How to Make Great TV or, You Know, Die Trying (Yikes!)

Finding a fascinating primer on TV writing and production while skimming through the interwebs made our week. There’s a lot of meat in this stew, so without further ado:

We meant to run this pic last Monday – on “Loyalty Day” – but it fits better here…or does it?

“We’re creating a world that feels true”
by Caroline Framke

To truly understand the phrase “controlled chaos,” you should consider crashing the set of a television show.

It’s my first day on the set of The Americans, FX’s stellar Cold War spy drama. On this frigid November morning, I step into a nondescript Brooklyn warehouse and am immediately whisked through a labyrinth of endless hallways, half-assembled sets, crowds of crew members jostling around a catered lunch. I grab some food, turn around, and immediately run into series star Matthew Rhys. He’s laughing with the crew, so fresh off filming that he still has wig clips embedded in his curly hair.

Someone introduces me. I tell Rhys I’m here to report on how an episode of television gets made, and he laughs, cocking his head. “So,” he says, his thick Welsh accent already coming through, “are you bored out of your fuckin’ mind yet?”

He’s gone before I can answer; we’re both supposed to be at a table read for Clark’s Place,” the fifth episode of The Americans‘ fourth season, and we’re already late. This behind-the-scenes access might be exciting for me, but for the cast and crew hustling to produce this episode, it’s just another busy day on the job.

Cold open: The table read

I finally catch up to Rhys in a back room, though it’s really more of a hastily assembled workspace. A long series of folding tables is set up end to end in the only corner where they’ll fit, at least temporarily.

Space is precious on a set. However, it’s not as precious as time. So as I slide onto a spare chair, The Americans‘ cast and producers are already two scenes deep into their read-through of the script for “Clark’s Place (which finally aired on April 13, 2016, five months after this table read). The preceding episode, “Chloramphenicol,” threw a wrench into the fabric of the series (click for a spoilery summary at your own peril), and “Clark’s Place” is all about confronting a frightening new reality.

This is the first and only opportunity The Americans‘ cast and producers will have to hear “Clark’s Place” performed scene by scene, in the order in which it was written and will air on television.

As a producer reads the stage directions in a terse monotone — “Henry is on the computer playing a game; Philip and Paige watch Reagan’s March 1983 SDI speech on TV” — I glance around the table. Rhys and Keri Russell, who star as married Soviet spies Philip and Elizabeth Jennings, sit in the center….

Read it all at Vox