Saturday, September 25, 2010

EXCLUSIVE: Phoef Sutton discusses "Changing Partners"

Phoef Sutton began his career in 1985 on the hit sitcom Cheers.  Phoef rose up the ranks on the show, eventually becoming an executive producer and showrunner.  Since then he has worked on a variety of shows such as Boston Legal, The Fighting Fitzgeralds and Valentine.  Recently, Phoef has worked as a consulting producer on Terriers where he wrote this week's twisted noir episode "Changing Partners".  He was kind enough to answer a few short questions about himself and his episode.

Pasha: Firstly, what ignited your interest in television writing and how did you break in?

Phoef Sutton: I grew up as a child of television. It was always on, in the background, while I read and ate and studied. I wanted to be a writer from an early age, but, oddly, I never thought about writing for television. I wrote short stories, play, screenplays. I had a number of plays performed at regional theaters around the country. Moved out to LA and worked in equity waiver theater. It was rewarding spiritually, but not financially. I got married. When my wife was six months pregnant and I had 32 dollars in my bank account, I decided it was time to make a living. I knew nothing about writing for TV, other than watching THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW as a child. (It turns out, that show was pretty accurate.) I was most blessed and lucky to land a freelance CHEERS as my first writing assignment. The next year I joined the staff and stayed with the show for eight years, working my way up from Staff Writer to Executive Producer.

Pasha: I asked Jed Seidel this last week, but having no shame, I’ll ask you too: what does your role as a consulting producer entail? 

Phoef Sutton: I consult on Mondays. Produce on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.

Pasha: How did you become involved in the show?

Phoef Sutton: I wrote a pilot that Marney and Shawn liked. I imagine they were familiar with my other work, as well. I know Shawn was a big CHEERS fan, so I guess that had something to do with it.

Pasha: Terriers appears to be your first cable show. Prior to Terriers however you have worked on a variety of different shows from half hour sitcoms to legal dramas to teen shows. What have you found to be the similarities and differences when writing for different genres?

Phoef Sutton: I’ve pretty much done it all. Multi-camera sit-coms, plays, movies, novels, hour dramas and I have to tell you that I approach all of them exactly the same way. From character. If the characters are engaging and fascinating the rest just flows.

Pasha: This episode seemed to be born from the need to explore the trust in the various pairings in this show. At what point did the idea of the borderline sadomasochistic couple emerge and how did this develop during the breaking of the episode?

Phoef Sutton: The cuckolding couple was the initial idea that I brought to the table. The rest of it, the themes of pairing and changing partnerships just seemed to grow from that.

Pasha: This episode was markedly darker than the previous two. Was this intentional or just the natural evolution of the show?

Phoef Sutton: The show is naturally evolving in a darker direction. This story could have been told in a lighter, more farcical way, after all. The pull toward darkness was irresistible. Trust me, the show gets a lot darker.

Pasha: While it was left open to interpretation as to why the husband, Armand Foster, committed suicide, why do you think he did it? Was it realizing he’d upset his wife or was it the fact her affair with Hank effectively took the control out of Armand’s hands?

Phoef Sutton: Be careful what you wish for.

Pasha: Last but not least... what was up with the last scene?

Phoef Sutton: Do you want me to spoil the surprise? I’ll just say this: Everybody’s been asking me, “What’s up with the guy in the celiing?” to which I reply only, “What makes you think it’s a guy?”

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