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Inside Homeland

The epic TV show has already won awards, and promises to keep everyone on the edge of their seats in the second season this fall
Marshall Fine
From the Print Edition:
The Brains Behind Homeland, May/June 2012

You’ve just created the hottest new TV series of the 2011 season, a breakout hit that manages to be thrillingly compelling while blending such diverse issues as terrorism, mental illness, marital fidelity and national security.

And you’ve built the award-winning show to a season climax in which you seemingly painted yourself into a creative corner, even as buzz about the show—and anticipation of its second season—continues to build.

Now what?­

If you’re Howard Gordon and Alex Gansa, creators of Showtime’s gripping hit, “Homeland,” it’s time to break out the cigars.
“Cigars have been a great antidote for writer’s block,” says Gordon, executive producer of “Homeland.” “When we hit a tough story moment, Alex and I will slow down before we speed up. And cigars are a great way to do it.”

As Gordon admits on this day in February—two weeks into creating the show’s second season, which starts shooting in May and hits the air in October—figuring out where to take the story of “Homeland” presents an intriguing challenge. Or, to put it another way, there are a lot of cigars in his and Gansa’s immediate future.

“Fortunately, we’ve got the only office on the studio lot with ample space for a cigar room. Although, in this case, it’s a patio,” says Gordon, who is dividing his time between “Homeland” and the new NBC series, “Awake,” on which he also acts as executive producer. “We think of it as an al fresco cigar room. Somebody once described cigar-smoking as a portable campfire, where you’re forced to quiet your mind and engage in conversation. It allows more free-form associations, when you let things go rather than holding them tight. It allows you to access parts of your unconscious where the answers tend to lie.”

The first season of “Homeland” (which Gordon and Gansa came to after several seasons producing “24”) was an out-of-the-box hit with both critics and audiences. It already has won Golden Globe awards (for best dramatic series and for star Claire Danes as best actress in a TV series), as well as awards from the Writers Guild of America (as Best TV series of 2011) and the American Film Institute (as the best new series on TV). It’s a serious contender for September’s Emmy Awards, which should arrive just in time to promote “Homeland’s” second season in October.

But, as Gordon and Gansa talk in Gordon’s office on the studio lot of Twentieth Century Fox in Century City, California, they’re a mere two weeks into crafting the plotlines for Season 2. As they and their collaborators note, the challenge is to create a sophomore season that matches the first in quality, without the element of surprise they wielded when the show debuted in October 2011.

“We’ve been in the story room for two weeks, trying to figure out a way to tell the story with the same energy as we had the first season,” Gansa says. “That’s a little challenging. The main thing we’re trying to do is push the story between Carrie and Brody farther.”

As Gordon notes, “That’s always been the axis of the show’s premise: these two characters.”

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