Robert Siegel And D.V. DeVincentis’ Biggest Lesson From Pam and Tommy: ‘Stick To TV’
Dec 24, 2022
Robert Siegel and D.V. DeVincentis have celebrated films on their individual resumes. Siegel penned “The Wrestler” which took the Golden Lion at the 2008 Venice Film Festival while DeVincentis’ big breaks came with the screenplays for “Grosse Pointe Blank” and “High Fidelity.” With “Pam & Tommy,” they have shepherded a limited series that earned 10 Emmy nominations including individual accolades for stars Lily James, Sebastian Stan, and Seth Rogen. To say they see the value in primarily working in television is something of an understatement.
READ MORE: Lily James says “Pam & Tommy” is the hardest thing she’s ever done [Interview]
During our conversation last week, both Siegel and DeVincentis reflected on how many of the movies they worked on even a few years ago wouldn’t get made today. And a true story like the one chronicled in “Pam & Tommy” would only get made in a streaming or prestige cable environment. The pair also reflected on the toughest moments of the eight-episode production, whether subject stars Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee have reached out followings the series’ release and much more.
The Playlist: This was one of the most competitive limited series or anthology series fields in 75 years of the Emmy Awards. What was your reaction to your Emmy nominations?
Robert Spiegel: Oh my God.
D.V. DeVincentis: You’ve just laid it out. It was so competitive and I was so pleased that we got the hair and makeup [nod] and Sebastian and Lily. I thought the show itself was going to be a real long shot and I’m so gratified that we got in there. It’s wonderful. And you’re right, what a year. There’s so much good stuff.
Robert Spiegel: I feel the same way. Yeah, no, I was pretty stunned. I thought Lily and Sebastian had an excellent chance and I thought our hair and makeup teams, I don’t know much about these things, but it seemed like they had a very strong chance. I was trying not to get my hopes up for myself or the show just because there are so many good shows this year. So yeah, stunned, thrilled, that type of thing.
The Playlist: Was just getting this boatload of nominations like the win in any way?
Robert Spiegel: Yeah.
D.V. DeVincentis: Very much so.
Robert Spiegel: Yeah. In no universe will I be going to the Emmys feeling like my happiness rides on hearing my name called or the show’s name. It’s a cliche I suppose, but I’m so thrilled that we got all those nominations and that’s, for me, the win. I’ll be rooting for people more than anything. Sebastian and Lily and Seth.
D.V. DeVincentis: I think because of the way that Rob and I individually and together write things, there’s a lot of humor involved and there’s a lot of Trojan horse action where we have something that’s really fun on the outside and fizzy and poppy, and the ideas that we’re trying to get across are smuggled in within that. And so when it comes to being recognized, I think that puts it at a little bit of a disadvantage, the way things that are considered, comedy is not necessarily considered the best of things. But it was wonderful that people got what we were doing, and I think maybe the nomination reflected that, which was great.
Robert Spiegel: That was really well said, DV.
D.V. DeVincentis: Thank you.
Robert Spiegel: I mean it. No, because you’re right. I think comedy, things that even have comedic elements or things that are fun I think don’t always read prestige-y the way…
D.V. DeVincentis: Yes. That’s the word prestige-y, yeah.
Robert Spiegel:…things that are more serious do.
The Playlist: You have both been in the industry for a while. There’s been talk going around that maybe organizations like the Television Academy should get rid of the comedy and drama designations and embrace half-hour and hour designations. What do you guys think about that?
Robert Spiegel: This is the first I’m hearing of it. Well, my first thought is if you did that, wouldn’t that mean fewer comedies? I love that television actually recognizes [them], unlike movies. The Oscars don’t recognize comedy.
D.V. DeVincentis: Yeah, I agree. I think it actually sets up the opportunity for comedies to be considered because you have all these people who are voting and they’re forced to look at the comedies and look at their quality and consider them amongst each other in that way, whereas without those categories, I think that comedies just don’t get their due.
The Playlist: For “Pam & Tommy,” you’re tackling a subject matter that is not the easiest to present to an audience in some ways. Was there ever a moment whether in the editing room or reviews where you realized “We nailed it”?
Robert Spiegel: I don’t think there was a moment like that. I’m still in the, I hope I nailed it or I hope we nailed it phase. Yeah, I hope we nailed it.
D.V. DeVincentis: Yeah, it’s really hard to get a bird’s eye view and find a definitive moment where you feel that way because you’re always trying to make it better and it always feels like you’re behind the eight ball and you’re always seeing compromise. I know that’s true for me. When I look at something that has been made that I wrote or wrote and produced, I generally am just seeing the things that I wish I could have made better, and so that gets in the way of that moment that you’re describing.
Robert Spiegel: I think there are lots of things along the way that sends the message that people liked it and that it was seen. There are lots of those moments, but that’s a little different than we nailed it, I guess because there’s always that one negative review you can always obsess over.
D.V. DeVincentis: I don’t read reviews and Rob does.
Robert Spiegel: D.V. does not read reviews and I do.
D.V. DeVincentis: It’s just because they freak me out.
The Playlist: Do you avoid social media? Do you block “Pam and Tommy” from all your searches so it doesn’t pop up? So you don’t even see the love?
D.V. DeVincentis: Well, here’s the thing. If we’re going to get into the inside baseball, the publicity people show you the good ones. I don’t think they show you the bad ones. So, you get this email with these links to the ratings.
Robert Spiegel: At the bottom, there are the pans.
D.V. DeVincentis: See, I don’t get that far.
Robert Spiegel: When the show comes out, the PR firm sends little almost daily blasts, certainly in the first week or so, daily blasts. And at the bottom, there’s a pans section that D.V. never, I guess, makes it to.
D.V. DeVincentis: Here’s why. If somebody hates it, if somebody has a criticism, either I disagree, so where am I there? Or I agree and there’s nothing I can do about it because I can’t go back and fix it. I would rather go out to lunch with a friend or read a book than read that.
Robert Spiegel: See, I guess the difference between us is if I read the negative review, I don’t disagree.
D.V. DeVincentis: No, sometimes I agree. That’s what I mean. And there’s nothing I can do about it and I don’t want to sit there and be, “F**k. You just…”
Robert Spiegel: Oh, I think you’re saying you disagree with the negative review because you…
D.V. DeVincentis: Well, I could disagree or agree, but if I disagree, it just pisses me off. And if I agree, I can’t do anything about it. They’re right and I can’t, the editing room is closed. Nobody’s opening the door.
The Playlist: Right. This isn’t a 22-episode series. You’re not in the middle of production that you can make some strategic change halfway through.
D.V. DeVincentis: Right. You could be, “Oh, next season I’m going to really address that because they’re right about that.”
Robert Spiegel: The negative reviews are, if you did have the luxury of having them sooner, they’re often excellent notes. I read pans of shows all the time that read like great studio notes.
D.V. DeVincentis: But it’s too late to do anything about it.
The Playlist: Right. It’s too late. But now that it’s out there in the world, was there one episode, one sequence, one scene that you’re most proud of?
D.V. DeVincentis: A lot of things.
The Playlist: One that pops to mind.
D.V. DeVincentis: There’s a sequence in episode six where we’re back in Pamela’s hometown and she goes to the stadium and she’s discovered. And that was expensive. We were really up against it budget-wise at that point. It was extremely difficult and people who were really just doing their job were doing everything they could to talk Rob and me out of shooting that and talk us into cutting it out of the show. And it was just really important to us and we had to do a lot to make it happen and we didn’t know it was actually going to be shot until a couple of days before we did it. That was one I can think of.
Robert Spiegel: The end. Sticking the landing for any show is terrifying. That’s the thing I tend to most fear and trust my judgment on. “Oh my God, did we stick the landing?” Just in terms of which one gives me just the most joy, I think it’s probably “The King and I” moment. I think that scene still just charms me just every time I see it, watching them just jump up and down on the bed and dance and sing together. I just think it’s so beautiful and the performances are so beautiful and It accomplishes so much in terms of what we were trying to get across about these two people, just how adorable and sweet they were when they were with each other. Yeah, I think it’s one of those scenes that was entertaining but also served a purpose.
The Playlist: Well, one of the scenes that obviously got the most attention is Tommy talking to his member a number of times in episode 2. Obviously, you’ve already been asked about this a bunch of times, but did you ever think the network would ask you to cut it? Did you ever fear you couldn’t pull it off?
D.V. DeVincentis: Is that a pun?
Robert Spiegel: Pull it off.
D.V. DeVincentis: Pull it off. Sorry.
The Playlist: [LOL] Didn’t even think about that.
D.V. DeVincentis: No, I know. I have a dad joke brain always running up there somewhere in there, even though I’m not a dad, as far as I know. We got less pushback on it than I thought we would. I was, “They’ll never go for it.” And there was just a long discussion, but in the end, we got it. Is that fair, Rob?
Robert Spiegel: Yeah, they didn’t flag it for a long time. They flagged it very late. There was a moment maybe of terror. “Oh my God, did this somehow slip?” They usually kill s**t pretty early. The Disney lawyers are pretty proactive, but it made it through this whole script phase and then it just kept not getting killed and I’m, Oh, maybe it’s not going to get killed.” And then very late there was a moment where it was in peril very close to shooting. But I don’t know, they ultimately said yes, bless their hearts. I don’t know. As I’ve said in other interviews, it came from his book. And if you can forget for a moment that it’s a penis and imagine it’s a friend, which I think Tommy’s dick is a dearly trusted friend for him. If it had been Nikki Sixx having that conversation with him, it would’ve been a totally legit scene. I think it is a conversation that he would have with a close friend. In this case, it just happened to be his penis. But it’s straight out of his book, out of “Tommyland.” I’m thrilled that they let us keep it, so big props to Hulu.
D.V. DeVincentis: Big thanks. Big props.
The Playlist: Was there anything that the lawyers asked you not to include?
Robert Spiegel: Yeah, definitely, I’m sure.
D.V. DeVincentis: It’s always the small stuff that you don’t expect. I think that we were approaching this from a point of view that’s pretty already respectful. And yeah, I’m trying to remember, Rob, maybe you can remember, but it’s always very unexpected. It’ll be, “You can’t say that phrase.” And you’re, “That phrase is a common phrase.” And they’re, “No, it’s actually copyrighted.”
The Playlist: Ah, didn’t realize that.
Robert Spiegel: It’s usually some weird little legal statute that gets triggered by something. It’s almost semantics rather than… It doesn’t correlate. It’s not a direct correlation, the more blasphemous or offensive the riskier it is.
The Playlist: I don’t believe you’d heard from Pam or Tommy’s camp when the series first came out. Maybe I’m wrong, but it’s now been seven months. Have you heard anything back about whether they watched it, and what their thoughts were if they did?
Robert Spiegel: Tommy, yes. Pam, no. Tommy has hung out a couple of times with Sebastian. It sounds like they’re not friends, but they’ve hung out. They had dinner in Malibu.
D.V. DeVincentis: Yeah. They were in touch, but I don’t know, I’ve never heard back anything directly through Sebastian about what Tommy actually thought.
Robert Spiegel: Well, they hung out. He wanted to come to set, which we thought was a bad idea, so that didn’t happen. Sebastian just reached out to him in the way that Lily tried to reach out to Pam.
D.V. DeVincentis: Yeah, we tried a number of times to reach out to her, but we also respected her decision not to get involved with us as well. But she was always our number one audience. We made it with her in mind at all times. But as far as that, we don’t have any indication. There’s been tabloidy [reports] secondhand, a friend of a friend says, and then that stuff can get, as Rob put it once, laundered into mainstream media. But there hasn’t been anything at all directly attributed.
The Playlist: You have both worked in the industry for a while. This is a seminal project in some ways for both of you guys. What lessons did you take from making this show?
D.V. DeVincentis: It’s a really good question. It’s one that I should be… If I don’t have an answer now, I’m going to be sitting down and trying to figure that out.
Robert Spiegel: Stick to television. Stop making movies.
The Playlist: You loved working in television?
Robert Spiegel: Yeah, I loved it. And it’s just this is the type of things I like to make. It’s where they’re getting made.
D.V. DeVincentis: Yeah. Movies that Rob and I have made in the past individually are movies that would have a really hard time getting made right now as movies.
Robert Spiegel: And no one would see them.
D.V. DeVincentis: Yeah.
Robert Spiegel: Yeah. It’s just depressing.
D.V. DeVincentis: The other great thing about it is that I look at movies as a battle and a TV show as a war. You get everybody together for a movie and then it’s over in whatever, eight or 10 weeks if you’re lucky and then everybody goes away. But with TV, you get all these forces together, all these incredible people with all of their energy and their creativity, and you get to keep doing it. It’s battle after battle, episode after episode. Right, Rob?
Robert Spiegel: Yeah, I love it.
D.V. DeVincentis: It’s really great to not have everybody go away.
Robert Spiegel: This was my first experience in TV and I just want more. I love it.
The Playlist: Was it just the idea of what DV just said, the community over such a long period of time, or is it the ability to tell a longer story that appealed to you?
Robert Spiegel: It’s the ability to really stretch. It’s the creative freedom. It’s the fact that they need product and want to make things and you can get great actors. In movies, they’re looking for reasons not to make the thing, and I’ve found in television, they’re looking for reasons to say yes versus looking for reasons to say no. I don’t know. It might just be the climate right now. It’s such a fear-driven climate right now in movies. TV is just so “go, go, go” right now.
The Playlist: Not a lot of wishy-washing. Yeah, that makes sense.
Robert Spiegel: Everything tilting. And your stuff gets seen, I guess that’s the biggest thing. I think if we could have gotten this made at all in an alternate universe where this was a movie, first of all, I think of all the things that we wouldn’t have been able to fit in the movie and then no one would’ve seen it. Every year, how many movies a year breakthrough at this point?
The Playlist: 25, 30 maybe.
Robert Spiegel: Yeah. Well, not counting Marvel.
The Playlist: Not in terms of box office, but just culturally, I think so.
Robert Spiegel: Culturally, I think like two movies maybe. I’m saying in the stories about human beings’ space. Yeah, all these wonderful limited series, including all the ones that got nominated this year, and they all 20 years ago would’ve been movies.
The Playlist: Hard to argue with that. Speaking of television, what’s on your plate next?
Robert Spiegel: We just wrapped. I went from “Pam & Tommy” into another eight-part limited series for Hulu called “Welcome to Chippendales.” Yeah, which stars Kumail Nanjiani, Murray Bartlett, Juliette Lewis, and Annaleigh Ashford. It’s a great cast and it’s about the Chippendales murders, which was the subject of a podcast. The founder of Chippendales killed his business partner. It’s got many different themes, but it’s got the same thing that “Pam & Tommy” does. Fun, if you consider murder fun, but lots of substance underneath the glitter.
“Pam & Tommy” is available on Hulu
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