If you come here regularly or know me in real life, you know I’m good friends with the man in the middle of this picture. Aaron Rahsaan Thomas is one of the writers on CSI:NY, and he was the head writer on Friday’s episode, which is also noteworthy as being the television return of Edward James Olmos. We talk about this and a few other things in the 10 questions below. Enjoy…
MALIK: For those unfamiliar, can you break down what a ‘TV writing staff’ looks like (showrunner, staff, assistants) and how it works?
ART: Typically, most one hour dramatic television writing staffs are made up of 6 to 10 writers. We gather each day and build (“break”) stories by pitching ideas to each other. Sort of like brainstorming with a focused purpose. The best thing I can compare it to is riding cross country in a minivan with seven of your friends, talking about cool things to put in an episode.
MALIK: Your show is #1 on Fridays right now. (Congrats) Does that give you a sense of security, or do you look at what happened with Law and Order and think anything can happen?
ART: As you know, nothing in this business is guaranteed, so the only security you ever have is in doing the best job possible on the current story/episode you’re working on. Anything beyond that is out of your control most of the time.
MALIK: You work on a show that’s well known for its use of guest stars. How does that impact your writing process?
ART: The first goal is to tell the best stories possible. The best case scenario is when a guest star fits perfectly with the story you’re trying to tell. Our show has done of good job of matching up interesting guest stars with compelling storylines.
MALIK: You’ve done both TV and feature films (Cover). How would you compare writing for each?
ART: Feature writing is a solitary exercise most of the time. You sit at home, or go someplace and write on your own. Television is more collaborative, where you’re working with other writers to fulfill an overall vision.
MALIK: With this particular episode, can you talk a little about Edward James Olmos? Getting him on board and working with him directly?
ART: Edward James Olmos is the man. Miami Vice, Blade Runner, American Me, Stand And Deliver, he’s a legend. So, working with him was an experience I’ll never forget. He’s not only cool and professional, but also sincere regarding the material. Working with him was one of the best professional experiences I’ve had.
MALIK: How do you balance being a ‘black writer’ (getting the black POV across) with being a black writer who wants to prove he can write anything?
ART: On one hand, when you start writing, the best advice you get is to write “what you know.” But, if your personal experiences are not ones heavily represented on the screen, you have to adapt by looking for the universal basis of your stories. Adapt your ideas to fit a wide range of worlds. While you want to be true to who you are and where you’re from, you also want to show that your experiences are similar to everyone else, which, of course, they are. It’s not an easy tightrope, but you try to straddle it without losing yourself.
MALIK: How’s the fantasy football season treating you so far, brotha?
ART: Rough. Is that why you ask? I’m normally competitive in all of my leagues. Not this year. It’s not because my teams aren’t talented. They’ve had very unfortunate schedules so far. But, the Tomasinos never stop fighting. So, we’ll see.
MALIK: How close do you think the Chiefs are to being true contenders?
ART: Contenders for the playoffs? We’re a good QB away. But, if San Diego keeps stumbling, our time could be now. As for the Superbowl, we not only need a QB, but we need our defense to continue developing and we may need a true number 1 WR if Dwayne Bowe keeps dropping passes.
MALIK: I know you’re good with CBS obviously, I have a pitch for you. I say it’s time to bring back Magnum PI. Hawaii Five O is working out, so I say we move him to Malibu. I’ve got just the guy in mind to play TC in this new version, he’s somewhat of an unknown but he does good work. How bout it?
ART: Who knows. Anything is possible. But, if they bring back Matlock and you want to don a silver wig, you’re on your own.
Aaron’s episode, Sangre Por Sangre, premieres tonight, 9/8 Central. Check it out, and have a good weekend.