Greer Shephard and Mike Robin have been business partners for almost 10 years. Their WB-housed production shop, the Shephard/Robin Co., has generated such hits as FX's Nip/Tuck and TNT's The Closer and has pilots in development for FX, TNT and ABC, among others. They talked with B&C's Anne Becker about developing young talent and taking big risks.
How did your company come to be?
Shephard: The idea was born out of our observations in the field. Conglomerates were taking over, and there was less supervision for writers. It was a massacre for those without experience. A handful of producers got stuff on, and all else was left by the side of the road. I was on the network side, and Michael saw the same on the direction side. We felt an obligation to return the favor of the apprenticeships we had [Shephard at Disney, Robin with Steven Bochco].
How are you returning the favor?
Shephard: We fashion ourselves as godparents chaperoning new voices to realize their dreams without compromising integrity. Networks look to have fear minimized by a certain level of experience. We provide that. The third seat in the trinity is an original voice.
Robin: We allow people to take chances, fly, crash, get picked up and put back on track with a pat on the back.
Shephard: We want to feel like a creative free-zone where failure is not in the lexicon. We consider our shop a rehab center. People come in beaten or mangled, and we put up barriers to make sure their ideas and voices are protected. Nip/Tuck [for example] is a grisly cautionary tale that exposes the illusion that people can address internal flaws with external fixes. It's a cynical theme you don't find a lot in television. Cosmetic surgery [being] violent and relationships with unacknowledged rage underneath are dark ideas [creator] Ryan Murphy wanted to express. We supported that ideology.
Why do you produce so much for cable?
Shephard: There's considerably less fear in their reaction to content. There are fewer executives. The project is commissioned by the person who decides whether to program it. You can't get that attention from a network responsible for launching 10 programs at once.
Robin: Cable's brands are so specific; their targets are very easy to fit. There's a willingness to do bold, original programming.
How do you get studios to fund you?
Shephard: We identify artists in all fields who are not yet recognized. People are leery to take a first chance on anyone. We can do that and make that money go further.
Robin: On cable, we work for $400,000-$500,000 less than network. It's a challenge. You're getting less money to do the show, but everyone still wants network production value. We shoot in seven days. We find actors that are off the radar and remake them as stars. We do shows with less staff and give chances to people to get a break. In Nip/Tuck, we made a stylistic choice to use minimalism—stark, striking sets with big iconic elements—because we didn't have money to dress sets in a huge fancy way. On The Closer, we used two handheld cameras, so there was no need to put down dolly tracks.
What do you look for in partners?
Shephard: We spend time with people before we work with them. We look for writers who have something provocative to say about the culture—intrinsic leadership and vision that goes beyond the page. People who have a commanding presence and see the world cinema- tically. What we do is not for the meek. You need intense focus. There are people who are not up to that marathon.