Mark Friedman on 'Dispatches From Elsewhere', Philadelphia, and 'The Wizard of Oz' of it all | Features | LIVING LIFE FEARLESS

Mark Friedman on ‘Dispatches From Elsewhere’, Philadelphia, and ‘The Wizard of Oz’ of It All

Interviewed by:
Stephen Silver
Interview date:
April 2020

I noticed in the finale – first he’s in Fishtown, then he’s by the University Science Center, and that’s West Philly, then he’s on Broad Street again. I don’t know if that’s supposed to mean that’s where he literally was… 

It’s a bit magical, of course, some of it, but that’s always a fine line. There are shows where you say, “it’s magical, none of the rules apply, it doesn’t matter.” But we wanted all the logic to still make sense and to track on some level… people are too smart now, they’ve seen too much television, like Richard [E. Grant] says at the beginning, “this is not your first experience with limited episodic.” Like, there was never any idea that we wouldn’t cast a trans actress – you can’t do those things, you shouldn’t do those things anymore. That’s not the world we’re in. 

On the one hand, we had a lot of freedom to play with things, but on the other, it has to make sense, or the audience will turn on you. One thing I’ve noticed just in the response [is that] we have a very loyal audience and most of the people who started with it have stuck with it. We hope that when time passes and word gets around and when people get done watching The Lion King or Tiger King or whatever, that more people will find it. It’s good [for] quarantine, because it’s a well-told, complete story, that’s hopefully satisfying. 

Jason Segel, Sally Field, and Eve Lindley on Dispatches From Elsewhere (AMC)

Well, one thing I’ve noticed is that I haven’t been able to go outside for the last month, and I haven’t even been in the city of Philadelphia since early March, but I can watch this show and there’s Philadelphia. 

It’s weird, it’s a mixed thing, because on the one level there’s that, but when we were doing this show, we wanted to create this communal experience, that people will play together, and there’ll be viewing parties when people watch it together, but all of that goes out the window. 

But it was also about wanting to put something positive into the world, that had a positive message. But we had no idea what kind of world we were walking into.

I joke with a lot of people about it as a showrunner, I had never worked with a trans actress before. What are the issues, what are the things that might come up, what do you have to think about? So there’s this mythical showrunner manual in your head, and if there isn’t a section for working with a trans actor… [then] there definitely isn’t the pandemic section. These are just like unanticipated things that you have no idea how to handle. 

And I think with Eve, we all got through it because we were all open about everything because we all communicated well, and we all stayed in touch and stayed friends. She was in New York too, and it was nice that I was able to see her there and show her some of the episodes before they aired.

But it is a weird time, and there are certain shows now that are gonna look weird in a few years, like the way 9/11 made things look different before and after. But I think Dispatches might have this evergreen quality because it was always a little piece of magic that we were going for. 

The show is about the game they’re playing, and also about the characters. But I got the sense that the characters, in the end, were a lot more important than the game. Is that something that you would agree with? 

Yea. I would never play one of these games. So I couldn’t relate to it on that level. I understand it on a plot level, and we had other writers who were really into these games, and could come up with some of the stuff like when Fredwynne reads the gift tag. And as a writer, that would have taken me like three days to figure out what that was. 

But we had a writer in the room who did… And that’s what you always try to do in a writers’ room, it’s about diversity of perspective – ethnically, gender-wise, but also in terms of experience, and so we knew we needed that person. But Jason did play this type of game, before he started the show. The creator of the actual game created a mini-game for Jason, and that’s some of what is shown in the final episode. 

Continued on Page 3…

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