The Real Life of a TV Writer

Writing and living, living and writing – can they truly co-exist? Here’s how THE MIDDLEMAN and LOST writer-producer Javier Grillo-Marxuach approaches the dilemma:

Javier-Grillo-Marxuachby Mark Rozeman

Take a moment to think of some of your favorite shows. Chances are Javier Grillo-Marxuach has helped to pen quite a few of them.

A 20-year veteran of the industry, Grillo-Marxuach began his career as a writer on the NBC sci-fi program seaQuest DSV. Over the years, his resume has grown to include Boomtown, Charmed, The 100, Medium, Helix and, most notably, the first two seasons of Lost. It was Grillo-Marxuach’s experience on this latter series that inspired a widely distributed blog post, which documents the years he spent writing and developing what would become one of the biggest game-changers in the history of the medium. Besides Lost, Grillo-Marxuach is perhaps best known among TV aficionados for his short-lived ABC Family series The Middleman, a program that, despite low-ratings and a premature cancelation, grew to become a beloved cult hit.

When not brainstorming in writers’ rooms, Grillo-Marxuach maintains a vibrant online presence. Earlier this year, he published Shoot This One, a collection of essays culled from his own personal LiveJournal, in addition to contributions and Apex Magazine that explore his views on the state of television and the world at large. In 2014, alongside fellow writer Jose Molina (Firefly, Agent Carter), he launched the Children of Tendu podcast. Each installment finds Grillo-Marxuach and Molina discussing their collective years spent working in the TV trenches and what it takes to break into (and stay in) the business. Grillo-Marxuach sat down with Paste to discuss his Internet-breaking Lost essay, Shoot This One and his hopes for influencing a new, ethically conscious generation of TV scribes.

Paste Magazine: You wrote a gigantic blog about Lost that, as much as anything can these days, broke the Internet.
Javier Grillo-Marxuach: That’s nice, thank you! Happy to hear that!

Paste: What were your reasons for putting all that out there?
Grillo-Marxuach: Well, you know, many reasons. I break them down in the article a bit. First of all, it has been 11 years since the show premiered. I have all these memories of it, but memories fade and you want to have your peace out there about it. A lot has been written about the show, but I don’t feel as though it’s always accurate. The people who stayed with the show for the span of its existence, most notably Damon [Lindelof] and Carlton [Cuse], a lot of their narrative about the show is subjective to how they felt at the time. I also think TV—and journalism about TV—has a tendency to be very “Great Man” focused. I felt as though there was a broader story that wasn’t being told about the alchemy and the insanity and the collaborative nature of those early days. And it’s not to take anything away from Carlton or Damon. It’s just to say that, right now, we live in the Golden Age of the showrunner where the showrunner is seen as an auteur. In any show, in the rush to make any one person the “auteur” of a show, you really miss the thing that I think is beautiful about making TV, which is that intensely collaborative insanity. The TV writers’ room is like competitive group therapy, you know? I feel like when that goes well, as it did on Lost, it’s actually a pretty inspiring thing.

Also, it’s not like I had scores to settle or things like that. But the story of the show is beginning to be written in a way that’s more permanent than ever. Maybe that’s a testament to how influential the show is. But the reason it started was that Alan Sepinwall, who is a TV critic for Hitfix, had written to me because he was writing his book The Revolution was Televised. He was trying to get some background aboutLost. So, I started answering some questions he threw at me and I thought, ‘You know what—there’s more to say here.’ Then it just sort of became that. So the catalyzing event was Alan talking to me. You don’t think when you do a TV show, ‘Holy fuck, this is going to become history,’ but it seems that Lost is a really influential show that is relevant to a chapter in the history of the medium. I thought, ‘I don’t want to be silent about it, or not have my contribution and let of a lot of other people not be seen because no one ever spoke up, so let’s go.’ I say in the article, if other people experience other things then God bless them. Not saying they are wrong, or right, or are lying. This is just me saying, ‘this is what I experienced.’

Read it all at Paste Magazine

One thought on “The Real Life of a TV Writer”

  1. I remember during the first season of “Lost” we could not bear to miss a minute of it. We would race home to watch it every single week, no matter where we were or what we were doing.

    Then the second season, we watched the first episode, then the second, then we stopped. It was a dead husk of what it had been, and to this day we don’t know why.

    We stayed away until the very last season, where we read up on what had happened all those years then watched the last 2 or 3 episodes, which were interesting, but not at all addictive like that first year had been. We also learned it was a good thing we hadn’t wasted our time with those middle years, because all we read about were dissatisfied viewers. And did we ever find out what that black smoke was or the polar bears or the thing that attacked the cockpit of the plane that was up in a tree? We got tired of waiting to find out. We’ll follow you anywhere, but you have to reward us along the way.

    That’s the problem with much of TV today, you get shows like “Whispers” or “Tyrant” or “Wayward Pines” where you struggle for 7 or 8 or 9 episodes just to figure out who’s who and what’s going on, only to be let down by what it turns out to be (often nothing). I think “Whispers” was the worst show I’ve ever seen that I sat all the way through. They might as well have beamed those children up to Pigs in Space on that last episode, at least it would have made a great lead-in to the new “Muppet Show.”

    “Medium” for us was a take-it-or-leave-it show. If we were in the room and the TV was on and it was set to the channel “Medium” was on, we’d watch it and it was ok. But we wouldn’t actively seek it out or set our watches to see it.

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