A little over a week ago I got to visit the set of a TV show I like, “Terminator: The Sarah Conner Chronicles.” For those that don’t know, the show takes place after the events of the second “Terminator” movie and it follows John Conner, his mom, his uncle (played by Brian Austin Green) and a Terminator from the future that’s been sent back to protect him.
While some fans might not be happy with the show ignoring the 3rd “Terminator” movie and following its own path, for a weekly television show, I think it’s a lot of fun. Plus it’s a sci-fi show…and I love me some sci-fi.
Anyhow, the show started last season and due to the writer’s strike, it was only able to complete and broadcast 9 episodes when they were supposed to air 13. Since the show finished on a moment that wasn’t meant to be the finale, the beginning of this season had to wrap up what happened last year and also launch this season. Thankfully, the premiere did a great job on both events and this season is shaping up to be a lot of fun.
Since many of you reading this might decide to start watching, I won’t spoil what happened in the premiere and will just say they’ve incorporated a few “T2” elements. If you watch the premiere, you’ll see what I mean.
But getting back to me visiting the set.
But the first interview I wanted to post is with show runner Josh Friedman.
When we got to set in the morning, all the online journalists, the actors and show runner/producer Josh Friedman sat under a pretty large tent outside and shared breakfast. As we ate, the publicists from Fox and the show rotated the online folks so we could take turns talking to the actors and also try and get in some questions. After awhile, Josh moved away from the big table and I managed to get about 15 minutes of face time with him and that’s where I scored this exclusive interview.
Since I’m sure he didn’t want to talk about specific plot points that’d be coming up on future episodes, I decided to ask questions that he could answer – like how does the show get made.
As a fan of TV, I’ve always wondered what the relationship is with the studio and how does your budget get affected by sweeps months and how do you plan for a premiere and finale. I also wanted to know how the writers strike might have helped/hurt him and I also wanted to know his plans for the season.
If you’re a fan of “The Sarah Conner Chronicles,” I promise you’ll enjoy this interview. And even if you’re not, say you’re someone who is just curious how the behind the scenes of a TV show works, I think you’ll learn a lot from Josh.
Of course this interview wouldn’t have been possible without Fox inviting me (thank you to Cait and everyone else) and also a big thank you to Josh for answering all my questions and being super nice. It’s much appreciated.
As always, you can either read what Josh Friedman and I talked about below, or you can listen to/download the audio of our interview by
And remember, “Terminator: The Sarah Conner Chronicles” airs Monday nights on FOX.
Collider: I’d like to focus on the ending of last season. At lot of fans know that the ending sort of came about because of the writer’s strike and the way you guys resolved that. Could you just talk a little bit about what went on in between the first season and the second season, and what you were thinking about for the second season and the arcing of everything.
Josh Friedman: Well, a lot of the stuff in a macro sense are things that we’re still interested in…nothing was precluded in long term goals by the strike. You know I had a plan for…I had a plan for 10 thru 22 but 10 thru 13 was all we had committed to us, so we had a plan for those episodes. They were in many ways dealing with the aftermath of the explosion. You know, the explosion was always supposed to be a big deal. I mean it was what it was. It was always designed to be this episode and just the way it was going to play out was probably a little different. The way we sort of revamped it during the off-season, part of it was just trying to take into account, okay how are we going to bring in new viewers or how are we going to reset things for people? What I wanted to do for episode 10 last year I couldn’t do for episode 10. So this is in essence episode 10. You know this would be the episode that was after last year, except this isn’t what it would have been. And no one’s asked me this since last night so now I can say it, but I had a plan for a very radical episode for episode 10 that I was writing when the strike happened. And basically the first 5 minutes of the show last night — of Cameron crawling to save them — I was going to do that for 45 minutes in episode 10.
Yeah, I was thinking that when I was watching it I’m like there’s a lot of stuff here—there’s a lot of ideas what could be…
Josh Friedman: Well, I had an idea for an episode and it was called “The Crawl” and it took a lot of convincing of the studio and the network to do it. I’m still not sure they were ultimately committed to doing it but they to at least agree to let me write the script and I was about to…when the strike happened we already had an outline for it. I was doing an episode that was essentially Cameron getting blown up, getting out of the car, and 43 minutes of her getting from the car to upstairs in the attic and that was all it was going to be. No dialogue.
A little avant guard TV?
Josh Friedman: That’s what we were going to do. Yeah. The first 5 minutes was sort of our scaled down version of that. So that’s what going to be what I was going to do last week on the 10th episode, and I knew I couldn’t do it to start the season. I knew that that was just…we couldn’t have new viewers show up—kind of casual viewers show up for the premiere and watch a fucked up robot crawl for 43 minutes.
I think you might be right on that one.
Josh Friedman: I was also going to blow her legs off.
Josh Friedman: That’s what I was going do and have her crawl for 42 minutes.
You bring up an interesting point when you talked about the studio and the way it works. How is it as a creator—as a writer—to work with the studio? How is the process with that? Do you go to the studio and you outline what you want to do? How much freedom do you have in the writing process?
Josh Friedman: Well we have a lot of freedom within reason and I would say that people have been—both the studio and the network—have been pretty good about letting me do some crazier things than a lot of shows. But our show tries to do stuff that most normal network shows don’t do. And the process is sort of you either have a general conversation about the season, the general dynamic of it but then you go work on your episodes and what we do it we present a one-page sort of one-page treatment of our little outline. We just call it a one-pager to the studio. They look at it. They read it. They give us comments on it. Then we do that to the network. They give us comments on it, then we go back and we work on it. We do an outline which is like a very detailed 10-page every act, every scene, every everything. Then we bring that back to the studio and the network and they give us comments on those and then we go back and write the script then we do that that way. So I mean, they have a least 6 bites of the apple in the process.
If you don’t mind me asking, do you go to them with a bunch of these outlines all at once or do you go one at a time? How does that process actually work?
Josh Friedman: Once we get into the season we go one at a time. I think at the start of the season we give them the first 3. We have the first 3 one-pagers and then we worked on those outlines kind of simultaneously because we were ahead because we hadn’t started shooting yet, but usually you’re doing it one at a time. But you may be in a different part of the process with different things like I might have a notes call with the studio today where we talked about the one-pager for number 13, the script for number 12, you know, we have different ones in different stages of writing so we’re giving them outlines and scripts and one-pagers so we have long meetings where we’re like okay, let’s talk about this for 10 and this for 12 and it’s a lot. It’s a lot of notes and from what I gather it’s a more onerous than it was 10 years ago or certainly 20 years ago…but you know they’ve been pretty good with us. I mean there’s only been one episode that they….that we got down the road with, that we got through the outline stage with and at the outline stage they said, you know what? This is just too much for us. It’s too crazy and they threw it out completely. So it’s only happened once. But that happens on shows a lot. You turn a story in, you think you have a great treatment and they toss it.
Okay, so my next question is about premiers and finales and stuff like that. How is it with budget? When it comes to a show…I think a lot of people are always curious. A lot of premieres are always a little more expensive it seems and finales are a little more expensive. How do you arc out the budget for the season? Do you realize…okay we’re going to do a little extra money here, a little extra money here? How does that in the consideration of creativity?
Josh Friedman: Well, the premiere is a little different. With a premiere usually…and you know what your budget is per episode going into the whole season. You know it’s X amount per episode. The premiere it’s generally understood that you’re going to get a little extra. So that money usually does not kind of come out of that larger amortization so you may say okay, you have another $200,000 for this episode or whatever it is. So you know ahead of time that you have that extra amount. The finale, everyone knows that the finale needs to be a little bit bigger. They would rather you save that money throughout the middle of the season so that you have it for the end. It varies from studio to studio whether at the end of the day if you’ve saved a little they may give you some or they may say oh, that’s what you’ve got or you’ve got to live with it or you just play some sort of game of chicken where you say, “well look this is the finale, what are you going to do?”
So we were talking about the budget and the arc of the show. So when it comes time for like a November sweeps or is it February sweeps or I forget the other months that are sweep months. Do you ever factor that in with the budget and episodes?
Josh Friedman: Well we do and the network does as well. The network…we’re actually in a conversation with them right now about how much more money we’ve got for sweep episodes and I think the network wants to make sure those episodes are really solid and have everything they need, so that certainly….there’s 4 episodes in sweeps for us and trying to figure out whether there’s little additive things. Usually it’s less about kind of the money and more saying, okay in the sweeps episodes here’s what we’re doing in this episode. We want to do this thing. You know it’s a big deal. It’s sweeps but we really can use an extra day of shooting to do that right. Well that extra day of shooting is $175,000.
Josh Friedman: But what I found is that if you come to them and say here’s the thing…it’s a lot better to just come into someone…it’s sort of like you don’t go to your parents and say I need $20 bucks. You go to your parents and say you know I need a new shirt or whatever it is. We can have a conversation about whether you need a shirt, we don’t need to have a conversation about whether you need money, you know? It’s the same with the studio and network. You have to…I think it helps to show that you’re responsible first of all, that you’re not spending their money in a crazy way and that you are trying to budget it out. But it’s challenging. The stuff goes wrong. Things take longer than you think. You hire a director and you’ve never worked with that director before and that director is slow. And all of a sudden you’ve spent $50,000 in overtime. Well that wasn’t money that was in your budget. And that’s not your fault technically but that’s what that is. So it’s a crazy process and there are…almost every show is in the exact same position. There are a few shows that are on TV that have more money than they need. I would say 95% of the shows could use more money. But there are a few that actually I think are rolling in it.
I don’t know if “Lost” could be one of those. I’m like what?
Josh Friedman: Maybe.
Maybe. So I’m curious, this season for the people who don’t know, how many episodes were you picked up for when you came in.
Josh Friedman: 13.
Okay, so did you arc out 13 or did you arc out for the 22? I mean, how did you write the stuff?
Josh Friedman: I’ve arced out for 22. But you know you’re always sort of…I mean in terms of like football analogy I always think of 13 as like around half-time—I mean it’s a little past half-time but you always want something right at the end… before you go to the half so it’s your mid-season kind of break or whatever. So we always try to arc the 13 and the 22. I think 13 always feels like there should be something significant should happen at 13 but then I always have thoughts about 22. Because we were cut short last year, I still had a few big kind of plot ideas that I just didn’t get to you know that were going to be 13 and were going to be 22 and so I still have those. They’re written up on our writers board, so I know those are things that we’re still working towards. And the show is in essence even though I couldn’t have told you…when I sold the show originally I probably would say I knew what 5 or 6 of the first episodes were and we ended up shooting almost exactly those episodes. Now they were different in a lot of facets. I didn’t write them all when they were written but if I were to have pitched you the season or the first 6 episodes of the season 3 years ago, the first 6 episodes were….many of them were things that I had already thought about. Beyond that I had big ideas, not necessarily good ideas but big ideas for kind of big signposts that I was working towards. Due to the strike, we didn’t get to them so they’re still there and we’re working towards them. I mean a lot of stuff in last night’s episode sets up episode 22. There are things in last night’s episode that pay off, hopefully, at the end of the season.
So how did the writer’s strike both…did that possibly help you? Because I’ve spoken to a few other show runners and they said it was the first time in their lives that they weren’t writing and that they were sort of just thinking and then they came back with almost a fire inside and a lot to say. Is that the same for you or different?
Josh Friedman: No definitely…first of all it wasn’t the first time in my life I wasn’t writing. Those guys are full of shit. I spent weeks and weeks not writing. When I was a feature writer I should sit months. You’d find me down at the Commerce Casino if you wanted to find me. I was there for a month playing Hold ‘Em, you know? I wasn’t writing then. I didn’t recharge anything. The writers strike didn’t really do anything for me.
Josh Friedman: The writers strike for me was just painful. I mean, I spent time with my family but I didn’t actually think about the show. I know that seems weird because I was obsessed with like the show and I would read everything online and I would track in the ratings and all that stuff during the strike, but I almost made a conscious decision in my head to not proactively think about ideas going forward with the show. And whenever I was on the picket lines with other writers on the show, we never talked about the creative aspects of the show. We just didn’t do it. I just thought it was just like mentally crossing the picket line and I didn’t want to do it and it helped in this way–I was burnt out. I’d never done TV before. 9 episodes and I’d really only did 8-1/2 but we’d written 9. It was a lot of work. I never worked that hard in my life so I think just in terms of coming back reenergized I just came back having slept. It makes a big difference. You know, sleeping for 5 months is different than not sleeping for 5 months, and I definitely felt when we came back we spent a few weeks in the room before we started production—it was a long time before we started production…before we really even started writing. Just a few weeks in the room talking about last year…. so we had a period of time after the strike where we really all got together and I thought we had some great stuff come out of it. I mean some really, really good exciting things came out of it, so in that sense that people were rested, I think they were recharged. I always hesitate to say that anything good came out of the strike, creatively, because it was just a painful thing. But sleep was probably the best thing that came out of it.
I’ve heard that from other people, too. So for this season without going into very specifics, what can fans look forward to as far as you know what’s going to be happening with some of the characters or the situations? Or what’s the over-arcing stuff that fans should looking forward to?
Josh Friedman: Well I think that…I hope that…well, the first episode last night serves as sort of an emotional launching point for a lot of difficulties that the family will have. I think that we saw in John a kid who…some shit went down and he’s going to be responding to it in various ways in various episodes to come and I think that whether or it was he or Sara who killed…and I’ve heard people think either….obviously either version of it is a painful thing for John. Either he just killed somebody for the first time or he just witnessed his mother do it for the first time and I think both are traumatic experiences.
I’m going with John doing it.
Josh Friedman: You’re going with John doing it?
Josh Friedman: We will find out.
Josh Friedman: I will say that and we will see what happened at the attic.
Maybe I’m wrong.
Josh Friedman: Well, it’s 50/50.
Josh Friedman: Or 30/30/30. It depends on if you believe that they both did that so….but we will find out. It’s definitely something we actually shot the events up there when we were shooting that episode.
Oh yeah, for flashback purposes.
Josh Friedman: For flashback purposes, so we will find out though what happened there. And I think it spins him and her into a different place and I think that’s one of the things I’m really interested in exploring from a character point of view. And I think also what went on with him and the Cameron in the episode whether or not you believe that she meant what she said when she said that she loved him as I actually think the more important of the 2 things is that she said he loved her and I think that’s the thing that sort of… whether that struck a chord with him or not I think that also affects the way his attitude towards her in the future episodes and towards this new character, Riley, and things like that. So I think that a lot of things are sort of set up character wise and in terms of the plot, well we have a T-1000 that now has a very important piece of computer tech and I’m totally excited by that. I don’t know if that’s maybe just because I love watching Shirley do anything but just some great stuff coming up with her and Ellison starts to get messed up with her and that goes some weird ways.