Photo Credit: Stephen Lemieux
Take a moment to think of some of your favorite shows. Chances are Javier Grillo-Marxuach has helped to pen quite a few of them.
A 20-year veteran of the industry, Grillo-Marxuach began his career as a writer on the NBC sci-fi program seaQuest DSV. Over the years, his resume has grown to include Boomtown, Charmed, The 100, Medium, Helix and, most notably, the first two seasons of Lost. It was Grillo-Marxuach’s experience on this latter series that inspired a widely distributed blog post, which documents the years he spent writing and developing what would become one of the biggest game-changers in the history of the medium. Besides Lost, Grillo-Marxuach is perhaps best known among TV aficionados for his short-lived ABC Family series The Middleman, a program that, despite low-ratings and a premature cancelation, grew to become a beloved cult hit.
When not brainstorming in writers’ rooms, Grillo-Marxuach maintains a vibrant online presence. Earlier this year, he published Shoot This One, a collection of essays culled from his own personal LiveJournal, in addition to contributions from io9.com and Apex Magazine that explore his views on the state of television and the world at large. In 2014, alongside fellow writer Jose Molina (Firefly, Agent Carter), he launched the Children of Tendu podcast. Each installment finds Grillo-Marxuach and Molina discussing their collective years spent working in the TV trenches and what it takes to break into (and stay in) the business. Grillo-Marxuach sat down with Paste to discuss his Internet-breaking Lost essay, Shoot This One and his hopes for influencing a new, ethically conscious generation of TV scribes.
Paste Magazine: You wrote a gigantic blog about Lost that, as much as anything can these days, broke the Internet.
Javier Grillo-Marxuach: That’s nice, thank you! Happy to hear that!
Paste: What were your reasons for putting all that out there?
Grillo-Marxuach: Well, you know, many reasons. I break them down in the article a bit. First of all, it has been 11 years since the show premiered. I have all these memories of it, but memories fade and you want to have your peace out there about it. A lot has been written about the show, but I don’t feel as though it’s always accurate. The people who stayed with the show for the span of its existence, most notably Damon [Lindelof] and Carlton [Cuse], a lot of their narrative about the show is subjective to how they felt at the time. I also think TV—and journalism about TV—has a tendency to be very “Great Man” focused. I felt as though there was a broader story that wasn’t being told about the alchemy and the insanity and the collaborative nature of those early days. And it’s not to take anything away from Carlton or Damon. It’s just to say that, right now, we live in the Golden Age of the showrunner where the showrunner is seen as an auteur. In any show, in the rush to make any one person the “auteur” of a show, you really miss the thing that I think is beautiful about making TV, which is that intensely collaborative insanity. The TV writers’ room is like competitive group therapy, you know? I feel like when that goes well, as it did on Lost, it’s actually a pretty inspiring thing.
Also, it’s not like I had scores to settle or things like that. But the story of the show is beginning to be written in a way that’s more permanent than ever. Maybe that’s a testament to how influential the show is. But the reason it started was that Alan Sepinwall, who is a TV critic for Hitfix, had written to me because he was writing his book The Revolution was Televised. He was trying to get some background about Lost. So, I started answering some questions he threw at me and I thought, ‘You know what—there’s more to say here.’ Then it just sort of became that. So the catalyzing event was Alan talking to me. You don’t think when you do a TV show, ‘Holy fuck, this is going to become history,’ but it seems that Lost is a really influential show that is relevant to a chapter in the history of the medium. I thought, ‘I don’t want to be silent about it, or not have my contribution and let of a lot of other people not be seen because no one ever spoke up, so let’s go.’ I say in the article, if other people experience other things then God bless them. Not saying they are wrong, or right, or are lying. This is just me saying, ‘this is what I experienced.’
Paste: Before you posted the essay, did you contact anyone just to let them know, ‘Hey, this is going up…’?
Grillo-Marxuach: No, not really (laughs)! It’s funny, I’m not shy about getting in touch with Damon for example. We don’t have a very steady communication. The fact is that, like I said in the article, I mostly spoke to him through Twitter until he famously left Twitter. I pretty much put it out there the way that I did, because I didn’t feel as though I was being vindictive or mean-spirited or anything other than saying, ‘Hey, here is what I experienced.’ It’s funny because people said to me, ‘You really went through great pains to be diplomatic.’ I’m like, ‘Well, I went through great pains to make sure everyone I worked with got their due.’ Someone said to me, ‘Oh, what about the last four seasons and people like Eddie [Kitsis] and Adam [Horowitz] who were there for part of the first season and onward?’ And, yeah, they were there and they were huge contributors. I can’t speak about anything past the second season. Also, it was really intended to be a memoir about my experiences.
If there was one score I wanted to settle with [the essay], it’s that I felt like, in a weird way, I had to take a huge advocacy position for Damon. As I said in the article, Damon-bashing is kind of an Olympic sport. How many of us can stand in the shoes of someone who changed the face of popular culture at a very early age—I think he was 32 or 33—and had to deal with a kind of fame that didn’t exist until the point at which that happened? Twitter didn’t even exist until towards the end of Lost. Facebook wasn’t a mainstream phenomenon until more than halfway through that show’s run. We’re talking about a level of fame and a type of fame that is completely brand-new. Three years earlier, Aaron Sorkin was getting into fights with people on Television Without Pity. And that site doesn’t even exist now! In any case, I feel as though people unfairly malign him. And, yes, Damon and J.J. [Abrams] did come out and say, ‘We have a plan’ and the fact is, to a great degree, we did. But a TV show is always a work in progress until it’s on the DVD and you’ve recorded the commentary. Part of what I really wanted to do is recapture that lovely, heady feeling I had during that first year when we had plans, schemes and ideas. The tidal wave of the show’s success hit us all with a great deal of surprise and we had to make all our plans fit into the paradigm of what it was to make a 24-episode TV show.
Paste: I once read an interview with Robert Plant, and it’s funny—the way he talks about Led Zeppelin, you would never think he was in Led Zeppelin. He almost seems divorced from the experience. Is there a part of you that looks back at Lost and just thinks, ‘Man, I was a part of that?’
Grillo-Marxuach: Yes, it’s really weird. I was there before the beginning, but I didn’t create the show. I was there for the genesis of a lot of the ideas that people recognize as the hallmarks of that show. I helped created some of those things, but I’m not the “created by” credit. That’s Damon, and that’s J.J., and that’s Jeffrey Lieber, in a weird way. I’d had a TV career for nine years before that. I worked on seaQuest and The Pretender and Boomtown. I’d sold pilots. I came to Lost as a fairly senior guy. So there’s a world where that’s the great watershed moment of my career and it changed everything, and there’s a world where it’s just a thing I did. Like seaQuest is a thing I did or Pretender was a thing I did. Taken just on the sheer level of time, I spent as much time on Charmed as I did on seaQuest, and Charmed was arguably a more successful show because it lasted longer and got a more lucrative syndication package (laughs). It’s a very odd thing. I’m very good at going into shows and I can be the Number Two guy, or the showrunner or a consultant. Lost was one of the jobs. It’s just that that job changed the world in some way. It’s surreal when you’re part of that success.
Paste: What were you expecting when you put the blog post up? Were you surprised by the reception it got?
Grillo-Marxuach: I was surprised and I was gratified. I write a lot. I have a book of essays out. I love writing essays and figured eventually I would write something about Lost. There’s a world where that essay is this great score-settling, axe-grinding thing. But honestly, the grudges aren’t that bad and Lost deserves better. To this day, people come up to me and ask about that show. I’ve been recognized on the street from being on the DVD, which is really weird!
Paste: That’s kind of scary.
Grillo-Marxuach: It’s kind of awesome though! It’s just the right level of fame, you know? But, yeah, I figured the essay would get some play. I didn’t want to give it to any media outlet for that reason. But it was a wildcard. Much to my pleasant surprise, people are still interested, and they’re interested in what it was like to be there. Not from the point of view of the top dog, but from the point of view of Tom Sizemore in Private Ryan (laughs). Look, so many things I’ve done have vanished into the ether. The job I’ve cared the most about is my own show, The Middleman, and that’s a little show that’s not even on Netflix. The people who love it love it, but not a lot of people are going to find it. The fact that something I did is still cared about that much—that’s nice.
Paste:And it gave you some good press for your book of essays. Speaking of which, every writer wants to have a book out, but what made you decide it was time put out this collection of essays?
Grillo-Marxuach: It’s funny—the book was in the works long before the Lost essay. If I knew I was going to put out a book, I would have written the Lost essay way earlier. I started the book when Helix ended this year. I was very restless and thought, ‘maybe I should shine up this material.’ And, yeah, some of the material came out in 2004, 2002 or 2005. They were blogs. When Lost became a hit there was no Facebook or Twitter, so I was on LiveJournal writing these essays. I thought this was good material and wanted to put it out there. Also, a year before Jose Molina and I had started the Children of Tendu podcast, which has a strong education bent. I thought, ‘these essays are about TV, and I want to educate people.’ I have this philosophy that television is so mystified and I wanted to demystify it. The knowledge I’ve accrued over 20 years is valuable, and I think it should be given out for free so people can figure out how to get into TV. So the book is really about me wanting to help other writers have an easier path than I did.
Paste: Going through your archives, how did you settle upon what you wanted to be published in the book?
Grillo-Marxuach: Some of the stuff had been published already in places like Apex, io9, LA Review of Books, so I figured those would go in there. For the rest, I went through my old LiveJournals. I’d written a lot of stuff about TV and my insights and I sent them to my agent and lawyer and asked, ‘Will this ruin my career if I publish this?’ That was part of it (laughs). I used to write movie reviews for my blog.
Paste: That didn’t get you in trouble?
Grillo-Marxuach: That’s why none of those essays are out there. I realized, ‘Oh I want to have a career as a movie writer one day—never mind!’ So, those didn’t make it in. But there’s a few that are more personal and political, but I mostly picked the ones that were about TV and what I’ve gone through.
Paste: You mentioned the personal entries—there are a few essays about your thoughts on government and abuse of power, as well as your complex views of religion—what made you consider including those?
Grillo-Marxuach: Well, I think it gets boring when you just talk about the inside baseball stuff. Also, I think all writers are narcissists in some ways. We all think what we say matters and should be seen by people. And I do have some pointed thoughts about the state of our country and I wanted them to be seen. With the podcast I do with Jose, our thought is that you think you’re getting an educational podcast about breaking into TV, but, once you’re far enough into it, you realize, ‘Oh, these guys are trying to teach me how to be a good person and a decent and ethical person.’ It’s like when you go to a concert and Springsteen is all like, ‘Here are my hits!’ and then he’s like, ‘Now, I’m going to do something from Tom Joad!’ and you’re like, ‘Oh fuck…’
Paste: Hey, I like Tom Joad!
Grillo-Marxuach: I know…but, you want to hear ‘Born in the USA,’ ‘Dancing in the Dark’ and ‘Born to Run,’ and then he plays something from Tom Joad and you’re like, ‘Oh that’s touching…’ then you think, can we hear ‘Rosalita?’ So honestly I think of the personal and political material as the B-side stuff I sneak into that middle fourth of the show (laughs).
Paste: It seems like a lot of TV writers, and creative people in general, have some complicated issues when it comes to dealing with critics. Is that something you felt you’ve tried to navigate? You’re obviously friendly with people like Alan Sepinwall.
Grillo-Marxuach: You know, Maureen Ryan, who is the critic for Huffington Post, wrote the intro for my book. She wrote some very nice things. Whenever I talk to a critic or journalist, I say, ‘Whatever we’re doing now, if I do something you don’t like, you should have to report on it and write about it honestly and not worry about friendships.’ If you’re friends with someone whose job it is to write about television, you have to compartmentalize that friendship to some degree. Alan and I have met a few times, but I don’t comment on his criticism.
I tell you, there was one critic who said of the Lost essay, that it was the TV writers version of If I Did It, the O.J. Simpson book. I read that comment and I’d be lying if I told you it didn’t burn me a little bit. I thought, ‘How I should respond?’ And finally I responded, ‘How so?’ I gave that guy an invitation to elucidate his feelings about it and why he thought that. So yeah, sometimes people will say something mean about you online and you’ll spend the day composing the perfect reply. But people who get to do this job are breathing rarified air. There’s only as many TV writers as there are NBA players. Maybe guys like Damon or Carlton or Joss Whedon are your all-star guys. Even if guys like me aren’t on that level, we are lucky to do this, and we’re entertainers and we have a duty to not visit our insecurities on the people who love and consume the stuff we make. We have a duty to be a little more stoic and more controlled about that.
Paste: You started your career as a junior development executive at NBC. Did knowing how the sausage was made influence you when you started getting notes, since you knew what the subtext was?
Grillo-Marxuach: Everything’s a double edged sword. That was all really useful. Also, when I was at NBC, I was the lowest guy on the totem pole. I was like a little lemur running around legs of these wooly mammoths. There was Warren Littlefield, who now produces Fargo; Jon Landgraf, who is the President of FX; David Nivens who is the President of Showtime. There was also Steve McPherson, Karey Burke and Jamie Tarses…Kevin Reilly was there.
Paste: That’s an all-star line-up.
Grillo-Marxuach: It’s a testament to Warren Littlefield’s ability to hire and groom incredible talent. But I was the youngest in a roster that included a huge amount of people who were and continue to be massive movers and shakers. I was 24-years-old and I was right out of grad school. When I started out as writer, I’d listened to roughly 250 pilot pitches. I knew how to sell a pilot, but I didn’t know how to write a pilot. That bit me on the ass with the first pilot I sold, which was two years after I left. Also, other writers looked at me like I was a stooge for the network.
On one hand, that experience was a Master’s degree. On the other hand, it gave me things to overcome. I wouldn’t trade it. Oh, and all those amazing contacts—none of them helped me (laughs). I mean some of them did, but the reason you’re not seeing the fifth season of Department Zero, which Steve McPherson could have chosen for ABC line-up five years ago, shows how much that helped me. But, part of being a TV writer or executive is you develop a thick hide, and you need to be able to take a lot of criticism and know what to address and what not to and not take things as a personal insult. But yeah, sometimes you hear, ‘There’s a lot of great stuff in the script…’ and you just go, ‘Oh fuck’ [laughs]. The kiss of death is, ‘Well told’ when it’s a pitch and ‘There’s a lot of good stuff here’ when it’s a script.
Paste: When you became a writer, knowing how many obstacles you would face—how many pitches fail or pilots don’t get picked up—was that a struggle for you?
Grillo-Marxuach: I appreciate your use of the word “struggle,” but Nelson Mandala had a struggle. I’m a TV writer; let’s not kid ourselves (laughs). I try to not romanticize what I do for a living. But, yeah, it is a struggle because you want to get the brass ring of creating your own show. I’ve been after that for many years and I have a lot of failed attempts at it. As you get older, you wonder, ‘How many times am I going to fail before they drum me out of the industry?’ But the real struggle is not your career path necessarily—if you have a good agent, you learn the right lessons, and you move well through this world, you can succeed. This isn’t some mystical world of magic no one can understand.
The real struggle is two-fold—there’s a great deal about this business that’s luck and there’s a great deal that’s about serendipity. I’ve had a lot of ‘at bats’ and I hope to have more, but eventually you get to a point where you say, ‘A lot of my peers are succeeding at their at-bats.’ And you’re happy with your job but you wonder, ‘Why haven’t I created that hit show?’ So the real struggle is to prevent it from being an all-out assault on your self-esteem. And also, to demolish the myth that being an emotionally tortured person is somehow necessarily for your art. Or that you must work out whatever issues you have with your parenting on the showrunner. It is possible to make it in this industry, but every setback feels like an assault on you as person. There are many shapes your career can take. You can try to figure out what shape yours will take, but it may not always be the dream shape. That doesn’t mean you should abandon your goals and ambitions, but it also means some of the things that happened are not about you.
Paste: Your first essay in the book is called “Is It Just Me or Did TV Get Good All of a Sudden?” As you’ve worked since the ‘90s and seen it develop this more prestigious sheen, have you found your role as the TV writer changing or people approaching you differently?
Grillo-Marxuach: I’m certainly getting more respect, which is nice. But I talk about technology in that chapter and one of the best things about technology is that it has created these new outlets for TV, so there’s a lot more places for someone like me to go and sell things that are more idiosyncratic or weirder. I went to ABC Family to sell The Middleman, which never would have ever existed on a TV network. But there’s also the social media aspect, which has turned the writer into a little bit more of a celebrity. I can’t complain about that. We wouldn’t write if we didn’t want an audience. And look, we are now a prestige medium. People want to be in TV.
Paste: In the essay you outline a couple of ways in which television has been able to advance and change—the advent of divorce and its effect on the culture, the proliferation of new technology and the “MTV effect” and how that allowed people to become more open to the idea of mixing genres. How did you settle upon those points?
Grillo-Marxuach: The actual title of the essay came from something I heard when two senior execs from NBC were watching a cut of a pilot and one said, ‘Is it just me or did TV get good all of a sudden?’ Everybody wants to claim it’s their writing that made TV good. Sadly, more than anything else in that essay, non-linear digital editing made it possible for TV writers to do more work on the final product and be more ambitious about the quality of the visual imagery and editing and effects than they ever would have been with a control deck and eight VCRs. And no one wants to admit to that because it takes away the idea that we’re all special and that our genius made TV great. But, really, technology had a lot to do with it. There are more channels and more technology and we can do a greater amount of work in less time. Even in writing. If you’re talking about word processing versus typing on a typewriter and cutting and pasting with scissors, you can revise more and put our more drafts and are more motivated to put out more material. That technological element didn’t exist 25 years ago. Those tools create more time to make our work better.
I’ve been working in this industry for 20 years and, frankly, there’s a huge divide between the first half of my career, where even the most prestigious of prestige shows is NYPD Blue, which is a procedural and about a team. It’s a very different things from Mad Men. In terms of the divorce angle, the more you sit in writers’ rooms, the more you realize that the show is a therapist’s couch for its creator. The more you spend time with the creators of my age or younger, the more you learn how all of their writing was informed by divorce or their relationship to divorce. I spent two years writing on Lost, which is all about bad parenting. With technology, having been to grad school when we were working off videotape machines and flat beds, I realized when I got my first Avid-editing program for my Macintosh, that this was changing everything. And the MTV thing—God, I wish I knew where I got that idea. My editor for the LA Review of Books where that was published said—and she’s a literature professor and media studies professor— ‘I think that’s the first time I’ve ever heard that said.’ I was like, ‘Oh my God, I had an original idea! How awesome—wish I knew where it came from!’ (laughs)
Paste: Moving on to your writing podcast Children of Tendu— had you and Jose Molina talked about doing something like that for a while?
Grillo-Marxuach: No. Jose and I have been friends for over 20 years. We’re both Puerto Ricans and knew each other from family and we play Dungeons & Dragons together. One thing about TV writers is that our problems are not sympathetic to most people. We have a job most would consider cushy. We’re well compensated when we work. People outside the industry don’t normally look at us and say, ‘Oh, your problems are terrible.’ So when you have friends on a similar level, you flock to them and cling together. So we’re getting drunk before D&D and bitching about all the different people we work with. Some had been very abusive and difficult. We were talking about how you would fix that. There’s a pervasive culture of bad management in all the entertainment industry. A lot of writers get promoted to management positions that they’re not ready for. Jose and I like to think we’re decent people and we were thinking, ‘How can we change this?’ So, in a drunken haze, we decided to do a podcast.
Also, mentorship is very important to me. I have mentors from the Writers Guild I see weekly. I actually read their material. I have mentees from USC that I talk to frequently. Your job as a TV writer/producer is to teach people how to do this job. There’s no real formal way of educating people on how to do this job. We realized this was something we could do with a podcast and we could just give this info away for free. You get pissed off seeing people charging for classes and things like that. So we wanted to give away something for free and get [those writers] while they’re young so when they’re showrunners they’re not terrible—because once you get showrunner money there’s no changing you (laughs). The business is very good at justifying abuse under the guise of auteurship. We wanted to make a dent in that. The nice thing is, in the two years we’ve been doing the podcast, occasionally someone will come into a writers’ room I’m working in and say, ‘Hey I listen to your podcast’ and they behave how we prescribe. It’s just amazing to me.
Paste: Is there a moment when they say that and you’re like, ‘Oh God, what else have I said?’
Grillo-Marxuach: Yeah (laughs)! But, you know, we walk that fine line between being really honest and not damaging our careers. The best Children of Tendu podcast will be in however many years it takes until I’m ready to take a flamethrower to all those bridges, and then I’ll tell you some shit that’ll turn you white (laughs)! In the meantime, I think you can walk that line. I get a lot of nice reviews about how ‘honest’ we are. I’m like, ‘Wow, you should see what it’s like when we’re really being honest!’ I guess we do enough to make people realize that TV is a career and a craft and a job. It’s not some magical cupcake wonderland-like in summer camp. It’s an actual thing people do for money and some creative fulfillment, but there’s a certain amount of craft and professionalism that’s necessary. We’re trying to teach that you can do that while still being an ethical person. And if I start seeing more of that in my daily life, I’ll be so happy that the podcast was an influence.
Paste: Did you expect much when you put it out, or was it just a case of releasing it and seeing what would happen?
Grillo-Marxuach: It’s like the Lost essay—you have an inkling some people will be interested but you don’t know. We’ve had maybe 140,000 downloads at this point, which is great.
Paste: When was the first inkling it was starting to catch on?
Grillo-Marxuach: I started taking meeting six months after the podcast came out. I was at a meeting for development at Fox and one of the assistants said to me that their boss was making everyone listen to the podcast. I also heard that about an essay I wrote about Operational Theme which is about development and why some TV shows work and some don’t. I started hearing about that from execs. Then, when I was on the second season of Helix, a staff writer said, ‘You know I had to stop listening to your podcast.’ I was like, ‘Were we awful?’ And he said, ‘No, it’s just weird to hear you here, and then hear your voice on the podcast.’ I was at Amazon once pitching this show, and a very nice man came up to me and said he and his writing partner were pitching a show, and they listen to the podcast. It was weird, because the guy comes up and calls me by my first name like he knew me. That was an odd experience, but people have nice things to say about it…At this point, I’ve done a lot of stuff. Some stuff you think will hit and it doesn’t, some stuff you think won’t and it does. The way I survive in this world is thinking that everything is a ‘thing I did.’ I’m on a show and that’s a thing I’m doing. I write an essay and that’s a thing I’m doing. I’m writing a comic book and that’s a thing I’m doing. Some of them turn out to be widely looked at and some vanish into obscurity and I think, ‘Eh, that’s a thing I did.’ That’s how I psychologically manage to survive (laughs). Otherwise, when you put the weight of your hopes and expectations on the same things, it can be soul-destroying.
Paste: There’s something to be said about the continued support of The Middleman. Looking at some one-season shows, a lot are impossible to find.
Grillo-Marxuach: Yeah, I mean Middleman is not a show on Hulu or Netflix. You can buy it on DVD or iTunes but, otherwise, it’s not an easy-to-find show. Sometimes I think that’s fine because it’s ‘curated obscurity.’ That’s how I sleep at night (laughs).
Paste: If everyone knew about it, it wouldn’t be cool!
Grillo-Marxuach: Exactly! It’s funny—I was talking to a friend of mine about fantasy novels 15 years ago. I was telling him about how I loved Narnia, because I read that first, but couldn’t get into Lord of the Rings because I read it after Narnia and it wasn’t my thing. My friend looks at me and he’s like ‘Gormenghast—look it up.’ I looked them up and of course those novels are classic, but they’re minor classics when compared to the volumes of people who read Narnia. It was such a thrill discovering Mervyn Peake’s work. I love it because they have depression instead of swords. And look, I love The Middleman. There’s no objectivity there. I know it’s a show we didn’t make for a lot of money, and I know all of my own shortcomings as a person so, presumably, those are all the shortcomings of the show too— to the extent that I didn’t allow them to be mitigated by all the talented people who were working on it. I’m really proud of it and I’m glad we live in an era of technology where it’s at least somewhere. There are some shows like Fantastic Voyage or Powers of Matthew Star that are just not out there. I worked on a show called The Chronicle, which was created by Silvio Horta, the creator of Ugly Betty. This is a serious show by a serious man. And you can’t find it anywhere! And that was just 14 years ago. The fact that people can find The Middleman if they try is good.
Paste: Any show that has that many Doctor Who references, I’m good with!
Grillo-Marxuach: Thank you! I’m a really big Doctor Who fan. We would ask every episode writer to pick an obscure thing they wanted to put in a lot of references to. It’s funny because [writer] Andy Reaser was not a big sci-fi fan but loved zombie movies. On his episode, all the references are to the band The Zombies (laughs). That was the great thing about doing that show, I could let go of it enough to have the writers get their individual stamps on the episodes. They were such talented writers and learned how to write like me so well, they were better at being me than I was.
Paste: With every show coming back now, if you were given an infinite amount of money and any amount of free time, would you make more episode,s or is it best left as is?
Grillo-Marxuach: Oh, I don’t know…is it a lot of money (laughs)? You know, The Middleman story is finished. I crowd funded a comic book last year and we just finished the story. Now we have the original comic books, two comic books based on the show and the DVDs of the show, so I think that’s done. I don’t know…if someone said, ‘Here’s all the money to do anything you wanted to do’ of course I would do it. On the other hand, I wrote that script first in 1998. Then it didn’t become a series until 2008. As far as getting validation, the fans of The Middleman contributed $67,000 to re-mastering the old books, creating a website, putting out the new books, putting on a table read. I mean—they stepped up. I have all the validation I need. Also, technically, since The Middleman is owned by Disney, it’s technically a Marvel property. Maybe the Middleman will show up in Captain American: Civil War or something.
Actually, you know what’s funny—I wrote six Marvel comic books and those were the books Marvel credits with helping relaunch the cosmic universe. I created this character named Wraith, who was a symbiotic life form, who had been possessed by the Exolon. The Exolon were these weird creatures that wrap around your body. They’re like a black slick. Once, while I was writing, I put on Guardians of the Galaxy and there was one actor I couldn’t recognize. I go onto IMDB to see the name of this actor and there’s a character named ‘The Exolon Monk.’ I thought, ‘what the hell is that?’ because I created the Exolon. Then I start poking around the Internet and there’s something about how Ronan meet the Exolon Monks and they taught him ‘the meaning of pain’ and I was like, ‘What the fuck?’ So I was shocked to discover that something I made had, in a roundabout way, made its way into Guardians of the Galaxy. And you’re just like, ‘Damn!’ That was weirdly rewarding. Part of me thinks Middleman will be some obscure reference that someone puts in another book. In the absence of worldwide success, you become enamored of obscurity as a totem of respect. And that’s how I live my life (laughs)!
Paste: Finally, if you were elected Mayor or Dalek Supreme of all of TV, what would you change about TV?
Grillo-Marxuach: I wouldn’t’ change anything. I like TV. TV is a lot of fun. If I could change anything, it would be the number of minority and female creatives in television. There are so many institutionalized efforts to do that and they’re all moving us in the right direction, but ultimately society will have to change, and sexism and racism will have to evolve out of that. If I were made Supreme Dalek, I would cause a societal change for TV to have a truly diverse representation of women and men and people of color. If I could secondarily do anything, it would be to add more outlets. The great thing about TV is you can produce it cheaply and more quickly. What having more outlets like YouTube has done is it has created a lot of opportunities for a lot of more idiosyncratic voices to hit TV. So add more outlets to bring more people into TV, because society is so sexist and racist. In terms of content, we’re at the peak of what TV can do, but it can only do that much more if it truly has a lot of different people using it to express a lot of different things. The more you widen it out, the better it gets.
Mark Rozeman is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow him on Twitter.