Zap2it: What shows does “The Writers’ Room” explore in the new season?
Jim Rash: As far as shows, I sat down with “Scandal” and “The Good Wife,” “House of Cards,” “Sons of Anarchy,” “Pretty Little Liars,” and then we did a sort of special that focuses on “The Walking Dead,” but I also talked with the guys who did “Smallville.” So it’s kind of a comic-book adaptation, overall discussion about that — the growing shows based on comic books.
What sorts of differences and similarities did you notice between the shows?
They all have their differences for sure. Certainly the shows are different and the rooms are different as well. Interesting differences are like, Beau Willimon and “House of Cards” — his staff is almost exclusively made up of playwrights, and he has a couple with television experience … That’s where Beau comes from and you feel it with “House of Cards.” It feels dialogue-heavy and employs an interesting, different approach.
But they all are wonderfully functioning and dysfunctioning families. They clearly love each other, but that’s kind of the fun of it, talking about their disagreements.
How would you describe some of the specific writers’ rooms like “Scandal,” “The Good Wife,” “Sons of Anarchy” and “Smallville”?
With “Scandal,” the theme for them almost is “never stop pushing forward.” They don’t hold back, and they don’t slow down the story. Their thing is just keep throwing things out and if they back themselves in a corner, they’ll get out of it.
“The Good Wife” is similar in the sense that you have this, in a way, a procedural buried deep down underneath. A very complex sort of overall arc for the main two female characters. I feel like that drives both of them.
[“Sons of Anarchy” is] a little bit of everything in a great way. It’s Shakespearean. It’s another dysfunctional family that is built around a world that not many people know about. It’s about characters making choices and have such a code that they live by — and that code can lead to some very tough decisions.
I enjoyed talking to the guys of “Smallville,” because there was such a different tone. Even though that wasn’t too long ago, it’s early 2000s. You’re before Twitter. That’s really influenced and changed TV, so there are stories there that are really interesting.
How does your own experience as a writer play into the show?
I’ve had very little exposure — I did one episode of “Community” and had two weeks with them. But you certainly see collaborative efforts that go into doing a show — especially in a network show when you’re trying to get 22 episodes in a year.
The good is when a show at season-end has an oiled machine going. So I felt like when I got into the “Community” world, I — having been on the other end — knew these characters very well.
What sort of approach do you take when hosting “The Writers’ Room”?
The show I wanted to be a part of was a conversation. I wanted to allow the conversation to go where it goes. I didn’t necessarily have the desire to shuttle through different sound bites of interest. Rather [I wanted] to hear everyone’s opinions and keep it going. That more speaks to me and what I came from, which is improv. For me, it’s a great tool, because it’s all about listening and being in the moment. And hopefully, a good conversation is being able to go where it goes. If anything, it helps to keep my improv intact — which can become rusty instantly.
How does a show like this appeal to people not involved with writing or the television world?
A writers’ room is not unlike any business, any place where a group of people is facing one goal or directive, whether it’s creative or not, it’s about a team process. It’s about being open to ideas and considering every angle. So I really feel it does speak to more than just writing.
“The Writers’ Room” Season 2 premieres at 9 p.m. ET Friday (April 18) on Sundance.