As their acclaimed series nears its grand finale, David Crane and Jeffrey Klarik discuss their decades creating TV and building a life together.
David Crane and Jeffrey Klarik know the excesses of the TV world all too well; they’ve been part of its whirl since the heyday of Must-See TV, when Crane wrote for Friends and Klarik for Mad About You.
“In a weird way, it was the golden age of television,” Klarik recalls. “There were fewer options, and so whatever you did — like Mad About You or Friends — got millions and millions of viewers every week, which is very difficult to achieve nowadays because there are so many choices.”
“Jeffrey and I did shows that — the numbers we were canceled with would’ve made us a giant hit today,” Crane says with a laugh. “Now there are a handful of those shows that get that kind of instant buzz — Game of Thrones, for example — but back then, the morning after, [what we were working on] was what people talked about.”
Together, they mined these experiences to create the hilarious, behind-the-scenes comedy Episodes. With its side-splitting final season currently premiering Sundays on Showtime, the couple took time out to talk with Metrosource about their decades of couplehood and the art of skewering television on TV.
A Couple of Writers
Before there were Ross & Rachel or Paul & Jaimie, there was David and Jeffrey. “There was no Tinder then,” remembers Klarik. “I said to these friends, ‘Don’t you know anybody for me?’ and they said, ‘What about David Crane? He’s a writer, too!’”
The friends invited Crane over for dinner, not mentioning to him that it was a setup. “I showed up at their house for dinner and I thought it was going to be the three of us. I saw it was set for four, and I was like, ‘That’s interesting.’”
“I was dessert,” explains Klarik with a laugh. “Pretty much we’ve been together ever since.” Decades later, the pair still seem to be very much in love. “I never knew that another person could be as kind and generous and giving in my life,” explains Klarik. “Sometimes I think to myself: my grandmother must’ve sent him from heaven.”
“Plus, he’s my size; so we can share clothes,” Klarik adds. “You can’t underestimate the importance of that.”
“The first night,” Crane recalls, “Jeffrey said, ‘I like your shoes! Can I try them on?’”
“A little Cinderella action,” explains Klarik.
When they fit, “I think that cinched it,” says Crane. On a more serious note, he adds, “You could be with someone for almost thirty years and think you’ve got them. You understand pretty much everything there is to know. [But] it’s just been wonderful because truly, both working together and living together, every day he’ll say something that absolutely makes me laugh and surprises me, and I don’t think you can ask for more than that in a partner.”
“And talk about my hair,” prompts Klarik.
“And he’s got great hair,” adds Crane. “And I have virtually none; so I resent it and admire it at the same time.”
In 2011 — after Crane had finished work on the Friends spin-off Joey and the couple had seen their show The Class (a comedy that featured Jason Ritter, Lizzy Caplan and Jesse Tyler Ferguson) run for a single season on CBS — the pair saw their co-creation Episodes premiere to critical acclaim. It follows the lives of a husband-and-wife pair of British TV writers — Sean and Beverly — who come to Hollywood to adapt their successful television show for American audiences, but end up saddled with Matt LeBlanc (playing an hilariously over-the-top version of himself) as their lead.
“From the very first time we pitched him the idea, [LeBlanc] said, “I don’t mind being the object of the joke if the joke is funny,” explains Klarik. “And he couldn’t have been more agreeable to everything — to the point where sometimes he’d like say, ‘What about if I did this or that?’ And we’d look at each other and go, ‘No! You can’t say that!’”
“You think about some other actor in that part, and you would’ve really not liked the character,” Crane observes of LeBlanc, who has won a Golden Globe for the role. “But because Matt is so talented and so charming and he manages to put it across in a way that’s so winning, [the audience is] like Sean and Beverly: you get incredibly angry at him, and you judge him, and then you can’t help but love him again.”
And although the actual Matt LeBlanc would likely not engage in half the hijinks his Episodes character has, Crane and Klarik note that it’s based on behavior they’ve personally observed in the way women approach him. “You look at somebody like Matt LeBlanc and you think, ‘What must that be like: to be able to just walk out your door and have your pick?’ But it’s true! When we travel with him, and when we were shooting in London, cars pulled up alongside our car, the windows rolled down, and they propositioned him from the car!” says Klarik. “We’ve had experiences where we’ve been in a restaurant and a woman has come up to him and said, ‘It’s my birthday and my husband said I can have you as my present.’”
In addition to sex, evolving social mores mean that Crane and Klarik can write more frankly about drugs as well. “On the show, god knows, Carol enjoys [weed] almost to the point where one might say it’s a problem,” says Crane. “But we don’t even think about it now anymore as being controversial or taboo; it’s just how that character behaves.”
Klarik points to a scene in the current season in which Carol, a former programming executive, gets high with her former boss and lover Merc. “I guess you saw when he came over to have dinner with her, and they just ate and smoked and it was all so delicious? It just made me happy to see the two of them so close and enjoying dope and food!”
Still, censorship does occasionally rear its confusing head. “It’s interesting, in terms of this day and age, what we have to do for — I guess — Showtime for airplanes,” explains Crane. “We shoot alternates to the swear words, and one of the things we have to do—in the marijuana scenes: it’s okay if they’re smoking, but you’re just not allowed to see the joint touch Carol’s lips. She’s reaching up, and then we have to cut to somebody else, and when we cut back … she can exhale; she just can’t put it to her lips.”
Clearly Episodes explores Hollywood’s indignities as much as its excesses. Much of Season Five revolves around Sean and Beverly trapped in a writer’s room that seems like a circle of hell. “I’ve been in rooms with showrunners who have no lives, do not want to leave and keep you like well-paid hostages,” recalls Klarik. “You think: ‘Oh my God, it’s almost two in the morning, and all we’re doing is watching old videos of Mary Martin and Ethel Merman. Shouldn’t we be f***ing writing the script?” Crane and Klarik have even had friends who were instructed to bring cots to work. “They actually were sleeping in their offices because the guy who ran the show was a night owl; during the day they would sleep in their offices, and they would start to work at midnight. So [the writing room on Episodes] is not an exaggeration,” says Crane. He points out that his partner takes a certain pleasure in bringing this sort of behavior to light: “I’ve often said that Jeffrey writes for revenge,” he says.
Thinking inside the Box and Beyond
The final season of Episodes also takes on the idea of torture more literally, as it depicts Matt becoming the host of a reality show called The Box, in which contestants are locked in boxes and forced to suffer a variety of unpleasant circumstances, including such unique trials as Gilbert Gottfried reading the Bible aloud.
“I came up with the idea,” explains Klarik. “We were just looking for a silly kind of game show and I came up with the idea and I said to David, ‘I think this could actually be a show,’ and he went, ‘No — people could die in those boxes!’ And I said, ‘I’m telling you this could be a show!’ And I swear to you, last week we were in London meeting with people who want to turn The Box into a real show!’”
The week we were shooting all The Box stuff, we had to really think it out because — in that opening from the first episode where they do, “Previously on The Box…” you’re seeing two weeks’ worth,” remember Klarik. “Suddenly we went from making fun of it to: ‘All right, we need more punishments! We need more disadvantages!”
“How about five Hitlers in the box with them?!” Crane remembers — and he promises that at some point in the season, we’ll get to see just that.
The Box ultimately leads Matt’s character to a commit an indiscretion with one of the contestants — an encounter that he doesn’t realize is being caught on camera and broadcast to the internet. At first, it seems like a career-ending faux pas, but ultimately it sends the ratings soaring. Crane and Klarik say that in a world where scandals seem to regularly mint new celebrities, it’s not that big a stretch. “I don’t think there’s a stigma at all,” says Crane. “I mean who is Blac Chyna? Seriously? You know what I mean? I don’t know why people become famous anymore!”
A New Year’s Eve Surprise
Crane and Klarik say they rarely seek out opportunities to indulge. “We don’t splurge much; most of our life is wrapped around the work,” says Crane. “We haven’t had a vacation in probably ten years. I think every day is our indulgence. Doing something that you love to do is like the ultimate indulgence.”
Though they aren’t yet ready to reveal their next project, Crane says, “we have an idea that we’re pursuing. We haven’t pitched and placed it yet, but when we do we should definitely talk.”
“It is something that I think you’d find very interesting,” Klarik teases.
“It definitely speaks to being gay, and I don’t want to pre-sell it, but it’s fun,” says Crane.
Whatever comes next, the pair look forward to tackling it together — now as a married couple. “Right after Trump was elected — we’d been together 29 years — I said to David, ‘I think now’s the time to do it. I don’t trust this man, and I want to make sure that we are safe,’ and so we got married on New Year’s Eve,” says Klarik.
“Very quietly. We didn’t tell any of our friends. As Jeffrey has said: it was like we eloped at home,” adds Crane.
“It was the most romantic, amazing night,” says Klarik.
“Even though personally, we’d always felt married,” adds Crane, “given everything that was going on in the world, it seemed like something we needed to do before someone told us we couldn’t.”
“It was beyond small,” says Klarik. “We had friends of ours coming up to spend New Year’s Eve with us. They’re a married straight couple and at the last minute we said, ‘Do you think you could get ordained online?’”
“It couldn’t have been more sweet and impulsive,” says Crane. “We played dominos, got married, played Celebrity, drank champagne, watched the ball drop and went to bed.”
Catch up with the final season of Episodes at sho.com.
Last modified: September 25, 2017