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Writers From ‘Shogun,’ ‘Mr. & Mrs. Smith’ and More Talk on Drama Panel

When Donald Glover first approached showrunner Francesca Sloane about adapting “Mr. & Mrs. Smtih” for Amazon Prime, she “started laughing,” and thought it was a “weird Donald Glover joke that he randomly spit out.” She was confused as to why he would pick the 2005 action-comedy of all movies, but as the conversation evolved, the project began taking shape in her mind.

“We discussed why people get married, what is it like to fight for somebody, how would it be to take this big blockbuster hit and use our sensibilities of quiet moments and filter that throughout the series,” Sloane explained. “And also, what is it like to have a woman run and write this show in such a masculine-charged genre? So, it started to sound like something that made sense to us.”

As part of Variety’s A Night in The Writers’ Room, Sloane was joined by showrunner and creator of “Average Joe” Robb Cullen, writer and creator of “The New Look” Todd A. Kessler, writer and creator of “Shōgun” Justin Marks, writer and creator of “Tokyo Vice” J.T Rogers and writer of “Star Trek: Strange New Worlds” Bill Wolkoff to discuss how they developed some of 2024’s best dramas. Variety senior awards editor Clayton Davis moderated the conversation.

“Shōgun” writer Marks shared a similar challenge with Sloane of “taking something that already existed” and honoring “all that works about it.” But instead of working from a mid-2000s action comedy, he started with a 1980 historical drama. Although he wanted to remain true to the original, he saw plenty of opportunity to “ask more modern questions” through the source material.

“It has stood the test of time in a lot of ways. And then, there’s a lot of ways where it hadn’t really stood the test of time,” Marks said. “[We wanted] to bring in a writer’s room who stood outside the genres you expect for a story like this, like an epic feudal Japanese sword-swinging kind of show, and instead apply a level of thought and precision that made it a show that, in 40 years, someone can tear apart again and try to do it better.”

Kessler also had to solve the problem of bringing a period drama to the modern age with “The New Look,” which tells the life story of iconic fashion designer Christian Dior. He first read about the life of Dior in an article while writing for “The Sopranos,” but didn’t truly connect with the story until his close friend and long-time collaborator James Gandolfini died in 2013.

“I got to experience [James] stepping into his fame, which was unprecedented at the time. He unfortunately passed away at 52 of a heart attack, and I wanted to write about that,” Kessler said. “And then, two years after he passed away, I came across the story of Christian Dior again and realized that he also stepped into his fame around the same age that [James] did. [He] had a 10-year run of success and died of a heart attack at age 52 while on vacation in Italy, which is where [James] was. So, I realized maybe through Dior’s story, I could tell a story and honor my friend.”

As Wolkoff started rebooting the Star Trek franchise with “Strange New Worlds,” he knew an army of super fans was watching his every move. With a “writers’ room full of Trekkies” he felt confident they would do justice to Gene Roddenberry’s original work. But even with the wide breadth of “Star Trek” expertise at his disposal, Wolkoff wanted “to do something a little bit different.”

“We want to be able to take risks, and if you take risks, you might break something and that’s what makes the show good,” Wolkoff said. “Because we’re episodic, because we’re not ending on a cliffhanger each week, it allows us to really dip into different genres, like the original series did, like ‘Twilight Zone’ did in its own way. It’s been a joy to be doing that for the last… two seasons that have aired.”

Watch the entire conversation above.

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