Part one of a conversation with the co-creator of Third Watch and Executive Producer and founding showrunner of Criminal Minds. We hear about Ed’s unusual path into storytelling, covering how came to run the show and how he built the story mythology that has allowed Criminal Minds to achieve global financial success.

Kary:

This is the Crime Story Podcast with Kary Antholis where we have conversations about how and why narratives of crime and justice are told.

Today’s podcast is part one of a two-part conversation with Ed Bernero, the co-creator of Third Watch and Executive Producer and founding showrunner of Criminal Minds.

The conversation was recorded as part of a series of classes that I taught at The University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts. Each week I would host an artist for a discussion that would help us better understand their values and aims as storytellers in the world of crime and justice. In addition to discussing the works and artists who shaped their creative thinking, we zeroed in on one particular piece of their work. 

With today’s guest, we chose Criminal Minds. In part one of the conversation we will hear about Ed’s unusual path into storytelling, as well as covering how came to run the show, and how he built the story mythology that has allowed Criminal Minds to achieve global financial success. In part two of the podcast we will zero in on two of the show’s episodes to discuss how the details of their creation offer us broader insights into the creative process that Ed established on the show. We will also hear Ed’s answers to questions posed by USC students.

And now, here is today’s Crime Story Podcast…

Kary:

Ladies and gentlemen, please join me in welcoming Ed Bernero.

Ed Bernero:

Hi. That’s a hard episode to clap for, isn’t it? At the end everyone’s like, “Uh. That was fucked up.”

Kary:

So take us on a little journey from cradle to this.

Ed Bernero:

From my cradle to this? Or my professional cradle to this?

Kary:

Well, I don’t know. Give us a sense of your path into the entertainment business, including your life immediately before the entertainment business.

Ed Bernero:

Right. Probably the most relevant part of my life before this is I was a cop in Chicago for 10 years. I was a street cop in Chicago. And while I was working the midnight shift as a cop, I started writing in my basement just for something to do. My wife is a surgical nurse, and my kids would go to school and she would go to work. So I had nothing to do all day. So I just started writing for something to do.

Ed Bernero:

And after a few years … so here’s how I started writing scripts. I actually was going to write a book. Because you tell your war stories and people are like, “Oh, you got great stories, man. You should write a book. You should write a book.” So I’m like, “All right. I’m going to write a novel.” So I sit down and write the book, and I tend to ramble. You’ll find out tonight. I’ll start answering a question and then it’ll be like, “What are we talking about again?”

Ed Bernero:

And I was complaining about this problem I have to another cop who’s an actor. See, people think cops are just cops. But cops actually are science teachers and lawyers and there’s cops from every kind of walk of life. And I was complaining to this guy … who sung all night, by the way. He sung “Love the One You’re With” all fucking night. He never stopped singing, this guy. It’s a nice voice but the 175th time you hear that, there’s a rose in the fisted glove. God. What an awful song to listen to all night.

Ed Bernero:

But anyway, I was complaining to him about this problem I have, and in between songs he said, “Oh, you should write a script.” And I said, “What are you talking about?” He goes, “Well, there’s rules. You have to do something by page three, something by page five. You can’t really ramble.” And I’m like, “There’s rules?” And he said, “Yeah. There’s a book called Screenplay. You should read that book and it tells you what to do and when to do it.”

Ed Bernero:

So I read that book in a squad car over like the next three nights. And I said, “I think I can do this.” And my wife goes … I said, “I’m going to write a movie script.” She goes, “Does that cost anything?” And I said, “No.” She goes, “Okay. Have fun.” And she went to work, and I just started writing scripts in my basement, sort of following Screenplay.

Ed Bernero:

And after about three years my wife read one of them and said, “You know, you should send this to someone, because I would watch this. This seems like something I would actually watch.” So we didn’t know what to do, so I ended up putting a package with the script and a letter, and sent it to all the networks. Because it’s the only contact in Chicago that I had with Hollywood. And I wrote like, “Dear CBS, I know this isn’t the thing to do, but I’m a cop in Chicago. If you could forward this to whoever’s supposed to get it, I’d really appreciate it.”

Ed Bernero:

And the guy from NBC called me. They had a thing called the New Voices Program at NBC at the time. And he was like … well first of all, I didn’t believe it was him. I thought it was my partner Bobby. Because my partner Bobby would have done something like this. They all knew that I sent it. So I’m like, “Bobby, quit fucking with me. Quit it.” He goes, “No, no. Seriously. I’m calling from Burbank, from NBC. And we have a New Voice-” And I’m like, “Oh, stop fucking with me, Bobby.” Because he sounded exactly like Bobby. I mean seriously. I’m not making that up. He sounded exactly like Bobby.

Ed Bernero:

So finally he says, “Okay, I’ll tell you what. You can call me back. I’m going to leave my number. My name is Geoff Harris. G-E-O-F-F Harris at NBC.” And immediately … I would die for Bobby [Pasternak 00:03:28]. I swear. But there is no way he would ever spell Geoff with a “G” Right? He’s just not smart enough. So I’m like, “Oh my God. I’m so sorry, sir.” So he asked me to write a … because I only wrote movie scripts. He asked me to write a TV script. If I could watch one of their shows and write what’s called a spec of one of their shows and send it to him. He could try to get me into this New Voices Program.

Ed Bernero:

So I’m like, “Holy shit. I have to write one like now.” I was afraid he was going to forget me. So the weird thing is, I didn’t actually watch television. Because as a midnight shift cop, that’s the time you sleep. Like time is when you sleep. So I had my wife tape all the cop shows on NBC, and I picked Homicide. Seemed like the one that was the most real. It was a show called Homicide: Life on the Streets. And I wrote an episode of that show, and sent it to him on a Thursday. I overnighted it to him on a Thursday, and on Tuesday a whole bunch of agents called me at my house in Chicago.

Ed Bernero:

It was just like boom, he sent it to agents and they called me. Mostly because I was a cop. Not because I’m the greatest writer in the world. But when you have sort of some past that you’ve lived it kind of moves your script up to the top of the pile. So I came out here in August of ’96, and had a bunch of meetings. And the meetings all ended with some version of, “Yeah, but you don’t live here. And to work in television you have to live here.” Which is so not true now. But at the time you had to live here. So my wife and I decided I could be a cop here and she could be a nurse here if worse came to worse. So we packed up the kids and moved to [inaudible 00:05:04].

Kary:

I don’t know how much you want to share of the story-

Ed Bernero:

I’ll share anything.

Kary:

Can you tell the story of the moment that you realized-

Ed Bernero:

Oh yeah. My epiphany moment?

Kary:

Yeah.

Ed Bernero:

Yeah. By the way, I love this guy. This guy’s amazing. We talk all the time. He knows all of my secrets. These aren’t just from pictures, there are just from hey what’s up, what’s up, and hanging out. So when I started the police department, people tell you it’s going to change you. Being a cop is going to change you. And I didn’t believe it. I thought that was bullshit.

Ed Bernero:

I’ve had other jobs before, it didn’t change me. I was in the Air Force. I didn’t believe job could change you. You do it eight hours a day, you go home, and then you live your life. So there was a … this was about five years on the job. There was a place in my district, a liquor store, that would sell us cigarettes for a quarter a pack. Me and my partner. They weren’t like they are now. This was in the ’90s, so they were like $3 a pack. So it was still pretty cheap.

Ed Bernero:

We would go there out of roll call every day, buy two packs of cigarettes, and then once in a while through the night we’d stop in and we’d have to be really friendly with the guy behind the counter, who was a gay Native American named [Fabian 00:06:08]. Sweetest guy in the world. So one night … now we’ve been going a couple of years, going to this place. First thing out of roll call. One night we come back from our days off, we go straight there, and he’s not there. First time I had ever seen him not there.

Ed Bernero:

Do you guys remember the Drew Carey Show? There was a woman with the mumu? That’s what this woman looked like, she looked like the woman from the Drew Carey Show. This giant woman in a mumu with pool cue eyeshadow. And I said, “Oh, where’s [Fabian 00:06:33]?” She said, “Oh, he got killed this morning.” And I was like, “What?” She goes, “Yeah, he got his face blown off with a sawed-off shotgun for $23. That’s what they stole.”

Ed Bernero:

But here’s the thing. So I’m getting back in my car. As I’m sitting in my car … I was on the passenger side, because I always, surprise, like to write the reports. As I’m sitting down, I have this realization. When she said, “He was killed,” the first thought … can anyone guess what the first thought I had in my mind? “Where am I going to get cigarettes?” I realized I had fundamentally changed as a human being. That someone dying was just an inconvenience to me. I was like, “Boy, that sucks for me.” And I realized that there were parts of me that I was afraid I would never get back if I didn’t get out of that job.

Ed Bernero:

So that was the point where I tried … I made sort of a vow to myself not to go over 10 years. Because I felt like 10 years was a career. You got a pension, you got to think about your family. So I ended up actually leaving two weeks shy of 10 years. We moved out here. But that was the moment that I realized that you could be changing and not even know it. And now I’m totally back to … now I don’t even smoke.

Kary:

When you got out here, what were the significant milestones and stepping stones? And who were the one or two significant mentors that you had?

Ed Bernero:

Well definitely Geoff Harris at NBC. NBC had a program at the time where they were actively … they had a thing called the story department. All networks had a story … they don’t have them anymore. Because the story’s not important in the network anymore. They had story departments and they were actively looking for new writers. So Geoff Harris was definitely someone who I wouldn’t have been here without.

Ed Bernero:

But the first job that I got when I got out here was … a month after we got out here I was hired to write an episode of a show called F/X: The Series. Which was based on the movie, where the police go to a movie special effects guy. That’s real. The funny thing is, that was filmed in Canada. So I moved here from Chicago, I had actually been closer to my first job in Chicago, because it was in Toronto, than I was here. But the Internet kind of happened while I was here.

Ed Bernero:

And when I turned that script in, Steven Bochco gave me an episode of NYPD Blue to write, which was kind of an audition for a show called Brooklyn South. I’ve never not been working since I came out here. I started working like a month after we got here, and I’ve been working ever since.

Kary:

Tell me a little bit about Third Watch, your experience there, and your developing sense of what it takes to be a showrunner. What it takes to run a show and guide a show through multiple seasons.

Ed Bernero:

Yeah, one of the people I have to thank for a lot of my development as a showrunner is John Wells. Didn’t let me do things I wasn’t ready to do, and I was so mad. I wasn’t even a producer on Third Watch, and I created it. I was so mad. My agents were offended for me and it was this … but it turns out that what he did was he kept me out of rooms I didn’t need to be in yet while I was learning.

Ed Bernero:

And by the time I was ready, he turned the show over to me. And I didn’t realize how much I had learned from him by not being in things. He would take me into things and he would say, “Do you know why you’re here?” And I would be like, “Oh yeah, yeah. I get it.” So the showrunning part of my life … the writing is something that I’ve always loved. I just love to write. That’s my thing. I would write even if I wasn’t getting paid for it. But the showrunning, turns out it’s a lot like being a cop. Because it’s basically babysitting for people who should be able to babysit themselves. You can kind of get a lot done as a showrunner just by going like this. Like, “Sorry.”

Ed Bernero:

So John Wells taught me almost everything I know about showrunning. And then working with Steven Bochco, I learned everything not to do. Because they don’t really run anything, they just kind of ignore people. I mean, it works for them. I’m not complaining about it. I learned a lot when I was at Bochco, because you just do a lot of writing. It’s a lot of intensive writing. But they don’t have a lot of meetings together, they don’t do it … there’s different ways of running a show. Law & Order, the writers never get together. Bochco shows, the writers never get together. On shows like John’s, you spend all your time in a writing room with writers, like a college class. So I learned both sort of ways of doing it.

Kary:

Before we move on to Criminal Minds, would you just relate the story of the Third Watch episode that took place in real time, and was based on an experience that you had as a cop?

Ed Bernero:

Yeah, the 100th episode of Third Watch is an episode called “Call for Help.” And it’s an episode, it’s the most directly taken from my life. It’s an actual case that I handled. And the entire episode has not cuts. It was like a 45-minute murder case that I handled that was beginning, middle, and end. Right in the same spot. And I was like, “Oh, we could do that for the 100th episode.” You try to do something special for the 100th episode, and then nobody ever tells anybody. It’s not like NBC promoted it as an episode with not cuts, it’s just sort of something within the show that you do that’s kind of neat. Like “Call for Help,” or like 100, which we’ll talk about the sort of special things that happened in that episode.

Ed Bernero:

But that episode was the first episode that I directed, which I never would have done if I had known what I was doing. Because it was insane. We shot … every day we would rehearse and act all day, eat lunch, and then shoot it all afternoon. So we would rehearse for six hours and shoot for six hours. And we shot the whole episode in four days. But it’s pretty cool. It’s on the Internet, if you want to check it out. It’s a pretty cool episode. It’s like watching a play. We even have a kind of a curtain that starts at the beginning and ends at the end of it. So that was the first 100th episode that I was involved in. 

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Kary:

Tell us about how you got involved in Criminal Minds.

Ed Bernero:

All right. When I was directing the last episode of Third Watch, and Paramount, which is CBS, picked up my deal, and they sent me five scripts. And they said, “Pick the show you want to run.” So I read the five scripts, and I called this woman Laverne McKinnon back and I said, “Laverne, they’re amazing. I’ll do anyone of them except Quantico.” Which is what Criminal Minds was called at the time. I’ll tell you a story about why it’s not called Quantico anymore.

Ed Bernero:

And she goes … there’s like dead silence on the phone. Because the other things were like these people who had two different lives. They lived in upstate New York, but they worked in Manhattan. And they were completely different people. It was this really cool … called Commuters. It was really cool. None of them had anything to do with cops, except this one. So she said, “Um, we thought you’d want to do Quantico.” And I’m like, “No, I think it’s stupid.” And she goes, “What?”

Ed Bernero:

I said, “Well, think of it as a cop. If you look at what they do, at profiling as a cop, it’s a parlor trick. It’s like I’m going to tell you this … it’s like 25 things about this guy. And when you catch him, that’s the important sentence, when you catch him you’ll find these are all true. But none of it is anything you can use to catch anybody. It’s like he wets the bed. So we’re looking for someone who smells like pee? I don’t know. How do you put this stuff into something you can quantify?” So I thought it was kind of … I didn’t think it was that much different than F/X: The Series. Which is using a movie special effects guy. It’s just kind of a special effect. It’s a neat trick, and …

Ed Bernero:

Here’s an interesting fact. This is a true fact to take from here. Can you guys tell me how many serial killers have been caught by the Behavioral Analysis Unit at the FBI? Anybody? Zero. They’ve never caught a serial killer. We catch one every 45 minutes, but they’ve never actually caught one. It’s really cool for afterwards. After they catch a guy, they can go and testify and say, “Here’s why he’s a serial killer. Here’s why these crimes are put together. Here’s why we know that this was his cooling down period.” But none of it is anything you can use to help somebody, which is why we invented Garcia on the show … who I’ll explain why, but we call her Merlin on the show. She’s kind of magic and there’s always that moment in the fourth act where she comes up with some piece of information. “There’s only nine guys like that.”

Ed Bernero:

So all right, here’s my rambling moment, what did you ask me?

Kary:

What made you say yes? How did you get to yes?

Ed Bernero:

So they said, “Yeah, we really want you to do Quantico.” And I said, “I have to do Quantico, don’t I?” And she said, “Yeah.” They weren’t even picking up the other four shows. It was just … they sent it … it was like a real estate where they show you three bad houses and then say, “This is the one you’re going to buy.” So I ended up on Quantico, and while I was doing the last episode of Third Watch they were doing the pilot of Quantico in Vancouver. So I went up and I met everybody. And I met Mandy and Thomas and the whole cast. And I would go back and forth between the two places while they were shooting.

Ed Bernero:

And then it got picked up, and when it got picked up one of the first things the network asks you to do is give me ten stories. So we hired our writing staff. And we’ll talk a little bit about how you write, because I don’t believe you hire writers, I believe you hire a writing room. Which is a very different thing. You kind of have to cast the room, because there’s different things you need from people who are in the room to get through a 23 or 24- episode season.

Ed Bernero:

And one of the things I realized as a showrunner, one of the most immediate skills you need, is to figure out the box. Writers always want to write a show outside the box. “I want to go outside the box.” But there is no box yet, so it’s kind of up to you to figure out what the box is. You sit down with the show and go, “Okay, so what the hell is this?” What is 100 episodes of this show? Because there hasn’t even been a movie that they’ve made 50 movies of any … even James Bond doesn’t have 50 movies. So that’s a lot of story that you have to let this format carry.

Ed Bernero:

So in Criminal Minds what I did was I realized that we could build a lot of stories … because it’s important for me to be able to say, “That’s not an episode.” Because otherwise we spend eight weeks chasing a story that’s never going to work. And that’s a problem. On Third Watch I didn’t have this problem, because it was my life. Third Watch was my life. So when someone would pitch a story to me, I’d go, “I don’t believe that would ever happen, so find something else.” So it was always … that was my sort of barometer. Do I believe that could happen to me on Third Watch?

Ed Bernero:

Now I have a whole different thing. Criminal Minds, which is this thing that frankly I don’t even believe works. It’s sort of like I’m in this box. So what I realized is we could make every story Arthurian. If you watch Criminal Minds, there are hints that … they get their cases around a giant round table, in what we call The Round Table Room. The entire show is based on Arthurian stories. On the knights getting their call to adventure, and they get on their steed, which on our show is the plane, and they go someplace and they make things right and they come back home again. They always come back home at the end of the episode. It’s an important part of the show. They slay dragons, which serial killers to me are the only dragons left in the world, and then they come back and make the world right again, both outside and inside the castle.

Ed Bernero:

So that makes me able to go, “Oh, bullshit. When you pitch holy water ice bullets to me.” Then it’s like, “That’s not Arthurian. Go figure something else out.” Which was an actual pitch that we got. Holy water ice bullets. Totally misunderstanding how a gun works, because ice won’t shoot out of a gun. Because it’s just a big explosion. So that was the sort of like the eureka moment on Criminal Minds. It’s like, “Oh, these are Arthurian. I can quickly reject an idea for a show.”

Ed Bernero:

In fact in the first season, myself and there’s another writer named Simon Mirren, who’s like my brother, who [Kary 00:18:21] also knows. We were way into it. In fact, he got me an Excalibur for Christmas that year. We figured out who the knights were. Which knight each character was, but the other writers were not so into it. Because I used to say, “Okay, so which knight is it?” And they would be like, “I don’t know. Name me one.” So I kind of let up on them, but still the story had to be within the realm of an Arthurian story.

Ed Bernero:

So if you watch the episodes of Criminal Minds, I think it’s one of the things that people respond to. Is I think people respond to Arthurian tales just kind of naturally. It’s something that’s been around for thousands and thousands of years. Not that I can say I did it purposely for that reason, I just needed a box to put the show in. And Arthurian stories sort of came to be … if you watch the show you can get little clues of who … if we did a different class I would tell you which character each one of them is. They all have knights and they follow sort of the search for the Holy Grail. There’s a couple of episodes that we do about a thing called the Fisher King.

Ed Bernero:

I don’t know if any of you know Arthurian legend, but it’s all sort of in the show. So if you ever wanted to step back and get a deeper understanding of it, look at some Arthurian legend and see how it fits. There’s character names that are in the show, but we kind of played it under the … it helped a lot. It helps knowing what’s not an episode of a show. 

Kary:

Tell me about putting the writing staff together. 

Ed Bernero:

I’m a sports fan, so I look at putting a writing staff together like putting a baseball team together. You got to have singles hitters, you have to have doubles hitters, you have to have people who … there’s two things in a great writer. And almost no writer has both of them. One is “what if.” Great people to have in a room are oceans … this is Simon, this friend of mine. I could sit him down and give him any ridiculous set of circumstances and he will tell you a story about it. He’s amazing. The “what if.” He’s an ocean of “what if.”

Ed Bernero:

But what he doesn’t have in him, is the “yeah that.” He doesn’t know when to stop “what iffing.” He just keeps what iffing and what iffing and what iffing. And I have to go, “Simon, stop. We already decided. It’s that.” Like two days later he’ll be, “What if we do this?” I’ll go, “No, no, no. Stop. We’re already writing.” So you need to have what if guys on your staff. You need to have guys that make everyone dream. You need to have guys that make … you need someone who makes everyone go, “Huh. I never thought of that.”

Ed Bernero:

And then you need people who can write kickass, shootable drafts really fast. Because a network television show, unlike [Kary’s 00:21:03] world, where you have five years to put ten episodes together, I’m so jealous of HBO, Criminal Minds now is 25 episodes a year. It’s almost every other week. It’s every seven days, eight days, it eats a script. So you have to be churning out scripts. This is why I tell people, “If you’re a good writer, we will find you. Just keep trying. Keep sending stuff to us. Because we need you. We can’t make this …” Now there’s 280 shows. That’s a lot of writing. And we will find you. You’ve just got to not get up. Just keep sending stuff out. Write a new script. Do a script and send it out. Write a new script and send it out. We have to find you. We’re actively looking for you. I promise you we are actively looking for you. We have to find you. So please don’t give up. Just keep plugging and keep plugging. It’ll feel like there’s no way, but I promise you, we have to find you.

Kary:

Can you make a career out of being just an idea person? 

Ed Bernero:

I know people who do make a career out of it. I know Simon makes a very healthy living. And every time I start something, I call him and he comes and sits with me and consults with me. Same thing when he gets … there are certain skills that he’s really good at, and certain things he’s not. And I help him with that, and he helps me with … I know he does. I know that you can’t make a show without him.

Kary:

In the case of Simon specifically, what he’s done is … when he’s been successful he’s partnered with a yeah that person. Like when he did Versailles, he found a partner that could complete him.

Ed Bernero:

Yeah. And I promise you every crazy thing that happens on Versailles … I watch that show and I go, “Simon. That’s Simon, right there. That’s Simon.” 

Kary:

Can you talk to us a bit about the various levels and titles in a television writers rooms? And why everyone is a producer?

Ed Bernero:

In television there’s like these bullshit titles that you work your way up. Because everyone gets paid the same for scripts, so the way you sort of pay for being there a long time is you move up. From co-producer to producer to supervising producer. When I made supervising producer, I called John and I said, “So what do I do?” He says, “What do you mean?” I said, “Who do I supervise?” He goes, “Nothing. It’s just a title. You do the same thing.”

Ed Bernero:

So that’s how you kind of … he’s been a co-executive producer forever. Co-executive is a dangerous place to be, because you end up costing a lot of money. So first-year shows don’t want to hire you, but that’s the … business is kind of wonky that way. We have this real problem now in the industry with these 10-episode shows. Because they don’t know if the show’s coming back, so they’re holding writers to them even though they’re only working less than half what they’re used to working. They’re used to doing 22 episodes, and they’re doing 10. And then they can’t go anywhere else and get another job. Until they decide next year … like the show Ice that I’m on. The writers on that show had been finished since October. And the show’s not even going on the air until March. Until the end of March.

Ed Bernero:

So they can’t get another … no one’s going to hire them. Because that’s hanging over their heads. So that’s something that we have to try to work out in … we never sort of as a business see the problem that’s going to be the next problem that we have. Like going on strike for DVDs, which basically don’t exist anymore. So we’re always kind of a step behind. I don’t think anyone saw this coming, these little 10-episode shows.

Ed Bernero:

Although frankly, as a businessperson, I’m not sure how they make money on them. I don’t know where the profit comes from on a 10-episode show like Stranger Things. Which you binge watch the 10 episodes and then there’s no after market value to it. There’s no … I guess it sells foreign. But I mean, these shows are expensive. I’m not sure how they’re making their money up on them.

Kary:

Subscriptions. We’ll talk about this as we get into cable shows as opposed to-

Ed Bernero:

Sit in the back when you do that class?

Kary:

Anytime. Just get your USC ID.

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Kary:

When you started, how many writers did you have in the room?

Ed Bernero:

When I started what? Criminal Minds? Criminal Minds has always had about … depending on teams. We have some teams every once in a while, but it’s usually eight writers. And if there’s teams, it can go up. Because you count a team as one writer. You pay them as one writer. They split all the fees and everything. So we’ve had a couple of writing teams, so there’s been as much as 10.

Ed Bernero:

But I find that if you get many more than 10 in a room, it’s just impossible to agree on anything. There’s just too many what ifs and what ifs and what ifs. So I find that 10 is kind of the way to go. And you have to have people that can go … I’ve been doing this 22 years now, so I’ve had writing staffs where you would leave the room thinking you solved something and you’d come back and what they’re pitching to you is like, “Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa. Where did we get on that?” They need to learn that I go tell people. Right? I don’t just go into the room and take a nap. I call the network and the studio and say, “Here’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to do this. Bob’s going to do that. And Sam’s going to do this. And they’re going to kiss.”

Ed Bernero:

I can’t come back in the room and have them pitching something different. So you sort of have to train them in a way that they kind of go, “Okay, that’s what it’s going to be. And that’s what we’re going to do.”

Kary:

You’ve been kind of lumped in with other procedurals. We did CSI: New York, and CSI: Cyber last week.

Ed Bernero:

Pam [Veasey]’s awesome, isn’t she?

Kary:

And she said the same thing about him, by the way. And then we’re doing Without a Trace and Law & Order. But I’ve read that you feel like this show has more in common with a show like the X-Files than Law & Order or other traditional procedurals. Why don’t you-

Ed Bernero:

Yeah. See, I do police shows differently than almost anyone else. Ken Sanzel is a guy in New York who used to be an NYPD cop. And he kind of does it from the same place. I left. I told you the story about why I left being a cop. I don’t know why people do that job. I don’t know why people make that a career. I couldn’t do it. What fascinates me is why. Like Criminal Minds, I could[n’t] care less about the serial killers. I’m not interested. I know people are fascinated by them, and love to see what they do and what … I don’t give a shit.

Ed Bernero:

What interests me is why those seven people, of all the jobs there are in law enforcement, would choose to do the worst possible job. That’s what fascinates me. That’s the way I look at stories. Like why are you here? Why are you doing this? We did an episode where Morgan is in a small town, and somebody asks him what he’s doing there. And he says, “Well, I’m waiting.” And they said, “What?” He goes, “For another body.” Imagine that job. Because one body doesn’t help them, they need four before they can start putting a pattern together. Bless you.

Ed Bernero:

So that’s the kind of thing that fascinates me. And I think that because I used to be a cop, I attack these shows from a different place. I also know that cops are not only cops. That they come from all different walks of life. They have all different kinds of interests. And you know what? From the beginning of my career I’ve been sort of like … writers get pigeonholed like actors do. And not that … believe me, there are worst things to be than the cop guy in Hollywood. I’ve been really successful and thank God for that. But the first thing I ever wrote was a movie about Christmas. So I’m really not that interested in police. It’s just sort of like … it’s a story I can tell.

Ed Bernero:

So one of the things I tell people when you go sit down to write something is, “Write the script that only you can write.” I don’t care what it’s about. Don’t just write somebody else’s version of a show. A lot of young writers write imitations of movies and television, because they haven’t really done anything. So just go out and live. And there’s things you know. When people say, “Write what you know,” I think they take it to mean if you’re an accountant, write an accountant show. That’s not all you know. You know what it’s like to have a parent, you know what it’s like to be around sick family, or sick relatives. There’s a lot of shit that you know. Put that in a script.

Ed Bernero:

First of all, the people that you write about will never know it’s them. Because they don’t see themselves that way. I did an episode of Third Watch that was 1,000 percent a shitty thing my father did. My brothers called me after it aired. They’re, “Oh my God. Oh my God. You did that.” My dad never saw it in itself. So don’t worry about telling other people’s stories. They won’t recognize themselves. They’ll be like, “Where do you come up with these crazy characters?” Because they just don’t see themselves the way you see them.

Ed Bernero:

But when you sit down to write these scripts, please write the script that only you can write. Right? Because everybody’s trying to write a Criminal Minds, everybody’s trying to … when I read things, I want to see something original. I believe that if you have an agent, and you’re having stuff sent to me, you can already sort of kind of write. You’ll be able to imitate the show. And at the end of the day, I’ll do a pass on everything anyway. As long as you can get some story in the room, and you can get some life in the room, that’s going to do better for you than being able to sound just like Hotch. Because Hotch won’t say it anyway. He’ll change it anyway.  

What I need is … I can’t tell you how much I stress write the script that only you can write. You know when you write something, whether it’s bullshit or not. And I don’t mean bullshit like, it can’t happen. Whether you have a connection to it. Whether … if you’re not losing time when you’re writing, you’re not writing real. You’re not writing … and look, by the way, writing is … when you’re going well you will lose time. You’ll all of a sudden be, “Oh my God, I’ve been doing this for three hours. I had no idea.”

Ed Bernero:

You’ll lose time. It’s this weird thing that happens in your head that you fall into it. And you only fall into it when you’re not writing on the surface. And by the way, don’t try to write a first draft this way. Don’t. Because you’ll never finish. Just write a first draft, that’s a bullshit draft, and then go back in and try to figure out what it is that you want to say. What you’re trying to say. That only happens in the second draft. That never happens in the first draft. We call the first draft vomit draft. Write your vomit draft, just get it out. Get to the end. Right?

Ed Bernero:

I call that the vessel. Once you’ve got your vessel, now you can go in and fuck with it. Now you can make it into a sports car or you can make it into a luxury car or you could make it into a … but you have to have the car. So write it. Get in there and write it. Write every day. If you wouldn’t write for nothing, find a different job because it’s too hard. Trust me, it’s hard. Writing is not easy. So if you wouldn’t do it … if no one gives you a job. If you wouldn’t do it anyway … like I did it when I was a policeman on the street. I had no conception that I could do it as a living. But I still did it everyday. I went home and wrote, just because I love it. I love doing it.

Ed Bernero:

You need to love it that much, or don’t try to make it a career. In fact, don’t try to make it a career. Make it something you love.

END PART 1