“This is the closest Dick and I will come to this stage when it comes to the Golden Globes,” producer Chuck Lorre said this afternoon as he and Dick Wolf today took a trip down memory lane with former NBC Entertainment President Warren Littlefield.
Headlining the Hollywood Radio & TV Society’s Newsmaker lunch a week after only one broadcast TV series snagged a Globe nom in a glamour category, the three men ruminated on the many ways in which the industry had changed in the two decades-plus since they got their starts.
“How did you bounce back?” moderator Littlefield, now EP of FX’s Fargo, asked Wolf and Lorre, since the days when the former got taken off Miami Vice thanks to Don Johnson and the latter the heave-ho from Cybill, compliments of Cybill Shepherd. Because, of course, the two producers are at the height of their careers while the two actors – not so much.
“I drank a lot … and then I did Dharma & Greg,” Lorre responded.
“Don arranging my departure actually was a huge favor,” Wolf replied. “Out of that literally came moving into my own shows. It was a big escalator for me, though it didn’t seem so at the time.” He said he recently ran into Johnson at his Christmas party in Montecito, where both men live.
“Did he ever apologize?” Littlefield wondered. “Oh no. No,” Wolf said. “It’s kind of like Donald Trump apologizing — actors don’t apologize.”
Wolf these days is better known as the creator/EP of NBC’s Law & Order franchise and EP of NBC’s Chicago Fire, Chicago PD, and Chicago Med. Lorre, CBS’ go-to comedy guy, is co-creator/EP of The Big Bang Theory and Mom, and EP of Mike & Molly.
“The one thing that is constantly evolutionary is change,” Wolf said of the industry today and the clip at which it’s changing. “Anybody who tells you, ‘I’ll tell you what the business is going to be in five years’ is on drugs. It has changed in the last six months more than it has in the last six years, and before that, more than in 60 years. … Did anybody four years ago think Netflix and Hulu and Amazon would be the major prestige studios everybody wanted to go to?”
Lorre, meanwhile, called himself a “stagosaurus” who still is working in front of an audience.
“We’ve become the redheaded stepchild of TV because we shoot in front of an audience,” he said. To sitcom scoffers, he issued a challenge: “Try it sometime. It’s really hard. If the material isn’t right, you can hear the freeway go by; the silence is crucifying.” The live audience is a weekly reminder that comedy “is a very fragile thing” and “it terrifies me every week, putting it in front of an audience.” But when it works, he said. “it’s the most gratifying thing.”
The two men are unapologetic producers of programming for the masses, not TV critics, they agreed when asked by Littlefield.
“We write mass entertainment,” Wolf said of their broadcast TV output.
Of cable and other platforms, he said, “It’s 10 episodes a year; actors love it. It seems more like a hobby than a business. … You work five years and you’ve got 50 episodes.”
Asked how he managed to get Mom sold at CBS, Lorre said: “In all fairness, it’s easier to pitch a funny physicist when you have Two And A Half Men on the air, and it’s easier to pitch a woman recovering from the disease of alcoholism when you have Big Bang on the air. They’re more receptive.” He acknowledged that the pitch for the comedy about a single mom/recovering alcoholic was “awkward,” but he insisted there is comedy to be found in the act of repairing a life.”
Law & Order came about in the late ’80s, Wolf reminisced, because back then you couldn’t give away one-hour shows. The head of Universal TV at that time said, “we should be looking at shows that could play as an hour or a half-hour,” Wolf explained. But it wasn’t an easy path to the TV schedule, Littlefield noted. First ordered by Fox, Law & Order then was delivered to CBS, where execs didn’t just reject it, they hated it, he said. But when it was screened at NBC a year later, “I remember our reaction was, ‘this is better than anything we had made’ for the coming season.’,” Littlefield reminisced.
“That’s not what you said in the room,” Wolf snarked.