Good TV, Terrible Bosses: Brett Martin Examines the Boob Tube Manly Men of Breaking Bad, The Sopranos and The Wire
Todd A. Kessler was the boy genius of the Sopranos writers’ room. In 1999, he wrote a teleplay, “D-Girl,” about a gangster who writes a screenplay (You Bark, I Bite) that was so good, it changed the rules of dark comedy on television. He was 26. It was the first Sopranos episode he’d done. By 2000, his standing at the show had risen to the point that rumor named him as the successor-in-waiting to David Chase, the Sopranos creator. The two became friends. That summer, when an episode they co-wrote was nominated for an Emmy, Mr. Kessler was elated. Still, he can’t have been much surprised. The episode, “Funhouse,” the last of the second season, is a brilliant piece of writing. The surprise came 10 minutes after the nomination was announced, when Mr. Chase phoned up Mr. Kessler and fired him. He was stunned. “The timing isn’t great,” Mr. Chase admitted during the call. Mr. Kessler wept, and although he obtained a reprieve, it didn’t last.
Had he been fired for being too good? The next act of Mr. Kessler’s career suggested that this possibility hadn’t escaped him. In 2007, he created Damages, an Emmy- and Golden Globe-winning drama about a litigator who brutalizes her protégé. It was “based,” Brett Martin writes in his new book, Difficult Men, “in no small part on [Mr. Kessler’s] experiences working on The Sopranos.” Nor was its creator the only Sopranos alumnus whose later success involved getting even. Mr. Chase had a talent for inflicting the kind of trauma that results in a trip to the podium. Read More