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Interview: Kevin Wade (BLUE BLOODS)
Kevin Wade first made his mark with his Writers Guild Award-nominated original screenplay for WORKING GIRL. He followed his beloved debut with a successful run of credits including MEET JOE BLACK, TRUE COLORS and MAID IN MANHATTAN.
In the late Aughts, Kevin pivoted to television and now serves as Showrunner and Executive Producer of BLUE BLOODS. Under his leadership, the show has become New York City’s newest television institution and one of the top-rated shows in America, with an average of 13 million weekly viewers.
WGAE spoke with Kevin while he was deep into production of BLUE BLOODS’ sixth season, which debuts on Friday, September 25th on CBS.
Where are you with season six of BLUE BLOODS?
We start shooting episode seven tomorrow. We shoot seven episodes before the first one airs. That gives us a little bit of a headway getting into the season. We shoot straight from right after July 4th weekend until right before Christmas. Then we take a two week break and shoot again through mid-April.
Are all the scripts locked in by the time you start shooting?
No, I try to have the first five or so ready to some degree when we shoot the first episode. We’re on a rotation where I have six terrific writers and each gets five episodes between slots. It’s a good rotation. Nobody gets killed and I have time to take a pass on the scripts and work on them before we have to actually go to the floor with them.
What is the writing process for BLUE BLOODS?
It’s a little unusual from what I gather anecdotally from people who have worked on other shows, because I never really much worked on TV shows before I joined BLUE BLOODS in season one. I’ve got Brian Burns, Bryan Goluboff, Dan Truly, Siobhan Byrne O’Connor, Ian Biederman, Peter Blauner, and myself.
We don’t have a writers’ room. We don’t sit around a table and write stuff up on a white board or anything like that. Writer “X” will come to me and say, “My next one, I’m thinking of these three stories.” We generally do three stories, an A and a B and a C story in each of the episodes. We’ll talk about it and talk about it some more. Then, they’ll go off and write up what we call an arena document, which is basically the three stories in three paragraphs.
We take a look at the arena document, we send it on to the studio and network for their notes, and then the writer will write an outline, which is really the teleplay without the dialogue—every scene broken down into the teaser and the four acts. That then goes through the same round of notes from myself and [BLUE BLOODS Executive Producer] Leonard Goldberg. Then the network. And then writer “X” will do the writers draft. It is not by committee. We all have the same idea that to really write something you gotta go in a room by yourself and close the door and write it.
When you’re putting together the stories, how much do you talk about putting in current events? Whether it’s in season six, where I hear there’s a plotline on terrorism, or on previous seasons where you’ve dealt with everything from human trafficking to assisted suicide.
Sometimes we’ll have a show that ends up looking like it’s been taken from the headlines when, in fact, it’s just all of us read a lot. We talk to cops a fair amount. We have a fantastic resource in Detective Jim Nuciforo who was a long time veteran of the NYPD. If you say to a detective, “Tell me a couple of stories,” they’re going to tell you these great stories. We cull some material from that. Other times something like the Innocence Project will come up out of reading. I think Siobhan Byrne O’Connor did it first on BLUE BLOODS where you’ve got one of our principals make an arrest or prosecute a case that turns out to be the wrong man that was sent away. Those stories come more out of research than they do from reading the front page and going, “How do we make this a BLUE BLOODS episode?”
For a procedural, BLUE BLOOD focuses a lot on family relationships. One of the show’s signature scenes is the family dinner. Are the dinner scenes some of the more outlined scenes?
No, I think it’s probably the opposite. They’re in the script. More often than not, I tend to rewrite them more than the other stuff. The show has a huge component that’s about this family. I think the way we approach it as writers is that it’s a show about a tribe. Now, this tribe happens to be related by blood, by career, by religion, by geography. The family aspect is a component of it but really the best tool for us, or the biggest plus in this is that we get to tell these stories whether basic procedurals or something perhaps with a little wrinkle in it, but there’s a built in point of view when we tell this story, and that’s through this family where they’ve been cops for generations. They are Roman Catholics from Brooklyn. They are New Yorkers with some Irish background certainly. It gives us a very precise prism to tell the stories through. As you know, point of view is everything.
Do you get reactions from police?
I love when we hear from people on the job, detectives, or even up to the Brass at 1 Police Plaza. They have often complimented us on getting something right and it can be as simple as you would move a perp off of the street and on to the sidewalk. That’s because everything we do here goes through Detective Nuciforo and he’s very aware that we’re not making a documentary. That being said, we strive to get it right so that if a cop is watching or if a detective is watching, they’ll go “Yeah, that’s exactly what you’d have to do”.
From viewers, I don’t have a direct interface the same way. If you write for television, you don’t get to pace the back of the house. You don’t get to sit in there with the audience and find out sort of firsthand what they’re responding to, but I think that people seem to enjoy the characters on the show, the fact that season by season we try to reveal more about these characters. I think the family dinner thing has become nostalgia for something that they probably never had, that most of us didn’t have, but that ideal that you sit with your family at least once a week and whoever is speaking fastest and smartest or funniest or loudest has the floor.
What can viewers expect from season six?
More of the same wouldn’t be the right phrase but because we’re not a serial, we’re a closed-end procedural, by definition every episode has to be a standalone. I think there are elements that everybody can relate to in terms of Tom Selleck’s character, Frank Reagan. Frank’s been on the job for a while and all the bucks stop at his desk and anybody human would eventually go, “I don’t know how much longer I can do this and pay lip service to being politic with all of the various facets, tribes, sects, that come at me every day.” For Erin Reagan, Bridget Moynahan’s character, her daughter is out of the house so she’s an empty-nester for the first time and perhaps looking for more glue in her relationship at work and more to do. I don’t have a way to arc it out other than to say hopefully, as we have done in the past seasons, we’ve got this terrific cast of actors and we try to write for them so that they will perhaps reveal something about themselves that the audience can respond to and enjoy…or throw stuff at.
What kind of setting do you like to be in when you’re writing?
I’ve got an office here in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. I do most of it here. I have a little writing studio where I live, but there’s not much to it. It really is making myself go in the room, close the door, no TV, no music, no distractions and just try to get through it. We’re doing 22 hours of television a year, sometimes I’m writing in the camper, on location, stuff that shoots the next day. That’s the nature of it. We’ve been lucky—or efficient here—and generally once we go to the floor the script is pretty much set.
What have you been watching or reading that you would recommend?
I would suggest everybody watch the double feature of VEEP and SILICON VALLEY on Sunday nights. I think RAY DONOVAN is a good show and ambitious in what it’s trying to do. Ann Biderman, who created it, took that Boston, Irish Catholic mentality and stuck it in sort of the nexus of Hollywood and Los Angeles and I always thought that was pretty entertaining.
If you go back through the history of film and television, is there a character that you wish you could have written dialogue for?
In the history of television, James Garner, on THE ROCKFORD FILES. I thought James Garner was able to do something that is incredibly hard to do, which is to play the conflicts with wit. He could go and throw away a quip or cock an eyebrow and do a whole hell of a lot. I look at Raymond Chandler and Ross McDonald and Dashiell Hammett, whose private eye protagonists put themselves in harms way and at the end of the day, eat and sleep alone. I’ve always looked at most of the characters on BLUE BLOODS as being born out of that sort of American private eye tradition, although they’re New York City cops, they devote their lives to their work. Their job is their life, with few complaints, and a sense of humor about it.