‘The Affair’ co-creator Sarah Treem: ‘We wanted to tell a story about two good people’

The premise of Showtime”s “The Affair” – in which Dominic West and Ruth Wilson get together, cheating on, respectively, Maura Tierney and Joshua Jackson – didn”t much interest me when I heard about it, even when those actors were involved. Then I heard that Sarah Treem was one of the creators and the lead writer, and my tune started to change.

Treem, a playwright turned screenwriter, was on staff for all three seasons of HBO”s great “In Treatment” – she was, in fact, the only writer to be with the show for all three years – and helped craft the episodes involving three of my favorite characters: Sophie the gymnast, April the cancer patient and Jesse the teen in search of his birth parents. (As the youngest writer on the show, she inevitably got assigned the youngest characters.)

As it turns out, I really liked the pilot for “The Affair,” which Treem created with Hagai Levi, whose Israeli series was the inspiration for “In Treatment.” Back in the summer at press tour, we spoke about the series” origins, how she intends to use the two structural devices – alternating between West and Wilson”s points of view, and telling the whole story via their interviews with a police detective several years in the future – going forward.

I”m curious about the genesis of the idea. (Showtime boss) David Nevins is on record saying he wanted to do a show about marriage, and you wanted to do something a little different.

Sarah Treem: I don”t actually know what David intended to do in the first place. But when “In Treatment” was over, Hagai Levi and I had become really good friends. So he wanted to do something about a relationship told from two sides I think. It”s a little hard to remember right now, but he asked me to come to Tel Aviv to talk about it. I don”t think he actually expected me to show up but I came. We were interested in doing “Rashomon” in a love story. And we decided to do it about an affair, because we thought that that was the sort of extreme version of the love story, in that you were never privy to what your lover is doing when you”re not around them – that your lover literally has a whole other life. The truth is that in any love story, you”re not really privy to what your lover is thinking when you”re not around them or even when you are around them. But an affair is an extreme manifestation of that theme. So we ended up thinking through that idea, and then we wrote the script on spec and then brought it into Nevins ready to go with an idea for the first season.

I”ll be blunt: when I first heard the notion – even with you attached, even with these actors attached – I said to myself, “I don”t need to see that.”

Sarah Treem: Interesting. I think a lot of people have that reaction.

So why do you think people have that reaction?

Sarah Treem: It”s close to home I think for a lot of people. It”s the thing that you hope isn”t gonna happen to your marriage. Or if it did happen to your marriage, it”s very painful. So to relive it is doesn”t sound like that much fun. I understand that.

It does often seem like sort of stories about infidelity wind up glamorizing it in a way.

Sarah Treem: Oh yeah. I think that probably is true too. And that”s not the intention here.

Because why would you ever cheat on Maura Tierney? That”s just…

Sarah Treem: That”s why we cast her.

Cheating on her seems so stupid.

Sarah Treem: We wanted to tell a story about two good people. Who were committed to their marriages. This is not the story about people who are serial philanderers, people who are looking to commit adultery, somebody who”s just not a nice person. The idea was that you”re in a marriage, you love your wife, she”s a good woman, you”re a good man. You have kids and then you meet somebody by chance who you think is your soul mate. What do you do? And I think everybody gets to that time. You”re vulnerable, you”re in a long term relationship. At some point in your marriage, you meet somebody else and you”re just like, “I think I can be happier with this person.” And then you”ve got a choice to make. We really wanted it from the very beginning to be clear that these were good moral people. Who weren”t looking for this to happen and really were caught in a true crisis.