Fans of Greek might remember Patrick Sean Smith as the show’s executive producer. Today, he’s at the helm of ABC Family’s Chasing Life. We chatted with Patrick Sean Smith about the summer finale, which airs tomorrow night, as well as what it’s like to be a showrunner.
For our readers who might not be familiar with what exactly a showrunner does, what’s your elevator pitch?
I keep a hand in all aspects of the show, I run the show along with Joni [Lefkowitz] and Susanna [Fogel], who wrote the pilot, but they were feature people who hadn’t worked in TV before, so given the work that I’d done before on Greek for ABC Family, I oversee the writing, the post, casting, everything.
Some showrunners take a hands-off approach, and others like to be personally involved in as much of the process as possible. What kind would you say you are and why?
I’m probably a blend of both. We have – and everybody says this; I say it sincerely – we have an amazing production team, a phenomenal production designer [and] costumer, and I trust a lot of what they do. They do their job and they do it really well, so I’d say I probably try to keep my hand more in the writers’ room than on set because the writer of the episode will cover the set and be down there with the director who we prep with and everything, so I don’t spend a ton of time on set as much as I do in the writers’ room and watching cuts and everything. So it’s sort of picking my battles but also trusting the talent and integrity of the people I work with.
How much input do you have into the storyline?
I’d say a lot. We have a great staff of writers and we all sit in a room together and throw things around and with Joni and Susanna, we decide which direction we want to go with an episode and tell those stories. So at the end of the day I know that if it’s something that the network isn’t excited about, I’m held responsible as the showrunner, but I think Joni and Susanna especially have a huge voice in the show along with me as far as where we’re headed.
You also wrote an episode – the one when April meets Gerald and joins the cancer support group. Do you like writing or producing better, or are they too different to compare?
A long time ago, when I decided I wanted to focus on writing, a mentor told me that writing is awful – and he’s a writer. “It’s awful and terrible and you’re going to hate it.” I thought that that was crazy and really cynical, but … I joke about it in the writers’ room, when I’m like “I hate writing, it’s awful,” and it’s usually when you hit a wall and you’re like “I can’t figure this out, I hate this, why am I doing this, I’m just going to quit and go sell flip-flops on a beach somewhere.” And then you get past it and you’re like “Oh my gosh, TV writing is so easy, why isn’t everybody doing this? This is just, like, you know, it’s too easy.” So I’d say writing has its ups and downs, but producing a show is something that I really enjoy just because it’s making a million decisions in a day and getting to see what results from that and it’s exciting and fun. Both are exciting and fun, but writing sometimes is a little less exciting and fun.
What was your favorite scene, sub-plot or even line of the season, or any element that particularly stuck out to you that you liked?
I’m really excited about the finale. It’s something that we’ve been building up to as we were doing our research on what April would be going through with her treatment. When we understood that somebody with AML has seven days of chemo, it felt like its own concept, and when we got to explore it, it was fun to find not just kind of the physical toll it takes on her in the course of the episode but also kind of the psychological and the emotional toll it has, so I feel like I haven’t really seen that much before. When somebody’s in the hospital and they’re being treated, it’s usually, you know, very high stakes for their treatment, but I think because we’re a show that focuses so much on the internal experience that April’s having as well as her external one, then it felt fresh to me and fresh to us to do it, and Joni and Susanna wrote a really really great episode, so I’d have to say all of this upcoming finale.
Any news on whether the show has been renewed for a second season?
We have already produced 11 more episodes after next week’s finale, so we already have the next season that will air in January, I believe. They’re saying we’ll have the holiday episode that will air around December, and we’ll have another 10 episodes of Chasing Life that we’ve already shot and produced that will air sometime next year. Then after that, we’ll know better about a second season for the show, but in total we’ve already shot and locked 21 episodes.
Chasing Life airs Tuesday nights at 9/8c on ABC Family, following Pretty Little Liars. Keep up with Patrick Sean Smith by following him on Twitter @SEANSMITH74, and check out a sneak peek from the finale: