Marcia Clark is in the promos for ABC’s new drama The Fix, which she teases may be a “a revenge fantasy,” since it’s loosely based on her experiences prosecuting O.J. Simpson. But the show was created and written by a team of three: Clark, along with showrunners Liz Craft and Sarah Fain, who worked as writers on early prestige TV, from The WB’s Angel to FX’s The Shield.
Craft and Fain created ABC’s Women’s Murder Club, but were fired on the day the writers’ strike ended, and went on to be showrunners on Whedon’s Dollhouse. They also created a podcast, Happier in Hollywood, that goes behind the scenes on their new ABC show.
As a writing team, Craft and Fain split a paycheck for a single writer, but also benefit from having someone they can trust in “a back-biting, superficial, chaotic, unpredictable, and fundamentally insane” industry, as their podcast’s tagline says.
Much of Craft and Fain’s work on The Fix, from breaking the pilot script to casting to post-production, has been chronicled on their podcast Happier in Hollywood, which was spun off from Happier, a podcast Craft hosts with her sister and The Happiness Project author Gretchen Rubin.
Happier in Hollywood is structured around regular segments and actionable advice, such as the suggestion that women who are interviewing someone bring a man into the room with them as a prop, to see if the interviewee addresses the prop man, or the women in charge.
There’s also a lot of practical advice for aspiring Hollywood writers, explaining exactly how they can break in to the business.
Behind the scenes of The Fix
While its mission is to help people “be happier, healthier, saner, more creative, more successful, and more productive in” that “insane world,” whether it’s Hollywood or elsewhere, the podcast has also covered other ground, including discussion of their non-work lives, including the deaths of both of Fain’s parents last year.
And it’s also become an accidental documentary series that, in periodic segments, anecdotes, interviews, and conversations, has covered the entire arc of the production of The Fix, from breaking the pilot to spotting their show’s billboard,
The Fix (ABC, Mondays at 10) had mixed reviews, and the premiere, which aired last night, establishes it as a soapy, twisty ABC drama, not a thoughtful reexamination of the O.J. Simpson case (that’s already been done by unscripted TV, and done very well.)
Watching the pilot, and realizing it’s probably not a show for me, I still was invested enough to keep watching. And although I agreed with points made in some of the more critical reviews, reading them still left me feeling oddly protective over the show.
I think those reactions come from having The Fix’s entire story: for two years, on Happier in Hollywood, I’ve listened as Liz and Sarah have navigated the insanity of Hollywood and broadcast television, and managed to produce something that has made it to prime-time network TV, which itself is a significant accomplishment.
I also listened as they discovered why they really wanted this show succeed. In episode 90, Liz says, “Our goal is to have a hit show, because that is the natural end to being a TV writer, and to feel that we have completed our mission, we need to have a hit show.”
But as they talked about knowing why, exactly, that was their desired outcome, Liz suddenly realizes this: “because the more we explode, the more we are able to raise up women in this business.” Sarah exclaims, “I love that why!”
In July of 2017, a couple months after the podcast launched, I sat in on a recording session. In a small studio off of Ventura Boulevard, Liz and Sarah sat facing each other, in front of microphones, glancing at outlines of their podcast outlines. They paused to drink simultaneously, creating mirror images of one another.
Later, at their offices at the old Disney Animation Building—where Bambi and Dumbo came to life, and where an old penthouse club was once for “Men only! Sorry, gals”—their treadmill desks sat facing a whiteboard with notes on The Fix’s pilot.
They repeatedly finished each other’s sentences as they discussed writing as a team, life in Hollywood for women, reality TV they love, and their 19-year partnership. Below are excerpts from that conversation.
Working as a writing team
Liz: “When you’re in a team like we are, you have one person you can trust no matter what, and that’s very comforting. It’s also someone that completely understands your experience. As we move through this crazy world together, our equilibrium is kind of in place because we have each other to gut-check. I think that’s a big part of it.
Sarah: “I agree.”
Liz: “But splitting our paycheck isn’t so great.”
Sarah: “That’s not so good for our happiness. As a team, we chose early on in our career—we had, just not like extra-shitty times, but really hard, intense jobs that can kind of take over your life and are really mentally and emotionally taxing and trying. The Shield, which we loved, was a really hard, life-sucking job. It was great—I would do it again, if given the chance—but we, at that point, had to say: We need to figure out our priorities and whether having a sane life is important to us. And we decided that it was. Since that point, we make choices to enhance our happiness.”
Liz: “If an opportunity arises that might be a great career move, but we know the people are awful, we’ll pass.”
The origins of their partnership
Sarah: “We have, for a long time, said the same thing at the same time. I was not aware that we mirror each other physically. That’s a little disturbing. I think we always say we have the same priorities. We have the same ambition and we have the same priorities. I think if you don’t have those two things, you have a big problem, working as closely together as we do. And we have the same values.”
Liz: “We had a lot of the same teachers in high school, and our high school was really an incredible school for English lit, and I feel like it really shaped our sensibility, oddly, more than college. We come at things aesthetically from the same point of view, and I just attribute it to that. I have no idea if that’s actually valid. … We always say that to be partners you have the same level of ambition, because if one person really cares about having their own show and one person doesn’t, that’s never going to work. We really just…”
Liz: “…do care about it. Because we’ve known each other since we were 14, and we came out here together, and we experienced it together, we know we would never do anything to harm the other. Which seems like it should be obvious, but in Hollywood—”
Sarah: “—it’s not.”
Liz: “It’s not, at all.”
Adding Marcia Clark member
Liz: ”With Marcia, it was very easy for us to work with her because we’re so used to working with somebody, whereas I think it can be harder if someone who isn’t used to working with someone suddenly has another person to deal with.”
Sarah: “It’s very easy for us to open the circle.”
Liz: “We just talk about everything all the time. And then when we’re actually writing, we split stuff up. Because actually writing, two people together, is very tedious. We’ll rewrite together.”
Sarah: “We usually split things up, write, give each other notes, separately rewrite, put it back together, and then rewrite together, because at that point it’s usually very close. And then if a scene needs more, one person will go do it.”
Why it’s harder to be a writing team now, and sexism in writers’ rooms
Sarah: “Writing teams are getting less common, it seems like.”
Liz: “Because of the money, because they’re fewer you split your paycheck, and now that, if you only do 10 episodes of something. But it’s not uncommon. We’ve worked with many teams. Female writing teams—I meant here’s not a lot of them. … A good reason, as women, to be a team, it’s that whole amplification of voice. The whole sexism thing is getting better in writers’ rooms—significantly, I would say, in our experience. It might just be [that] we’re choosing where we are. But with a female writing team you can say, Hey, I like what Sarah said; I don’t know if you guys heard it, when they pass you by.”
On why they like watching reality TV
Sarah: “Writers of scripted shows like reality because we don’t see the blueprint underneath the way we do when we watch shows. It’s very hard for a scripted show to be super-engaging to me at this point, because I see the choices that are being made. You know how the sausage is being made; you don’t want to eat the sausage.”
Liz: “I feel like they’re more edited into story, so it’s not quite the same. … It’s relaxing to me.”
Sarah: “I like some Bachelor stuff sometimes.”
Liz: “I don’t even love to hate them. I think a lot of people love to hate the Housewives. I love them. I love Erica Jane. I love Kyle Richards. Some of them, obviously, but I’m not engaged in ones—like New Jersey, I don’t think the people are as smart or interesting, I’m not as interested. I like to like the women. I love The Real Housewives of Orange County, I love those women. They’re characters.
The big roles for women in their 40s are reality television. I mean Kris Jenner, for god’s sake, she’s Cersei Lannister. Who is stronger than Kris Jenner? These are powerful women. And I like watching powerful women. I’m not that interested in Southern Charm, because it’s guys, and I’m not as interested in their side. I like to just see the women. I feel strongly about it.
…Bachelor in Paradise is the best show on television.”
Sarah: “That’s my guilty pleasure.”
Liz: “… I was devastated when I thought it was done. This is the best show on television; I have to have Bachelor in Paradise. … I don’t love them the way I love the housewives. It’s more like talking about it. I like to talk to other people who watch it about the machinations.”
Sarah: “It is like Game of Thrones in that way.”
Liz: “You watched it before I did. You got me to watch it. I still watch Project Runway. I’ve seen every season and every spin-off season.”
Andy: “Project Runway Junior?”
Liz: “Oh, Project Runway Junior, is incredible. The kids on that show give me faith in the future of our country.”
How the podcast has helped their work, and who it’s for
Sarah: “The podcast forces us to stop and think about it, and therefor once you’re thinking about it, you have to deal with it. Like the thing with being on the rack. It’s like, Wait a minute, let’s just not be like gerbils on a wheel here. Let’s go, okay, this is happening, how can we manage it and get through it?”
Liz: “It’s been very helpful that way. What’s been interesting is how many women in Hollywood have been reaching to us saying, Oh my god, I deal with this—and men too, actually—I deal with the exact same thing. The topic we talked about, what to wear to meetings, we’ve gotten so many e-mails from people both Hollywood people and teachers and doctors talking about what they wear and why. But specifically the people in L.A. Who’ve reached out to us, it’s nice that they feel like we’re offering not really advice but more—it’s like a camaraderie. They go, oh, you’re experiencing exactly what I’m experiencing.”
Sarah: “We really intentionally tried not to speak just to Hollywood—obviously that’s our world and that’s the title, but we really want it to be applicable outside of Hollywood.”
Liz: “My best friend in Kansas City, her name is Mindy, she’s always a big cheerleader for everything I do. So we say, how does this apply to Mindy in Kansas City—we’re both from Kansas City—so we go, why is Mindy in Kansas City interested in this? And if we can’t think of a reason why she would find it interesting, then we probably won’t do it.”
The failure double standard
Sarah: “When women do badly, we still have the thing of, When a guy totally fucks up, he’s going to fail up. When a woman screws up, when a woman doesn’t succeed, it’s over. And not only has she screwed herself, but it applies to every other person with a vagina.”
Liz: “Women control the money in the family, are the biggest buyers, are media consumers. It makes absolutely no sense that everything isn’t geared toward women. It frustrates us when people ask for male points of entry on television show. We get that a lot. Who cares! Half the population is women…”
Sarah: “More than half.”
Liz: “More than half. The way TV is carved up these days, it’s so niche anyway. Even on network, you’re not getting, obviously, the numbers it got back when. So why do we care if it’s only women viewing? Fine with me. That’s not what I say: We go, ‘We’ll make sure we have male points of entry. Don’t worry.'”
Sarah: “‘Any male point of entry!'”
On their motto: “It’s a fun job and we enjoy it”
Sarah: “It’s fun to talk about TV, it’s fun to be in TV, it’s fun to make it.”
Liz: “As Sarah said one time when we were doing a pilot in Hungary—there we were in the woods, in Budapest, at like 4 a.m., knee deep in mud…”
Sarah: “…so muddy, and so cold.”
Liz: “…so cold, and Sarah was like, we must enjoy this, because we keep doing it!”
Sarah: “…over and over again”
Liz: “And it’s true. Somehow we always end up in rain pants at 4 a.m., so we must like it.”