In part two of the interview with Ed Bernero we 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 also hear Ed’s answers to questions posed by USC students.

Kary:

This is the Crime Story Podcast with Kary Antholis where we have conversations about how and why stories of crime and justice are told. Today’s podcast is the second part of a two-part conversation with Ed Bernero, the co-creator of Third Watch and Executive Producer and founding showrunner of Criminal Minds.

In part one of the conversation we heard 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 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 also hear Ed’s answers to questions posed by USC students.

One piece of context, before we begin. Prior to my interview with Ed, the students in the class screened episodes entitled “Omnivore” (from the fourth season of Criminal Minds) and “100” (from the fifth season of the show and the series’s 100th episode). These two episodes mark the beginning and end of an arc in which a serial killer known as The Reaper starts killing again. The Reaper was the first killer profiled by Agent Hotchner, who in the show is the head of the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit, and is the only one who has since eluded him. By the end of the arc, the unit’s agents are racing to find the Reaper before he brings harm to Hotchner’s family.

And now here is today’s Crime Story Podcast…

Kary: 

Can you talk a little bit about the relationship between creating a close-ended show, and creating character arcs over the course of the season in this show?

Ed Bernero: 

Well we do both. At the beginning of the year, the way we break out a season on Criminal Minds is not by cases, it’s by personal stories. We decide where we want the arc for Spencer Reid to be. And we figure out the four episodes over the course of the season that will tell that story for him. And we’ll sketch in something Reid needs to learn in seven, something Reid needs to learn in 13. And we do that with all of the characters. Morgan has an arc.

Ed Bernero: 

And a lot of times at the beginning of the season we bring the actors in to show them. Otherwise the actors … actors on procedurals get really, really, really bored. Because they think that the only people that get to do interesting stuff is the bad guys. That they never … that they kind of just have to say the same sort of things. So it’s important for me to include them in it, and let them know that there’s an arc for them. That there’s a story for them if they stay with … like the Reaper was a Hotch story for three seasons.

Ed Bernero: 

So once we figure out what personal things we need to happen, then we go, “Okay, what case in episode six is going to best highlight Reid’s trouble in that?” Every case on Criminal Minds starts as a real case from the FBI. You will never ever, ever know what it is. Because I’m so terrified that some mother is going to recognize their son’s case or something, so by the time it comes out the other end it’s so … you just wouldn’t … believe me, you would never recognize what it is.

Ed Bernero: 

But they all start with something real. Because this kind of a show … see, not only did it have to be Arthurian, but one of the things we had starting was the writers tended to make what they do magical. Right? It’s like okay, you tell me that they figured XYZ out. Tell me what in this. You can’t just come in and say, “They figured that out.” You have to tell me the path to that. What did you see at the scene, and what did that lead to, and why did this happen? Because I always felt like if what they did became magical, that people would stop watching the show. That they have to believe that what they’re doing is possible. That they see this, they see that, they put this together.

Ed Bernero: 

And I think that’s what the delicious thing of the show is. Is you try to figure it out too. So we tried to make sure that there was never anything magical in the profiling. So we figured out the cases that would most match their arc, and then do the arc. I don’t know that other procedurals do it that way. I think that that’s kind of unique to us.

Kary: 

So let’s use that as a segue into talking about the two episodes that we’ve seen. I mentioned to the students before we screened it that “Omnivore” is from season four, episode 18. And then “100” is season five, episode-

Ed Bernero: 

Right.

Kary: 

So why don’t you give us backstory into how you came up with the idea of the Reaper, and then how you developed Hotch’s arc over the course of the two years.

Ed Bernero: 

Yeah. It’s kind of an interesting story. Andrew Wilder’s a writer who had been on the show from the beginning. And he’s a gun guy. He’s got tons of guns. He likes to go shooting. And he talks about guns all the times. And he always wanted to do a killer that killed with guns, but that’s not what serial killers do. They don’t … it’s just sort of like, “Andrew, stop it. That’s not what they do.”

Ed Bernero:

So he came up with this idea of a guy who kills every kind of person every kind of way. And I said, “Well, that’s kind of interesting.” And he goes, “And it starts with him shooting a bunch of people on a bus.” So I’m like, “All right. Do your gun guy.” So it started with a guy that did a gun. But then I had this realization, if he kills people the way you say he does, all kinds of people all kinds of ways, we can’t catch him. It’s like how … what are we using to profile him if he changes his MO, if he changes his signature, if he changes everything about him. It kind of like highlights the flaw in what we do.

Ed Bernero: 

So it was the first character that we did that we kept alive. It was like, “Well, we have to have a special way to catch this guy.” And people would come and pitch for it. “I want to do the Reaper. I want to do the Reaper.” And I’d be like, “Okay, tell me.” And it would be like reject it. It just didn’t work. And there’s an episode at the end of, I think, season five where the Reaper attacks, or season four, attacks Hotch. And shoots him at the end of the season. In between these episodes.

Ed Bernero: 

And then the 100th episode I thought, “Okay, now. We need to figure out a way to catch the Reaper. Because that’s kind of something special.” It’s the only guy that we had hanging out there, only guy or woman, that hadn’t been caught. Did anyone notice the name of the writer of the 100th episode? Of the one you just watched? No. It’s the first initial of all the writers. Because every writer wrote one of those little sequences in the … so I wanted everyone to be able to participate in the 100th episode. Everyone who had been on the show for 100 episodes. I can’t remember what the name is, but it’s actually a registered name at the WGA. Every writer on the show got one eighth of a script fee.

Ed Bernero: 

That’s why we did it the way we did with those little talking to the FBI. Every writer wrote a different version of those. The writers who like … when you do a show, there’s writers that are like, “I love writing A.J., I love writing A.J.” So we would say, “Okay, Erica you write the A.J. one, you write the …” Because everyone kind of has a character that they fall in love with. Except Reid, everyone loves Reid.

Kary: 

So you came up with the idea for the Reaper, and you played out that first episode.

Ed Bernero: 

And he was the only one left to do in the 100th episode. And there was another thing that we had written on the board from the first day. One of the other ways that I look at a show is there has to be a recognizable family in the show. Family structure. There has to be a Dad, there has to be a Mom, there has to be a sibling rivalry. Something that you sitting at home can recognize in the show, because I think that’s … because we’re in your living room, right? Well I guess now we’re on computers at Starbucks.

Ed Bernero: 

But in the beginning we were in your living rooms. I always felt like to be invited in … every successful show in the history of television has a family in the center of it. ER has a family. It’s an identifiable family. You can pick out Anthony Edwards as the Dad. He does all the Dad things. George Clooney was the crazy uncle when it started. So that’s something that I also look at very carefully in the show. And one of the things we had written on the board was, “Hotch can never cry.” We felt like if Hotch cries, the show’s over.

Ed Bernero: 

So the two things we did in “100” is I said, “We have to catch Reaper, and Hotch has to cry. Because it’s the first and only time that he ever cried.” So those were the two things going into it. And we sat down. It was a very, very, very collegiately put together episode. And all the writers were on set when we were directing it. It was really kind of a fun sort of party for us to go through. 

Kary: 

So talk to me about the visual style of the show. And how that was established. I know you directed many of the episodes over the course of the seasons you were there.

Ed Bernero:

Sort of another secret about Criminal Minds is it’s never, to me, been a procedural show. It’s been a horror show. We make sure that the opening of the … and there’s a reason why I’m saying it this way. Because it has to do with the way the show looks and the way the show feels. You can’t come to me and pitch okay, so rich guys from Beverly Hills are getting killed. Because that’s not enough everybody. I want you to be able to feel like that could be you or your dad or your brother. That it feels everyman.

Ed Bernero: 

Almost every episode of the show has an everyman quality to it. We tried to start in neighborhoods that looked just like everybody else’s neighborhood. We don’t start in nightclubs, we don’t start in … we always try to start in a place like home. And the show … I never wanted to do … there’s not a lot of camera tricks in it. Because I very much want you to feel the whole time like this could be happening to you. The camera, the only thing I tell the directors … and I really encourage directors to direct. We don’t have rules. We don’t give directors rules. But we do tell them that, “Always have a point of view.”

Ed Bernero: 

What is the camera? Who is the camera? The camera’s a person. So who is the camera? Don’t put cameras in the ceiling, and cameras in the floor. Unless you can tell me that’s a person laying on the floor, or that’s God watching. Or something like that. Have a POV of the camera, because the audience has to feel like they could be in the middle of this with these people. So that’s kind of the visual style of it, is we tried to make it not move too fast. We tried to make the camera moves be normal pans, like no faster than you would look somewhere.

Kary: 

Talk to me about post. And editing and sound mixing, music.

Ed Bernero: 

Yeah, that, by the way, is the place I think where showrunners are mostly necessary. And I think it’s why some showrunners are successful on multiple shows, and some just kind of do one or two shows. It’s because, I think, that if you are able to make the show, at the end of day, look like all the other episodes. And make it feel like the same show, and make it … it’s the last rewrite. Editing is the last rewriting. Because you’d be stunned at how much you thought you needed that, when you get into that editing room, you don’t need.

Ed Bernero: 

I love editing. Editing is … I like writing, and then editing is pretty close on the heels of that. I’m in the middle of editing a show now that I spent all day just kind of going, “Try this. Try that. Flip that negative. Turn the light on from that side.” It’s just kind of a cool place to play. You know, Criminal Minds is like any other network show, we only have a finite amount of time to edit them. We’ve usually got four days. And we’ve got to post an episode in four days and get it on.

Ed Bernero: 

We do things like someone will come from pitching an episode of Criminal Minds, to it being on the air, is generally about six weeks. Six or seven weeks. That’s writing the scripts, shooting them, editing them, getting them on the air. That’s all we’ve got. It’s one of the reasons, I think, it’s so unfair that cable shows and network shows all get lumped into the same thing for awards. Because it’s not even the same business. Something like Game of Thrones, they take years to put that together. But it is what it is.

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Kary: 

What were your influences cinematically? And I ask that in a two-pronged way. Number one, generally speaking, what were the movies or television shows that made you want to get into the business, want to do that? And then specifically, for Criminal Minds, you’ve described very eloquently how you approach the show visually, where did you get those ideas? Or those points of view?

Ed Bernero: 

First question, by far my favorite movie, and the movie I watch constantly over and over … and there’s a scene in that movie that if I could write a scene that good, I would stop. It’s because I would just go write something different. It’s that movie called It’s a Wonderful Life. I know that’s a weird thing for people … it would be the last thing you think of. But there are things that happen in that movie that I try to do in every episode of television. Like the beginning has to match the end.

Ed Bernero: 

I developed a style of writing, like I write up to the middle, and then I write the end. And then I make the middle of the next part make sure it matches perfectly to the end. There’s no deus ex machinas in that show. Everything that happens in the end is set up in the beginning of that movie, and it’s something that I pull into … like the little boy hiding in the thing happens in the beginning of the show. It can’t just happen in the end, where he’s hiding in the cabinet. Working the case.

Ed Bernero: 

There’s things like the first episode of Third Watch that I wrote had a … I needed a character’s radio not to work. And it couldn’t just not work. So what I had is I had him check out a radio at the beginning of the episode, and the radio guy didn’t like him, so he gave him a radio that was … if you turn it on it’s full blast. So all day his partner’s telling him, “Turn that fucking radio off.” Because every time it would go off it would be full blast in the car. And I’ve had that happen to me. And you’d turn the radio off, but then when you need the radio, it’s off. But it’s set up from the beginning.

Ed Bernero: 

That’s all stuff like that from Wonderful Life. That everything has to be set up. And it just makes it delicious. It’s also difficult sometimes with network notes, because they want to pull something out. They go, “I don’t think we need that look.” That’s what happens in the fifth … you guys got to be there. I’m always arguing with them about why things have to be there. But that movie is the movie that influences almost everything.

Ed Bernero: 

As far as television, NYPD Blue was a … once that came out here that really sort of shocked me at how good it was. And how good it felt with how little story they actually told. That show was always … I don’t know if you guys know anything about the history of that show, but David Milch is the voice of that show. And he’s notoriously late. Like that show ended up being, the last couple of years, David would be onset telling them what to say, and then they would write it down. And the script would be published after. He would just say, “You say this, and you say that, and you say this.”

Ed Bernero: 

But if you watch that show, the way that they used all the cinematic stuff, it’s not that much story. It ends up being a very small amount of story that they tell, but that manages to carry a lot of weight because of who’s doing it. Because of how good Dennis Franz was. And early on, Starsky & Hutch, and I loved Starsky & Hutch. People don’t realize Starsky & Hutch was a really, really violent show for its time. So those are kind of the shows that inspired me.

Ed Bernero: 

But also, Criminal Minds is a collaboration. Glen Kershaw was the DP at the beginning of the show, when we didn’t know what it was going to be. And the pilot was shot in Vancouver, and then because of Mandy Patinkin it moved to Los Angeles. We shoot in Glendale. We’ve never left Glendale. Which is … people who tell you now that you can’t make a show in Los Angeles, bullshit. I’ve been making one for 12 years in Glendale. A show that’s ostensibly in every state in the union. We go everywhere. We just have to change plant pots and it looks, “Oh, now we’re in New Mexico.”

Ed Bernero: 

But we had to figure out … because Vancouver looks entirely different than anywhere else in the world. You guys must know X-Files, right? You know the way that X-Files looks? That kind of smoky overcast way? That’s totally Vancouver. In fact, the show changed when it moved to LA in like season ten, I think they moved to LA. So we had to figure out a way to kind of not make it look like that. Because we wanted it to be a horror show, but we didn’t want to hit people on the head that it was a horror show.

Ed Bernero: 

So there’s a lot of people involved in making a show look the way it looks. There’s directors come in. You’re careful who you pick for the first ten directors, because they have to be people that you are really cool with. And you could say, “Uh, let’s try it this way, let’s try it that way.” Because we’re trying to figure it out. So yeah, it’s a lot of people. It’s not just me. I’m really happy with how it looks. It feels like a family.

MUSIC BREAK

Kary: 

So let’s talk a bit about the cast, and the characters particularly. So without getting into the minutiae of the Arthurian parallels, in the initial-

Ed Bernero: 

I dig that though.

Kary: 

In the initial season, Hotch and Mandy Patinkin were kind of both co-leads. Is that right?

Ed Bernero: 

No. It was always Mandy Patinkin was the lead. Then when he left, what we were looking for was another lead. Although it flushes out as an ensemble, there’s clearly a lead. In most of this stuff, it goes by numbers on the call sheet. And that is actually determined by their salaries. Doesn’t really have anything to do with saying like, “You’re his boss, or you’re …” But no, it was widely … he was definitely the lead of the show.

Kary: 

So give us a sense of the … who each character was in the family that you were-

Ed Bernero: 

Yeah. Yeah. Absolutely. Definitely Hotch is the father. If people have a father question to ask, they always go to Hotch. Definitely Mandy was the mother. Was emotion. What I mean by mother is less gender-related and more emotion. That he’s the character that if you have an emotional problem you go to. Or who can solve those kind of things and is more apt to hug you and is more apt to tell you you’ll be okay. Which is not gender-related. It’s just sort of role-related.

Ed Bernero: 

And then definitely Morgan. And at the time it was Lola Glaudini, when I first took over, were the brother and sister. And they had sibling rivalry. And Matthew was the little brother that they all protected. One of the problems when I first started the show is I put together a poster and said, “They all look the same. They all have dark hair. They all kind of look the same.” So we introduced Garcia and JJ to try to make the cast look a little bit different. To look a little bit lighter, to have characters who are a little bit lighter. Because it’s such a dark subject matter.

Ed Bernero: 

And Garcia, we just let go. That’s Kirsten. She came in and she goes, “Would it be cool if I had a lot of like toys on my …” I’m like, “Yeah, do whatever you want.” When you look at that room that’s Garcia’s, that’s all Kirsten. Did all of that. She kind of brought all of that avant garde stuff to that character.

Kary: 

And did you know early on that she was going to be the Merlin of the show? 

Ed Bernero: 

I knew we needed one. And that character was actually a male who you just saw his mouth in the pilot. That was the original plan for him. Kirsten was cast after the pilot was finished. It was just … we slug … if something is going to be shot later on, we slug in what they say. They’ll be a slug line that says, “This is Garcia says bah, bah, bah, bah.” That was the way that it was presented to the network, was without a Garcia. And then we saw everybody, and I always like to have the casting director bring someone in that’s totally wrong. Like look at this description of this character, now bring someone who’s absolutely not that. And that was Kirsten. And it was like, “Holy shit was she fresh.” It just made the whole thing like pop off the page.

Ed Bernero: 

But I knew I needed a Merlin, by that point. I needed someone to … we were already in breaking stories and we realized that it’s a five-act show, plus a teaser. So in the fourth act, which is generally the third act, the fourth act we were always bumping into, “Okay, but how do we get from here to there?” Which is the problem they have in real life. It’s like, so we’ve got all of this information about this person, how does that get us to where he is? Or where she is? And that’s what we invented … we needed Merlin for. I knew we needed someone to, say, cull all that information into that computer or something and come out with an answer at the end. So that’s how Garcia was created.

Kary: 

Let’s talk about the network, the studio, and the evolving success of the show. And then the-

Ed Bernero: 

Yeah. The show was never supposed to be successful. We got dug by the press bad before it came on. It was like, “Oh, it’s all about violence against women.” And then Mark Gordon made this unfortunate joke where he said, “That’s what we were trying to do, we wanted to do as much violence against women as possible.” It was like, “Oh, God, please stop talking.”

Ed Bernero: 

So it was never supposed to be a critical … it was never a critical hit. The audience just loved it. From the beginning. And it’s been … our kind of core audience are the people who they said wouldn’t watch it, which are women. Especially sort of like middle-age women. Like your moms. I don’t know why. It’s not like we set out to get them. I think that they like to know that someone is out there making this better. I think that that’s basically it. It’s like they can sit down and watch an episode, they don’t have to watch 12 episodes. They know that someone’s going to catch the bad guy and put the dragon … Arthurian. They know that the knights are going to go out and fix it and everything’s going to be better again. I think it’s comforting. It’s kind of like yams. It’s just kind of comfort food.

Ed Bernero: 

But it was never supposed to be that way. Everyone said it was going to be … it wouldn’t make 13 episodes. Ha, ha.

Kary: 

What-

Ed Bernero: 

There was something else you asked me in that too. Oh, I wanted to tell you this. Okay, this is a secret. All right? The reason the show is called Criminal Minds, nobody tell anybody. I got called right before it went on, because the head of the network that it’s on had just done a bunch of press and called it QuantEEco. A bunch of times. And they didn’t want to tell him that he was wrong. So they asked me if I could change it, so I could some up with a different name for the show, so he wasn’t calling everyone and telling them, “Quantico‘s going to be great.”

Ed Bernero: 

So we named it Criminal Minds, and he’s never called it QuantEEco since. But now he has a show called QuantEEco.

Kary: 

That’s pretty genius.

Ed Bernero: 

Yeah. Okay. That’s network. That’s what working with networks is like. “Hey, we don’t wanna say that he’s wrong.” Okay. Although Criminal Minds ended up being a much better name, I think.

Kary: 

How many seasons were you on?

Ed Bernero: 

It’s in its 12th season. I’m not on it anymore. For the same reason I left the police department, I had to leave the show. After seven years I was like, “I just can’t live in this world anymore. I can’t spend my all day thinking about serial killers and catching them.” So I ended up turning it over to Erica Messer, who was on the first day with me and is doing a great job since.

Ed Bernero: 

Although, I won’t watch the show. Just because I know that I would be unhappy, and I don’t want to be unhappy. Because she deserves the right to do the show that she wants to do. And I’ve heard from people that it’s more violent than it used to be. Because I liked it to be … you didn’t see nearly as much as you thought you saw on the show. Like this last … you saw what the result of Hotch beating that guy was, but you never saw him get beat. You never saw … we cut away to pictures of him as a bad guy. And I always felt that your mind is much scarier than anything we could film anyway, so …

Kary: 

Audience reaction to the show that you get anecdotally. People who come up to you-

Ed Bernero: 

Here’s the thing. Criminal Minds was … there’s a couple of reasons that the show has been successful, in a number of ways. Criminal Minds had two studios, and a network. None of them could agree on who could put it online. So Criminal Minds was never available online until like the 11th season, the 10th season. So the only way you could watch Criminal Minds was on television.

Ed Bernero: 

So it kept being repeated over and over and over, because it was the only way you could … Audience Network bought it, and they have marathons of it. And this network bought it, and they had marathons of it. Because there was no other way to watch it. You couldn’t go on iTunes, you could go on … and I always felt that that was one of the things that made us so successful. Certainly financially successful.

Ed Bernero: 

And the other thing is it was the beginning of the Internet. It was the beginning of … I used to reach out and talk to the … there were fan groups that started up, and I would assign a writer to go talk to them. Like, “Get on. Talk to them. Find out what they’re talking about.” And we sort of … we even had, for a short while, we had a phone that we gave the number out on the show, and that phone was on our cart. On our video cart at Video Village. And people would call it all the time. And whoever was there would just talk to them. Matthew loved it. Matthew Gubler. Loved that phone. He was like, “The phone’s ringing, the phone’s ringing.” He would come running around the corner and he would answer and talk to whoever called.

Ed Bernero: 

But it was kind of the beginning of audience participation in the show. And we embraced it fully. And now that’s kind of a normal thing. Joss will talk to anybody. JJ talks to anybody. But that kind of start with Criminal Minds was one of the first things to do it. And it was kind of an accident. I was just like, “There’s groups talking about us? Go there. Find out what they’re saying.” They needed to learn that we’re 12 episodes ahead of them, so we can’t really … they can’t really give us notes.

Ed Bernero: 

But it was fun. We had them come out. We had groups come out and tour the facility and get some swag and go back home. I thought that was an important thing to do, is kind of reach out to these folks that are out there. And it’s a lot of fun too. By the way, I’ve never won a Criminal Minds trivia contest. Like people … I can’t believe people … it’s like, “What’s Hotch’s brother’s name?” Hotch’s got a brother? It’s like I don’t even remember that he had a brother. It’s amazing, the stuff that people remember. And I’m terrible at it. I’m terrible. I always have to call our script supervisor and go, “Hotch has a brother?” “Yeah, Aaron.” “Really?”

Commercial break for Crime Story Dot Com.

Kary:

Tell us about the transition to Mandy Patinkin to Joe Mantegna. And did Joe serve a different role in the family than Mandy did?

Ed Bernero: 

All right. So Mandy Patinkin called me before the first read-through of the third season. We do read-throughs of every episode, the day before we start shooting. And he said, “I’ll see you in a half an hour.” And that is, I swear to you, the last time I’ve ever talked to him. He’s never spoken to me again. I have no idea what happened. He talked to other people, said there was creative differences. I don’t know with who, because we never had a discussion about anything.

Ed Bernero: 

I mean, we called the police. I thought he got into an accident on the freeway. We were expecting him. We waited for an hour and a half for him. So first of all, what happened is Thomas said, “Oh, so I’m number one now?” Which is like, “No. We’re going to find another number one.” And we had to kind of do … it’s like, did you guys ever see the movie Wag the Dog? All right. It’s like that moment when Dustin Hoffman is like, “This is producing.” Okay, that sucks. The lead in the show just isn’t showing up, so now we have to call our families and say we’re not coming home for three days.

Ed Bernero: 

Because we have to … we’re ten episodes ahead. So there’s 10 episodes that have to be thrown out and re-broken and figure out how he’s not there anymore. We have to put that story in. We have to introduce someone else. We have to … we saw a lot of, lot of, lot of actors. We saw a lot of big name actors that would have been just terrible. You’ve got to be really careful who you put as number one. And then we met with Joe, who in the midst of me telling him this kind of nebulous idea that I had … because we have to check … what we’d have to do because it was … you’d meet Harvey Keitel, that can’t be the same character that you’re pitching to Joe Mantegna. There are two … so you’d be sitting in the room with him sort of making shit up. Going, “And then, he owns an Italian ice stand.”

Ed Bernero: 

But in the midst of it, I told him that I used to be a cop. And he says, Joe says, “What?” I said, “I used to be a cop.” He goes, “Where?” I said, “In Chicago.” He goes, “This show is run by a Chicago cop?” And I said, “Yeah.” He goes, “I’ll do it.” I said, “Well, the character-” He goes, “I don’t give a shit. I’ll do it.” He goes, “I got to see what happens.” He goes, “I have to be on a show that’s run by a Chicago cop.” Because he’s from Chicago. So he ended up being like my uncle. He’s the greatest human being ever.  He’s not quite … we still invested the emotional stories in him, and he’s able to do it. He’s just not quite the same as … look, it’s a subtle thing when I say the Mom and the Dad. It’s not anything that you would know necessarily. It’s just something that we know that’s kind of the cement of the family.

Kary:

So before the class I collected questions from the students that they had for you and I’m going to read from some of those now. 

Kary:

As a former police officer, what are some of the cardinal sins you notice in cop dramas and crime dramas?

Ed Bernero: 

“What do we got?” “What have we got?” We actually do that as a joke. When we were cops. We’d come up and do like, “What have we got?” Every case on television or movies at some point goes to a strip bar, that’s not real. We don’t always have to go through strip bars to get to solving a case. There’s almost never parking right in front.

Ed Bernero: 

You know what drives me fucking crazy? Law & Order. They’re investigating a murder, and the people they’re talking to don’t even stop whatever they’re doing. Like a guy’s taking the garbage out, and the two detectives are walking next to him going, “I’m sorry, what did you see?” “I don’t know.” It’s like, put the fucking garbage can down. It’s a murder investigation. It drives me insane.

Ed Bernero: 

And you know, CSI has caused a lot of real life trouble for prosecutors. Because audiences now expect that. They expect there to be a moment, even if you’ve got confessions and you’ve got … they’re like, “Well, where’s the CSI moment? Where’s the bum, bum, bum.” Which doesn’t really happen. Very rarely does it happen. So I actually am cognizant of that. I try not to have our cops do things that people are going to expect that they do and it’s just not done. 

Like, “What do we got?”

Kary:

OK here’s another one. What was the transition like for you from writer to director? 

Ed Bernero: 

The way I write … and I actually always feel a little bit like a fraud when I direct, because I know there’s people who would give anything to do that, and I don’t really care that much about it. It’s not that … it’s not what I love. I love writing. I love coming up with the story. I love sitting in rooms with writers. I love editing. I love all that stuff. The shooting of it is …

Ed Bernero: 

You know, Alfred Hitchcock used to say that the shooting of it is the most boring part of it. And it is. It’s like [inaudible 00:56:47] prep. Once it was prepped, he would fall asleep in the chair. They would have to wake him up and say, “Say, cut. Say, cut.” My directing came out of the way I write. There’s sort of a number of different ways that people write. And my style is, I see it happen, and then I write it down. I don’t feel like I’m imposing myself on it. I feel like it’s happening in front of me. And I’m like, “Oh, I can’t believe Matthew said that.” Or, “I can’t believe that Morgan said that.”

Ed Bernero: 

So it was kind of the next step to me was I’ve already seen it, so let me see if I could transfer that into telling someone how to make that. And for me, it’s always been unfairly easy, because I’ve always been the boss. So I can say, “We’re stopping here. We’re going to drop that. We’re going to omit …” Things that other directors can’t do. They have to kind of direct scared. They direct like, “I don’t want them to think I didn’t get that coverage.” But I would be like, “Fuck the coverage. We’re fine. No one’s going to fire me.” So I’ve always been the boss.

Ed Bernero: 

So it’s always been kind of easy for me. Of the things that I do, the thing that I enjoy the least is directing. Not that I don’t love it. I mean, I love all of it. But that’s probably the thing that I wouldn’t miss if I just spent my time writing. Because that’s what I love. Put my headphones on, fall into a world and watch episodes happen and be surprised at what Doctor Reid said and be surprised at JJ. That’s what I kind of love to do.

Kary:

This student writes: One of the things I really love about Criminal Minds is that there are lots of twists that are equally horrific and thrilling and also very grounded. What is the secret to writing in that way? 

Ed Bernero: 

Yeah. That’s very, very, very on purpose. We spend a lot of time with what I call bullshit pitches. I call bullshit, I call bullshit. They’ll be like, “Now, Garcia, I’m looking for guys who live way beyond their means in———- South Florida.” “There’s nine of them.” “Bullshit.” Like what database is that that you looked in that people in Miami living beyond their means? Bullshit.

Ed Bernero: 

So all of that stuff has to get handed … it’s like the last sanding of it. When you pitch the story, the last sanding of it has to be … you have to pass the bullshit moments. Or as Simon calls them, “Bollocks.” That’s British for bullshit. So we very carefully try to make sure that I can see that happening. That that’s something that I believe can happen. And scary is always the first, scary rather than gory.

Ed Bernero: 

You know, it’s funny, I’ve only gotten one, in the whole time I was there, in the seven years I was there, one note on violence on that show. And it was, “Can you make the blood darker?” Because they couldn’t’ tell that it was blood that JJ stepped on on a body part or something like that. Oh no, redder. “Can you make the blood redder?” That’s the only blood note I ever got on Criminal Minds. But it’s very carefully made to be a horror show, and not a cop show.

Kary:

What training did you have as a writer? 

Ed Bernero: 

Well, my training for writing consisted of reading Screenplay, and a book called How to Write a Movie in 21 Days, by Viki King. That’s my whole education in writing.

Kary:

Do you think it was better that it was as simple as that?

Ed Bernero: 

Well, I don’t know that it was simple. That was just my journey. And then I was around people like David Milch and Steven Bochco and John Wells and great sort of writer producers that I sort of absorbed everything from. That’s kind of my biggest skill, I think, is sucking up … part of that’s from being a cop. Because I was a cop in a district that had projects, and it had $100 million homes on Castlewood. It’s like Studs Terkel lived in my district.

Ed Bernero: 

So in the course of a day, I would talk to people from every kind of socioeconomic strata, and you have to fit in. You can’t talk to a guy on the street and talk to him like you’re talking to a guy on Castlewood. They’ll be like, “What?” You have to be able to communicate on whatever level you’re at. And I think that’s one of the things that I learned as a cop, because I was sort of able to absorb things without people knowing it.

Ed Bernero: 

I also get angry a lot … David Milch was, to me, he knew that I didn’t go to college. So he was kind of an intellectual bully. I like to be kind and say he was forcing me to learn these things, but I think he was just kind of making fun of me. But he would say things about a book that he knew I hadn’t read, because it’s like books you read in college. But I would go home and my wife and I would go to Super Crown, and I would sit on the floor of Super Crown and read it that night.

Ed Bernero: 

So I would be like, “Fuck you, you’re not going to do that to me again.” So the next time he did it, I’m going to be like, “Oh yeah, chapter 12.” So I kind of forced myself into learning things in that way as well. Now it’s easy.

Kary: 

Rage is a great motivator.

Ed Bernero: 

Yeah, it’s done a lot of great things for me. It really has. My boss told me, in the police department when I quit … when I quit, no one knew how to quit. I went to the office … I stayed until the morning, so they come in at 10:00ish. And said, “So I need to resign.” They’re like, “What?” “I need to resign.” They’re like, “I don’t know how you do that.” They had to call down and find out. They could fire the hell out of you, but no one ever quits the Chicago Police Department.

Ed Bernero: 

So my district commander made me wait. His name was … it was an Italian guy, what was his name? Fungili? Francela. And he made me wait on my last day to have an exit interview, which I’ve since found is bullshit. There’s no such thing as an “exit interview.” Just sign the damn thing. That I didn’t steal my baton. So I wait, and he comes in, and they take me into his office. And he’s got this little piece of paper in front of him. And he doesn’t look at me. He says, “You’re moving to Hollywood?” I said, “Well, Los Angeles. I don’t know if Hollywood’s really a place.” He goes, “To be a writer?” And I said, “Yeah, I hope so.” And he looks up and he goes, “I think you’re a fucking idiot.” And he signed the thing and gave it to me.

Ed Bernero: 

So when I got my NYPD Blue check for $38,000, which is basically a year’s salary as a police, I photocopied it and wrote, “Not bad for a fucking idiot.” And mailed it to him. I got that one. I started to say before, a lot of people give me credit for quitting my job and moving here, but I look at it like this, I did that with faith in me and my abilities. My wife did it with faith in someone else. And I give her so much credit for having the balls to leave her life too. And say, “If this is what you want to try, I’m going to support you, and you can try it.”

Ed Bernero: 

Because we didn’t have a job. It’s not like I came here and knew I was going to be on Brooklyn South, or knew I was going to be … we didn’t have a job. So I think that she doesn’t get enough credit for … because I wouldn’t have done it without them. I wouldn’t have done it without my kids, who were teenagers at the time. They left their lives. My wife left her life. Ultimately, looking back on it, it looks like it was an easy decision to make. But it could have really gone bad. 

Kary:

We got into this a little but, this student asks about working with the network and dealing with notes from executives.

Ed Bernero: 

It can be difficult. I don’t let it be difficult. I kind of go … like I don’t put other … there’s different ways you can handle notes. Some showrunners say, “Someone on the staff, you handle the notes, you talk to them.” I talk to them. Sometimes it’s easy to just … look, everybody’s just trying to do a job. I don’t take it personally. Sometimes I go, “Yeah, we did that on purpose.” And they go, “Okay.”

Ed Bernero: 

So I don’t have a problem with notes. Our show was kind of at the beginning of the Renaissance of television. I think that shows are much deeper than people think they are. So we’ve kind of been left alone a lot in that way. There’s also kind of this bar of success, when you reach a certain bar, nobody can really tell you anything anyways. So you just …

Ed Bernero: 

I’ll tell you this great story. This is like the greatest note I ever got in the history of Criminal Minds. I’m directing an episode that I wrote, and my assistant comes down and says … I can say his name, because he’s brilliant. “David Brownfield is on the phone. He says you can’t do the ending that you did for this episode.” This is like season three or four. I’m like, “What? I make Criminal Minds.” So I go up on the phone, I said, “Get David Brownfield on the phone. Get David Brownfield on the phone.” I said, “David, I make Criminal Minds. You don’t make Criminal Minds. You don’t decide what episodes I can and can’t do. I make Criminal Minds.”

Ed Bernero:

And he said, “What are you talking about?” I said, “I heard that you said I can’t do this ending on the show.” He goes, “No, no, no, no, no. I never said that. What I said was it’s boring.” He said, “You’re right. You make the show. You earn the right to be boring. If you want to be dull, be dull. All I said was it’s boring.” And I’m like, “Fuck, that’s a brilliant note.” Because now I’m like, “Why is this boring?” So I changed the whole ending, but it depends on how notes are delivered.

Ed Bernero:

But yeah, notes are not a problem. It’s just part of the process. Sometimes they’re really helpful too. Sometimes having someone who’s not in the room, you can really convince yourself stuff is brilliant. But there’s different … but you get notes at all different points during the process. Like you get script notes, you get story notes, then you get script notes, then you get cut notes, then you get final notes. So you get notes on music, you get notes on … everybody has a note on something.

Ed Bernero:

But I have found that if you don’t run away from them, if you take them and you … a lot of times on the phone I can say … because they are really respectful. They don’t … sometimes when you read a note, it feels way less respectful than they intended for it to be. Because sometimes I’ll write back, “Well, this sounds like you’re being a dick.” So I like to talk to them. I like to hear them. And yeah, it can be a problem. But there’s a level where they can’t really tell you what to do anymore anyway, so. But yeah. It depends how you look at it. I look at it as a benefit to the show.

Kary:

And my last question, which I ask of all our guests. What is the best piece of advice you ever received or that you wish to share?

Ed Bernero:

Write the script that only you can write. There should be something in it no one knows but you. Does that make sense? Like some emotion, some feeling, something that … because even if it’s an emotion other people feel, they don’t feel it the way you feel it. I’ve been stunned to find out first, as a kid growing up, that my parents didn’t remember my childhood the way I remembered it. And now I’m equally stunned to find out, I’ve got seven grandkids, that my children don’t remember their childhoods the way it happened.

Ed Bernero:

So tell your story. Get it out there. Even if it’s in an episode of … you can do it in an episode of Criminal Minds. But tell your story. Tell something in it that only you can tell. That’s the best advice I can give you, because that’s going to make it jump. That’s going to make it jump. I’ve had assistants that … I encourage them to write. And they’ll send me stuff. And I’ll be like, “Bullshit, bullshit, bullshit.” I’ll read it, I’ll say, “Bullshit. You’re copying Criminal Minds. You’re copying emotion. You’re not writing emotion, you’re copying it.” And I say, “Write the script only you can write.” And then when it comes it’s like, bam, it’s like there. It’s there.

Ed Bernero:

You know David, one of the last people … it was a guy that I met from HBO. David, the cop. The ex-cop that worked … no, at Cinemax. He was an assistant at Cinemax. David. He was an ex Chicago cop. And he sent me a script, I’m like, “Holy shit, that’s it. That’s a story that only this guy can tell.” So that’s the best advice I can give you. And to write everyday. Don’t convince yourself you don’t have time, because that’s just a bullshit excuse. You can write anywhere.

Kary:

Please join me in thanking Ed Bernero for coming in tonight.