One of the more unusual things about the Breaking Bad writers’ room is just how happy it is, as opposed to the writers’ rooms on shows like Mad Men, The Newsroom, and Girls, which have an incredible amount of turnover often attributed to the egos of the showrunners who want to maintain control (and all the credit). As such, there’s been virtually no turnover in the Breaking Bad writers’ room over six years, so now that the show has come to an end, you can expect that many of those writers — Peter Gould, George Mastras, Sam Catlin, Thomas Schnauz, Moira Walley-Beckett, Gennifer Hutchison, and John Shiban — will likely end up running their own shows soon. It’s going to be a sad day when Breaking Bad ends, but we can take solace in the fact that it will shed several free agents ready to start their own new series (including, perhaps, Peter Gould’s Saul Goodman spin-off).
One of the most fascinating aspects of Brett Martin’s book about the creative revolution in the television industry, Difficult Men (which we discussed heavily in this post) is its examination of the writers’ rooms not only of the most important shows on contemporary television, but the writers’ rooms where many of those writers were plucked. Vince Gilligan, after all, came from The X-Files writers’ room and learned there much of what he has applied to Breaking Bad. The majority of the most important writers in television today began somewhere else.
Below, we’re going to go through the ten most influential writers’ rooms on the modern television landscape, specifically what Brett Martin refers to the Third Golden Age of Television. In researching this, it was surprising to me just how many showrunners on today’s great shows started out in the writers’ rooms on the great shows of five, ten, or 15 years ago, and it’s amazing to consider how the branches from one show can splinter off into so many others.
The O.C. (Showrunner: Josh Schwartz). Writers’ Room (and the shows those writers now work on in a significant capacity): J. J. Philbin (Heroes, New Girl), John Stephens (Gossip Girl), Stephanie Savage (Gossip Girl, Hart of Dixie, and Cult), Mike Kelley (Revenge), Mark Fish (Scandal), Melissa Rosenberg (Dexter)
Ran by Josh Schwarz, who at 26 was one of the youngest showrunners in television history, it’s hard to discount the contributions that the O.C. writers’ rooms have made to television, even if they’re not exactly groundbreaking dramas. Revenge’s Mike Kelley is considered one of the most powerful showrunners on television right now, and Melissa Rosenberg — who ran Dexter for several years — is, alas, the screenwriter behind several of the Twilight movies. Influential, definitely. In the right way? Not necessarily, although perhaps Marissa’s death in The O.C. influenced Rosenberg’s decision to take out a major character at the end of season four on Dexter.
Roswell: Writers’ Room (and the shows those writers now work on in a significant capacity): Jason Katims (Friday Night Lights, Parenthood), Ronald D. Moore (Battlestar Galactica, Caprica).
There were only two impactful writers to come out of the Roswell writing room, but they are two of the most important showrunners on television today, having created the best drama in recent years not to include a anti-hero in Friday Night Lights, and in Ron Moore, a writer that put the SyFy network and science fiction series back on the map. For better or worse, Roswell was also the show that launched Katherine Heigl’s career.
Alias (Showrunner JJ Abrams): Writers’ Room (and the shows those writers now work on in a significant capacity): Jeff Pinkner (Fringe), Jesse Alexander (Heroes, Hannibal), Alex Kurtzman and Robert Orci (Fringe, Hawaii Five-0), Breen Frazier (Criminal Minds), Drew Goddard (Lost).
You could actually go as far back as Felicity to find the first writers to hitch their wagon to the J.J. Abrams’s train (including Adam Horowitz, the creator of Once Upon a Time), but the Abrams writers’ room really began to matter with Alias, as those guys went on to run Fringe and Lost, the latter of which is the most influential network show of the last 15 years. Many of the writers on Alias (and later, Lost) would also go on into feature films, of course: Kurtzman and Orci, as well as Goddard are behind many of the sci-fi tinged blockbusters we see these days. Some good, some not so good.
Homicide: Life on the Street: Writers’ Room (and the shows those writers now work on in a significant capacity): Paul Attanasio (House M.D., Gideon’s Crossing), David Simon (The Wire, Treme, Generation Kill), Tom Fontana (Oz, Copper), Anya Epstein (In Treatment, Tell Me You Love Me), Eric Overmyer (Law & Order, Treme, New Amsterdam).
There’s actually some crossover between this show and NYPD below, but they’re both huge influences on The Wire and on Oz, the latter of which helped pave the way for The Sopranos, which is reason enough alone to be on this list. The lessons learned from Homicide — weaving multiple intricate story-lines into single episodes — clearly had a huge influence on the writers’ future series, as well.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer (Showrunner Joss Whedon): Writers’ Room (and the shows those writers now work on in a significant capacity): Jane Espenson (Battlestar Galactica, Once Upon a Time, Warehouse 13), David Fury (Lost, 24), David Greenwalt (Grimm), Marti Noxon (Brothers and Sisters, Private Practice and Prison Break), Steven S. DeKnight (Spartacus), Drew Goddard (Alias, Lost), Douglas Petrie (American Horror Story), Rebecca Sinclair (90210).
Whedon, of course, was the huge talent to come out of the series, as he’s basically the king of Hollywood now, but the people that started out in that writers’ room now have quite a few network hits (and even more misses) under their belt, and you can certainly sense the Buffy influence in a show like Grimm, and in those writers’ lack of hesitance when it comes to killing off major characters, practically a Whedon trademark.