Why you can’t always do what you want when you’re running a TV series (and, no, you can’t even always do what you need):
TA Message About Race and Racism in Teen Wolf – Jeff Davis’s Tumblr post (which has since been taken down)
I have seen a number of posts regarding race and racism in Teen Wolf that reference a quote I made in an interview about my efforts in trying to build a world in the show that is somewhat idealized. The critiques are all fair and insightful. I do think it may interest some of my more vocal critics to know the difficulties of approaching these kinds of subjects in television.
First off, the lack of story development for Boyd’s character. I have said numerous times in interviews that the new supporting characters are there to “support” the main characters. I have 41 minutes a week in which to tell a story. It’s not easy to service every character equally!
Second, our show has budget constraints that severely limit how many guest actors we can have. For example, I would have preferred to have Michael Hogan show up in every episode of the new season. Unfortunately, we could only afford him in a certain number. With the three new wolves, Sinqua, Gage and Daniel, we had to decide how best to use them in twelve episodes. When we make contracts for actors it’s usually a minimum guarantee of 6 out of 12 episodes.
Now, here is a sample email during the production of the show I received about Sinqua Walls who plays Boyd:
“So Sinqua is testing for a pilot on Tuesday. Tracy (his manager) has asked if we can get him on the latest flight possible back to LA on Monday night. She doesn’t want him traveling the same day as the test. Would this work for production? He still isn’t closed for the next episodes and they have been holding b/c of this possible testing. This is rather time sensitive since I believe he was scheduled to fly out today. So please get back to me ASAP.”
What this means is that while he was guaranteed several episodes in our show, Sinqua made it very far along in the casting process for a pilot. Since Sinqua is not a regular cast member, he is often out auditioning for numerous other roles. And as he had the possibility of getting another job, his management was hesitant at committing to any more episodes with us. While I was writing the last batch of episodes, I had no idea if he would even be available to me. That makes it very difficult to invest in a character if I’ve got be able to craft a script so that he can be easily written out in case the actor gets another job.
When we send out breakdowns for cast it always says “All ethnicities.” I’m quite proud of the fact that our lead actor is Latino. But I have also always said I will not make Teen Wolf an “issues” show. I think a series like Glee or even the humor of Modern Family are far more equipped to handle those subjects. I also worry that as a white male who grew up in a pretty ordinary middle class suburb I may not have the insight to be particularly adept at tackling issues of race head on. While there is no way I can write without socialization and my own personal bias both informing and affecting my work, I believe my first job is to entertain. That’s what I love about writing. Entertaining people. If I skirt the issues of race and sexual politics, the reason is most likely that I don’t feel like I’m going to be very good at tackling those issues within a show about teenage werewolves. I don’t really know how to write those stories. But I think I do know how to scare people and how to make them laugh. There are far better writers out there like Aaron Sorkin, Shonda Rhimes, David E. Kelley, far more equipped to tackle those subjects. I’m here first and foremost to entertain. All else comes under the banner of “best effort.”
I love the passion all of the fans bring to the show and I’m glad it creates far more of a discourse than I ever expected. I’m pretty sure most of my response here comes out of my own insecure thinking: “Are they calling me racist? I’m not racist! Wait… am I?” But maybe some of this information will provide a different insight into the why’s and how’s of the world of television and if you don’t necessarily forgive our flaws, you might at least understand them a little better.
So this insight comes out of a specific problem, a big controversy about the show, which Jeff thought he was ending. But instead…