One of the most interesting presentations during this winter’s Television Critics press tour was the panel with the showrunners for the top CBS dramas. The lineup had the producers from some of our favorite dramas on TV — Elementary’s Rob Doherty, NCIS’ Gary Glasberg, Person of Interest’s Jonathan Nolan and Greg Plageman, and The Good Wife’s husband and wife team Robert and Michelle King.
All of them ignite the creative forces behind their shows, keep the productions running smoothly, and keep audiences on the edge of their seats. And during the interview session they gave us a few hints of what will be happening with the twists and turns of their stories.
NCIS’ Gary Glasberg explained that he’s proud of the decision to complicate things and paralyze the character Delilah (Margo Harshman), the girlfriend of McGee (Sean Murray). He said, “Now we get to show a really smart individual take control of her life and rise up, after what she’s been through. We’re very excited by the arc of what that character is going to face as someone in a wheelchair and how that’s going to be portrayed. All that stuff is coming down the road.”
Rob Doherty was happy to announce that Jane Alexander will be guest starring in an upcoming Elementary episode. But he was a little less forthcoming about the details that will have Mycroft (Rhys Ifans) and Lestrade (Sean Pertwee) back by the season’s end, although the femme fatale Moriarty (Natalie Dormer) won’t be seen again this time around.
The showrunners spoke about the unique challenges they face to make sure the dramas get shot and get on the air as smoothly as possible. Jonathan Nolan and Greg Plageman do Person of Interest in New York City, and that’s both a blessing and a curse for them to shoot on the city streets. Plageman said, “New York is a whale. I mean, we have made two standing sets two days in, sometimes three. But the rest of the show is this huge rambling wreck in the streets of New York City. And whether there’s a hurricane coming, or it’s going to snow, or there are 20 other shows shooting, or the UN’s in session, or the President’s in town, it’s tough. We’re a heavy POV (point of view) show too, so getting all those pieces to come together coherent in the end is a real challenge.”
Glasberg said the “big picture” challenge for the Los Angeles-based NCIS is simply time. “I’m fortunate to have a really great team of people, the cast and crew that work on the show. But as the season progresses it’s a lot of work. It eventually catches up to you and airdates catch up to you. Very often, you’ll finish an episode and then you look at your postproduction team and you have six days to turn the episode around from when it finished in the camera to all the post work that has to be done. So when I know that I’ve got effects people and editors and colorists and all kinds of people who are working all weekend and nights and whatnot to try to meet a delivery date, that’s when it gets tricky and because you don’t want to break your crew, that’s the challenge of doing 24 episodes.”
Doherty said the challenge that’s unique to the show he created is that Elementary’s stars (Jonny Lee Miller as Sherlock Holmes and Lucy Liu as Dr. Joan Watson) “have to be together and on camera a ton and that makes it very difficult for us to find relief. What we have promised people is a Holmes and Watson show. And even when you want to find a little break for Lucy, or a little break for Jonny, it’s tough to do that because our audience has a certain expectation, and it influences how you tell a story.”
For The Good Wife, Michelle King explained the actors’ schedules are a big challenge. King said, “I don’t think it is unique to us, but it’s scheduling, because we’re not looking to just do close-ended procedural stories. There are (story) arcs and the arcs do not just involve principal cast members. They involve guest cast. So if you’ve cast someone, say, to be Alicia’s (Julianna Margulies) brother and then you feel the need to tell a story with Alicia’s brother, and he’s not available, you’ve got a problem. So you need to be creative.”
Yes, creativity is part of the showrunners’ job description.