Photo by Prashant Gupta/FX
True confessions time. We’re not Sons of Anarchy fanatics. We appreciate the show but it’s not on our heavy rotation the way some others are. But when we got an opportunity to talk to show runner Kurt Sutter, we jumped at the chance. What we have seen of SOA has led us to have the utmost of respect for the motorcycle club series’ Executive Producer — and he did not disappoint.
This interview is a must read for anyone who is interested in the craft of creating a show, maintain its integrity and knowing when to say enough is enough. Whether you watch Sons of Anarchy or not, what Sutter address applies to the craft of creating quality TV. In fact, his words were so significant we ran select excerpts in two installments. Check out Part I here.
On Never Jumping the Shark
“I spent a lot of time trying to figure out what I wanted to do and what I was good at. I’m probably about ten years older than a lot of my fellow show runners doing this job, so I just have a great appreciation and a lot of gratitude for where I’m at and I don’t ever take that lightly. I dig what I do. I’m plugged into it. Because I do enjoy it and because I have such a deep sense of ownership and pride involved in it, I don’t think I’d ever want it to let it ‘jump the shark. I think that when that happens on a show it’s because the creative motor behind it just becomes distracted or bored, quite frankly. I try not to do that. This show is my priority. I do other things in my downtime. It really is my labor of love and I have every intention of maintaining that and following through and finishing that as strongly as we’ve managed to do so far.”
On Mapping Out a Season
“What I tend to do is, I come in with a blueprint in the beginning of the season and I sit down with my writers and I lay out what I want to do for the season. It’s a loose blueprint and the more I do this and the more confident I get with the show in terms of the stories that we tell, I’ve really been able to hold onto them a little more loose each season. My grip gets a little looser as the mythology progresses.
“That was the case this season. I had these ideas and we started writing toward those ideas, but if something happens organically in the process of telling the story, if something else comes along and we want to play it out, then I have the room to do that and to go in a different direction. If I see something that’s popping on screen in terms of a relationship or a conflict that’s really suddenly taking on a much more compelling quality than I thought it was going to be, then I’ll throw some energy and some story at that. I have some leeway.
“You have to be careful at a certain point, usually in the back four or five episodes, then your leeway really starts to diminish. Not that you have to start writing to tie everything up in each story, but I do have the reality of okay, this is how much time I have left this season to tell these stories. As time progresses, as the episodes pass, then that doorway gets a little more narrow.”
On His Other Projects
“I have a little downtime. I sold two other projects to FX. I’m co-writing a project and writing a pilot over the hiatus. I’ll be doing that. That’s always fun for me to do because it’s my own time, my own schedule. Then I’ll jump back early February with the Sons writers for Season 6.”
On Sons of Anarchy Ending in Season 7
“Season 7 was always my goal because I know how this cable model works. I know that at the end of seven seasons, the above-the-line costs usually outweigh the value of the show. I thought, ‘Well, can I tell this story in seven seasons? Do I have enough story?’ I’ve always had that number in my head, and I thought, ‘Wes, I can do that.’
“I have the loose constructs of those seven seasons in my head and I still have those. We’re still heading in that direction and working towards that. If I get halfway through Season 6 and I have a sense of ‘wow, I don’t know if I’m going to be able to do this and tell all the stories that I need to tell in seven seasons,’ then I can probably have a conversation with John Landgraf.
“I don’t know what the solution would be. Perhaps the solution would be to extend the amount of episodes in maybe the last two seasons or is there enough story for us to then do a Season 8? Would that actually be viable? Could we afford to do that? It’s not like I would shut the door on seven.
“Here’s what I definitely don’t want to do. I don’t want to just extend the show for another season for the sake of doing an eighth season. What I don’t want to do is pad and fluff and drag out what really should be happening in seven seasons for the sake of just doing another season. Even though I’m sure the fans would love another season, I know I don’t want to do that. My sense is if I get halfway through the storytelling in Season 6, I’ll have a pretty good sense of whether or not I can tie it all up in seven.”