Before the Streaming Wars and before Peak TV, American television was going through its “Difficult Men” era. That’s the phrase coined by Brett Martin in his 2013 book, which explored the decade between the debuts of 1999’s The Sopranos and 2008’s Breaking Bad and all the shows in between that were made about or, in some cases, by… well, difficult men. While Martin focused mainly on cable series in his book, men with deep-seated personal and professional issues also proliferated in front of the camera — and behind the scenes of network shows — including Desperate Housewives, Lost and House.
It’s an era that Patty Lin knows all too well. Between 1998 and 2008, the now-retired TV writer worked on some of that decade’s defining shows, from Freaks and Geeks to Breaking Bad. She also encountered her fair share of difficult men during her time in Hollywood, including Desperate Housewives creator Marc Cherry, Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan and Martial Law showrunner Carlton Cuse, who went on to oversee Lost with Damon Lindelof.
Lin offers a candid portrayal of her experiences in the new memoir, End Credits: How I Broke Up With Hollywood. The book allows viewers a peek behind the curtain at some of the questionable behavior that was tolerated or ignored at the time by executives and even the media, whether it was the “overt racism” she encountered from Cherry or the “cowardice” she experienced with Gilligan. In that way, End Credits joins Maureen Ryan’s recent tell-all, Burn It Down as an overdue accounting of past wrongs and a jumping-off point for conversations about how the industry can improve when the current labor strikes are resolved.
Drawing on her own time in Hollywood, Lin answered three questions from Yahoo Entertainment about where the TV industry has been — and where she hopes its going next.
1. Is it gratifying to see Hollywood’s “difficult men” now being held to account?
Some of the biggest bombshells that Ryan chronicled in Burn It Down came straight from the set and writer’s room of Lost, where both Lindelof and Cuse were repeatedly accused of contributing to a toxic and even racist atmosphere on set. Based on her own experience working for Cuse on Martial Law — a late ’90s CBS star vehicle for Hong Kong action legend, Sammo Hung — she says she “wasn’t that surprised” to read Ryan’s reports.
“I didn’t work on Lost and I don’t know anyone personally who wrote for Lost, so it’s not like I could say, ‘This is definitely what happened,'” Lin is careful to note. “But the experience I had on Martial Law was not an ideal experience for any writer, especially one who was just starting out in the business.”
In End Credits, Lin characterizes Cuse — who created and ran Martial Law for its two season lifespan — as a frequently absent boss. And when he was present, he didn’t mind finding ways to humiliate writers with bruising note sessions or rewriting their scripts himself without any input. “It taught me that I was going to need to have a pretty thick skin if I was going to keep doing this,” Lin says of her one-season stint working with Cuse. “Sometimes I look back and I’m like, ‘Maybe I should have just quit after that.'”
But even as End Credits pulls back the curtain on the behavior of that era’s high-profile showrunners like Cuse, Cherry and Gilligan, Lin makes it clear that she considers this new era of truth-telling about a previous era of television to be more about improving the future instead of litigating the past.
“I don’t take any sort of delight in seeing one person being taken down or anything,” she explains. “It’s more about being glad that people are feeling empowered to stand up for themselves and talk about negative experiences they may have without those accounts being brushed off as, ‘Oh, it doesn’t matter, because that show as brilliant.’ Especially with the strike right now, it does seems like there’s more of an emphasis on: ‘We do care how shows are made. We care that people are not use or abused or made to feel marginalized.’ I think that’s definitely a more positive thing.”
2. How does a retired TV writer feel about the WGA strike?
End Credits makes it clear that Lin’s break up with Hollywood is probably permanent. “I definitely want to write more books and see what else comes up,” she says of her future plans. “I’m not big on making game plans, because I spent so much of my life being ambitious, and I realized it that was not making me happy.”
But Lin is happy to see the members of her former union, the Writers Guild of America, standing strong on the picket lines as their labor dispute with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers passes the 100-day mark with no immediate end in sight. “I’m glad the writers are standing up for themselves in this situation,” she says. “From what I hear, a lot of the issues that I talk about in my book have gotten worse in the last 10 years. It’s a lot harder to make a living as a TV writer now, because shows run for very short seasons and writers are also being hired at lower rates. I hope they get everything they’re fighting for.”
“There’s also the issue of AI,” Lin continues, referring to one of the key disputes between the WGA and the AMPTP. “That was not a thing when I worked in television, and a future where shows and movies are essentially written by AI and maybe touched up a little bit by a human writer is not something I’m interested in as a consumer of entertainment. I wants stories that were written by human beings who have lived some life. The fight over AI isn’t some abstract thing that’s way out in the future — it’s here and it’s happening, and it needs to be addressed.”
3. Do TV shows need multiple writers or is one enough?
One of the tensions that Lin talks about throughout End Credits is how she navigated the solitary act of writing with being part of a writers room — the way television has traditionally been created. With the advent of the streaming age, though, those writers rooms are starting to shrink, if they exist at all. In fact, the WGA’s efforts to ensure a minimum writers room staff size has emerged as one of the other sticking points in the strike.
While Lin acknowledges that she sometimes struggled with being part of a writers room, she still believes that television is a “collaborative medium” where having more voices can aid the finished product. “When collaboration works well, you can get amazing shows out of that. So I’m not knocking the collaboration process, but a lot of times that process doesn’t work well, especially on shows that are extremely disorganized. In those cases, it’s no fun. You’re given a scene to write, you go off and do this disembodied scene and then you come back and it gets stitched together. I don’t think that’s satisfying for anybody.”
Some showrunners — most notably Yellowstone creator, Taylor Sheridan — make it known that they prefer to write an entire series on their own, largely dispensing with a writing staff. But Lin doesn’t think that would have necessarily been her ideal working situation either. “I was never in the position where I was creating and running my own show, but if I were in that situation, I would definitely want other writers to bounce ideas off of,” she says. “When you’re working with smart people who are creative and everyone’s on the same wavelength, great things come out of that.
“But not everybody’s like that,” she allows. “There are some writers who want to write every episode themselves. If that’s their process and that’s the way that they work best, then who am I to say that they shouldn’t be able to do that?”
End Credits: How I Broke Up With Hollywood is available now at most major booksellers.