One page led to another, and eventually they were married. Robert kept writing screenplays and Michelle kept commenting on them until they decided one would work better as a television show about a border town and they could both work on it. "We pitched it, and everyone loved it. Until the networks realized it was a show about Tijuana and no one would make it," says Robert.
But they kept writing for pilot season and in 2006 produced the short-lived "In Justice." By the time "The Good Wife" got a go, they had worked together for so long, the only real surprise was the show's success — it was recently picked up for a second season. "We knew Julianna [Margulies] would get a good response," says Robert, "but we were shocked by the response to the show. We wrote it so it could end at Episode 13."
"Blue Bloods'" Green met Burgess when he enrolled in one of her writing classes at the Iowa Writers' Workshop. She was so impressed with his talent that after she got a job writing for "Northern Exposure," she called him when she had trouble generating stories. Soon Burgess was working on the show too; by the time they took a job on "The Sopranos," they were a package deal.
Running a show, they say, is both harder — so much responsibility — and simpler — you don't have to second-guess the creator — than writing it, and the rigors of a network show make them grateful to be a pair.
"It is not as gracious a pace as cable," says Green, laughing.
Dan Futterman and Anya Epstein, who wrote and ran the third season of HBO's "In Treatment," did meet on set, but he was an actor and she was a writer who had just sworn off dating actors. Eventually, she swore back on, and after they were married, Futterman decided he would rather write. He began a script about Truman Capote while he and Epstein co-wrote a comedy. "Capote" took off — Futterman was nominated for an Oscar — but the comedy fizzled.
"It was hard for a while," she says. "Danny was succeeding in my arena at the same time we were writing a script together."
"Writing together was initially dicey," says Futterman. "We each had to grow a thicker skin. Now it works pretty smoothly."
More recently, they were writing a pilot for HBO about a transgender man when executives called to ask if they had any ideas about "In Treatment." "Our main concern wasn't about whether we could work together. It was whether we could write a half-hour of uninterrupted dialogue," says Futterman, laughing.
Lipkin and Burson, on the other hand, helped run a theater company after they met in grad school at New York University. They came to Los Angeles because, Burson says frankly, "we had to make some money." Four years ago, Lipkin created and ran "The Riches" for FX, and the two got a taste of informal collaboration. "When he was on the show and I was home, it seemed ridiculous that we weren't working on it together," she says.
The courtship of Olsen and Scheffer also began in the theater. Scheffer too had just made the switch from acting to writing and was teaching at a conference where he met Olsen, a lawyer who had just begun writing plays.
"Our version of getting intimate was to swap scripts," says Olsen.
"We didn't date at the conference, though," adds Scheffer.
"No, we waited two weeks and then I moved in," says Olsen, laughing.
The two spent years writing separately; Scheffer wrote "In the Gloaming;" Olsen wrote "Mary Chestnut's Civil War." Whenever Olsen would suggest they collaborate, Scheffer shut him down. "I felt that writers write from their own voice," he says.
After the two moved to Los Angeles, Scheffer became more receptive to pitching a show together. On a drive home from Christmas in Nebraska with family, Olsen brought up the idea of polygamy. "I said, 'Yuck,'" Scheffer says, "and he got really mad and said, 'I'll prove that this can be a great show.' Which he did."
Marriage and family
Although they differ in tone and format, the shows run by these married couples share one thing — complicated characters and even more complex relationships. All of the shows revolve in one way or another around the delicate balance that is marriage and family; "Big Love" is, in fact, a pointed reflection of the process from whence it sprung.
"'Big Love' is a tremendous validation of marriage," says Scheffer. "That it is worth it to be involved in this incredibly dangerous, difficult thing because it bears fruit."
That belief did not come easily when the two began working together. "I'm more of a workaholic," Olsen says. "Will likes his down time. You start with the archaic assumption that it will be 50/50, and it is overall, but initially I became resentful — 'Why isn't he cranking out the pages?' — and he became resentful — 'You aren't respectful of my process' — so it took a while to realize that 50/50 doesn't look a certain way."