HUGH I’m so desperate for someone to say no to me. When you hire writers, you’re surrounded by people pleasers, and I get it. But what we’re looking for are people to help us build the best show. And sometimes that means telling us, You know what? I personally don’t think that’s going to work, and this is why.
LINDELOF The worst thing that you can say to me in an interview is, I’m a huge fan of your work. Because either it triggers some degree of discomfort or self-loathing, or it’s very flattering and it’s really nice, but it kind of runs afoul of what you’re talking about. Is this person going to be unable to tell me that I’m an idiot? The fact of the matter is that most of the time, I am an idiot.
Are there times when your writers have opened your eyes to a way of thinking that you hadn’t thought of before?
HUGH All the time.
LINDELOF All the time.
HUGH I think the higher up you go, you lose all sense of proportion. You don’t worry about money anymore. You’re less hungry. You get exposed to fewer different people. Age just bubbles you in a way that for better or worse is limiting in terms of the human experience. So what I love about the writers’ room, and I think why it’s probably my favorite part of the process, is all of a sudden my sense of the world expands. Now I’m seeing it through seven or eight people’s eyes.
LINDELOF Look, in the rooms that I started in, the reality was it was basically white guys. And so I was like, Oh, what you do is you just copy yourself. That way, there’s all these different versions of you, and you don’t have to waste time explaining things. That led to a culture of tokenism, which I take full responsibility for. On “Lost,” we had characters who spoke Korean, and Harold Perrineau as a Black father, so it was like, We should probably have a Black writer and a Korean writer for their episodes. But, of course, those writers are whole people who have perspectives on all the other characters, as well.
The idea that came later — of curating a room that looks nothing like you and has wildly different life experience than you and that you may occasionally come into more conflict with — I think that resulted in better and more interesting work.
As writers who became producers, how did you learn to get a big crew rowing in the same direction?
HUGH I’ve found that my job as a showrunner is mostly to say, It’s not good enough but to say it with a smile. What can we do? How do we push it forward?
LINDELOF I think when you are producing something, as opposed to writing, it is the act of making. If you’re a novelist, for example, sure you’re making a novel. But then you say, Now, Jonathan Franzen, manifest “The Corrections” into a television series, and it becomes an entirely different skill set. It requires daily and constant sacrifice and compromise from people who are not necessarily used to that. Every single day, every email that we get is some version of, I know you wanted to do this, but how about this instead? If you always say yes, then what are you even there for? Where’s the place where you dig in your heels? It will seem arbitrary to someone outside of our bodies, but we have to take the arbitrary thing and make it seem essential.