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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

(continued from page 5)

“Saying we were surprised by the response is an understatement,” Gordon says.

Adds Gansa, “We were stunned. We didn’t know how people would respond. When the first episode aired, we still existed in this wonderful place of anonymity, working under the radar. There was something nice about that. When you spend so much time just trying to fashion something that works, it’s hard to maintain your distance. When all these fresh eyes came to it, it was amazing.”

The show rapidly became both a critical and popular hit, a watercooler topic that kept viewers debating for two months whether or not Nicholas Brody was a sleeper agent bent on attacking the United States. By the eighth episode, when the point was settled, the audience was hooked. Asked on “The View” in December which TV shows he regularly watched, President Barack Obama mentioned only two—and one of them was “Homeland.”

“Homeland” is part of the renaissance in TV drama, one led by cable television. Indeed, since 1999 (when “The Sopranos” debuted on HBO), both pay- and basic cable have created series that are not only better than what the networks are dishing out, but better written and more creative than the bulk of the movies that reach theaters. Shows such as “Mad Men,” “Nurse Jackie,” “Breaking Bad,” “Big Love,” “Six Feet Under,” “Rescue Me,” “Dexter,” “The Shield” and now “Homeland” have their roots in a handful of network shows that rewrote the rules—shows like “Hill Street Blues,” “St. Elsewhere,” “Northern Exposure,” “I’ll Fly Away,” “Twin Peaks” and “NYPD Blue,” which used the multi-episode format of TV to craft stories that didn’t need to be contained in a single show.

“You can tell a different kind of story over 10 or 12 episodes,” Gansa says.

Gordon says, “It’s closer to a novel. I think that’s the right literary analogy. Shows like ‘Breaking Bad’ or ‘Homeland’ are like novels, where you can take your time developing the characters and the storylines.”

“There’s very little room in most Hollywood movies for any kind of real writing,” Bromell says. “But the opportunities in TV have gotten a lot more interesting. There were a few shows on the networks, like ‘thirtysomething’ and ‘Homicide: Life on the Street,’ that tried something new. Then cable took those same writers and allowed them to grow, without commercial breaks or standards-and-practices guys breathing down your necks. It’s a weird confluence of a slightly newer medium and writers with an eye set on the goal of creating good drama.”

Says Johannessen, “At this point, Hollywood is run by brand managers, not movie makers.” Cuesta, who has made a handful of independent films and directed the pilot of “Dexter,” says, “It took TV that worked without sponsors—like HBO and Showtime—to get that kind of good writing out there. On cable, you can do anything as long as people watch. And Hollywood film versus premium cable? It’s no contest. Writers decide, ‘I can be an auteur in TV,’ where TV used to be something that writers kind of shunned.”

Gordon and Gansa got their start in TV together, as writers and eventually producers on such cult-inspiring shows as “Beauty and the Beast” and “The X-Files.” Gordon went on to work on “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Angel,” then the full run of “24,” while Gansa produced such shows as “Dawson’s Creek,” “Numb3ers” and “Entourage,” before the pair was reunited for the final season of “24.”

The production offices for “24” included a cigar room, though both Gordon and Gansa had been cigar lovers previously: “Wandering into ‘24’ took it to a whole new level,” Gansa recalls.

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