White Collar Creator/Writer Jeff Eastin Talks About White Collar Finale on 3/9 Part 2
White Collar — one of the hottest new shows on television (not just on cable, people, but in all tv-dom)– is about to sign off with an amazing twist to its’ finale.
While those of us who love White Collar (and I never miss an episode!) can watch repeats via DVR or USA Networks White Collar website, this is one episode you don’t want to miss live because you will want to see it again (and again) not only because of Neals (aka Matt Bomer’s blue eyes) but because you will miss stuff in the first view.
Recently a round-table interview with Jeff Eastin was held and we all got to ask the White Collar creator & writer, Jeff Eastin, questions– for a full hour! There is tons of info.
This is a two-part interview so you get last half today. Yesterday had part one. ,
Moderator We have a question from Stevie Wilson with LA-Story.com. Please go ahead.
Stevie Hi, Jeff. How are you today?
Jeff I’m good. How are you?
Stevie Good. It was interesting. Yesterday, I was part of the Burn Notice interview with Jeffrey Donovan and Gabrielle Anwar.
Stevie And there was a question about would there be any kind of crossover that they wanted to do out of the USA Network shows. And they particularly mentioned specifically White Collar and talking about the potential of how the characters and the whole tone of the shows were so similar. And wondered what you thought about that.
Jeff No, I completely agree. I mean, Matt Nix created Burn Notice, and I are pretty good friends. Yes, if we’re going to do a crossover that seems like the one to do. It will be interesting to talk to USA about it. I know there’s been some joking about it, but I think in terms of a crossover that would be by far the most logical and the most fun. I guess the interesting thing would be would we send Michael to New York or would we send Neal to Florida?
So as they say stay tuned. But that would be something that would be, I think, pretty awesome.
Stevie Yes, I think it would be great. Personally, it’s because I watch both shows, and it’s something that I talk about, both shows a lot. And in terms of as you’re writing, are you looking at particular guest stars that you want to plug in? Do they come in after the fact or before the fact?
White Collar Podcast with Jeff Eastin Part 2
Jeff Almost never do we know beforehand. Usually, I mean, again for those people following on Twitter, I’ve been putting up some like script page sneak peeks. I’ll put them up for the episodes for–like I put one up for yesterday for Front Man, which is airing next week. I believe that was–I’d have to check the date, but I think we were filming that in late November. And if you want to back that up, it was a few weeks before that that we were writing the thing. And with that, we almost never know ahead of time who the guest star is.
Now, if it’s somebody like Noah Emmerich, who plays Fowler, we’ll know that because we’ve locked him down probably a month or two before because we’ve made a deal with him to do three or four episodes in the season. But somebody like Dan Neal, who’s coming up this next week or Ross McCall, who played Keller this last week.
Usually, we’ll write the character and then casting will go out and say what are you looking for? And what’s been really great is because the show’s doing pretty well, it’s definitely attracted a much higher class of actor who suddenly says, hey, yes, if I’m in New York I’ll spend a week and do a White Collar, which has been really nice.
Stevie That’s cool. Thank you.
Moderator We have a question from Stephanie Sigafoos, Morning Call. Please go ahead.
Stephanie Hey, Jeff. It’s great to talk to you today.
Jeff Great to talk to you.
Stephanie I think White Collar has definitely become one of my favorite shows on TV. A really smart show. One of the things I really love about it is Mozzie. I think Willie Garson adds so much to the show in terms of not only just being a really smart guy, but he brings a lot of humor. I’m wondering if we’re going to start seeing more of Mozzie’s connection to this underground world coming up in season two.
Jeff Yes. Yes, we are. We’ve got that. We’ll also find out a little bit more about Mozzie. For example, why he’s called Mozzie, which I can’t tell you. And more of his back story, which definitely deals with that world. And yes, I mean, he’s really evolved as one of the most fun characters.
I mean, I think, as one of the executives told me we’d turned in a scene. This was last year at some point. We’d turned in a scene and a USA executive had called me and said you know what I love about these scripts? Every time I see the word Mozzie in a script is I know something fun is going to happen. And I think that’s really a huge part because of Willie Garson has really become the gauge, whenever it’s Neal and Mozzie get together and Mozzie or anybody together, it adds a certain special spark to that particular scene. And really, really pops.
By the way. To the Burn Notice/White Collar crossover. Some of the writers here were toying with the idea that Mozzie could be Sam’s nephew, which I think would be kind of interesting.
Stephanie Kind of a follow-up to that. Another fun thing that I think, more so in the last episode, was sort of starting to see Peter more traverse these gray areas with Neal. He’s not completely opposed to doing something that maybe a couple of episodes ago he would have thought was completely wrong. How much is that going to factor in in the future? I mean, might that eventually come back to bite Peter?
Jeff Yes. Yes to all the above. I’m not going to give too much away for our season finale, but that actually, that particular aspect, Peter’s up to now, sort of unwavering belief in the system and in the Bureau gets shaken pretty good. And it allows Peter, or sort of pushes Peter, to the other side a little bit. I mean, again, we’re not doing a radical re-shifting of the show. Peter’s not suddenly going to become a master criminal. But like you said in this last episode, his willingness to sort of bend the rules more to achieve what he considers a good end, that will increase in season two. Actually, that factors in very heavily.
Stephanie Awesome. I can’t wait to see it. Thanks, Jeff.
Moderator We have a question from Nancy Harrington, Pop Culture Passion. Please go ahead.
Nancy Hi, Jeff. Thanks for talking with us today.
Jeff I’m happy to do it.
Nancy We had a question about your Twitter account. We saw a few weeks ago that you posted something asking for people to come up with ideas for drinking games for White Collar.
Jeff Oh, yes.
Nancy And we were wondering if you got any good suggestions.
Jeff Yes. Actually, the question was a little bit duplicative. What I was actually curious about for myself was what people were perceiving as sort of the very repetitive moments of the show.
Jeff And what we usually got was–The two that I think made me laugh the hardest because they’re the most true were drink every time somebody says Kate. And take a double shot every time somebody says trust me.
Nancy That’s a good one.
Jeff Those were the two that kind of jumped out. But again, for me, it was sort of way to just see what people were perceiving as sort of maybe something a bit redundant on the show. And I think those two were pretty interesting. For the most part, we got a lot of drink every time Matt Bomer’s gorgeous which–
Nancy That’d be a lot of drunk people.
Jeff Exactly. So but yes, I would say probably Kate and trust me were the two big ones.
Nancy Right. We were thinking it should be every time someone mentions the ankle bracelets.
Jeff Yes, that was a good one, too. That one was pretty popular.
Nancy Great. Thanks for your time today.
Jeff Thank you.
White Collar Video Sneak #2
Moderator We have a question from Lena Lamoray at lenalamoray.com. Please go ahead.
Lena Hey, Jeff.
Lena How did you come up with the concept for White Collar?
Jeff Well, the short version was I had an idea that was called Redemption, which was a much darker idea. It was really from my desire and love–I really love The Shield. It was one of my favorite shows. And knowing it was heading off the air, I’d come up with an idea for a Vick Mackey type character, who gets put in prison for allegedly killing his partner and he has to be released. The DA’s daughter gets kidnapped and the only person that can sort of solve the crime is this Vick Mackey guy. So they let him out of prison and put an ankle bracelet on him and track him while he sort of tracks down this kidnapper. And to move forward with it. Again, I called it Redemption. I thought it was pretty good. And a friend of mine called and said hey, you might want to take a look at this show called Life. And when I saw it I went oh. Which it was exactly pretty much word for word that idea. So I kind of shelved that idea.
And then USA had contacted me and said hey, would you be interested in doing something for us? And so I was looking for different ideas. One of the things I’d wanted to do, always do, was sort of a buddy comedy in the vein of 48 Hours or Lethal Weapon. And I dusted off the Redemption idea and said what if I run this through, this dark story, what if I run this through USA’s blue sky filter? That was really the genesis of the show.
I’ve said before I was also going through a fairly painful divorce at the time, which I think, probably it was a good thing that it happened at the time because that became the Kate story for Neal. What I was really worried about going in was that I was going to have this very charming con man and I wanted to make sure that there was something that grounded him. Something that gave him a soul. And so what I was going through personally really became his search for Kate. That was about it. And I’m very, very glad people are actually watching it.
Lena Now Miss Carroll has a musical background?
Lena Is there any chance that you could make a musical number featuring June and Neal working an episode?
Jeff That’s funny. We were breaking that particular idea yesterday. I don’t think we’ll do a musical number, but the idea of Neal and June singing together. Yes, that is actually up on our white board right now.
Moderator I have a question from Matt Carter with examiner.com. Please go ahead.
Matt Hey, Jeff. How are you doing today?
Jeff Good. How are you?
Matt Pretty good. Well, my first question for you is just insight about the story of casting Matt Bomer on this show. He kind of had a little bit of a following last season on Chuck and so he just kind of jumped right into this one.
Jeff Yes. I can’t say enough how happy and lucky I am to have Matt on this thing. I give most of the credit to Gayle Pillsbury who was my casting director on the pilot. I’ve said this before, too, but Matt came in. We’d been casting lots and lots of really good looking guys. It’s L.A. A lot of good looking people. And I remember walking in that particular day. And Matt who is fairly unassuming normally. I remember he was looking through his ipod in the corner, had jeans on, and his glasses.
Gayle pulled me aside and said keep an eye on that guy. He’s a star. He came in and read and we liked him right away. We took him to the studio and he went up. He went to the network and they really liked him. We brought him back, I think, two or three times. USA tends to be really, really picky when it comes to casting, which at the time, it’s frustrating. But ultimately, I’m really glad we did take the time to get it right.
There was a moment in the room where–I remember it was the scene from the pilot where he’s explaining to Peter that he’s got the photo and when they … deduction he wants to go look for Kate. And that was the audition scene. And I remember, about halfway through that scene, I looked at a couple of the executives at USA and we kind of nodded at each other because we knew at that moment that we had the right guy.
Matt All right. Awesome. Well, my other question is more about sort of the nature of cable TV right now. As you look across the board of shows like your show and Burn Notice. And these shows are actually beating a lot of other network shows out there. I mean, when the Jay Leno Show was still going pretty strong on NBC, I mean you guys had the same sort of numbers. And what do you think that says about cable TV in that is it the creative medium that’s allowing more fans to go over there than some of the more generalized network shows?
Jeff Yes, I think so. I mean, it’s interesting because a lot of people–There was some rumors that when Leno was leaving that 10 o’clock slot that the USA 10 o’clock weekly slot with us in sight and Burn Notice would move over to NBC. And to be honest, I was kind of terrified. I don’t think there was any reality to that rumor, but just hearing it scared the heck out of me. I can’t speak for a lot of the other cable networks, but, I mean, USA’s a really good place.
And I mean, for me creatively, what’s wonderful about USA, is really two things. One is they know who they are. That’s really the biggest thing. The tough is having developed shows at networks before. The hardest is when you get a sense that the network themselves doesn’t quite know what their network identity is. Because then you get pulled in a lot of different directions. One day, they might tell you you’re a teen drama and then the next day, they say you know what? Instead, we want you to be a darker 10 o’clock show.
And it’s that sort of thing that’s very hard to develop any kind of coherency to a show. USA knows exactly who they are. If you tune into USA Network, you know what kind of show you’re going to see. And they embrace that.
And the other thing that’s wonderfully creatively is we don’t worry. I don’t have to worry that they’re going to can the show in two episodes if we don’t pull the numbers. I mean, they’ve always been right from the beginning, Bonnie Hammer and Jeff Wachtel have said to me don’t worry about it. We support this show. We believe in the show. If the numbers aren’t good, don’t worry about it. We’re not going to kneejerk. We’ll develop it. We’ll find the right spot for it. And luckily for us, we’ve been pretty successful off the top. But it was just that freedom of knowing we can sit down and develop the show we want to develop.
What ends up happening a lot of times, is it becomes this kind of weird pendulum effect where you’ll have one episode that the numbers are bad. And keep in mind, by the time an episode airs, we may be downstream six or seven episodes. And so if one set of numbers are bad a particular week, you may get the call that oh, no, we need more female appeal on the show. So suddenly, you’re reacting to it but your reaction is six episodes downstream and by the time you get to that episode, there’s probably a new issue. It’s like oh, we need more action or something like that. So if you really give into those, you end up sort of vacillating wildly. And if you’ve ever wondered why a certain show’s all of a sudden in the middle of the season starts getting weird and going all over the place, that’s usually why. It’s usually you’re reacting to something that happened previously in the season.
So I think probably right now the success of cable has a lot more to do with the fact that the networks, the cable networks themselves, really do have an identity. If you tune in to an FX show, you kind of know what you’re going to get. If you tune into HBO, you know what you’re going to get. And I think that’s probably been one of the greatest strengths. That and I think, just by virtue of having a smaller more targeted audience, I guess, not a lot smaller these days, but by doing that you’re also not trying to play the board and make everybody happy. You can really make your show about something. I mean, again, The Shield, like I said was one of my favorite shows and you couldn’t have done that show on NBC or CBS. It just couldn’t have been done.
And I think there’s sort of a generalizing effect that happens with the networks where you have to appeal to a broader base. And it kind of smoothes everything out and makes it a little less interesting. And I think, now, probably thanks to Monk and Burn Notice, USA is sort of cool to watch now. And that’s helped us a lot, too. That people–a couple of years ago, if you were talking about USA Network, I would see the word guilty pleasure attached to it a lot. And I got to say, I’ve only seen guilty pleasure attached to my show just a handful of times. So I think there’s been sort of that awakening where people look at it and say hey, it’s cool to watch cable.
Matt And personally, I’m thrilled that it is on USA. And thank you so much for your time, Jeff.
Jeff Oh, thank you.
White Collar Finale Sneak Peek #3
Moderator We have a question from Marc Eastman with areyouscreening.com. Go ahead, please.
Marc Hi, Jeff.
Marc It’s good to talk to you outside of Twitter.
Jeff Yes, it is.
Marc Actually, my question was kind of just about Neal and kind of, I guess, the direction the show is maybe going and into the next season and all that. It seems like whatever the case is for the episode is almost like a little bit more on the back burner as far as Neal. Like when the show started, it was like you had to have Neal to do this case. And now, it’s sort of like this is the case we have and here’s Neal and we’ll see where he fits in. Is that kind of the way we’re going or are we going to get back to more like really super criminals? Does that make sense?
Jeff A little bit of both. I mean, I think in terms of, I guess the first part of your question, which is the cases themselves. I think if Peter and Neal evolved as a team, initially we worked very hard to make sure that Peter was sort of the zone operation. He didn’t really need Neal. Neal happened to be a tool in his belt. And we sort of were–You didn’t have to be very picky to about the cases we would include Neal in. I mean, it wasn’t–Early on the season, you may have gotten the impression that Peter has other cases going and we’re only choosing to show you the ones Neal’s involved in because that’s the show.
As they’ve evolved together as partners, we’ve been able to say look, this guy is nearly a good a partner as I can have in anybody here that’s a full-fledged FBI agent. So how do we bring Neal into that? So we haven’t really shied away from that and we’ve decided to sort of embrace that.
The second part of your question is–One of the things we got into early on was I always said this show can’t be a whodunit. I mean, there’s way too many shows that have been done like that and Monk did it really well. Most of the CSIs and the Law and Orders do that really well, the whodunit. So mine has always been it’s got to be a how done it. Early on, we spent a little more time worrying about the case of the week. We spent a little more time worrying about the details. And somewhere in the middle, we changed over a little bit and became a little bit more about the characters where the case, as you said, was on the back burner, where it was a little more like the case itself didn’t matter. And we focused a lot more on the character. And I think All In, which was the Chinatown episode, was a good example of that which was much more about the Peter/Neal relationship and a lot less about the case. There was nothing particularly surprising in the case itself.
After a few episodes like that, we really sat down and did some soul searching and said we can actually do both of these. I think Bad Judgment was probably a good example of that where we decided to build more twists and turns into the case itself. Hard Sell is another good example as well as Free Fall, and next week’s episode is a little more like that, too. So I think it’s always been a real balancing act with us as to how much emphasis should we put on the case. I’m always sort of surprised when I see the reviews that attack us for not having a lot of twists and turns like CSI or like Law and Order. And it surprises me only because I don’t think we ever set out to be those shows. I mean, our shows, I think, were much more about the relationship between Peter and Neal and I think we function best when we play in that arena. I think, Free Fall probably being a good example of that where the case really took a back seat to the characters stuff.
But going forward into season two, one of the things we’re trying to do is add more elements like that. I think, again, looking back at Bad Judgment. There was some–the thing with the upside down signature. The thing where we had the cop leaving the tip in the tip that he leaves at the table. Things like that. We’re more aware of those. We’re trying to add some more interesting twists into the story, but at the same time we’re going to keep going with the Neal/Peter character stuff that I thinks’ been working.
Marc That’s great. Just really quickly could I ask. New York itself is kind of a character in the show. Are we going to like take any trips? Will we be leaving New York at all?
Jeff No. We have a tax break we get from New York which is going to keep us in New York.
Jeff Which I’m very happy about actually. There was a little bit of discussion about that, but the great thing about New York is it’s a microcosm of the world, and we really don’t need to go anywhere. I mean, the only trip I could see in our future would maybe be to Miami.
Marc Okay, great. Thanks a lot.
Jeff Yes. You got it.
Moderator Question from Steve Hallow, Cleveland Leaders, Please go ahead.
Steve Hi. … any trouble?
Jeff I’m sorry. I can barely hear you.
Steve Oh, I’m sorry. My first question is about the logistics of shooting in New York.
Steve Have you ran into trouble shooting on the street?
Jeff Surprisingly, no. It was one of my big fears going in that New York would be tough. My last show, which was Hawaii, which we shot in Oahu. I was shocked at the nightmare that traffic became. I had no idea that an island could experience gridlock the way it did. And I figured New York would be ten times that bad. But we got there and I think it’s a huge testament to how good the crews are and our crews especially. But no, it’s been really great. I think part of the reason is it’s a very compact city. You don’t have to go too far to change looks.
And the other thing is we’ve got very smart guys. Jeff King, who’s my co-executive producer in New York, is a very smart guy out there. And what we’ve come up with is we do what we call location groups where we’ll pick a big location. For example, Free Fall, the courthouse became a big location for us. And then what we’ll do is literally, sort of pick a compass point in that particular location and draw a big circle around it that’s maybe a quarter of a mile around and say okay, if this is our main anchor location, what do we have around here? And then our location people will come back and say we’ve got a diner we can use. There’s a great little park over here. And then in the writer’s room, we’ll sit there and say okay, if that’s a location then we had set that. We wanted that scene to take place in the FBI. Why don’t we move it out here to this little diner?
So by doing things like that, we’re able to really utilize our time in New York. So it’s like once we make the company move out to a place and set down there, all the other locations are within close proximity and we’ve had no issues at all.
Steve …Not a related question. But as the creator of the show, did you go in knowing how the show … and how it’s going to end? Or do you let the characters drive the storyline?
Jeff A little bit of both. I mean, I knew the big points. Like I’d always known that Peter was going to confront Kate in that hotel room at the end of Free Fall. I knew that. I’d known some of the big mythology beats, I knew. There were a lot of scenes that I’d wanted to use throughout the season. For example, the hotel scene with the girl in the portrait, with the French girl, that scene was actually originally going to be in the pilot, but as I was breaking the pilot down, that particular–the pilot just got too long and so I dropped that scene out. And I knew I wanted to use it somewhere so I kept it in my back pocket.
In terms of the large mythology arcs through season one and a great deal into season two, I’ve known what’s going to happen in the big moments. I knew Peter was going to confront Kate in that hotel room. I knew the ring. I knew Fowler existed. I knew what his story was going to be.
The finale coming up in two weeks, I’ve always known the ending to that. And planning into season two, I’d had a fairly good idea going into that.
Outside of that, that’s the stuff we’re working on now. I wish I’d had the foresight to say that I’d planned all out five seasons of the show, but I wasn’t quite that optimistic going in.
Steve Thank you.
Meg Ladies and gentlemen, at this time we have time for one last question. Thank you.
Moderator I have a question from Brittany Frederick with TwoCents.com. Please go ahead.
Brittany Hi, Jeff. It’s great to talk to you today.
Jeff Great to talk to you.
Brittany One of the things that’s always impressed me about the show is you guys have such a great structure. Not only do we have a really compelling case, but you also manage to develop moments about the characters and you also continue the ongoing mythology that’s going on with Kate. I always come away feeling smarter about all of these things and I don’t feel anything’s ever missing. How do you guys pull that all together?
Jeff Well, thank you. I’m glad you do. That’s probably the toughest thing. I don’t know. My background, I started as a feature writer. Probably one of my proudest moments was Jim Cameron hired me to do True Lies II, which ended up bumping into 911 and sort of folding up. But I spent almost a year and a half working with Cameron and he was a real stickler for structure. And I think where I got my just desire to really push the structure.
I’m somebody that approaches the story really from two things really. Structure and motivation, which is as long as the character motivation is true then usually things hold together pretty good. What you said earlier, it really is sort of the crux of it for us is trying to manage those things. We really do. We have the mythology elements. We have the character moments and we have the story elements. And all those things are always vying for time. I mean, it’s all about page count. Usually, it’s a 60 page script. And you can break it down pretty quickly. It’s like if there’s going to be a story with Elizabeth and Mozzie in this episode, you know it’s maybe 15 pages, which means suddenly you’re–You’ve got 45 pages to do everything else. So there’s always that balancing act. It’s a little tough.
I have to admit I’ve borrowed freely early on from Burn Notice. As I mentioned Matt Nixon and I are pretty good friends. I was very close, Nix was very close to hiring me as his number two on Burn Notice, and at the time, I would have loved the chance to go sit down in Florida and just sit on set and let him write all the scripts, but it didn’t work out. Now he’s getting in trouble for not hiring me over and over again.
But when I first came in and said I’m going to do a show for USA, I looked and said okay, Burn Notice is really successful. So I took a really long close look at a lot of those scripts to see how he’d handled the mythology element, as well as the story of the week and the character development stuff. And so I looked at that just in terms of how many pages on an A story, how many pages on mythology and sort of use that as my model going forward.
Again, it’s like for us it usually starts as an idea and we just move forward with it and then sort of start–Once we found the idea, we usually start just trying to layer in the characters and say what would motivate them? If Peter is going up against this particular case, what are his feelings going to be? How is he going to include Neal? How is Neal going to feel about this? And then sprinkling the mythology and see how that affects everything. It’s really like a big puzzle where you’ve got all these sliding pieces and moving pieces and if you change one up front, things move down to the end. But that’s really sort of at the heart of what TV and film writing is.
I think a lot of people–I get a lot of questions about how you become a writer for TV, how do you become a writer. And TV and film are a lot different than like writing for a novel. If you’re writing a novel it really is about the language. If I could list my one giant pet peeve. It’s whenever I post our script pages and somebody sends me a nasty email saying that there’s a typo. I’ve told many people. I said I’ll give you a thousand dollars if you can spot the typo on the screen. A lot of times, we’re moving very fast and when you’re writing it’s really, it is, it’s about the structure. It’s about the characters. It’s about how one scene follows another. It’s not about necessarily the words on the page. In a novel, you’ll spend a great deal of time getting somebody into a room. In TV, we just write Neal enters and that’s it.
So for us, the essence of what we do really is about the structure and making sure each scene has a hook and something interesting and there’s … character in each scene. That really, I think, is what I love about this process, too. As far as jobs go, there’s really not much better than sitting around all day and really just talking about what happens.
Brittany Oh, great. Thank you so much. And good luck with season two.
Jeff Well, thank you.
Take a good look at these videos!! This should give you a good insigt into the cliff hanger that’s coming at you courtesy of Eastin and his staff of writers!!
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