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Interview with Jeff Eastin of "White Collar"
on USA Network.
White Collar Conference Call with Jeff Eastin
February 26, 2010/1:00 p.m. EST
Moderator First question come from Kenn Gold. Please go ahead.
Kenn Hi, Jeff. Thanks a lot for the time today to talk to us here.
Jeff Oh, no problem. Happy to do it.
Kenn I just wanted to say this has become one of my favorite shows on
TV, and something I very much looking forward to. So my first question
here was about season two. And we heard the good news, I guess in
December, that season two got picked up. But I just wondered if you
could maybe talk a little bit about planning for that, what you might do
different, and are we going to get a major cliffhanger leading into
Jeff Yes. We have a pretty major cliffhanger coming up here in two
weeks. And what weíve done in season two is reallyóweíre right into it
now. The writersí group has been going about two weeks now and most of
that time; weíve been just working on the mythology moving forward into
season two. What I did, really, was looked and say what we thought we
really did right in season one and just try to duplicate that.
Luckily, I was sort of surprised, but most new shows, thereís usually a
few shows youíre sort of not happy with and Iíve got to say, I mean,
just amazing case, amazing crew. We had some really good directors this
year and we got really lucky. I mean, I canít really think of any show
in season one that I wasnít happy with. I mean, Iíve got my favorites.
But even the ones that are my least favorite, I still think came out
pretty good. So Iím pretty happy about that. I mean, we have been
dealing pretty specifically with Tiffaniís pregnancy. Thatís something
weíre really trying to deal with in season two.
Weíve decided not to bring it up on the show. So working around that has
been a real challenge and very interesting, but kind of fun to find out
technologically what you can do in terms of green screen and things like
that to be able to work around that. So those are the challenges weíve
got going into season two.
But for the most part, the way Iím looking at the show right now is it
ainít broke and weíre not going to try to change anything majorly in
season two in terms of dynamic. For me, the show is really about Peter
and Neal and thatís where the focus is going to stay, supported by
Elizabeth and Mozzie, and thatís really where we want to keep it going
into season two.
Kenn Okay, great. Thanks. And as a follow-up. One of the things that I
think was probably the most amazing things Iíve read was how when youíre
coming up with this concept, youíd never been to New York and you did
your research, I guess, with Google Streets. I was kind of wondering how
in hindsight did that work out, and is New York, I guess, different than
you thought it would be?
Jeff That is true. Yes, I had not been to New York. New York was a very
obvious choice if youíre going to do a world of white collar crime. And
Manhattan, you really canít beat it. I mean, itís the perfect city for
the show. And the one problem that I had was that I had not been there.
So Iím a computer geek anyway, and I think Google Streetview when it had
first came out, I thought it was pretty amazing, and once I started
poking around on it, in Manhattan, it was really nice. I mean, you could
stroll down the street. I could plan out Neal and Peterís movements and
actually walk through them. That was really helpful just in terms of
sort of orienting myself geographically.
What really shocked me about New York, I have to say, are the people. I
mean, I sort ofóbeing from Colorado originally and then from L.A., there
was sort of a perception that people from New York can be very cold and
sort of distant. I was really surprised that that was the exact opposite
of what I found. I found that people there were incredibly nice,
I have to say that I was sort ofóCentral Park was probably the biggest
surprise I had. I spent some of the most peaceful moments in my life
Iíve spent just sort of strolling through Central Park. And thatís from
a guy who grew up in a very small town in Colorado. So that was probably
the biggest shock is that there were these places of solitude in New
York that you could find. It wasnít the big hustle bustle capital that I
was expecting. It does have those elements, but there are also these
wonderfully tranquil moments that really surprised me.
Kenn All right. Thank you very much.
Moderator Sheldon Wiebe, eclipsemagazine.com. Please go ahead.
Sheldon Hi. Thanks for taking our calls today.
Jeff Not a problem.
Sheldon Now, youíve often said in interviews that Nate (sic) and Peter
are the smartest guys in the room. And over the course of the season,
weíve seen them go up against some pretty clever criminals, but really
the only one who kind of seems like a match for them has been Keller,
which makes me wonder since Fowler is somehow connected to the whole
case scenario. Clearly, heís not the guy pulling the strings. So when
are we going to learn more about the mastermind behind that and how is
that going to play into future episodes?
Jeff Yes. The, as we call him, the big bad, as we call him, who
ultimately will be the guy that Fowler reports to. Weíll learn a lot
more about him in season two. Our season two, and knock wood, our season
three mythology really deals with that and really we spend some time
exploring Fowlerís back story, which is actually kind of interesting
stuff. Glad to hear. Iím donít know if that was you saying you like
Keller, but that he was formidable, which I was very happy to hear. We
liked Keller quite a bit, and actually the bad guy, Wilkes, whoís coming
up in next weekís episode of ďFront Man,Ē is pretty formidable also.
Just as a side note, people have asked in ďFree Fall,Ē which is our
finale where Neal had bailed out of a judgeís chambers and ended up in
the front page of the newspaper, whether there were going to be
ramifications. And yes, Keller is one of those ramifications. Wilkes,
also, is somebody from Nealís past, which is that sort of by exposing
himself, Neal sort of comes out of the shadows slightly, and thatís
attracted some of the people from his own life.
So two of the bad guys, Fowler will return and weíll find out a little
bit more about whoís pulling his strings and why, which I think is
actually a pretty interesting story.
Sheldon Great. As a follow-up, when youíre writing a show that has so
many characters. I mean, when you put your four main characters named
Peter, Mozzie, and Elizabeth in a room, they are the four smartest
people period. How hard is it to maintain a level of excellence writing
for that kind of a cast?
Jeff It can be difficult. What weíve done is weíve really broken it down
to each person has their own sort of specialty. Peterís specialty is
usually sort of the puzzle solving, the putting the pieces together that
an FBI agent would be good at. And Neal, I always look at Neal as
somebody who can sort of look at the problem from outside the box and
approach it in a way that most people wouldnít think to. Mozzie adds his
own expertise, which usually that sort of that street level guy who
knows the way that criminals do it. And Elizabeth has a certain amount
of emotional intelligence that we try to play off of. Sheís going to see
things from a human perspective that a lot of times Peter wonít see or
Neal wonít see.
So it can definitely be difficult, but I have to say that at times, we
put all four of them in a room has been some of my favorite scenes. In
ďBad Judgment,Ē for example, when Elizabeth finally meets Mozzie. Mozzie
walking in and debugging their house is one of my favorite sequences so
far, I think, in the series.
Sheldon That was also one of my favorites. Thanks very much.
Jeff Oh, no problem.
Moderator We have a question from Jim Halterman with jimhalterman.com.
Please go ahead.
Jim Hi, Jeff. Thanks for your time.
Jeff Oh, no problem.
Jim I wanted to know since the first season has done so well with the
viewers and the ratings and everything. Does that take the pressure off
or does it actually add more pressure for you to kind of keep the
momentum going for season two?
Jeff I would say both. Itís a different kind of pressure. Thereís a
certain pressure you feel when the ratings are sliding and every week
they go down. Thatís not a good pressure. Itís sort of usually a debate
whether youíre going to work on the show or start sending out resumes.
And the pressure weíre under right now, I much prefer. Itís really the
pressure to keep the show going the way itís been going. To keep people
happy. As a lot of you probably know, Iíve spent a lot of time on
Jeff Pretty well with Matt Ö and things like that. And the one thing I
like about it is it really connects you to people that watch the show. I
mean, you get to see what people like and donít like. But just by
putting a face on it like that, it really does, I think, increase the
pressure to do it right. I mean, thereís several people, I donít
actually know them by name. I sort of know them by the handle or their
Twitter icon. But thereís definitely a sense that weíre doing the show
for them. And itís very gratifying.
I mean, for example, this last weekís episode. The actual production of
it was very difficult. We ran into a lot of problems just in terms of
logistics and all sorts of stuff. The episode was really very difficult
to put together and for all of us on the production side, it was very
tough. And we usually watch the Twitter feeds coming in. Weíre on the
west coast. And weíll start watching the feeds come in from the east
coast starting around 7 oíclock out here.
And when you see people reacting, people who you know are fans of the
show saying, Oh, I really liked Keller or that was a great scene. Itís a
really good feeling because we feel like weíve done something right and
kept the people who like the show happy. And at the end of the day,
thatís really all we have. Itís people liking the show, telling their
friends to watch the show. And thatís how we survive.
I mean, a lot of shows go a season. A lot of shows die in season two.
And what weíre trying to do now is just keep building on the momentum
weíve got and do our best to really make a show thatís going to keep
people who really do like the show happy and try to bring some new
people on board.
Jim Okay, great. And what surprised you the most about filming the first
season? Was there something you werenít expecting that kind of popped
up, either in the filming or in the story breaks or anything like that?
Jeff I think, in a vague sort of way, I would say it was the reaction to
the show. You never know. You go in expecting certain things. You do the
best job you can and then you just put it out there. I would say, I
expected Tim and Matt to really pop. I mean, the whole show was really
designed for those two guys to pop.
I think I was surprised by sort of the Matt Bomerís star quality. I
mean, we always had our fingers crossed, but the reaction to Bomer was
pretty shocking to me regardless. I mean, having travelled out to New
York several times and seeing his picture up everywhere was kind of
neat. But then seeing the reaction to it was even better.
From a story standpoint, I think probably the most refreshing thing that
happened was weíve been making a real effort to try to make an
intelligent show, to do a show that tries to stay smart. I mean, we may
not always succeed, but at least thatís our goal. And I wasnít quite
sure how that would be accepted. I mean, weíre constantlyówe have a lot
of chess games. We quote Dostoevsky, things like that. I didnít know how
things like that would be accepted. Last weekís episode which dealt a
lot with sort of the nuance of wine.
Again, in an MTV world, I wasnít sure if people were going to like it.
And the fact that people do, the fact that people seem to really be
buying into that and enjoying it, where a lot of shows rely really
heavily on action, we obviously donít. We donít rely much on girls in
bathing suits and we havenít done that. And it was refreshing to really
not have to and to not be pressured to because people have really
reacted well toóso I guess, maybe the more intellectual pursuits that
weíve done on the show. Thatís been really nice.
Jim All right. Continued success, Jeff.
Jeff Thank you.
Moderator Our next question comes from Isis Fernandez with Character
Playground. Please go ahead.
Isis Hello, Mr. Eastin. How are you doing?
Jeff Iím good. How are you?
Isis Really, really good. It was interesting you were talking about
Twitter. One of my followers actually just tweeted out yesterday that he
just discovered your show. And I tweeted him and said hey, Iím actually
talking to Jeff Eastin tomorrow. And heís like oh, thatís awesome. And
you may get a new follower on your Twitter feed. Just letting you know.
Jeff Iíll keep an eye out.
Isis One of the things I wanted to ask. Earlier, we had a chance to talk
with Tim and Matt, and they were talking about their characters. They
talked about Peter and Neal having a growing relationship, and they were
learning to trust each other. And I kind of wanted to get your opinion
if you saw it that way and what do you think the dynamics of the
characters will evolve to?
Jeff Again, going into season two, one of the things we want to be
careful of is that we donít adjust too much. But again we kind of keep
whatís working. And too, thereís a growing trust between the guys. What
weíve really moved away from is Peter is not afraid currently that
Nealís going to pack his bags and run. Weíve definitely advanced the
relationship to that not being a big concern. In the first few episodes,
it was always is this guy goingóIn the pilot even, when he says cut his
anklet, Peter was pretty sure heíd run.
At this point in the episodes weíve done, when Neal, if he cuts his
anklet, Peterís pretty sure heís sticking around. So that doesnít really
affect the trust between the guys. What does still factor in is Kate,
the fact that Neal still has secrets on that side, and Peter has a few
of his own. And thatís where the trust issues between the guys will
still play and will continue to play into season two, the issues
revolving around her, around that relationship. I think Elizabeth had a
line. If I recall, it might have been flipping the coin, where she says
thereís only reason Neal will ever lie to you. And he says Kate. And
that again, is going to be something we really factor in in terms of the
trust going forward.
As far as the relationship between the guys, I think the actual growing
relationship between Tim DeKay and Matt Bomer is factoring in. And you
see it on the screen. You see it between takes. The guys just really
like each other. And I think thatís whatís factoring in with Neal and
Peter that these guys are spending time in the office together and
theyíre getting to really like each other. They like each other as human
beings. There will always be the trust issues, the moments when Neal
steps out of the room and Peter may look at him sideways or tell Jones
to run a fingerprint on somebody. But itís two guys who can go out and
have a beer together. They really, really enjoy each other. That will be
the relationship weíre evolving. The trust issues will always be there.
But itís two guys who just really, really enjoy each otherís company.
Weíre moving that forward.
Isis Okay. My follow-up question. Take us into the writerís room for a
minute. When youíre thinking about the crimes, how theyíre committed,
how theyíre going to be solved to each episode, how do you guysódo you
sit around and kind of like draw things out on a board? Do you act them
out? Like what do you guys do?
Jeff Yes. For anybody that is following. Youíve probably seen us put up
a couple of the white boards. So you probably know Iím not much of an
artist. Yes. We do sort of all of the above. Usually, what we start
withóthereís a process weíre doing right now. Weíll start with an idea.
Usually, from me it can really come from anywhere. I mean, we scour some
of the Google feeds in terms of what white collar crimes are happening.
We have Tom Barden whoís our FBI consultant. Heíll mention some
interesting crimes to us in certain cases. For example, going back to
Bad Judgment, which ultimately ended up being one of my favorite
episodes. That one started out really with us saying whatís the most
boring crime we could possibly do? Letís see if we can do it. Well, in
that case, it was mortgage fraud. So that one was a little bit of a
challenge, partly because that particular episode had whatís supposed to
have been a bank heist and we were crashing into various things, not the
least of which was a production problem, getting into a particular bank
at that time.
And so the last minute we just kind of swung it around and said okay, we
need a new idea. And literally, that was it. It was my desire. I just
said I know. Whatís the most boring crime we got? And we thought about
it for about two seconds and I just said mortgage frauds. All right.
Letís come up with a mortgage fraud crime and try to make it
interesting. And then off that, the way I like to do it is I do what I
call, if anybody remembers the old Mad magazineís Scenes Weíd Like to
Thatís what Iíll do. I usually start off with, and just start throwing
things at the board and say okay, in this episode Iíd really like to see
a scene likeóI happen to know in that particular episode that I wanted
to see the upside down signature thing that we did. I really wanted to
see that. I had a desire to see Peter blackmailed or the threat of
blackmail. And we knew going in that we really wanted to have Elizabeth
meet Mozzie in some context. And so usually, on the white board, Iíll
just put those things up. Itís like weíll say at some point, Mozzie
meets Elizabeth. Peter gets blackmailed and Neal does an upside down
signature. And then weíll just try to start weaving those together. And
throwing out scenarios, trying to figure out like well, how can we get
that? Whatís a good reason for Elizabeth to meet Mozzie? And weíll riff
on that for a few hours. They can meet this way. They can meet that way.
In this case, it wasóusually, all the character work where weíll say
well, Peterís not going to be particularly happy about introducing them.
So maybe Mozzie sneaks into the house. And then weíll bang our head
against that for a while. And ultimately in that particular episode, we
came up with the idea that Mozzie came in to sort of bug sweep the house
for them, which led us backwards to saying ah, well, who bugged the
house? Fowler. So we had a pretty good Fowler episode.
So it allóitís reallyówhatís great about the writerís room is if anybody
is following the White Collar writers, weíve put up some pictures there.
Weíve got a pool table. Weíve got couches. Itís a lot like hanging out
with a bunch of your friends. Itís like a coffeehouse. And just riffing.
Which is great. They pay us fairly well to do it, which is kind of nice.
Weíve got a really good group of people.
And again, they come from everywhere. I mean, for example, Free Fall
startedóI really didnít have much idea what I was going to do for the
mid season. I knew where it was going to end up. I knew the scene with
Peter and Kate in the room. Thatís about all I knew. Everything else
came from my desire. I had this bizarre idea that Neal should buy a
bakery and that Peter didnít know why. And that was really the genesis
of that particular episode, that if we do nothing else other than, hey,
wouldnít it be neat if Neal bought a bakery? Why? Because Peter would be
like whyíd the hell this guy buy a bakery? So a lot of times the best
ideas I think we come up with are the ones that are usually the most
unexpected or the most random.
But thatís pretty much the process. There really is no direct line ever
from start to finish. But once we get on a line, we just break it down
and get to a point where it all makes sense and we usually track it
through or walk it through and say letís walk through the story from
Peterís point of view and now Nealís point of view and now Elizabethís.
Now the bad guys. And just hopefully, make sure weíve covered all the
motivations, which is usuallyóIf you walk away from the episode having
watched it and it felt right or it felt good, itís usually because we
did our job right and didnít have any weird motivations.
Usually, what ruins an episode for, I think somebody viewing it is
saying wait a minute; I donít think Peter would do that. Or wait, that
doesnít make any sense. Nealís not that dumb. Or something like that. So
thatís sort of the process, I guess, in a nutshell.
Isis Wow, that sounds like fun.
Jeff Itís fun.
Moderator We have a question from Stevie Wilson with LA-Story.com.
Please go ahead.
Stevie Hi, Jeff. How are you today?
Jeff Iím good. How are you?
Stevie Good. It was interesting. Yesterday, I was part of the Burn
Notice interview with Jeffrey Donovan and Gabrielle Anwar.
Stevie And there was a question about would there be any kind of
crossover that they wanted to do out of the USA Network shows. And they
particularly mentioned specifically White Collar and talking about the
potential of how the characters and the whole tone of the shows were so
similar. And wondered what you thought about that.
Jeff No, I completely agree. I mean, Matt Nix created Burn Notice, and I
are pretty good friends. Yes, if weíre going to do a crossover that
seems like the one to do. It will be interesting to talk to USA about
it. I know thereís been some joking about it, but I think in terms of a
crossover that would be by far the most logical and the most fun. I
guess the interesting thing would be would we send Michael to New York
or would we send Neal to Florida?
So as they say stay tuned. But that would be something that would be, I
think, pretty awesome.
Stevie Yes, I think it would be great. Personally, itís because I watch
both shows, and itís something that I talk about, both shows a lot. And
in terms of as youíre writing, are you looking at particular guest stars
that you want to plug in? Do they come in after the fact or before the
Jeff Almost never do we know beforehand. Usually, I mean, again for
those people following on Twitter, Iíve been putting up some like script
page sneak peeks. Iíll put them up for the episodes forólike I put one
up for yesterday for Front Man, which is airing next week. I believe
that wasóIíd have to check the date, but I think we were filming that in
late November. And if you want to back that up, it was a few weeks
before that that we were writing the thing. And with that, we almost
never know ahead of time who the guest star is.
Now, if itís somebody like Noah Emmerich, who plays Fowler, weíll know
that because weíve locked him down probably a month or two before
because weíve made a deal with him to do three or four episodes in the
season. But somebody like Dan Neal, whoís coming up this next week or
Ross McCall, who played Keller this last week.
Usually, weíll write the character and then casting will go out and say
what are you looking for? And whatís been really great is because the
showís doing pretty well, itís definitely attracted a much higher class
of actor who suddenly says, hey, yes, if Iím in New York Iíll spend a
week and do a White Collar, which has been really nice.
Stevie Thatís cool. Thank you.
Moderator We have a question from Stephanie Sigafoos, Morning Call.
Please go ahead.
Stephanie Hey, Jeff. Itís great to talk to you today.
Jeff Great to talk to you.
Stephanie I think White Collar has definitely become one of my favorite
shows on TV. A really smart show. One of the things I really love about
it is Mozzie. I think Willie Garson adds so much to the show in terms of
not only just being a really smart guy, but he brings a lot of humor.
Iím wondering if weíre going to start seeing more of Mozzieís connection
to this underground world coming up in season two.
Jeff Yes. Yes, we are. Weíve got that. Weíll also find out a little bit
more about Mozzie. For example, why heís called Mozzie, which I canít
tell you. And more of his back story, which definitely deals with that
world. And yes, I mean, heís really evolved as one of the most fun
I mean, I think, as one of the executives told me weíd turned in a
scene. This was last year at some point. Weíd turned in a scene and a
USA executive had called me and said you know what I love about these
scripts? Every time I see the word Mozzie in a script is I know
something fun is going to happen. And I think thatís really a huge part
because of Willie Garson has really become the gauge, whenever itís Neal
and Mozzie get together and Mozzie or anybody together, it adds a
certain special spark to that particular scene. And really, really pops.
By the way. To the Burn Notice/White Collar crossover. Some of the
writers here were toying with the idea that Mozzie could be Samís
nephew, which I think would be kind of interesting.
Stephanie Kind of a follow-up to that. Another fun thing that I think,
more so in the last episode, was sort of starting to see Peter more
traverse these gray areas with Neal. Heís not completely opposed to
doing something that maybe a couple of episodes ago he would have
thought was completely wrong. How much is that going to factor in in the
future? I mean, might that eventually come back to bite Peter?
Jeff Yes. Yes to all the above. Iím not going to give too much away for
our season finale, but that actually, that particular aspect, Peterís up
to now, sort of unwavering belief in the system and in the Bureau gets
shaken pretty good. And it allows Peter, or sort of pushes Peter, to the
other side a little bit. I mean, again, weíre not doing a radical
re-shifting of the show. Peterís not suddenly going to become a master
criminal. But like you said in this last episode, his willingness to
sort of bend the rules more to achieve what he considers a good end,
that will increase in season two. Actually, that factors in very
Stephanie Awesome. I canít wait to see it. Thanks, Jeff.
Moderator We have a question from Nancy Harrington, Pop Culture Passion.
Please go ahead.
Nancy Hi, Jeff. Thanks for talking with us today.
Jeff Iím happy to do it.
Nancy We had a question about your Twitter account. We saw a few weeks
ago that you posted something asking for people to come up with ideas
for drinking games for White Collar.
Jeff Oh, yes.
Nancy And we were wondering if you got any good suggestions.
Jeff Yes. Actually, the question was a little bit duplicative. What I
was actually curious about for myself was what people were perceiving as
sort of the very repetitive moments of the show.
Jeff And what we usually got wasóThe two that I think made me laugh the
hardest because theyíre the most true were drink every time somebody
says Kate. And take a double shot every time somebody says trust me.
Nancy Thatís a good one.
Jeff Those were the two that kind of jumped out. But again, for me, it
was sort of way to just see what people were perceiving as sort of maybe
something a bit redundant on the show. And I think those two were pretty
interesting. For the most part, we got a lot of drink every time Matt
Bomerís gorgeous whichó
Nancy Thatíd be a lot of drunk people.
Jeff Exactly. So but yes, I would say probably Kate and trust me were
the two big ones.
Nancy Right. We were thinking it should be every time someone mentions
the ankle bracelets.
Jeff Yes, that was a good one, too. That one was pretty popular.
Nancy Great. Thanks for your time today.
Jeff Thank you.
Moderator We have a question from Lena Lamoray at lenalamoray.com.
Please go ahead.
Lena Hey, Jeff.
Lena How did you come up with the concept for White Collar?
Jeff Well, the short version was I had an idea that was called
Redemption, which was a much darker idea. It was really from my desire
and loveóI really love The Shield. It was one of my favorite shows. And
knowing it was heading off the air, Iíd come up with an idea for a Vick
Mackey type character, who gets put in prison for allegedly killing his
partner and he has to be released. The DAís daughter gets kidnapped and
the only person that can sort of solve the crime is this Vick Mackey
guy. So they let him out of prison and put an ankle bracelet on him and
track him while he sort of tracks down this kidnapper. And to move
forward with it. Again, I called it Redemption. I thought it was pretty
good. And a friend of mine called and said hey, you might want to take a
look at this show called Life. And when I saw it I went oh. Which it was
exactly pretty much word for word that idea. So I kind of shelved that
And then USA had contacted me and said hey, would you be interested in
doing something for us? And so I was looking for different ideas. One of
the things Iíd wanted to do, always do, was sort of a buddy comedy in
the vein of 48 Hours or Lethal Weapon. And I dusted off the Redemption
idea and said what if I run this through, this dark story, what if I run
this through USAís blue sky filter? That was really the genesis of the
Iíve said before I was also going through a fairly painful divorce at
the time, which I think, probably it was a good thing that it happened
at the time because that became the Kate story for Neal. What I was
really worried about going in was that I was going to have this very
charming con man and I wanted to make sure that there was something that
grounded him. Something that gave him a soul. And so what I was going
through personally really became his search for Kate. That was about it.
And Iím very, very glad people are actually watching it.
Lena Now Miss Carroll has a musical background?
Lena Is there any chance that you could make a musical number featuring
June and Neal working an episode?
Jeff Thatís funny. We were breaking that particular idea yesterday. I
donít think weíll do a musical number, but the idea of Neal and June
singing together. Yes, that is actually up on our white board right now.
Moderator I have a question from Matt Carter with examiner.com. Please
Matt Hey, Jeff. How are you doing today?
Jeff Good. How are you?
Matt Pretty good. Well, my first question for you is just insight about
the story of casting Matt Bomer on this show. He kind of had a little
bit of a following last season on Chuck and so he just kind of jumped
right into this one.
Jeff Yes. I canít say enough how happy and lucky I am to have Matt on
this thing. I give most of the credit to Gayle Pillsbury who was my
casting director on the pilot. Iíve said this before, too, but Matt came
in. Weíd been casting lots and lots of really good looking guys. Itís
L.A. A lot of good looking people. And I remember walking in that
particular day. And Matt who is fairly unassuming normally. I remember
he was looking through his ipod in the corner, had jeans on, and his
Gayle pulled me aside and said keep an eye on that guy. Heís a star. He
came in and read and we liked him right away. We took him to the studio
and he went up. He went to the network and they really liked him. We
brought him back, I think, two or three times. USA tends to be really,
really picky when it comes to casting, which at the time, itís
frustrating. But ultimately, Iím really glad we did take the time to get
There was a moment in the room whereóI remember it was the scene from
the pilot where heís explaining to Peter that heís got the photo and
when they Ö deduction he wants to go look for Kate. And that was the
audition scene. And I remember, about halfway through that scene, I
looked at a couple of the executives at USA and we kind of nodded at
each other because we knew at that moment that we had the right guy.
Matt All right. Awesome. Well, my other question is more about sort of
the nature of cable TV right now. As you look across the board of shows
like your show and Burn Notice. And these shows are actually beating a
lot of other network shows out there. I mean, when the Jay Leno Show was
still going pretty strong on NBC, I mean you guys had the same sort of
numbers. And what do you think that says about cable TV in that is it
the creative medium thatís allowing more fans to go over there than some
of the more generalized network shows?
Jeff Yes, I think so. I mean, itís interesting because a lot of
peopleóThere was some rumors that when Leno was leaving that 10 oíclock
slot that the USA 10 oíclock weekly slot with us in sight and Burn
Notice would move over to NBC. And to be honest, I was kind of
terrified. I donít think there was any reality to that rumor, but just
hearing it scared the heck out of me. I canít speak for a lot of the
other cable networks, but, I mean, USAís a really good place.
And I mean, for me creatively, whatís wonderful about USA, is really two
things. One is they know who they are. Thatís really the biggest thing.
The tough is having developed shows at networks before. The hardest is
when you get a sense that the network themselves doesnít quite know what
their network identity is. Because then you get pulled in a lot of
different directions. One day, they might tell you youíre a teen drama
and then the next day, they say you know what? Instead, we want you to
be a darker 10 oíclock show.
And itís that sort of thing thatís very hard to develop any kind of
coherency to a show. USA knows exactly who they are. If you tune into
USA Network, you know what kind of show youíre going to see. And they
And the other thing thatís wonderfully creatively is we donít worry. I
donít have to worry that theyíre going to can the show in two episodes
if we donít pull the numbers. I mean, theyíve always been right from the
beginning, Bonnie Hammer and Jeff Wachtel have said to me donít worry
about it. We support this show. We believe in the show. If the numbers
arenít good, donít worry about it. Weíre not going to kneejerk. Weíll
develop it. Weíll find the right spot for it. And luckily for us, weíve
been pretty successful off the top. But it was just that freedom of
knowing we can sit down and develop the show we want to develop.
What ends up happening a lot of times, is it becomes this kind of weird
pendulum effect where youíll have one episode that the numbers are bad.
And keep in mind, by the time an episode airs, we may be downstream six
or seven episodes. And so if one set of numbers are bad a particular
week, you may get the call that oh, no, we need more female appeal on
the show. So suddenly, youíre reacting to it but your reaction is six
episodes downstream and by the time you get to that episode, thereís
probably a new issue. Itís like oh, we need more action or something
like that. So if you really give into those, you end up sort of
vacillating wildly. And if youíve ever wondered why a certain showís all
of a sudden in the middle of the season starts getting weird and going
all over the place, thatís usually why. Itís usually youíre reacting to
something that happened previously in the season.
So I think probably right now the success of cable has a lot more to do
with the fact that the networks, the cable networks themselves, really
do have an identity. If you tune in to an FX show, you kind of know what
youíre going to get. If you tune into HBO, you know what youíre going to
get. And I think thatís probably been one of the greatest strengths.
That and I think, just by virtue of having a smaller more targeted
audience, I guess, not a lot smaller these days, but by doing that
youíre also not trying to play the board and make everybody happy. You
can really make your show about something. I mean, again, The Shield,
like I said was one of my favorite shows and you couldnít have done that
show on NBC or CBS. It just couldnít have been done.
And I think thereís sort of a generalizing effect that happens with the
networks where you have to appeal to a broader base. And it kind of
smoothes everything out and makes it a little less interesting. And I
think, now, probably thanks to Monk and Burn Notice, USA is sort of cool
to watch now. And thatís helped us a lot, too. That peopleóa couple of
years ago, if you were talking about USA Network, I would see the word
guilty pleasure attached to it a lot. And I got to say, Iíve only seen
guilty pleasure attached to my show just a handful of times. So I think
thereís been sort of that awakening where people look at it and say hey,
itís cool to watch cable.
Matt And personally, Iím thrilled that it is on USA. And thank you so
much for your time, Jeff.
Jeff Oh, thank you.
Moderator We have a question from Marc Eastman with areyouscreening.com.
Go ahead, please.
Marc Hi, Jeff.
Marc Itís good to talk to you outside of Twitter.
Jeff Yes, it is.
Marc Actually, my question was kind of just about Neal and kind of, I
guess, the direction the show is maybe going and into the next season
and all that. It seems like whatever the case is for the episode is
almost like a little bit more on the back burner as far as Neal. Like
when the show started, it was like you had to have Neal to do this case.
And now, itís sort of like this is the case we have and hereís Neal and
weíll see where he fits in. Is that kind of the way weíre going or are
we going to get back to more like really super criminals? Does that make
Jeff A little bit of both. I mean, I think in terms of, I guess the
first part of your question, which is the cases themselves. I think if
Peter and Neal evolved as a team, initially we worked very hard to make
sure that Peter was sort of the zone operation. He didnít really need
Neal. Neal happened to be a tool in his belt. And we sort of wereóYou
didnít have to be very picky to about the cases we would include Neal
in. I mean, it wasnítóEarly on the season, you may have gotten the
impression that Peter has other cases going and weíre only choosing to
show you the ones Nealís involved in because thatís the show.
As theyíve evolved together as partners, weíve been able to say look,
this guy is nearly a good a partner as I can have in anybody here thatís
a full-fledged FBI agent. So how do we bring Neal into that? So we
havenít really shied away from that and weíve decided to sort of embrace
The second part of your question is--One of the things we got into early
on was I always said this show canít be a whodunit. I mean, thereís way
too many shows that have been done like that and Monk did it really
well. Most of the CSIs and the Law and Orders do that really well, the
whodunit. So mine has always been itís got to be a how done it. Early
on, we spent a little more time worrying about the case of the week. We
spent a little more time worrying about the details. And somewhere in
the middle, we changed over a little bit and became a little bit more
about the characters where the case, as you said, was on the back
burner, where it was a little more like the case itself didnít matter.
And we focused a lot more on the character. And I think All In, which
was the Chinatown episode, was a good example of that which was much
more about the Peter/Neal relationship and a lot less about the case.
There was nothing particularly surprising in the case itself.
After a few episodes like that, we really sat down and did some soul
searching and said we can actually do both of these. I think Bad
Judgment was probably a good example of that where we decided to build
more twists and turns into the case itself. Hard Sell is another good
example as well as Free Fall, and next weekís episode is a little more
like that, too. So I think itís always been a real balancing act with us
as to how much emphasis should we put on the case. Iím always sort of
surprised when I see the reviews that attack us for not having a lot of
twists and turns like CSI or like Law and Order. And it surprises me
only because I donít think we ever set out to be those shows. I mean,
our shows, I think, were much more about the relationship between Peter
and Neal and I think we function best when we play in that arena. I
think, Free Fall probably being a good example of that where the case
really took a back seat to the characters stuff.
But going forward into season two, one of the things weíre trying to do
is add more elements like that. I think, again, looking back at Bad
Judgment. There was someóthe thing with the upside down signature. The
thing where we had the cop leaving the tip in the tip that he leaves at
the table. Things like that. Weíre more aware of those. Weíre trying to
add some more interesting twists into the story, but at the same time
weíre going to keep going with the Neal/Peter character stuff that I
thinksí been working.
Marc Thatís great. Just really quickly could I ask. New York itself is
kind of a character in the show. Are we going to like take any trips?
Will we be leaving New York at all?
Jeff No. We have a tax break we get from New York which is going to keep
us in New York.
Jeff Which Iím very happy about actually. There was a little bit of
discussion about that, but the great thing about New York is itís a
microcosm of the world, and we really donít need to go anywhere. I mean,
the only trip I could see in our future would maybe be to Miami.
Marc Okay, great. Thanks a lot.
Jeff Yes. You got it.
Moderator Question from Steve Hallow, Cleveland Leaders, Please go
Steve Hi. Ö any trouble?
Jeff Iím sorry. I can barely hear you.
Steve Oh, Iím sorry. My first question is about the logistics of
shooting in New York.
Steve Have you ran into trouble shooting on the street?
Jeff Surprisingly, no. It was one of my big fears going in that New York
would be tough. My last show, which was Hawaii, which we shot in Oahu. I
was shocked at the nightmare that traffic became. I had no idea that an
island could experience gridlock the way it did. And I figured New York
would be ten times that bad. But we got there and I think itís a huge
testament to how good the crews are and our crews especially. But no,
itís been really great. I think part of the reason is itís a very
compact city. You donít have to go too far to change looks.
And the other thing is weíve got very smart guys. Jeff King, whoís my
co-executive producer in New York, is a very smart guy out there. And
what weíve come up with is we do what we call location groups where
weíll pick a big location. For example, Free Fall, the courthouse became
a big location for us. And then what weíll do is literally, sort of pick
a compass point in that particular location and draw a big circle around
it thatís maybe a quarter of a mile around and say okay, if this is our
main anchor location, what do we have around here? And then our location
people will come back and say weíve got a diner we can use. Thereís a
great little park over here. And then in the writerís room, weíll sit
there and say okay, if thatís a location then we had set that. We wanted
that scene to take place in the FBI. Why donít we move it out here to
this little diner?
So by doing things like that, weíre able to really utilize our time in
New York. So itís like once we make the company move out to a place and
set down there, all the other locations are within close proximity and
weíve had no issues at all.
Steve ÖNot a related question. But as the creator of the show, did you
go in knowing how the show Ö and how itís going to end? Or do you let
the characters drive the storyline?
Jeff A little bit of both. I mean, I knew the big points. Like Iíd
always known that Peter was going to confront Kate in that hotel room at
the end of Free Fall. I knew that. Iíd known some of the big mythology
beats, I knew. There were a lot of scenes that Iíd wanted to use
throughout the season. For example, the hotel scene with the girl in the
portrait, with the French girl, that scene was actually originally going
to be in the pilot, but as I was breaking the pilot down, that
particularóthe pilot just got too long and so I dropped that scene out.
And I knew I wanted to use it somewhere so I kept it in my back pocket.
In terms of the large mythology arcs through season one and a great deal
into season two, Iíve known whatís going to happen in the big moments. I
knew Peter was going to confront Kate in that hotel room. I knew the
ring. I knew Fowler existed. I knew what his story was going to be.
The finale coming up in two weeks, Iíve always known the ending to that.
And planning into season two, Iíd had a fairly good idea going into
Outside of that, thatís the stuff weíre working on now. I wish Iíd had
the foresight to say that Iíd planned all out five seasons of the show,
but I wasnít quite that optimistic going in.
Steve Thank you.
Meg Ladies and gentlemen, at this time we have time for one last
question. Thank you.
Moderator I have a question from Brittany Frederick with TwoCents.com.
Please go ahead.
Brittany Hi, Jeff. Itís great to talk to you today.
Jeff Great to talk to you.
Brittany One of the things thatís always impressed me about the show is
you guys have such a great structure. Not only do we have a really
compelling case, but you also manage to develop moments about the
characters and you also continue the ongoing mythology thatís going on
with Kate. I always come away feeling smarter about all of these things
and I donít feel anythingís ever missing. How do you guys pull that all
Jeff Well, thank you. Iím glad you do. Thatís probably the toughest
thing. I donít know. My background, I started as a feature writer.
Probably one of my proudest moments was Jim Cameron hired me to do True
Lies II, which ended up bumping into 911 and sort of folding up. But I
spent almost a year and a half working with Cameron and he was a real
stickler for structure. And I think where I got my just desire to really
push the structure.
Iím somebody that approaches the story really from two things really.
Structure and motivation, which is as long as the character motivation
is true then usually things hold together pretty good. What you said
earlier, it really is sort of the crux of it for us is trying to manage
those things. We really do. We have the mythology elements. We have the
character moments and we have the story elements. And all those things
are always vying for time. I mean, itís all about page count. Usually,
itís a 60 page script. And you can break it down pretty quickly. Itís
like if thereís going to be a story with Elizabeth and Mozzie in this
episode, you know itís maybe 15 pages, which means suddenly
youíreóYouíve got 45 pages to do everything else. So thereís always that
balancing act. Itís a little tough.
I have to admit Iíve borrowed freely early on from Burn Notice. As I
mentioned Matt Nixon and I are pretty good friends. I was very close,
Nix was very close to hiring me as his number two on Burn Notice, and at
the time, I would have loved the chance to go sit down in Florida and
just sit on set and let him write all the scripts, but it didnít work
out. Now heís getting in trouble for not hiring me over and over again.
But when I first came in and said Iím going to do a show for USA, I
looked and said okay, Burn Notice is really successful. So I took a
really long close look at a lot of those scripts to see how heíd handled
the mythology element, as well as the story of the week and the
character development stuff. And so I looked at that just in terms of
how many pages on an A story, how many pages on mythology and sort of
use that as my model going forward.
Again, itís like for us it usually starts as an idea and we just move
forward with it and then sort of startóOnce we found the idea, we
usually start just trying to layer in the characters and say what would
motivate them? If Peter is going up against this particular case, what
are his feelings going to be? How is he going to include Neal? How is
Neal going to feel about this? And then sprinkling the mythology and see
how that affects everything. Itís really like a big puzzle where youíve
got all these sliding pieces and moving pieces and if you change one up
front, things move down to the end. But thatís really sort of at the
heart of what TV and film writing is.
I think a lot of peopleóI get a lot of questions about how you become a
writer for TV, how do you become a writer. And TV and film are a lot
different than like writing for a novel. If youíre writing a novel it
really is about the language. If I could list my one giant pet peeve.
Itís whenever I post our script pages and somebody sends me a nasty
email saying that thereís a typo. Iíve told many people. I said Iíll
give you a thousand dollars if you can spot the typo on the screen. A
lot of times, weíre moving very fast and when youíre writing itís
really, it is, itís about the structure. Itís about the characters. Itís
about how one scene follows another. Itís not about necessarily the
words on the page. In a novel, youíll spend a great deal of time getting
somebody into a room. In TV, we just write Neal enters and thatís it.
So for us, the essence of what we do really is about the structure and
making sure each scene has a hook and something interesting and thereís
Ö character in each scene. That really, I think, is what I love about
this process, too. As far as jobs go, thereís really not much better
than sitting around all day and really just talking about what happens.
Brittany Oh, great. Thank you so much. And good luck with season two.
Jeff Well, thank you.
Meg Ladies and gentlemen, thatís all the time we have for today. Iíd
like to thank Jeff for being with us and remind everyone to tune into
White Collar Tuesdays at 10:00/9:00 central on USA Network. Have a great
day, everyone. Thank you.
Moderator That does conclude our conference for today. Thank you for
your participation and for using AT&T Executive Teleconference. You may
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