Joe Pokaski, the co-creator of “Underground,” has no trouble remembering the worst advice he got about his Underground Railroad drama.
“We sat in front of somebody, who was the brother of somebody else. He actually said, which will be the title of a book someday, ‘I haven’t read your script, but I know how to fix it,'” Pokaski said.
That kind of unhelpful advice was not on display Monday as a panel of top drama showrunners gathered for TheWrap’s Emmy-season screening series. Pokaski and his “Underground” co-showrunner Misha Green, sat alongside Eric Newman of Netflix’s “Narcos,” Damon Lindelof of HBO’s “The Leftovers” and Michael Green of Starz’ “American Gods.” They shared good stories and even better advice for anyone trying to learn to do their barely possible jobs.
Lindelof, of “Lost” fame, recalled being asked by executives to explain things more.
“It’s usually just a version of over-explaining,” he said. “It’s just, ‘We’re a little unclear on this,’ or they’ll say, ‘So if I’m reading this right, is it this and that and the other thing?’ And you go, ‘Bingo! Exactly’ and they’re like, ‘Okay, well you need to explain that more.’ And you go, ‘Well, you got it!’ and you know, we’re going to write up to the audience because they’re a lot smarter than you give them credit for.”
The writers-producers also got candid about how hard the job of being a showrunner actually is.
“It’s the toughest job I’ve ever had, by far, not even close, and it never stops,” said Newman, who began his career producing movies.
“You should try making a show that nobody watches, and canceling yourself!” Lindelof joked. “That’s how you get a break.”
“People who showrun alone deserve a special kind of masochism prize,” said Michael Green, who runs Starz’s “American Gods” with Bryan Fuller. “It’s a stupid job. There’s too much to do. I think it was Mike Schur of ‘Parks and Rec’ and every other amazing show on television who said, ‘It’s three full jobs, plus problems.'”
Sometimes, it’s also about sticking to your guns even when people are saying no.
“We wanted to build a boat the first season, and they were like, ‘No boat!'” Misha Green recalled of the WGN American drama’s early days. “And we were like, ‘Okay, but are you really saying no boat? Because you gave us a budget and we can spend all that money right?’… They were like, ‘No, don’t do the boat!’ But we did the boat anyway. And they loved the boat! It was like their favorite episode.”
Watch the full panel above.