Graham Yost has long operated under the Hollywood radar despite having written three blockbuster movies: Speed, Broken Arrow, and Hard Rain. In television, he started to generate buzz as the creator of the short-lived Boomtown and Raines; then as a writer of HBO’s prestigious Band of Brothers; and a writer, director, and executive producer of its sibling show The Pacific. Now, he is a bonafide Outstanding Drama Series contender for his latest project which he calls simply “a fun hour of television”— the new FX Western/crime drama Justified, based on a short story by the legendary Elmore Leonard. Yost talks to Deadline TV Contributor Diane Haithman:
DEADLINE: How did this series about Deputy U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens come about?
GRAHAM YOST: I had a deal with Sony, they were looking for something for me to do, and they had optioned the Elmore Leonard story. I had been reading him for 25 years, and I wanted to do it. It was set in a part of the world that shows aren’t usually set in, and it puts the coolest character on television. He’s a law enforcement officer, but he doesn’t yell at people. He gets the job done, but he has that Elmore Leonard cool.
DEADLINE: How much does Executive Producer Elmore Leonard advise you?
YOST: He enjoys watching the show and says we got the voice right. That’s the highest compliment we can be paid. It’s more of an honorific title, but he said he felt kind of guilty he was getting this title and not doing anything, and that’s why he decided to write some more Raylan stories and why we shared credit with him on the first episode and gave him story credit with David Andron on Episode 8 in Season Two. He’s just a great guy. Very dry sense of humor. Tells great stories.
DEADLINE: Raylan Givens, portrayed by Timothy Olyphant, doesn’t navel gaze.
YOST: Raylan is self-reflective, but he doesn’t dwell on it. Elmore has written a great line in a new story for Raylan: ‘I just try to be me on a good day.’ It’s just trying to do the next right thing. And it’s fun to write a character like that. I get tired of law enforcement shows where everyone is angry at each other all the time. The law enforcement people that I’ve met have a pretty good sense of humor and are just trying to get along.
DEADLINE: What notes do the FX executives give you?
YOST: I hate to say this in print because they’ll read it and show it to me, but they really give good notes. They are really smart, and they’ll pick up things that maybe we missed. But sometimes we made a choice and at least we have that discussion, and they are very supportive. But they also snap me back into line. There’s no one who has ever said to me to make it sexier, funnier, scarier, more violent. They did give a note expressing concern that our main criminal was going to be this woman instead of a formidable bad guy. That’s a note that we answered. So we have her kill somebody in the first episode, and male it up with more about her son.
DEADLINE: How much drama do you think is in Justified?
YOST: We’re just trying to be entertaining and darkly funny. The other thing is, on Justified our goal is just to do the most interesting show we
can do. I was very lucky to work with Steven Spielberg on Band of Brothers and The Pacific; those shows had this patina of quality and importance. When people find out that I worked on those shows, they are sort of awestruck. But when they find out about Justified, they get a
twinkle if they watch and say, ‘Oh, I love that show.’ And that’s been the goal: to do a show that people look forward to as a fun hour of television. We’ll see if that gets attention.
DEADLINE: Can you hear the Emmy buzz yet?
YOST: I have a lot of hopes. I think there’s a part of me that doesn’t want to jinx it. I feel it’s tough to be doing a show at this time because there are so many good ones on television right now. You could easily come up with 10 without breaking a sweat, and they have to winnow it down to five. That’s why the Academy Awards went to 10 nominations for Best Picture, to give a more inclusive feeling.
DEADLINE: By the way, not everyone knows that early in your career you were a writer on the family sitcom Full House.
YOST: Before that was a show called Hey Dude for Nickelodeon. I counted myself so lucky to get any job, and I learned a lot from both of them.