David Crane and Jeffrey Klarik are a dynamic creative team. They made show business history separately and together. David created “Friends” with long-time friend Marta Kauffman and was an original executive producer of the show. Jeffrey was a co-producer of “Mad About You”, the beloved sitcom starring Paul Reiser and Helen Hunt.
Nowadays, David and Jeffrey are co-creators and showrunners of “Episodes”, the critically acclaimed series that airs on Showtime in the United States and BBC Two in the United Kingdom. Starring Matt LeBlanc, Tamsin Greig, and Stephen Mangan, “Episodes” is now entering its fifth and final season. I was excited to get the chance to speak with David and Jeffrey about “Episodes” and the successful journey in show business they’re sharing.
“Episodes” is a show about a husband-and-wife comedy writing team. Since David and Jeffrey are life partners as well as a comedy writing team themselves, I had to know how much of the show was based on real life. “It was totally inspired by our lives. Every single moment has happened to one or the other of us,” confessed Jeffrey. “Most people think, well, it's an exaggeration of the industry. It is not an exaggeration. It is an under-estimation of the industry.”
David and Jeffrey both remember the moment when they were inspired to create the show. They did a show called “The Class” on CBS and were heartbroken when it was cancelled after the first season.
“I decided I didn’t ever want to do television again because nobody appreciated the hard work we did. We had a friend who had just come back from London who had done a show for the BBC. He said, ‘Oh my gosh, it’s like a dream come true. They don't give you notes. They stay out of your way. They let you do exactly what you want to do.’ So, I said to David, ‘Okay, if we can do a show for the BBC where we don’t have to answer to a network, where we don’t have to bend to their whims, then I'll do it. I'll come back, and we'll do it again.’”
Things didn’t exactly go as planned, though. The idea for the show was to have two British people coming from London to make their TV show in Los Angeles. The co-creators figured they’d get to shoot everything in Los Angeles and not even go to London for its regular production. However, the matter of money stood in the way. They found the production had a shoestring budget, so the only way forward was shooting it in London while pretending it was Los Angeles.
“For the last six years, we've been going to England for half a year and shooting it and trying to make it look as much like LA as possible,” David said.
Jeffrey chimed in, “It was also a unique challenge. When you shoot something in America, they just throw money at it. Whatever you want, they’ll build it or find it for you. Here, you really had to be very resourceful. We had to find actual locations, and then try to make them look like Los Angeles or Malibu, and that's really tricky.”
“Their plugs are different. Their cars are driven no the other side of the road. They don’t have palm trees out the window,” David elaborated on the differences.
“There was a lot of invention. All along the way. That was a challenge, but it's also really satisfying when people say to me and David that they had no idea we didn’t shoot it in Los Angeles.”
So, is appealing to different audiences a challenge when a show is both British and American? Jeffrey doesn’t think so. “I think basically humor is humor. It's universal. If something's funny, it will be funny there. We are in 182 different markets and get wonderful comments from all over the world where people find the characters really relatable and fun, and the situations relatable.”
“We're also, more than anything, we write to make each other laugh. If we're happy with it, hopefully everyone else will be,” David summed it up.
Matt LeBlanc, who became a star on “Friends” as David co-created and executive produced it, was keen on being in “Episodes” even though he was the punch line. David explained how that all happened.
“The premise of this was these two British writers come to America, and American television destroys their lives. So, Jeffrey said, one of the best ways to do that would be if the network forced them to recast the main lead with Matt LeBlanc. The role was originally this sophisticated headmaster of a British boy's boarding school, so the worst casting choice possible would be Matt LeBlanc. When we first pitched the show to Matt, we took him to lunch, and Matt said, ‘So, I'm the punch line?’ And we went, ‘Yeah.’ He was like, ‘Okay, I’ll do it. If it's a good joke, I'm happy to be a punch line.’”
So, he was a good sport about the whole thing, and it has paid off in a big way. For his work on “Episodes”, Matt has been nominated for Emmys and won a Golden Globe Award.
Although they’ve seen a lot of success come their way, the creative process hasn’t changed a lot since the start of “Episodes”. Jeffrey and David write every episode, and they have control over all aspects of the story.
Jeffrey said, “It's just the two of us, so we take a couple of months of the year, and we write every single word and every single scene and every single character. Then, once it's all done, we go to England and shoot it like a movie. That hasn't changed. There are different challenges, financial challenges mostly. How we can accomplish some of the things we’ve written without a huge budget, but it is satisfying to solve those problems.”
Shooting a season of “Episodes” typically takes three months. David explained, “We shoot the whole show like a giant movie. We don't shoot episodes individually. We shoot it by sets. So, on any given day, we'll be shooting scenes from episode two and five and seven. It requires everyone to really stay on their toes, especially the actors, knowing you're jumping around the whole season. They have to know, with each given scene, what just happened. It's fun sort of challenge for everybody.”
“We just hope dear God they get it right. We’ve got continuity people whose job it is to make sure the hair matches or what hand did she have her purse in, and that kind of thing. So, yes, it's a challenge, but we have had very few mistakes,” Jeffrey stated.
Given how passionate they clearly are about the show and overall storytelling, I wondered what originally drove David and Jeffrey to get involved in show business.
Jeffrey answered, “It's a matter of being in the right place at the right time. For me, it was meeting Nancy Josephson, who was the president of ICM. She asked to see some of my writing, and I showed it to her. She took it to Kevin Bright, who was producing a show called ‘Dream On’, which just so happened to be created by David. He said, ‘Why don’t you take a shot here and try to write a script and see what happens?’ I wrote it, and they loved it. The next thing I knew, I was on ‘Dream On’ as a staff writer. The rest, as they say, is history.”
David revealed a similar journey, “I did theater for years in New York with Marta Kauffman. Then we started doing television. Again, Nancy Josephson, who’s our agent, came to see our play. She said, ‘Write some TV’, and we said okay. She convinced us to give it a shot.”
“So, you can blame Nancy Josephson for both of our careers,” joked Jeffrey.
So, what can fans expect from the last season? “A lot of laughs, a lot of tears. a lot of surprises. A lot of surprises this season. A lot of benches thrown in the path of Shawn and Beverly,” Jeffrey promised.
“Real life Matt LeBlanc does some amazing work this season. He is incredibly funny and also has some really wonderful dramatic moments,” added David.
The first episode of the new and final season of “Episodes” airs Sunday, August 20, at 10 p.m. ET on Showtime.