Production Office: Annick Wolken
I'll be doing a series of crew interviews for this blog, not only so you guys can hear from other really exciting departments, but also because I'm sure you'll get tired of my endless stories of the daily goings-on in the production office. We'll start out with a bang: our Executive Producer, Jonathan Prince! JP, as he's known by his crew, has been in the industry for over 25 years, and has worked as an actor (on such shows as "Murphy Brown" and "Blossom"), director, (my personal favorite is "Camp Nowhere", which teenaged-Annick totally loved), writer ("18 Again" and "Blossom"), and was the creator of NBC's "American Dreams" and CBS's "Cane". He talks a mile-a-minute and makes sure that you know you're appreciated, from the lowliest PA to the grips, make-up department, and actors.
Will the second season of "The Cleaner" be different from the first season? If so, how?
It is definitely different, and begins with difficulty because William was kicked out of his home and has to adjust to this new life. He has a new addiction: saving people, and starts giving in to that addiction. He becomes more involved in the addicts' lives, and they become his new obsession. This allows us to get to know our guest stars better than before, which is great for the stories. We also heard from a lot of viewers after the first season who felt that we didn't really go into the struggles of detoxing or what happens if rehab doesn't work, so this season we have an emphasis on detox, and the show goes to a darker place. It's not pretty, it ain't "I Dream of Jeannie". There is sickness, anger, yelling, it can be a challenge to watch.
What are the challenges in writing/shooting a show with the content of "The Cleaner"?
A&E is a basic cable channel, so there are certain rules and guidelines that prevent storytellers from using language, images, and character traits that are over the line. A&E has been extremely liberal with that line, but it still exists. Television can play the role of educator, and shouldn't be disturbing. Our show can have graphic depictions of addicts shooting up, starving themselves, vomiting, and generally harming themselves, but it is graphic without being gratuitous. Real life is messier than the script, network, and characters want it to be, and there's only so far we can go. But on the other hand, we want to make it a teeny bit easier for viewers so that they'll come back. If the show were as graphic as these addictions are in reality, it would be very hard on the audience.
How has the television industry changed over the course of your career?
Viewers used to have no choice but to watch commercials, there were no DVRs, not even VCRs at the beginning of my career. People were loyal to a network for a whole night of programming. A network could build a night of TV and they were very similar to a restaurant with a pre-fixed and pre-set menu. Viewers trusted the chef, and would stay in one restaurant for every course. We, as chefs, haven't been doing our best recently, and viewers are no longer loyal to one network. As a result, people have their appetizers in one place, their main course in the café around the corner, and their dessert in the shop across the street. Networks have lost their identities-can you tell me the personality of each network today? Cable channels have become what networks used to be. You know what to expect from the programming on TNT, FX, and A&E.
There is also more on TV now than when I started out, which means there are a lot of not-so-great shows, and one hopes there are also more good shows. We've learned not to take viewers for granted, because of the overload of programming, and that drives us as producers and writers to earn viewer loyalty even more. We don't want to screw our audiences over and lose their trust. There is less room for error, and it inspires us to create better TV.
Last but not least, a more serious question. Will the Dodgers go all the way this season?
There's no one better. They make summers worthwhile even they're losing. It's awe-inspiring to see a team lose its most potent member and still win. I watch the games with my son-we're both big baseball fans. I think I've done all I've wanted to do with my career-I've directed features, written sitcoms, hosted a game show, created very personal projects like "American Dreams"... but I would trade it all in order to play second base for the LA Dodgers. I grew up in that stadium.
Anything you'd like to add?
I was a latecomer to the web-I saw it as a place for research, education, and communication, not really as a community. Now I see it as a way to unite people with similar interests, like the fan clubs of old. Fan clubs made you feel as though you were a part of something, with Xeroxed autographs and letters sent to your door. Now there's events like San Diego's Comic-Con, and sites like www.ilovegracepark.com or www.ilikebenjaminbrattbutnotwithamoustache.com where people can gather and celebrate their interests.
The computer itself is not a social thing, you can sit in front of it for hours and never say a word. The internet allows for an exchange of ideas, passion, and humor in a way we weren't able to before. We can learn, educate, and entertain in a way couldn't before. I'm now a complete convert and relish the online community. It's a marketplace of emotion open 24/7, which is good for those of us who create scripted content because it allows us to hear you.
Thanks for reading!