Joe Weisberg
How a TV show goes from an idea in someone’s head to an episode on your screen
Making television is a fast-paced, involved, and deeply collaborative process. We spent five months on the set of FX spy drama The Americans learning how it all works.
By Caroline Framke

Everyone on The Americans is working toward the same goal. This sounds like an obvious statement, but trust me: With so many variables in play and so little time to get everything done, that kind of teamwork is both rare and prized. If a set is like a train hurtling toward its destination, any bit of discord on the route clashes against the tracks and creates a warning spark — and the more that happens, the more likely it is that the whole thing will derail.

JOEL FIELDS: But by the beginning of season 3, we had [planned] her death. Because we came upon [The Americans consultant Sergie Kostin’s book, Farewell: The Greatest Spy Story of the Twentieth Century], which gave the details of how these prisoners were executed. We expected it to happen by the end of season 3.

JOE WEISBERG: Right, although it wasn’t reading about the deaths in the book that motivated us to have her die, but it gave us how she’d die once we knew she was. Sergie’s book gives all these details that came out after the fall of the Soviet Union about all these people who had committed espionage who were executed, and the exact details of how that was done. We follow that to the letter in the show when Nina was executed. It was planned in a very specific way so the person who was going to be killed doesn’t know they were going to be killed, and it was done that way for humanitarian reasons — they didn’t want the person to suffer, to be spending all this time in a cell pondering their own pending execution. They wanted it to be as much of a surprise as possible.

One of the most powerful things is that [historically the actual executions] were choreographed and staged by the execution team. Because they did it quite a number of times, they learned once the person heard what was going to happen to them, invariably their knees buckled. And so they learned to place a person on each side of them to catch them by their elbows, because they wanted to shoot the person in the back of the head — so they couldn’t have the person fall. That was our staging, but also their staging. Also, the person read the verdict then stepped out of the way at the same time to not get blood on themselves. It was interesting to follow their actual staging, and to think about something like that being choreographed.

FX has just officially announced their renewal of The Americans for season five and six. Season six will be the final season. Joel Fields and Joe Weisberg feel that this allows them to give the story the ending it deserves. A quote from Joe: “We have a pretty good sense [of the ending]. I would say we got it down to about four different endings. So we’re pretty well honed in on a zone we’re going to go to, but we haven’t decided for sure. And the way that we work, it could also all change. As it gets closer, we could come up with something totally different that would surprise me.”

Is Phillip and Elizabeth’s travel agency financially successful? — Pris Robichaud, New Hampshire

Joel Fields: [Laughs.] “We think so. There’s actually a story we read about one illegal who had a business that became so successful, he started sending money back to the K.G.B., which we thought was pretty funny. We don’t think they’re doing that, because instead Phillip bought a Camaro. But yes, we feel like it’s a pretty good business. Although, let’s be honest: It’s a travel agency. In 20 years not only will the Soviet Union have collapsed, the Internet will have destroyed the travel agency business.”

So they’re on borrowed time in every aspect of their lives.

Joe Weisberg: “Unless they start Expedia or something.”

Joel Fields: “That’s a good twist!”

From this showrunner Q&A over at the New York Times.


Emmy Awards 2018 winners :

Best Comedy: “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” (Amazon)

Best Drama:“Game of Thrones” (HBO)

Best Limited Series: “The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story” (FX)

Best Actress, Comedy: Rachel Brosnahan, “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”

Best Actor, Comedy: Bill Hader, “Barry”

Best Actress, Drama: Claire Foy, “The Crown”

Best Actor, Drama: Matthew Rhys, “The Americans”

Supporting Actress, Drama: Thandie Newton, “Westworld”

Supporting Actor, Drama: Peter Dinklage, “Game of Thrones”

Supporting Actress, Comedy: Alex Borstein, “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”

Supporting Actor, Comedy: Henry Winkler, “Barry”

Best Actress, Limited Series or TV Movie: Regina King, “Seven Seconds

Best Actor, Limited Series or TV Movie: Darren Criss, “The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story”

Supporting Actress, Limited Series or a Movie: Merritt Wever, “Godless”

Supporting Actor, Limited Series or Movie: Jeff Daniels, “Godless”

Variety Sketch Series: “Saturday Night Live” (NBC)

Variety Talk Series: “Last Week Tonight With John Oliver”(HBO)

Reality Competition Program: “RuPaul’s Drag Race” (VH1)

Writing for a Comedy Series: Amy Sherman-Palladino, “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” (“Pilot”)

Writing for a Drama Series: Joel Fields and Joe Weisberg, “The Americans” (“Start”)

Writing for a Limited Series, Movie or Drama: William Bridges and Charlie Brooker, “Black Mirror: USS Callister”

Directing for a Comedy Series: Amy Sherman-Palladino, “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” (“Pilot”)

Directing for a Drama Series: Stephen Daldry, “The Crown” (“Paterfamilias”)

Directing for a Limited Series: Ryan Murphy, “The Assassination Of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story” (“The Man Who Would Be Vogue”)

Writing for a Variety Special: John Mulaney, “John Mulaney: Kid Gorgeous At Radio City” (Netflix)

Directing for a Variety Special: Glenn Weiss, “The Oscars” (ABC)

*Television Movie: “Black Mirror: USS Callister” (Netflix)

*Directing for a Variety Series: Don Roy King, “Saturday Night Live” (Host: Donald Glover)

*Reality Host: RuPaul, “RuPaul’s Drag Race”

*Structured Reality Program: “Queer Eye” (Netflix)

*Unstructured Reality Program: “United Shades Of America With W. Kamau Bell” (CNN)

*Guest Actress, Drama: Samira Wiley, “The Handmaid’s Tale”

*Guest Actor, Drama: Ron Cephas Jones, “This Is Us”

*Guest Actress, Comedy: Tiffany Haddish, “Saturday Night Live”

*Guest Actor, Comedy: Katt Williams, “Atlanta”

*Documentary or Nonfiction Series: “Wild Wild Country” (Netflix)

*Animated Program: “Rick And Morty” (Adult Swim)

[“The Americans”] Creators Joe Weisberg and Joel Fields couldn’t even win for Outstanding Writing, again defeated by the HBO giant in what is an utterly inexplicable choice to anyone who’s written words, plural.
—  Indiewire, doing the lord’s work

Gold Derby Q&A: Joe Weisberg and Joel Fields (June 13 2014)