by Amy Gentry
Television is essentially a collaborative medium, and the “Pairing Off: A Look at Co-Creating and Writing Partners” panel at the ATX TV Festival focused specifically on the magic of two.
Only one writing duo was represented in full – Ray Romano and Mike Royce of Men of a Certain Age – but near the end we got a whiff of the implicit dynamics of such pairings when Carlton Cuse (of Lost, The Strain, and Bates Motel) made a surprise appearance. Fresh from his solo talk, the Emmy-winning Cuse fake-stormed in, tossed a script at his Bates Motel writing partner Kerry Ehrin, commanding her to “Rewrite it – and put my name on it!”, and then stormed out again.
The whole thing took less than 30 seconds and generated roars of laughter, but it was a little unsettling, coming moments after Ehrin’s confession that she relies heavily on the six-foot-tall, dad-voiced man’s approval. On the other hand, is anyone shocked to see Oedipal drama coming from the co-creators of Bates Motel, the modern-day, small-screen exploration of Psycho‘s mommy issues? Ehrin, who was a consulting producer on Friday Night Lights, spoke eloquently about portraying the weird beauty of completely dysfunctional families in the series: “Living in a dysfunctional situation, every day is so high stakes. ‘Is Dad going to pass out on the couch today?’ It’s like living in a foxhole with your family.”
When Ehrin credited Cuse with providing a much-needed counterpoint to her emotional creative style, Royce jumped in to suggest that emotional vs. calm was a common dynamic within writing duos, roles that often shift from partnership to partnership. He claimed that when writing for the canceled military comedy Enlisted, the show’s creator Kevin Biegel calmed his insecurities with a bluff, “Hey, it’s great! Everything’s great!” Then he identified Romano, sitting next to him on the sofa, as the needy one on the Men of a Certain Age team.