John Wells

Writer / Show Creator


The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Foundation Presents

02:26

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About
About this interview

In his three-and-a-half-hour Archive interview, John Wells talks about his early years, including his time as a roadie and later as a stage manager. He recalls being called in by Steven Bochco who gave him encouragement and helped him get hired to write for the short lived series Shell Game. He describes being a writer and producer on the critically acclaimed series China Beach, where he incorporated real-life stories from Vietnam veterans into the show. He outlines writing and producing ER over its fifteen-year run, including dealing with medical issues and terminology, several major cast changes, and the challenge of keeping the show fresh over a long run. Wells speaks of writing and producing the series The West Wing along with show creator Aaron Sorkin, and details several aspects of the show including Sorkin's difficulties with the network, taking over for Sorkin after he left the show, and dealing with the death of cast member John Spencer. He talks about executive producing Third Watch, Southland, and his then-current series Shameless. He concludes by talking about his writing process, career highlights, and where he sees himself in the then-future. Adrienne Faillace conducted the interview in a joint venture with the Writers Guild Foundation on December 11, 2015 in Beverly Hills, CA.

"What do I like about writing? It's brutal when you're writing! It's just disappointment after disappointment in yourself for the scene not being good enough. But man, when it finally works there's nothing better."

People Talking About ...
Highlights
John Wells on how ER  came about and Michael Crichton's original idea for the show
John Wells on crafting the stories of China Beach  using real life stories from veterans 
John Wells on Aaron Sorkin clashing with the network over The West Wing and Sorkin leaving the show
John Wells on being discovered by Steven Bochco and writing for Shell Game
John Wells on advice to aspiring writers
Full Interview

Chapter 1

On his early life and influences; on his short career as a roadie; on his time working in the theater as a stage manager
On being discovered by Steven Bochco and writing for Shell Game; on the writers room of Shell Game; on how he came to be a writer/producer for China Beach
On writing for Dana Delany as "Colleen McMurphy," and working with the writer John Sacret Young on China Beach; on the various writers of China Beach; on crafting the stories of the show and using real life stories from veterans 
On favorite China Beach stories and episodes; on the legacy of China Beach
On how ER came about and Michael Crichton's original idea for the show; on the casting process for ER; on shooting the pilot for the show and the subsequent look and tone of the series

Chapter 2

On the writing of ER and the use of real medical terminology in the scripts; on observing real life emergency rooms to write for ER; on network notes about ER
On coming up with new ideas over ER's fifteen-year run and the public getting medical information from the show; on issues the ER producers had with some advertisers; on the large number of cast changes on ER over fifteen seasons, including George Clooney leaving the show after five years
On the end of ER and writing the finale; on the legacy of ER
On how he came to produce and write The West Wing; on pitching The West Wing to the network with Aaron Sorkin; on the initial audience for The West Wing and the early process of writing the show, including Aaron Sorkin rewriting every script
On Aaron Sorkin clashing with the network over The West Wing and Sorkin leaving the show; on producing and writing The West Wing after Aaron Sorkin's departure and dealing with the death of John Spencer who played "Leo McGarry" on the show; on continuing the show after "Jed Bartlett's" presidency 
On working with Martin Sheen as "Jed Bartlett" on The West Wing; on the series finale of The West Wing and Aaron Sorkin's participation

Chapter 3

On juggling ER, The West Wing, and Third Watch, which were all on the air at the same time; on Third Watch addressing 9/11 with the episode "In Their Own Words" and subsequent stories on the show
On executive producing Southland; on executive producing Shameless starring William H. Macy
On adapting Shameless from the original British series; on William H. Macy and Emmy Rossum as "Frank Gallagher" and "Fiona Gallagher" on Shameless; on balancing the drama and the comedy on the show
On having the characters break the fourth wall on Shameless; on season six of Shameless and notes from Showtime regarding the series
On his writing process; on various awards he's received for his work, including the Emmy; on how writing for television differs from writing for feature film
On serving as president of the Writers Guild of America, West; on his mentors; on what he likes about writing
On his feelings on producing and directing; on his proudest career achievement and career regrets; on advice to aspiring writers and his then-future 
Shows

China Beach

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John Wells on how he came to be a writer/producer for China Beach
John Wells on writing for Dana Delany as "Colleen McMurphy," and working with the writer John Sacret Young on China Beach
John Wells on the various writers of China Beach
John Wells on crafting the stories of China Beach using real life stories from veterans 
John Wells on favorite China Beach stories and episodes
John Wells on the legacy of China Beach

ER

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John Wells on how ER came about and Michael Crichton's original idea for the show
John Wells on the casting process for ER
John Wells on shooting the pilot for ER and the subsequent look and tone of the series
John Wells on the writing of ER and the use of real medical terminology in the scripts
John Wells on observing real life emergency rooms to write for ER
John Wells on network notes about ER
John Wells on coming up with new ideas over ER's fifteen-year run and the public getting medical information from the show
John Wells on issues the ER producers had with some advertisers
John Wells on the large number of cast changes on ER over fifteen seasons, including George Clooney leaving the show after five years
John Wells on the end of ER and writing the finale
John Wells on the legacy of ER

Emmy Awards, The (Primetime and Daytime)

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John Wells on various awards he's received for his work including the Emmy Award

Shameless

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John Wells on executive producing Shameless starring William H. Macy
John Wells on adapting Shameless from the original British series
John Wells on William H. Macy and Emmy Rossum as "Frank Gallagher" and "Fiona Gallagher" on Shameless
John Wells on balancing the drama and the comedy on Shameless
John Wells on having the characters break the fourth wall on Shameless
John Wells on season six of Shameless and notes from Showtime regarding the series

Southland

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John Wells on executive producing Southland

Third Watch

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John Wells on Third Watch addressing 9/11 with the episode "In Their Own Words" and subsequent stories on the show
John Wells on creating Third Watch and balancing working on multiple shows at once (Editor’s Note: per the Writers Guild, credit for the Third Watch pilot is "teleplay by John Wells, Story by Edward Allen Bernero & John Wells. Co-created by John Wells and Edward Allen Bernero")

West Wing, The

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John Wells on how he came to produce and write The West Wing
John Wells on pitching The West Wing to the network with Aaron Sorkin
John Wells on the initial audience for The West Wing and the early process of writing the show, including Aaron Sorkin rewriting every script
John Wells on Aaron Sorkin clashing with the network over The West Wing and Sorkin leaving the show
John Wells on producing and writing The West Wing after Aaron Sorkin's departure and dealing with the death of John Spencer who had played "Leo McGarry" on the show
John Wells on continuing The West Wing after "Jed Bartlett's" presidency 
John Wells on working with Martin Sheen as "Jed Bartlett" on The West Wing
John Wells on the series finale of The West Wing and Aaron Sorkin's participation
Topics

9/11

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John Wells on Third Watch addressing 9/11 with the episode "In Their Own Words"

Advertising and Sponsorship

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John Wells on issues the ER producers had with some advertisers

Advice

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John Wells on advice to aspiring writers

Creative Influences and Inspiration

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John Wells on his mentors

Emmy Awards

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John Wells on various awards he's received for his work including the Emmy Award

Historic Events and Social Change

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John Wells on crafting the stories of China Beach using real life stories from Vietnam veterans 
John Wells on Third Watch addressing 9/11 with the episode "In Their Own Words"

Television Industry

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John Wells on issues the ER producers had with some advertisers
John Wells on advice to aspiring writers

Vietnam War

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John Wells on crafting the stories of China Beach using real life stories from Vietnam veterans 

War

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John Wells on crafting the stories of China Beach using real life stories from Vietnam veterans 
Professions

Writers

View Profession
John Wells on crafting the stories of China Beach using real life stories from veterans 
John Wells on the writing of ER and the use of real medical terminology in the scripts
John Wells on his writing process
John Wells on how writing for television differs from writing for feature film
John Wells on advice to aspiring writers
Genres

Comedy Series

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John Wells on creating and producing Shameless

Cop/Detective/Mystery Series

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John Wells on executive producing Southland

Drama Series

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John Wells on writing and producing China Beach
John Wells on writing and producing The West Wing

Medical Dramas

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John Wells on writing and producing ER
John Wells on writing and producing ER (Part 2)
John Wells on executive producing Third Watch
People

Steven Bochco

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John Wells on being discovered by Steven Bochco and writing for Shell Game

George Clooney

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John Wells on the casting process for ER: George Clooney
John Wells on the large number of cast changes on ER over fifteen seasons, including George Clooney leaving the show after five years

Michael Crichton

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John Wells on how ER came about and Michael Crichton's original idea for the show

Dana Delany

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John Wells on writing for Dana Delany as "Colleen McMurphy," and working with the writer John Sacret Young on China Beach

Martin Sheen

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John Wells on working with Martin Sheen as "Jed Bartlett" on The West Wing

Aaron Sorkin

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John Wells on how he came to produce and write The West Wing, which was created by Aaron Sorkin
John Wells on the initial audience for The West Wing and the early process of writing the show, including Aaron Sorkin rewriting every script
John Wells on Aaron Sorkin clashing with the network over The West Wing and Sorkin leaving the show
John Wells on the series finale of The West Wing and Aaron Sorkin's participation

John Spencer

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John Wells on producing and writing The West Wing  after Aaron Sorkin's departure and dealing with the death of John Spencer who had played "Leo McGarry" on the show

Sherry Stringfield

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John Wells on the casting process for ER: Sherry Stringfield

John Sacret Young

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John Wells on writing for Dana Delany as "Colleen McMurphy," and the writer John Sacret Young on China Beach

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