Creator and Executive Producer Jeff Eastin Interview WHITE COLLAR

     July 18, 2010

Jeff Eastin is the creator and executive producer of the popular USA Network original series White Collar, about the unlikely partnership of con artist Neal Caffrey (Matt Bomer) and FBI Agent Peter Burke (Tim DeKay).

After graduating from Colorado State University with a degree in journalism, he landed a position as director of photography on two Roger Corman films that were being shot locally, before heading out to try his luck in Hollywood. He soon wrote a movie that Jamie Foxx starred in, and then began to get involved with television, doing a UPN series called Shasta and creating Hawaii for NBC, eventually making his way to the USA Network with White Collar.

During a recent interview, writer/executive producer Jeff Eastin talked about how White Collar came about, why he thinks the show works so well and where he plans to take it in Season 2. Check out what he had to say after the jump:

Question: How did you get started with White Collar? Where did your ideas for it come from?

Jeff: Just before the writer’s strike, I came off a show, called Hawaii, that we had done almost a full season of, and then NBC cancelled it, so I was trying to figure out what the next show I wanted to do was. I had actually come up with this idea I called Redemption, that was going to be a much darker show. I was a huge fan of The Shield, and it was in its last season, and I had this idea that you take a Vic Mackey type character – a cop who was probably a dirty cop, accused of killing his partner and he ends up in jail – and then some crime happens where the D.A. has to let him out to help solve this one particular crime, so they put on a track anklet and assign him to a detective. I was pretty excited about the idea. I liked the darker, edgier version.

Then, a friend of mine called and said, “You should check out a show called Life.” So, I did and I went, “Oh, wow, that’s exactly the same idea.” At that point, I shelved it. Then, Burn Notice had their pilot come out, and I had a little bit of a relationship prior to that with USA, because NBC and USA are owned by the same parent company, so I knew everybody over there. I knew Jeff Wachtel, Jackie de Crinis and Bonnie Hammer a little bit.

When Burn Notice came out, Matt Nix was looking for a second in command and he had read a script of mine, so we had a sit-down and talked, and he seriously considered whether I was going to come on and be his second in command for Burn Notice. It didn’t work out. Nix decided to go a different way, but we’re still really good friends. But, within that meeting, USA had asked me, “Hey, do you have anything?,” and I actually pulled out the Redemption idea that I had and said, “What if we run that through the USA Network blue sky filter?,” and that’s what I did. So, my dirty cop who may have killed his partner became Neal Caffrey, a charming con man. And, the detective who’s custody he’s released into became Peter. That was really the origin of the project.

How is Season 2 going to be different? What can viewers expect?

Jeff: It will be the same and different. I think we really hit a stride in the back half of our season last year. It felt like things were really gelling and the cast had really come together. We really figured out the show. So, going into Season 2, I resisted the temptation to change everything. What I really wanted to do was stick with what was really working and, for me, what really worked were the interactions between the characters.

We’ve never really been a big, complicated whodunit. On our show, we usually know pretty quickly. You know who the bad guy is in the first act, and it’s usually about how Neal, Peter and Mozzie, in some incredible way, go take that person down. That’s what we really wanted to stick with. In terms of what’s different, now that Kate got blown up, Neal’s overall objective has changed a little bit. It’s shifted from trying to find the woman that he loves, to trying to find the killer of the woman he loves. It’s a small thing, but it’s definitely a subtle and noticeable difference in how it shifts his character. I think he also is a little more grown-up this year. There’s a maturity in his attitude towards the FBI. Those elements will be different, but hopefully what made people like the show last year is still there.

Since you have a habit of giving the show’s fans relatively quick reveals, how long will it take for the music box arc to play out?

Jeff: I’ll be careful of my teasers. I’ve been accused of giving too many. The music box arc will play out in the first half of Season 2. By Season 2.5, we’ll know the answer to that.

How long do you think it will take for Peter to realize that Neal really needs to know?

Jeff: We’ll play that out for a few episodes. We spent some time and decided that last year we had done that. Coming off of Season 1.5, where we had revealed that Peter might be the man with the ring, we revealed very quickly that he wasn’t. That one was by design. What I didn’t want to do is crash the dynamic between Peter and Neal, so we figured we could do a pretty good episode where we held that off. I didn’t want to end up doing three or four different episodes of that.

This year, it’s a little bit different because Neal is searching for who blew up the plane, but Peter is also searching for who blew up the plane. The real interesting thing, this year, is that we have dual mythologies. I won’t spoil too much of it for those who haven’t seen it, but Peter and Diana (Marsha Thomason) have their own goals this year, and they’re keeping secrets from Neal.

How did Tim Matheson come to play The Architect and direct the premiere of Season 2?

Jeff: Tim, who’s a great guy, has been around USA doing everything. He had just done the Covert Affairs pilot, he had gone over to do The Good Guys for Matt Nix and he was doing some Burn Notice episodes over there, so I was well aware of Tim. We tried to get him on a director’s slate for Season 1, but schedules just didn’t work out. He became available for our season premiere this year, so we got him in, and we were actually trying to cast somebody else to play The Architect.

We were all sitting around one day and Tim was reading dialogue from within the script and, at one point, he read one of the lines and we all looked at each other and said, “Hey, Tim, do you want to do it?” He hesitated for a few minutes and said, “Yeah,” but at the same time, he was doing an arc on Burn Notice, so I had to call Matt Nix and ask him.  I said, “Hey, do you mind if we use him for an episode?” Nix told me that, as long as we did a little shout out to Matt Nix himself, that we could use him. So, in the episode, Tim’s character says, “I was just over at the Nix Towers.” That was our little shout out to Matt Nix, which got us the permission to use Tim in the episode.

When you were doing the first season of the show, you didn’t know if it was going to be a big hit, but going into Season 2, you knew that the fans had really embraced it. How did you approach that, as far as sculpting the second season? Was that in your mind, at all?

Jeff: Yes, quite a bit. As you guys probably know, I’m pretty active on Twitter and stuff, so I pay quite a bit of attention to the fan reaction. When the show is airing, I’ll usually be searching the White Collar hash tags on Twitter to see what the live reaction is, and that definitely influences you, in terms of storylines and things like that.

Going into Season 2, I went back and wanted to do something that didn’t mess with what we had working. That was probably the biggest influence, in terms of people liking the show, going into it this year. It’s strange, but there’s a very strong temptation – and I’ve heard this from other show runners – to change up everything in Season 2.

People have seen 14 episodes of White Collar, but I’ve lived with it for coming up on two years now, so with the story and the characters, I feel like, “Wow, we’ve really gone there a lot,” but in reality, no, we really haven’t. There are less than 14 hours of the show out there, so the temptation is to branch out and try all these different things. I think my biggest reaction to people liking the show was to curtail that and just really try to stick with what worked last year.

How important is Twitter for you now?

Jeff: It’s interesting. Whenever we test the pilot of a show, like when I worked for NBC, they would dial test the first couple of episodes. You put 100 people in a room and air the pilot, and people will sit there with little dials. If they like something, they’ll crank it to the right, and if they don’t like something, they’ll crank it to the left. You watch it in real time and you’ll see this overlay of the numbers going up and down. That pretty much determines your fate, a lot of times. We tested really well in the pilot, which is good, but I’ve had tests where you don’t do particularly good.

I found that being able to watch Twitter reactions is the closest thing I’ve ever seen to a live dial test, but you’re talking a much bigger sample of people. For me, that’s really nice because I can get that immediate feedback. If something is not working, the reaction is pretty quick and, when something is working, the reaction is pretty quick, so that’s really nice. USA has really embraced the digital media and the social networking stuff, in terms of getting the word out about the show. For myself, I’ve got around 6,000 followers on Twitter, which relative to several million who, hopefully, will watch the show is really small, but I think it represents a larger population and gives me a much clearer view of how people are feeling about the show.

We also really built up on Facebook. We nearly doubled the number of Facebook fans from the end of Season 1 to now. I’m always trying to post photos from the set and shout outs from the cast and crew, and I assume those things get re-Tweeted, which helps. Just in terms of grassroots marketing for the show and getting people excited about it, I think they’re all really important.

Matt Bomer Tim DeKay Interview WHITE COLLAR slice

What have been your biggest challenges while working on White Collar?

Jeff: Interestingly, going into Season 2 was much easier than going into Season 1. Going into Season 1 was a pilot, and everything is a challenge. You create the world on paper and then you try to populate it. What really made the show work was the day we cast Matt Bomer and Tim DeKay together. That sealed our fate and made us a show people wanted to watch.

The biggest challenge was probably finding that chemistry and making it right. After that, the other challenges have been on a smaller scale, but they’re there. There was a big debate, for a long time, about whether we were going to go to Toronto. The original script was set in San Diego, and it’s hard for me now to imagine the show out of New York. There were debates that raged for months about where the show would be shot and finally, at the end of the day, we settled on New York. Things like that were huge challenges.

In terms of the structure of the show, that really wasn’t too bad. Once we pushed it in the pilot, we realized how important the relationship between Neal and Peter is, and found that counterpart in real life with Tim and Matt. That’s been fairly easy.

Is there a dream actor that you would like to see guest star on the series?

Jeff: Oh, wow. That’s a tough one. Yes, there are several, as a matter of fact. There are a lot of actors we’d love to get. This year, we’ve done really good. John Larroquette did a guest spot. He did an amazing job. We have Aidan Quinn this year, who will be in our third episode and who was absolutely amazing. We’ve been doing really good. I think George Clooney should come and play Neal’s father. That’s what I think.

Is Neal going to have a love interest this season?

Jeff: Not really. Hilarie Burton is doing an arc of six episodes for us. She came on and it was reported she was going to be Neal’s new love interest. The truth is that we’re not playing her that way. We’re playing her as an old adversary who comes on the show. Neal has Mozzie, Peter, Diana and Elizabeth, but there’s nobody that really can walk between the two worlds, and I was looking for a character who could walk in between those two worlds, so I came up with Hilarie’s character. She’s named Sarah Ellis and she’s an insurance investigator, which is similar to Rene Russo’s character in The Thomas Crown Affair. What I liked about it is that it gave her the ability to come in and do things that are on the gray side with Neal and, at the same time, she can walk into the FBI any time she wants to. To have a character that can walk between those two worlds is what we were looking for.

Now, that’s not to say that, at some point, there may be a romantic interest between the two of them because they’re both very attractive people. Luckily, we’ve done two episodes with Hilarie so far and her chemistry with Matt is really phenomenal, so we’re pretty excited about that. A very interesting relationship to me, for those of you who have seen the second episode, is the more fun relationship between Diana and Neal. We’ve got Marsha Thomason back this year, which I’m really happy about, and the relationship they develop, over the course of the season, is great. Diana’s charm is really nice. Beyond that, with Kate out of the picture, as it were, Neal has always been a flirt. The main way of pursuing Kate was that he was a flirt. Whether he’ll fall in love again, I think he needs at least half a season to get over Kate’s death.

Matt Bomer Tim DeKay Interview WHITE COLLAR slice

Will viewers be seeing more of Mozzie this season? Will he be more involved in the cases?

Jeff: Yes, there is quite a bit more of Moz this season. One of the things we realized last year is that Willie Garson was our stealth weapon. At least for me, every time a scene comes up with Mozzie in it, it suddenly gets more interesting. We found out, a little later in the process, that we were going to do a limited commercial premiere for Season 2. What that meant was that, suddenly, we had to come up with six more minutes of content. Our scripts are normally around 42 minutes and, suddenly, we needed 48 minutes, so we needed something that could be done pretty quickly. So, I sat down and wrote two scenes with Peter and Mozzie meeting in the park, and I thought they were really good scenes. They might be my favorite scenes in the episode. Once we did that, we started saying, “We need more Mozzie this season,” so there is more Mozzie this season. Our fifth episode will be a Mozzie-centric episode. Mozzie has a crush on a girl and she goes missing, so he has to jump in and work with the FBI to get her back. It’s a really good episode.

Now that Kate’s gone, Neal has different focuses and the music box will be resolved, what will be next?

Jeff: You’ll have to wait and see, on that one. The music box was really designed to contain some sort of mystery and what we find out, ultimately, is what mystery it contains. It’s actually pretty cool. I think people are going to dig what it points to.

After Season 1 did so well, was there more pressure or less pressure on you, going into Season 2?

Jeff: Both. The pressure was there, but in a different way. In Season 1, the pressure is to get people to watch the show.  In Season 2, the pressure is to keep people watching the show. People seemed to really like the mythology for the show. It helped us gain a lot of regular viewers. It’s a show where you can watch White Collar and enjoy it, on a week-to-week basis. You don’t have to always watch every episode. But, with the story of Neal and Kate and the box, and things like that, people tended to watch it a little more regularly than they might have, if we were just a straight episodic.

This year, the real split was, “Where do we go with it?” Burn Notice is a show that I love, and they’ve definitely gotten heavier into their mythology. For me, the temptation to go heavy into the mythology was there, but we decided that what we wanted to do was keep it about like we had last year where, if you tune in, you’re not going to be lost. You’re not going to say, “Oh, my God, I didn’t see last week.” You’ll be able to follow it, but there’s enough of the mythology and on-going story that, hopefully, will hook you in and make you want to come back the next week. The biggest pressure was to keep that balance and not start adjusting.

What is the latest on a White Collar/Burn Notice crossover?

Jeff: The reality of it is pretty tough. The biggest problem is just the shooting schedule. We’re pretty much on the same schedule right now, so the idea of getting Jeffrey Donovan up to New York and Matt Bomer down to Florida, I don’t know how we’d do it. We keep joking that Mozzie should go down and turn out to be a nephew or uncle, or something like that. If the schedules ever loosened up, I think it would be great to do it.

Will Neal and Peter’s relationship change this season, with Kate being gone and Mozzie being more involved?

Jeff: Neal and Peter’s relationship definitely evolves. There are definitely some turbulent times ahead. One of the things I didn’t want to do was really mess with that bromance between the two guys. But, even in Season 1, there were a few episodes where there was a free-fall, where we really played with the idea that they can’t trust each other. For me, what was really important is the fact that Peter and Neal are friends, but there’s always some aspect of Neal’s life, usually involving Kate, where Peter can’t trust him. To me, that’s the core of the entire thing. Neal will do anything for Peter, but when it comes to that, all bets are off. He’s a creature of the id and, when he’s presented with things like that, there’s almost a child-like reaction, where he will react without thinking of the consequences. It’s those moments that will put his relationship with Peter in jeopardy.

This season, Diana and Peter are holding back some information from Neal, which is something we haven’t done before. The other thing we’ve been careful of – and you can go back and watch every episode to see that it’s true – is that Neal has never directly lied to Peter. He will never actually lie to Peter, but Peter hasn’t made the same pledge. Peter will lie to Neal, and he does this season. Neal will say things like, “June is having a champagne brunch. Can I take off early?,” and he goes to meet Alice. It’s not a lie because June may very well be having a Champaign brunch. He never said, “I’m going to June’s champagne brunch.” So, whenever we write Neal, we’re always very careful to make sure that whatever he’s saying may be a half-truth. It may be something that leads Peter to draw his own conclusions, but it’s never a lie.

Are viewers going to learn more about Mozzie and Neal’s past this season?

Jeff: Yes, definitely. We learn little bits and pieces. Right now, we’re working on a flashback episode, where we actually get to see the first time Peter catches Neal, the first time Neal meets Kate, and the first time Mozzie and Neal meet, so I’m pretty excited about that one.

Is there anything that’s ever gone on in an episode that you’ve gotten a really bad response from on Twitter and you abandoned it right away, or anything that got a great response so you added more of it?

Jeff: I think the biggest surprise reaction I had that was in the positive spot was Neal singing in “Vital Signs.” Matt’s a big musical theater guy, and we joked about doing it for a while. We came up with the idea for that episode, partly so we could work that in. I was really stunned by the positive reaction on that. That one really surprised me. So, we did that and we said, “Huh, okay.”

What I thought was interesting is that episode was never designed to be a heavy mythology episode. Kate’s name is mentioned maybe once, but there’s really no other mythology in the episode. I think because of that moment where Neal says to Peter, “You’re the only person I can trust,” most people cite it – and I saw it on the reaction on the boards, on Twitter and on Facebook – and say, “Wow, what a great heavy mythology episode.” That was probably the most positive reaction that we saw that left us scratching our heads and saying, “Okay, how can we do this more?” As for the negative stuff, I don’t think I was surprised that most people said, “Thank god, Kate’s dead.” But, I was surprised by how many people said, “Thank god, she’s dead.”

What sites do you read?

Jeff: I’ll go check the reaction on IMDb, Hulu, the White Collar Facebook page. Those are probably the ones I check the most often. And then, obviously the White Collar hash tags for Twitter.

Are there any scenes that have been cut, that you wished hadn’t been cut, or maybe something that was left in that you wish had been cut out?

Jeff: That’s tough. To be honest, we don’t shoot a lot of extra scenes. I believe we have a couple of deleted scenes on the Season 1 DVDs that just came out, but for the most part, we don’t really shoot a lot of scenes. In the editing room, I feel very comfortable. Between me and Matt Loze, one of the executives over at Fox, we have a pretty good tag team, in terms of what we edit. We’ll cut things, but rarely will we cut an entire scene.

Most of the scenes that we cut seem to be things that are just more expository, where you’ll get a lot of expo about the bad guy or something like that. It will usually be stuff where they’re sitting around the conference room talking. At the end of the day, we’ll say, “You know what? I think we know enough about The Architect. I don’t think we need that scene.” Rarely do we cut character stuff. There’s a great moment at the end of the second episode, where Matt is doing a Mario Brothers impression that’s really hysterical. I won’t give the context, but he’s doing an impression of Mario Brothers, and we had so much good stuff.

Some of the great directors will just let Tim and Matt just play, once they get the scene as it’s supposed to be. That’s the hard stuff. It’s really tough when you see all this extra stuff Tim and Matt have done and we can’t use all of it. We probably could have gotten five solid minutes of Matt doing his Mario Brothers impression, but in the end, it’s 15 seconds. Those are the things that really are tough for me to cut. Those are the things that I wish could be there, but that’s what DVD extras are for.

Is there anything in White Collar that you wanted to do, but couldn’t because of budget or some other reason?

Jeff: Oh, yes. I’d love to blow stuff up and have helicopters every week, but we can’t do that. The one thing I’m really proud of, with this show, is that we do it on a seven-day cable budget and it still looks good. Part of that is because we shoot in New York. I think the show looks as good as anything on networks, where the budgets are probably twice. But, I wish we could do action better. I’d love to blow more stuff up.

When you created these characters, or even when you write, are there often things that you incorporate from your own life?

Jeff: Oh, yes, all the time. Little things will happen. A good example is, in one of the upcoming episodes, Mozzie comes in and is griping about Neal not having a particular wine that he likes and Neal shoots back and says, “The pinot is fine. Drink that.” It’s a small thing, but some friends just got me a couple bottles of wine and they happened to be a Sera and a pinot. The gist of the scene was that I had just gotten some wine, and I had gone in the kitchen and was looking for it, and I could not find it and I said to somebody, “What happened to the wine that was in there?” And, they were like, “Just drink the pinot. It’s open.” That stuff is constant, in terms of when I’m looking for something for Neal and Mozzie to do. That happens a lot. Obviously, I’m not usually involved in too many extortion scams and things like that, but it’s usually the small details that make their way into the script.

Because there has to be a challenge each week for Neal and Peter, how do you go about sculpting adversaries to test them?

Jeff: We have a pretty simple rule for that. The better the bad guy, the better Peter and Neal look. One of the criticisms that we got a lot in Season 1 was that our A stories didn’t really require the use of a lot of brain matter to figure out, and it’s true. We were not trying to be CSI. We weren’t trying to be a really twisted mystery. What we wanted to be was a character-driven show. So, for us, it’s usually, the bigger the bad guy, the better. Arch-villains work pretty well for us. We usually know who they are within the first couple minutes of the show. That’s our usual rule. Make ‘em big, make ‘em bad, but let the viewers know who they are, and make it tough to take them down. That’s the marching order we go through, and I think our most successful shows are when we do that.

Do you have anything else coming up, in terms of arch villains that will match The Architect, for pure hubris as well as intelligence?

Jeff: Oh, yes, I think most of our guys are full of hubris. That’s usually just to counter Neal. The John Larroquette character I mentioned is pretty awesome. That’s going to be a big poker playing episode, which our director, David Straight, shot incredibly well. In our fourth episode, which is Hilarie Burton’s introduction, we have a very rich guy with a pretty cool, twisted back story. Mozzie’s girlfriend gets kidnapped by a big Columbian drug lord, which is a little bit of a change for us. We have a pretty cool one in our eighth episode, where we have a federal marshal turned bad. Other than Fowler, we haven’t seen our guys go up against other federal agents, so that one is a pretty nice pairing with our guys.

How did you get started in the business, as a producer and writer?

Jeff: I’m from Colorado. I went to school out there, and I worked as a director of photography on two really low budget movies for Roger Corman that were being shot in Boulder. Corman was the producer, and a guy named David Pryor was directed them. They came out and shot them very quickly, for a couple weeks each, out in Boulder. It was enough for me to think that maybe I wanted to try to go out to Hollywood. I hadn’t really ever been outside of Colorado, at that point. I knew I wanted to be in the show business industry, but I didn’t know what that really meant. So, the summer I graduated college, I packed up an old Volkswagen bus and I drove it out to L.A. It was my first trip out here, and a friend of mine, who knew a little bit more about the film industry than I did said, “If you want to direct, what you really need is a script. Those are the things in short supply.” And, I was always pretty good at short stories and stuff, so I sat down and I long-handed a story, just as I drove out.

It took me five days to drive out in this little Volkswagen bus. I finished it up once I arrived in L.A. Coming from a small town in Colorado, L.A. was serious culture shock. I thought I’d go over to USC and check it out, not realizing that it’s not a particularly nice neighborhood over there. So, I parked off campus and walked around with my backpack and, when I went back, my van was gone. It had been stolen. So, I had nothing. There was a cashier’s check for $2,000 that I had, that was all the money I had in the world. Every other possession I had was gone. So, I walked around that area for a little bit, and I found an old mansion that was a flop house. There were about 20 people living in it, and I talked to the landlord, who was an old German guy. He was very nice, and he told me he’d give me a room for like $300. He said, “Hey, when you get a job, pay me. Until then, you’ve got a place to stay.” I did that. Actually, the first night, I walked around and there was a Kinko’s over by USC, and I fell asleep in there. This nice lady woke me up, about three in the morning. She was the manager, and she offered me a job. So, my first day in L.A., I had my van stolen, I had a place to stay and I had a job at Kinko’s.

The other thing I had was the script that I had long-handed on the way out. I didn’t realize what I was doing, but it was a thriller about a doctor who has a patient with multiple personalities, and he falls in love with one of the personalities and starts sleeping with another one of the personalities. At some point in the show, the two personalities start passing notes and videos to each other, and they realize what he’s doing and plot to kill him. Through a friend of a friend of a friend, it got to Zalman King. Zalman had just started doing The Red Shoe Diaries. I didn’t even know my friend had taken the script because it was the only one I had. It was in a notebook. He gave it to Zalman and, two days later, Zalman called and said, “Hey, we’d like to buy that.”

That was how I started my future writing career. It never got made, but I made a little money off it, got an agent off it, and went back and wrote another show, which was called Inconvenience, at the time. I was going to take the $5,000 -$10,000 that I made off the first script and shoot it myself, and I ended up throwing that one to Trimark Pictures. It came out as Held Up, with Jamie Foxx, which was the first feature I’d done that actually got made.

Off of that, I got a couple of other small things, and then Neal Moritz, who had produced Fast and the Furious and I Know What You Did Last Summer, and was the producer on Held Up, came to me and said, “Hey, I’m doing TV, do you want to do it?” I said, “Why would I want to do TV?” He said, “You’re just a writer. You get to be the boss.”  I liked that idea, so I started doing some TV. I did a show called Shasta, with Neal, over at UPN, which was my first show. Then, off of that, I got Hawaii over at NBC, which is how I met everybody at USA, which led directly to White Collar.

Would you ever be interested in acting or directing, as opposed to just writing?

Jeff: Yes. I wanted to be a director when I first came out to L.A. and, once I realized how early they have to get up, that stopped my desire to direct. We’ve discussed it. The studio has told me that, if I want to come direct an episode, I can. Maybe in Season 5, I’ll do that. The problem I’ve got is that, in terms of writing, I can be a really good writer. When I look at some of the directors we have, what I realize is, I’m not as good as they are. I could probably direct a decent episode of White Collar, but I don’t think it will be a brilliant episode of White Collar. So, at this point, I want to leave that to the pros.

One of the things I’ve always regretted about the path that I chose, just creating the show, is that I don’t get to spend much time on set. I just got back from New York last week, but I don’t get to do that too much. Most of my life is spent in the writers’ room, working with the writers and getting the scripts together, and in the editing room, putting the final pieces in. But, it’s that middle chunk, where it actually comes to life, that I feel woefully disconnected from, a lot of times. That’s tough, but it’s the life of a show-runner.

There’s the episode we’re writing, the episode we’re editing, and the episode we’re shooting this week. You always have those three that you’re working on and, to be successful, you get to pick two of those, so for me, it’s the writing and the editing. That means I just don’t get to spend time on set. As far as acting goes, I did some theater in high school and college, but I have no real desire. I’ll watch Matt Bomer and Tim DeKay on screen and think, “Man, there’s no way in hell I could be that good.”

What’s been your favorite moment or scene from the show?

Jeff: There’s a number of those. The moments I like the best are when I write a script, block it out in my head, and I have a pretty good idea what it’s going to look like, and then I’m watching the cut and I see the guys do something that I wasn’t expecting. Those can be very small, little moments. And, the moments that can really make me just laugh out loud are always my favorite.

Do you have any advice for other people wanting to get into this business?

Jeff: That’s interesting. I don’t want to say I fell into it, but I sort of did. Don’t worry about the odds. If somebody had told me what the odds were, of creating a TV show and actually get it on the air, it might have stopped me back when I started. But, I never really thought too much about the odds. I just did it and moved forward. In terms of writing, my best advice is to read everything out loud. I keep telling my writers, “Read it out loud because, if the dialogue doesn’t come off your tongue, it’s not going to come off the actors’ very well.” Think hard about it.

What I usually do is jam through a draft, and then I’ll go back and question every single line. It takes me a lot longer than a lot of writers. I’m not a particularly fast writer, but by questioning every line and saying, “Do we need this line? Is there a better line? Is there a funnier line? That’s a little bit of a cliché, can we turn that around?,” it does help the final product.

And then, in terms of actually getting a show on the air, I’d say to watch a lot of TV. There’s nothing that annoys me more than meeting somebody who’s talking about how they want to be a TV or feature writer, and they say, “I don’t really watch TV,” or “I don’t watch movies.” How in the heck do you know what’s out there? Inevitably, those are the same people, when they start pitching me something, where I’ll say, “Well, it’s a great idea, and James Cameron did it great three years ago.”

That’s probably my best advice. Just write a lot and pay attention to your chosen medium. I may not like a show, but if it’s doing really well, I’ll make myself watch and at least try to understand why people like it.

WHITE COLLAR airs on the USA Network on Tuesdays