Limited Series Scribes Share Origin Stories

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Writers of nine limited series ranging from “A Murder at the End of the World” to “Tiny Beautiful Things” traded shop talk and stories of how they crafted muscular worlds to tell extended, standalone stories.

Ed Solomon of Max’s “Full Circle” astounded the crowd at Variety’s A Night in the Writers Room at Hollywood’s NeueHouse with the origin story of his 586-page spec script for the twisty thriller. “And then Steven [Soderbergh] decided to direct it and that led it to be great.”

Andy Breckman, of Peacock’s “Mr. Monk’s Last Case: A Monk Movie,” explained to moderator Jazz Tangcay, Variety’s senior artisans editor, how he had to pad the original 2002 pilot for the detective franchise into a USA Network TV movie – because star Tony Shalhoub was contractually prohibited against starring in a competing pilot. “I had to fatten up the animal and get it to 90 minutes to make it legally a movie,” he joked.

Joan Rater of Nat Geo TV’s “A Small Light” touched hearts at the evening panel event with the story of how her visit to the Anne Frank House museum and her own son inspired her look at the inner life of the legendary historical figure Miep Gies. “Suddenly I wanted to see the story of a real person wanting to do the right thing and then having to do it.”

Chad Feehan of Paramount+’s “Lawmen: Bass Reeves” explained his appreciation as a fellow Lone Star state native to the extraordinary life story of the pioneering Black law enforcement officer. “As an enslaved person he was forced to fight for the Confederacy,” Feehan said. “He escaped enslavement and hid among the American Indians.”

Lee Eisenberg, veteran showrunner and executive producer of Apple TV+’s “Lessons in Chemistry” describd his fortuitous collision with the book (on the recommendation of his wife) and Apple’s interest in turning it into a series. As such, he offered a peak-TV time capsule of a lightning-fast series greenlight. “I cold called them. I loved the book so much. I was on a zoom with Brie Larson within a few days,” he said.

Liz Tigelaar of Hulu’s “Tiny Beautiful Things,” explained her own collision with the TV series adaptation for Hello Sunshine of Cheryl Strayed’s powerful memoir. The showrunner recited her Strayed-fan bona fides when pressed about whether she wanted to tackle the project. “I even named my son Wilder!” she said, citing the author’s 2012 memoir “Wild.”

Ron Nyswaner explained how he reframed the story of Paramount+’s “Fellow Travelers” to connect the 1950s federal attack on LGBT employees with the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s. He wanted to comment on the parallels between two “dark times” in history for LGBT communities. “I came out in the late 1970s,” Nyswaner said. “I was there for the cocaine and the disco and the fun and the sex and it was all great and then came the cold morning of losing people right and left.”

Akiva Goldsman explained how much he had invested in his project, Apple TV+’s “The Crowded Room,” given his status as a survivor of sexual abuse. He urged the crowd to be willing to deal with uncomfortable subjects in narrative drama. “We try to function as empathy generators. We try to find the opportunity to climb into other people’s skin so audiences experience things they haven’t experienced from a place of sympathy and understanding.’

Brit Marling of FX’s “Murder at the End of the World” sketched her view of how she needed to reinvent the murder mystery for Gen Z to move well beyond creaky femme fatale tropes. Rather than presenting women as victims, “Can we give her the authority to solve some of these crimes?” Marling asked. “I felt like we could write a Gen Z detective who would be the age and gender of the victim. That was an exciting place to begin.”

As the nine scribes traded notes and compared experiences, the level of post-strike enthusiasm for getting back to the business of making TV and film was palpable.

“I started my career 42 years ago on ‘Laverne & Shirley,’” Solomon mentioned as an aside during a longer discussion of how to pace a limited series. “I’m so fucking grateful to be here,” he said.

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