Making of ‘Alaska Daily’: Roundtable with Tom McCarthy, showrunner and writers

“Alaska Daily” is the ABC drama which premiered in October staring double Oscar winner Hilary Swank. In the series, Swank plays a journalist looking for a fresh start at a local news outlet in Anchorage, Alaska.

To celebrate the series, watch our special 40-minute “Making of Alaska Daily” roundtable discussion with creator, executive producer and director Tom McCarthy. He’s joined by showrunner and executive producer Peter Elkoff as well as writers Vera Starbard and Sandra Chwialkowska. Together they are hosted by Gold Derby senior editor Matt Noble for an insightful Q&A. Watch our exclusive video interview above.

McCarthy won an Oscar for writing Best Picture winner “Spotlight” in 2015. Returning to the world of reporting he explains that “over the last 10 years, reporters have been systemically dehumanized and demonized by the powers that be. Powerful men and women that don’t want reporters doing the job they do. Shining the light on corruption and crime. Seeking out the truth. That’s something we came back to, let’s see who these people are and what makes a journalist tick. Whenever we are in the newsroom you can always kind of feel it. That’s why I wanted to create this show.”

Swank just received a Golden Globe nomination for her acclaimed work on the series. It was one of only two nominations that went to a broadcast network show this year. Elkoff says, “It’s a tribute to the work she’s done. It is not common to have anything on network television be considered in the company of these streaming and cable shows. I think there is a lot of deserved credit to go around. All of these things are confirmation that we made the right kind of noise.”

The show explores the crisis of missing and murdered indigenous women (MMIW) in Alaska. The issue has been close to the heart of Alaskan Native Starbard. As a journalist herself, she edits the “First Alaskans” magazine, where she put out an entire issue devoted to MMIW. She describes, “You have life imitating art in the writers room. You are trying to cover something on screen, but also trying to show journalists covering it responsibly. There’s an apathy and unwillingness to even look at the problem. This problem has been building for so long. Native people have been talking about it for so long. We talked about how we look at the problem as a whole and put those pieces into each of the episodes. The issue itself has been covered before as a problem, without looking at why it’s a problem. It was really important to look at the ‘why’ throughout this. That’s what journalists do. It takes a platform like this to jar people out of apathy, which is what I’m hoping for.”

Elkoff reflects, “A lot of us with a ton of television experience came in with zero understanding of the MMIW crisis in Alaska. Some of us came in without Tom’s depth of information and passion about reporting and newspapers. This show, on multiple levels, was a real learning curve for a lot of us. There was so much catching up in so many ways. And then filtering it through the least likely, most difficult and contradictory delivery system: broadcast television, where they want wins and big exciting moments.” McCarthy adds, “I’ve never done network, it’s a really tricky code.”

Chwialkowska reveals, “In any writers room if you spend 8/10/12 hours a day with the same people in one room for six months you’re going to get to know each other incredibly well. There is a summer camp, found family, aspect to a good writers room; just like the newsroom in ‘Alaska Daily.’ There’s a lot of interesting meta things going on where our in-house journalists, were also writing long form pieces in their off hours. One of the unique aspects was the staffing of the writers room. One part were Alaskan natives contributing their lived experience. One part were working journalists contributing their professional experience. The rest of us were TV writers who were able to contribute a knowledge of breaking story.”

McCarthy says of the show that “the north star is always local journalism. When these papers existed at the height of their powers, they represented in every community around the country the identity of those particular places. I feel like that’s disappearing. The loss of local papers is detrimental to the conversation and democracy. In large part the show is dealing with that. What is the essence of this newsroom? The magic that happens when Professional reporters are banging off each other and trying to uncover the truth and shine a light where it needs to be shed.”

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UPLOADED Dec 19, 2022 12:22 pm