means recognizing when you’re like, hey, good job, past version of me, you know, there those ideas there. And I absolutely agree with you that you can revise something to such a point that you’ve drained all the blood out of it and that whatever initial spark, initial impulse, initial problem or conflict question motivated you and made that piece of writing worth doing is gone. And finding that balance between revising and strangling, you know, your own work is one of the main learning experiences as you become a more mature artist. I think.
S1: Yeah, I think having trust in your abilities to be generous, but also have confidence, everything that you produce the first time that you sit down and start typing is not junk. And you should trust that.
S3: Yeah. You know, I also think there’s a thing that we do I don’t know if you do this June. I do this, so I’m just going to see me next week. There’s a thing that I do where it’s like in my own head to, like, protect myself from heartbreak. I’m sort of like making fun of my own work. I’m like, well, who wrote this shit? Do you know what I mean? Like, in my brain? And it’s a good note from Roxann that, like, as fun as that can be, sometimes you need to actually turn that off, like beating yourself up as a preemptive way of like protecting yourself from other people, not liking it or whatever it is, do actually doing no one any favours.
S1: Yeah, let’s not fetishize self-regulation. We do it enough already. Let’s not celebrate it too.
S3: Yeah, exactly. Well, we hope you’ve enjoyed the show this week, if you have, don’t forget to subscribe wherever you get your podcasts, then you’ll never miss an episode. And yes, I am going to give you the slate. Plus pitch one last time. Slate plus members get benefits like zero ads on any Slate podcast bonus episodes of shows like Slow Burn and Dear Prudence. But more importantly, you will be supporting the work we do right here on working. It’s only one dollar for the first month. To learn more, go to Slate Dotcom Working.
S1: Plus, thanks to Jed Mercurio for being our guest this week. Our amazing producer continues to be the great Cameron Drus, who has to listen to a lot of my takes in the line of duty. We’ll be back next week with Remans conversation with children’s book author Stuart Gibbs. Until then, get back to work. All right, sleepless listeners, first, thanks very much for your support, we appreciate it. And now here are some questions just for you. British actors often, you know, might do a show in the U.S., go back to the U.K., but British writers and show runners, even, you know, the stars like yourselves, some of the the big names, they rarely seem to come and work in the U.S.. Was your thinking on the U.K. situation versus the the rest of the world situation as a writer?
S2: I honestly think it’s really about generally writers being led by what they’re interested in creatively. And if a lot of how they’re informed about what they want to write about comes from their immediate environment, then they’re probably more attuned to what’s going on in their own country. I think when you set out to write something that has to work for other audiences in other locations, then it becomes very hard, you know, to imagine how something is going to be perceived there. So you still end up having to follow the the basic universal principles of telling the story.
S1: There are certain things in Britain, though, that tend not to be true in the US or in other countries like the shorter seasons. Do you enjoy I mean, would you. I don’t think anybody probably wants to write, you know, a 24 episode season versus four. But the difference in the length of seasons does seem to be maybe the big difference between UK and US productions.
S2: I think the industry is changing. I think if maybe you looked in the past, you would see a very. Clear dichotomy, you would say that so many US dramas that that are 20 plus episodes per season, and that’s when the biggest output of drama was on the broadcast networks. And then if you compare it to the broadcast networks in the U.K., for example, you would see most drama series being six episodes or maybe eight at most, and it’s only our kind of soap. So continuing dramas, as we call them, that are on TV for most of the year. Right. But the industry has changed now. And there are many platforms in the US where they broadcast shorter seasons, where they broadcast a 10, 12 hours as a season. And in the U.K., because there are more platforms, there are shows that are on air longer that aren’t on for six or eight that we do 10 or 12.
S1: Are there TV writers whose work you particularly admire or who you’ve learned from?
S2: Oh, sure, yeah, I’m just sort of thinking back really from. Before I got into TV, when I was a fan, I think those are the big names that were part of inspiring me so that when I did get the opportunity to get involved in TV, I had to kind of model to aim for. So I would mention someone like, say, Steven Bochco. I was a huge fan of Hill Street Blues and I found that was something that really gave me a kind of strong idea of how maybe I wanted to approach drama and then sort of going further back, you know, into kind of shows I watched as a kid things like Star Trek said Gene Roddenberry, Rod Serling, not Hiken,
S1: who said, I don’t know that now.
S2: He was the lead writer of the silver show, the Sergeant Bilko show, kind of like a legendary sort of late 50s, early 60s TV writer who was kind of like, you know, the top of the tree. But then.
S1: Sleepless listeners. That’s it for this week. Thanks for your support once again. We’ll be back next week. So.