A couple of weeks ago I went to an event at BAFTA hosted by mediaXchange. MediaXchange are a company who try and bring creatives together across the Atlantic – so for example TV execs in the UK might be taken across to LA in order to shadow a showrunner for week.
In this case, though, the event was in London. It was a full day of talks from drama creators and showrunners, in the first part of which they brought David Shore across to talk about House. The cost was £125 for new writers (defined as someone without an agent or a television credit), and well worth the money in my opinion. Go check ’em out.
A few of my scribbled notes follow:
His original problem with the series was simple: Germs don’t have motives. So how do you get dramatic followthrough from that? It took him several months of thinking through a line of attack before writing the pilot, which was written in two weeks.
David’s job as showrunner is to do final rewrites. He runs his writers’ room in a different way to many shows – but at the end of the day, there are as many styles of writers’ room as there are showrunners. David only has about twelve days a year in which the staff are all gathered together to break story, and these are used to break the serial elements of the show.
A writer will come to him with a basic idea, which he’ll give a Yea or Nay to. After that, it goes to a 2 page story outline: What’s the disease, and who is the person. David will give notes on that, along the lines of “Here’s what’s good about it, and here’s what’s not.”
The writer will go ahead and rewrite the two-pager as required.
When it goes to script, the writer will get two or three drafts. The final draft is then done pair-writing in David’s office. This works by having a big computer with two screens. They’ll then go through it line-by-line, with the script on-screen, amending as necessary.
Obviously this doesn’t happen all the time due to production deadlines – but he does it this way so that the writer will learn more about his writing style, which should ease the writing next time. After all, the voice of the show is that of the showrunner.
His job is therefore to bring consistency to the show.
Medically, the production gets advice from a nurse on set, a doctor on the writing staff, and three external doctors who give notes on scripts. “A real doctor wouldn’t say that, they’d say this.” These three are also available to the writers for phone consultations.
David used to set a writing exercise for staffers on a previous series:
- Choose an issue
- Write a paragraph about what you believe on the issue
- Write another paragraph completely disagreeing with you
When reading specs, he prefers to read specs for a show that a writer didn’t work on… that way you know that they wrote it 100% themselves, and it wasn’t rewritten completely by the showrunner before production.
Regarding notes: If someone doesn’t like something, there’s probably a problem. It might not be the problem they’ve identified, and the solution they’re offering may be awful… but it’s likely that there really is a problem somewhere.
Fixing problems identified by notes is good. That means you’ve got one more person going to bat for the episode.
Finally he passed on some advice he’d received years ago: If you want to teach a junior writer a lesson, shoot their first draft.