When Episodes first aired in 2011, TV was in the nascent phase of its now oft-cited Golden Age. During its five-season run on Showtime, the show managed to grow and maintain a steady audience while the number of TV shows during the time period ballooned to unprecedented figures. Even now, according to an analysis from FX Networks, the number of scripted TV shows is expected to hit 500 this year, up from 455 in 2016 and 266 in 2011 when Episodes first premiered. Despite becoming a darling in critical circles with four Emmy nominations and a Golden Globe for Matt LeBlanc, show creators David Crane and Jeffrey Klarik announced last year that this season would be the last.
What they’re trying to answer for themselves now after being sequestered away for all those years with Episodes, is where do they fit in with TV’s currently glutinous landscape?
Having created, produced, and/or written for shows like Friends and Mad About You, Crane and Klarik have been in the industry long enough to witness how much it’s evolved–from how TV is consumed to even the structure of some shows (like multi-cam to single-cam comedies). But it isn’t necessarily change that has them worried going forward in their career.
“What makes me nervous is the glut of shows out there now,” Klarik says. “There are so many things to watch that you feel overwhelmed by the choices. So when we sit down to talk about future projects it’s sort of like, is anybody going to know about it? Who are we writing this for? And I guess ultimately the answer is we have to just write it for ourselves and hope there are other people like us out in the world that will relate to it.”
Keep in mind that when Klarik says he and Crane were writing for themselves, he meant that on a somewhat literal level, in that there was no writers’ room for Episodes–it was just Crane and Klarik.
“It’s all on our shoulders–if we’re not happy with a joke, it’s up to the two of us to solve it. Whereas, if you’re in a writers room, there’s 10 other people who could pitch out possible suggestions,” Klarik says. “But at the same time, that also means compromising–and I don’t love to compromise. I know what I want to say and so does David. I feel [compromising is] going to take me off my path by having to stop and listen to other suggestions. It’s not a singular voice anymore–it becomes a committee.”
“It’s great to have that level of control,” Crane adds. “We’ve been able to really do the show that we wanted to do, which is very unusual.”
That isolated collaboration is the formula Crane and Klarik plan on taking with them to whichever new project they develop. To hear them tell it, their right brain, left brain partnership creates a strong enough voice to find footing among the hundreds upon hundreds of scripted shows flooding cable, broadcast, and streaming.
“David is much more analytical and much more methodical,” says Klarik. “He’s the organizer and I’m much more of–what would you call it?”
“You are much more of the creative,” Crane continues. “I think Jeffrey has an incredible radar for what’s authentic and organic and truthful. I can pitch out something that has story logic to it, and he’ll hear it and go, ‘yeah, but it just doesn’t ring true.'”
Part of figuring out what’s true for Crane and Klarik requires them to fully immerse themselves in the worlds they create–the barrier between work and personal lives be damned.
“It’s always on our minds,” Crane says. “If we’re taking a walk, we’re pitching lines. If we’re in the car, we’re pitching lines. If we’re in bed, we’re pitching lines. It really is all-encompassing.”
“I didn’t have a lot of friends as a child and I would have these imaginary conversations with imaginary people,” Klarik adds. “And that prepared me for this because there are a million people in my head. David and I just started talking about a new series and we were driving in the car and I began channeling the voices of these people, full dialogue. It was so exciting because it’s like, there’s a world here–this could be a really fun place to visit.”
Crane and Klarik have had five seasons to perfect their partnership in preparation for the impending tsunami of competition their next project will undoubtedly face. But in many ways for them, that upward trajectory of scripted shows is also irrelevant.
“You think to yourself, ‘if we cast a star in the lead [for the next project] will that get us more attention?’ That’s a trap,” Klarik says. “Just like the Duffer brothers [with Stranger Things]–they didn’t set out to write a huge world-changing series. They did what they do best and what they’ve been doing.”
“Friends is another good example,” Crane says. “We certainly didn’t write it thinking this is going to become anything, but it was a show that we liked and made us laugh so we threw it out to the world. So when you start asking, ‘what will make this a hit?’ you’re dead in the water because you’re not operating from a creative place–you’re thinking like a network at that point.”