Joe Weisberg and Joel Fields like to say they were forced into an arranged marriage, much like Elizabeth and Philip Jennings, the Russian spies at the center of their series The Americans, which debuts its fourth season on FX March 16.
“One of the ways we managed to forge such a strong connection early on is we had to or we would die, because there was so much to do so fast,” says Fields, whose credits include Rizzoli & Isles and Ugly Betty. “We did a lot of talking through. Then we tired each other out. And now we just do the work.”
Show creator Weisberg worked for the CIA in the early ’90s. He says The Americans has another season or two in it and some questions to answer, like will the Jennings’ kids become Soviet agents? “I don’t think we know the answer yet, but I think you’ll know the answer by the end,” he says. An edited version of Weisberg and Fields’ conversation with B&C business editor Jon Lafayette follows.
FX CEO John Landgraf says there are so many good TV series these days, it’s hard to break through. Is that something that concerns you?
Fields: We really can’t think about that. When Joe and I first started working on the show, we talked through the pressure we felt to make a great show. We decided you can’t set out to make a great show. What we could do is set out to make a show that we’re really proud of, that really excites and interests us. If we worried too much about trying to chase the audience, then no one’s going to be interested.
Is the intensified demand for programming something you feel, and do you know there are people out there looking for someone to create more shows like The Americans?
Weisberg: Our focus is entirely on this show. But from inside the bubble we’ve felt all around us this explosion happening where the number of shows and the demand for shows has skyrocketed, and the way shows are watched and the places shows are on—the whole landscape has changed so rapidly. It’s just kind of an odd feeling.
Does being on advertising-supported cable, as opposed to HBO or Netflix, affect the way you work?
Fields: We just tell the best story we can tell. And FX is particularly great about things like program running time. Their attitude is, deliver a great show. If it gets too, too long you might have to put in another commercial break just to fill out the time, but if you go past your hour, that’s OK. That’s very liberating to us creatively.
Is Season 4 more about the threats to theJenningsfamily or to national security?
Weisberg: We talk a lot about how this season is more focused on the emotional stuff in the Jennings family. But the fact is there is a plot that runs through the whole season about national security that is huge in terms of how much damage could be inflicted. That does play quite large, though there’s no question the overall focus of the time and emotion of this season is around the family.
Series costar Margo Martindale seems to be everywhere. What does she bring to the show?
Fields: She’s a pleasure to work with, and the character [Claudia] is wonderful. What else can you ask for? I think about how she made turns between being very hard and scary and then being very compassionate. Those are hard turns to make, and her ability to do that so easily is magic.
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Jon has been business editor of Broadcasting+Cable since 2010. He focuses on revenue-generating activities, including advertising and distribution, as well as executive intrigue and merger and acquisition activity. Just about any story is fair game, if a dollar sign can make its way into the article. Before B+C, Jon covered the industry for TVWeek, Cable World, Electronic Media, Advertising Age and The New York Post. A native New Yorker, Jon is hiding in plain sight in the suburbs of Chicago.