"Listen, we're a top five show," echoed Greenstein of Desperate Housewives. "If we make the case we believe in a choice, they give us enough rope, you know?" The studio did balk at a storyline involving a former supermarket shootout hero being under suspicion as a child molester, until the writers assured them they were parents who weren't going for laughs with that particular choice.
Play Well With Others
That team writing process means that selecting a writing staff is a tricky undertaking for a showrunner. Greenstein compares it to assembling a ball club, picking players with individual skills in areas like who can also play as a team. "Finding people who can play ball is the hardest thing," he said. "I'm looking for people who have a point of view who can put it into words, but are not so in love with their own stuff that they can't listen."
He and Plowman referenced a sketch by British comics Mitchell and Webb about a story meeting with the recurring theme of "not this, but ...." As in, as Plowman paraphrased: "Maybe she falls in love with a fish. I don't mean literally a fish, but ...."
"That's the discussion that goes on in a writers room. I can't tell you how many 'not this buts' have turned into something," Greenstein said, revealing that one example was his own, "Not this, but what if Lynette gets cancer?" He thinks that type of openness and willingness to experiment and collaboration is a "skill that extends beyond the writers room to the business of making television, to the studio, network, actors. It's an immensely collaborative medium."