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Finding a 'Homeland' in Television

If the Emmy Awards were held in the manner of the U.S. presidential election, outstanding drama candidate ‘Homeland’ would be a frontrunner for the Programming party.

Unfortunately for the Showtime political thriller, which debuts its second season Sept. 30, the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences will not be holding a debate to discuss the newcomer’s merits against four-term leader Mad Men at next week’s 64th Primetime Emmy Awards.

But Homeland’s success since its October 2011 premiere—including a Golden Globe for best television series drama, its place as Showtime’s highest-rated freshman show ever and the fact that it helped earn the network the most Emmy nominations in its history—has exceeded any expectations executive producer Alex Gansa may have had when his agent returned from Israel with a script and said to Homeland cocreator Howard Gordon, “‘I think I have your next series.’”

The script was the pilot of an Israeli series, Prisoners of War. Gordon, who also serves as Homeland’s executive producer, brought Gansa—with whom he had previously worked on numerous series—on to the project. Gansa says he was “immediately intrigued” after reading just that one script. The pair developed the series for a network home, with cabler Showtime eventually winning out over broadcast nets Fox and NBC.

“The importance of the show being on cable cannot be overstated, just in terms of the creative freedom it allows us,” Gansa says.

Creative freedom is especially important when discussing Homeland’s subject matter, which in just the first season included drone strikes, government surveillance and domestic terrorism. With the country currently divided over its own political issues in the lead-up to the heated 2012 presidential election, Gansa says that they “do their best to remain agnostic on all these things.

“We don’t try to fall on one side of the answer,” Gansa says. “We just try to ask the question and let people come to a determination on their own. Because truthfully, these are the debates that are going on in the halls of power and the intelligence community right now.”

Though bringing up such subjects would have some networks shying away for its controversy, Showtime president of entertainment David Nevins says that he “trusts [Gansa] to let him make the calls.

“[Gansa] is both deliberate and decisive in his decision-making, and he knows how to think things through,” Nevins says. “He’s been doing it for a long time, and Homeland is kind of the one where he was finally able to come into his own.”

Not only has Gansa worked on a plethora of shows, he’s also been able to work on shows that have become iconic television on both broadcast and cable. Just prior to Homeland, Gansa joined Gordon at 24 to serve as a writer and coexecutive producer for the Fox drama’s ! nal two seasons.

Gansa’s relationship with Gordon spans decades. The pair met in their senior year at Princeton and decided upon graduation in 1984 that they would “take a shot,” as Gansa says, and drive cross-country to work in the entertainment business. Soon after their arrival in Los Angeles, they sold a spec script to the 1980s series St. Elsewhere and started an SAT preparation company (aptly enough for two Ivy Leaguers). One of their first students was the daughter of a producer on the ’80s ABC show Spenser: For Hire, who was always looking for new writers. Gansa landed a writing gig on that series.

“It was a combination of serendipity and hard work,” he says.

What followed in Gansa’s career indicates more hard work and talent than any serendipity. Following Spenser, he wrote and produced for the Emmy-nominated CBS series Beauty and the Beast, which was Gansa’s first staff job as a TV writer. When that show ended, Gansa and Gordon pitched or produced several pilots, including Country Estates in 1993, before Gansa was hired as a writer and supervising producer on The X-Files.

Gansa’s credits comprise mostly dramas; in addition to Dawson’s Creek, he worked on the short-lived Wolf Lake and Numb3rs. But his one foray into comedy was HBO’s Entourage, where he served as a consulting producer during the show’s fourth season.

“I had a blast,” Gansa says of the series, “[but] I think my own inclination is a dramatic one. This is where my head resides, and how I think about stories is in a more dramatic structure.”

While Gansa does echo that sentiment in his television choices (Boss and Breaking Bad top his list of favorite shows to watch in his free time), he does watch some sitcoms: namely, NBC’s Parks and Recreation and Fox’s New Girl.

The college English major is also an avid reader—he cites the works of John le Carré as speaking to him in a way that sitcoms do not. Gansa also, however, calls himself an unhappy writer: at times, he says, he literally must belt himself into a chair to write. “It’s very difficult for me [to write]. I very much prefer the story process, the production process. But ultimately…I’m forced to do it,” he says.

Unfortunately for Gansa (and fortunately for fans), he will be spending a lot more time in that chair. As soon as the current Homeland season wraps, he and Gordon will begin working on a pilot for CBS next year. And if Homeland continues with the same ferocity as during its freshman season, he might need to buy a new belt.

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