Warren Littlefield Q&A: ‘Fargo’ and ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ producer
“I’ve made a pact with the devil, and apparently that’s working for me,” laughs Warren Littlefield during our recent webcam chat (watch the exclusive video above). Littlefield is enjoying his career as a TV producer of two TV hits (FX’s “Fargo” and Hulu’s “The Handmaid’s Tale”), several years after his enormously successful tenure as NBC president where he fostered hit after hit during the network’s Must See TV era.
Littlefield has been instrumental in bringing the two acclaimed adaptations to the small screen, which have both become timely and relevant in different ways. With “Fargo,” the executive producer saw his original vision for the adaptation of Joel Coen and Ethan Coen‘s Oscar-winning classic come to life when he joined forces with creator Noah Hawley. “It started with Noah Hawley who wanted to examine what the Coens had right at the front of their film and what we have every week: ‘this is a true story’ and for Noah that became an examination of truth,” he reveals. “The thematic for this year is that is the truth is what we say it is.” What he and the team behind “Fargo” never would have expected is how the American political landscape would make this theme all the more relevant this season. “Lo and behold we end up in a Trump world, we end up with an unbelievable dialog with our government and the people of this land and we don’t know what the truth is,” he explains.
His other project this year is Hulu’s timely “The Handmaid’s Tale,” the near-future adaptation of Margaret Atwood‘s 1985 novel about a woman enslaved as a concubine in a totalitarian theocracy called Gilead, which has replaced modern day America as we know it. “It does feel today more relevant in the world we are living in, than ever before,” he admits. Many of the themes explored in this series, from women’s rights to religious extremism and freedom of speech, have become front and center stateside and globally, making this series uncannily relevant. Littlefield explains that the initial priority was ensuring that the adaptation stayed true to the essence of the beloved source material until real-life events became impossible to ignore. “We really felt the pressure to not screw this up, and not let Margaret down,” he says. “And then it was November, we were in the middle of production and we woke up and Trump was president. The level of pressure became exponentially greater,” he reveals. “We were doing something extraordinary anyway, but we stepped up our game even more.”
Littlefield will always be associated with the profound impact he has had on television and popular culture as NBC president during the Must See TV era, developing and shepherding iconic hits like “Cheers,” “Seinfeld,” “Frasier,” “Friends,” “ER,” “Will & Grace” and countless other classics. Years later, he now finds himself firmly entrenched as a creative force, leaving his legacy as an executive behind him. He has relished the opportunities to produce exciting new projects outside the traditional commercial network television model. “The game has shifted,” he says. “I think making 22 episodes of extraordinary television is becoming more and more impossible to do [with] the demands of production and the complexity of storytelling.” It is why Littlefield has gravitated to cable and streaming as a place that fosters creativity without the usual restrictions and obstacles of network TV. “Let’s do 10 to 13 hours of something extraordinary. Let’s throw out all of the rules and do something that is extremely complex in its narrative drive and in its character exploration,” he says. “We’re not going to back away from a world where there are over 400 scripted series per year. We’re in a platinum age of choice for viewers and I don’t see any change in that.”