The Five Spot: Betsy Beers

Betsy Beers has her hands full plotting the twists and turns for ShondaLand series including Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal and How to Get Away with Murder. But she still makes time to tweet. When the season 3 premiere of Murder goes down Sept. 22, Beers will share the show with viewers and followers in real time. “I try to participate on premiere nights with a little more zest and efficiency,” she says.

Beers departed New York for Hollywood years ago with dreams of acting, but ended up writing and producing. When she’s not watching dailies, Beers unwinds watching TV with husband Bruce Cormicle. An L.A. criminal defense attorney with some Scandal-ous stories to tell, he consults on some Shonda Rhimes series.

They love the HGTV makeover show FixerUpper. “That couple—they’re so happy!” Beers enthuses about hosts Chip and Joanna Gaines. “Everyone I know who’s remodeling a house is so grouchy.”

An edited transcript of her conversation with B&C deputy editor Michael Malone follows.

What’s the feeling right before your show premieres?

My favorite thing about the first night a show airs is that I can [then] talk about them! It’s such a relief be able to talk to people the next day and say, ‘Can you believe what happened to blank? Were you surprised?’ There’s this one thing about the premiere episode of How to Get Away With Murder I’m just dying, dying, dying to talk about, and I can’t.

Grey’s Anatomy was a big surprise last season, returning to the conversation after so many years on the air. What’s your prediction for the new season?

Some characters we really got to know last season, we’ll get to know more about. There was something terrific about the tone last season, as everybody kind of hit the reset button. There were some really lovely surprises, and [the new season] is a continuation of some of the great things Shonda and the writers established last season. There’s a great combination of drama and emotional crises and a lot of comedy.

Describe your role as non-writing executive producer.

I can do anything the showrunner/ creator doesn’t want to do, doesn’t have time to do or needs help doing, with the exception of writing, directing or acting. That includes developing new series. It’s pretty much everything from the inception of an idea to pitching it to producing the pilot and hoping it gets picked up, then producing the series.

What does ShondaLand look for in a pitch?

It always starts with the writing. We try to be in business with writers we absolutely love, who have a voice we believe in, who have a definitive point of view, who tell stories that, at their core, are based on character. No matter what the situation is—if there are procedural elements, if it’s totally serialized, whatever—just as long as the characters drive the drama and the story forward. All of our writer/creators are incredibly good at placing their characters in situations that seem to be impossible to get out of, then digging them out of the hole. And if you look at all of these shows, each has a very distinct tone. We always want to make sure the next show we do feels different from the shows we’ve done.

You and Shonda produced a Hillary Clinton film for the Democratic convention. What was that like?

It was an amazing experience—one of the largest honors I’ve ever had. We got to talk to the most amazing people and were privileged enough to go to the convention, which was a mind-blowing experience. I’ve had career highlights doing the job I love as well, but this was a different kind of responsibility and challenge. It was just an incredible thrill.

Michael Malone

Michael Malone, senior content producer at B+C/Multichannel News, covers network programming, including entertainment, news and sports on broadcast, cable and streaming; and local broadcast television. He hosts the podcasts Busted Pilot, about what’s new in television, and Series Business, a chat with the creator of a new program, and writes the column “The Watchman.” He joined B+C in 2005. His journalism has also appeared in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Playboy and New York magazine.