These days one of the most commonly seen names during pilot season and beyond is Greg Berlanti. The uber-producer (and writer-director) has carved out a nice corner of the medium with character-driven dramas through his Warner Bros.-based Berlanti Productions. Having gotten his start on the teen melodrama Dawson’s Creek before branching into more adult storytelling like Brothers & Sisters and Dirty Sexy Money, these days the self-described fan boy has rebranded again to take on the genre world. Berlanti seems to have no fewer than three shows in production at a time, though he is quick to note that what matters most to his legacy is quality, not quantity.
When SSN sat down with Berlanti at the 2014 Summer TCAs, he said what he looks for most in taking on new projects is the subject matter itself: “Is this a story I feel like I have to tell? Is this [a project] I feel I bring something to that other people wouldn’t? It’s always the characters, and those characters can be in a heightened world, but it has to still be emotional and smart and funny, or it can be a normal world, but it has to be a character I relate to,” he said.
Berlanti noted that early on in his career he was often assumed to be the writer-producer who did “more teen stuff,” but it was always a part of his goal to know the value of all kinds of character stories. Once he branched out away from teen dramas, he was hit with a new label—the guy who does “family stuff.” Having a passion for genre projects, he began pitching himself out on comic book movies, “just to be a writer on them.” He had something he believed in, and he refused to back down from it.
His timing couldn’t have been better. Since network television was becoming more “eventy,” and the industry had already accepted his switch in material once, his desire to bring larger-than-life stories to the small screen became a reality. Though his attempt for ABC (No Ordinary Family) didn’t last longer than a season, it proved that Berlanti could keep characters grounded with the heart and emotion for which he was known, even if they were put in a fantastical setting. In many ways, what Berlanti and the industry learned from such a show paved the way for the success of The CW’s Arrow and the high hopes for its spin-off, The Flash.
“It’s a humbling job—you need other people to achieve anything in this business.” -Greg Berlanti
“We still get the same emotional scene that we would have gotten between Andy and his son [on Everwood] when Jesse L. Martin as Joe West is sitting there with Barry Allen [on The Flash] … but now in between those scenes, they are fighting guys who turn into a poison mist. When you are working out those beats, you are talking about them in the same way you would talk about [any scene] between two characters—‘What are you learning about that character; why does he do this; or why she does this?’”
With the 2011 film Green Lantern under his belt, as well as Arrow, last year’s The Tomorrow People, and the already buzzed-about The Flash, Berlanti joked that when he walks into a room now to pitch a story, the response he gets is, “So, what superhero are we going to hear about today?” While Berlanti is proud of what he has accomplished with each of his projects, he has never wanted to be pigeonholed. “My career has been [about] the things I thought I was going to do and the kind of train I thought I was going to be on, and then the train that came in. Sometimes it’s that and sometimes it’s the other one, and you have to be open to both,” he said.
In order to keep telling the stories he loves so much, Berlanti has learned to surround himself with the best (like Andrew Kreisberg on Arrow and The Flash, and Nicholas Wootton, who came to Berlanti with the idea for the short-lived CBS series Golden Boy) and trust their expertise. It’s the lesson he feels has served him best over the years, and the advice he gives to anyone entering the business today.
“When I was running [Dawson’s] for the first time, I was so overwhelmed and stressed out and … thinking I had to do it all alone and had to be like David Kelley and write every script. I learned really quickly to rely on other people,” Berlanti said. “TV is so collaborative, and you’re reminded of it all the time because it’s a humbling job—you need other people to achieve anything in this business. You need the support of the majority of the people you are working with even if they don’t always agree with you. You need their trust. You need their stamina. You need their willpower. You need their good will on days you are crabby. [You need them] to be optimistic and stay engaged and passionate.”
Berlanti will divide his time between Arrow, The Flash, and NBC’s Mysteries of Laura for the fall 2014 – 2015 season. Mysteries of Laura premiered on NBC September 24; The Flash premiered on The CW last night; and Arrow returns to The CW tonight.