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Backlot Talk: ’24’

Mar 20, 2007  •  Post A Comment

Chuck Ross: Hello again, everybody, it’s Chuck Ross here, editorial director of TelevisionWeek magazine, and we’re on with Manny Coto, the co-executive producer and the writer of the story of last night’s episode [of “24”]. Do you remember what hour was last night?
Many Coto: Which hour it was? You know, I couldn’t give you the time.
Mr. Ross: I think it was hour seven or eight…
Mr. Coto: I know it was Episode 14. That’s how we track the episodes.
Mr. Ross: It did say that you were the co-writer of the story, but Howard [Gordon] and Evan [Katz], I guess, wrote the teleplay. Can you explain to our listeners the difference there?
Mr. Coto: In most shows it means that David Fury and I came up with the story and then Howard and Evan wrote the script. But in this show, it means that the story was kind of put together by all of us and all of us wrote the episode. I wrote Act 3 or 4 of this, and David Fury wrote Act 5 or Act 4, and then Howard and Evan wrote the first two. I think in this case we just decided to split up the credits that way.
Mr. Ross: So you have different people that write different acts…that would be sort of between the commercial breaks?
Mr. Coto: Exactly; in between commercial breaks is what we consider an act, and I think in this case we were under the gun, we needed to get a script out as quickly as we could, so we all just do a gang write and each person takes an act, and of course that’s just for the first draft. For the second draft, one person will usually take it and smooth it out, and in that case I think it was Howard and Evan, hence they get the teleplay credit.
Mr. Ross: Before it’s farmed out to the writers to write the different acts, do one or two people come up with an outline?
Mr. Coto: Usually it’s all the writers. It was all of us in the room coming up with the story on this one. Now interestingly, in some episodes we do this same process and we don’t all take credit. I’ve written acts on other scripts that I didn’t get credit for and some people have written acts in my script that they didn’t get credit for; it’s very much a communal effort here. We just all kind of “gentlemen’s handshake” on who gets credit and it all just balances out in the end.
Mr. Ross: As the season progresses, how often to the writers meet and decide when to go back to your own cubicles and get the stuff done?
Mr. Coto: Well, it depends on the situation. If we all outline for an episode, then we’re all in the conference room and we’re beating out the story together. And when that story is done, it’s decided who’s going to write that. If we’re all going to write an act, then we all split off and write our acts, and that way we can get a script done in, like, two days.
Mr. Ross: Considering that you’re going back and forth, you obviously might have something in production; you might be working on one or two scripts. How do you and the other writers keep it…in order?
Mr. Coto: It’s just simply a lot of communication back and forth between the writers. We have a great production staff as well, which also catches any mistakes, and we have continuity supervisors who are watching for that as well. But mostly it’s the writers talking to each other. If someone’s writing Episode 13 and we’re doing something on 14 that will affect it, we’ll notify 13, or if we’re doing something on 14 which is contradicted by 13, then that writer will step in and say hey, you’re screwing up here. It’s mostly just a lot of communication between everyone.
Mr. Ross: Thank you for taking us behind the scenes there. There are a couple of things about last night’s episode that I thought were interesting. It was certainly action-packed. We have, for most of the hour, a nuclear armed drone that’s in the air and we’re trying to find out where it is because it disappears. Did you have any qualms about…doing the whole Jack-and-Audrey storyline last night?
Mr. Coto: Well, I think the essence of “24” is the mixture of action and suspense with highly personal stories and storylines. We like to have every episode at least have some huge, really searing emotional content in addition to the suspense, and we had to deal with the Audrey question; and we felt that at a certain point, Jack had to learn. And Jack comes back to CTU and there’s obviously some chemistry between him and Marilyn, and we felt that at a certain point that he was going to have to find out, and we felt this was as good a time as any. Also, we’re setting up for something obviously that’s coming down the road, not to give anything away; but I will say that the Audrey question was heavily discussed here over how to deal with her in this season. There was some discussion that she’s moved on after two years, and I gotta tell you, it was my wife…I came home one night and pitched the idea that Audrey had moved on, and she was like, “No. Absolutely not. Audrey would never move on.” And we needed a female perspective there to tell us that there’s no way this woman would ever just go on with her life while Jack’s in the Chinese prison. And I came back the next day and said that my wife was outraged at the very concept that Audrey would move on, and all the guys in the room kind of blinked and said, “All right. Write.” So we have to find what she would do. She went to China and searched for Jack and died in the process.
Mr. Ross: I’m glad you brought that up. We’ve talked in the past and Howard has often told me a certain perspective he’s gotten from his wife and such. Someone mentioned to me the other day that, “It finally dawned on me that they don’t have a lot of female perspective at the set,” in that the executive producers and/or writers, there don’t seem to be any women. I’m just wondering how you feel about that.
Mr. Coto: I think it’s a lack; it would be nice to get more women here. One of our staff writers is a woman and she’s been on the show for two years, so she definitely brings her perspective. But the show’s been very difficult to find writers for. They’ve gone through a lot of writers, male and female. There have been female writers here and they’ve gone by the wayside, as well as a lot of the male writers; it’s just a very difficult show. So I don’t know if we get less female submissions because it’s perceived as a “guy” show or what. I definitely run everything by my wife, and Howard does the same, not just for the female perspective but for the average viewer perspective, someone who’s not in the room, not in the business, and who will react and say, “What??! That’s insane!” Other writers look at it from a writer’s perspective, but you want just a viewer, a casual viewer’s perspective.
Mr. Ross: By the way, there were a lot of wonderful moments last night. I loved all the stuff in the bunker, but I must say that one of my favorite moments last night was Chloe, checking [Morris] for alcohol, goes over and kisses him, and of course being Chloe, instead of just saying, “I just wanted to give you a kiss,” just tells him why she kissed him. I thought that was great.
Mr. Coto: That was a great moment. I wish I could remember who came up with that. I have a feeling it might’ve even been Joel [Surnow]…Joel and Mike Loceff have a special way of writing Chloe that none of us quite get into her head the way they do. So I’m guessing it was one of their moments, but I could be wrong. If one of the other writers came up with it, forgive me.
Mr. Ross: Well, lookit, there was certainly a lot of stuff going on last night; you guys have set up a lot of things. We’ll see where it goes forward. And Many, we always appreciate this, and continued success.
Mr. Coto: My pleasure. Thank you for having me.

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