Every good television show needs an audience to sustain it. At the Envelope Emmy Roundtable, five of TV's top show runners told The Times' Martin Miller what they think draws viewers to their own programs: Alex Gansa of "Homeland," Terence Winter of "Boardwalk Empire," David Benioff of "Game of Thrones," Glen Mazzara of "The Walking Dead" and Vince Gilligan of "Breaking Bad."
For Gansa, the appeal of "Homeland" boils down to its two leads. "If I had to say one thing, I would say Claire Danes and Damian Lewis: There's something about those two people together that compels people to tune in," he said.
According to Winter, "Boardwalk Empire" provides "a window into a world that doesn't exist anymore" — the 1920s — but it also holds up a mirror to contemporary issues. "What I think makes it relatable is there's so many issues that almost feel ripped out of today's headlines," he said. "Basically, Prohibition, illegal alcohol, is really the drug business. … We did a story line last year dealing with women's fertility rights — that stuff is in the headlines. The Scopes Monkey Trial was in 1924, and we're still debating evolution."
For "Game of Thrones," Benioff said one of the goals was to create a show that would resonate not only with fans of the fantasy genre, but also mainstream audiences — people "who might actually be kind of averse to a show with dragons in it and ice demons and stuff like that."
He added, "There's something great about — for me as a TV viewer — going someplace I've never been before and spending an hour on a Sunday night in a completely foreign land."
Mazzara said, "I think people are drawn to 'The Walking Dead' because they seem to buy into the concept of a zombie apocalypse. For some reason people get that and they immediately put themselves in that set of circumstances. They, in a sense, play along at home."
And as for what draws people to "Breaking Bad" season after season, Gilligan had a succinct answer. "Five little words: Bryan Cranston in his underpants. That's what we've got going for us. You've got to give the people what they want."
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