“I was a such a product of television,” Jim Rash told BuzzFeed at a small café in Santa Monica. “I remember lying on the floor of my room, staring at a black-and-white television for most of the ’80s — watching Diff’rent Strokes, Facts of Life, Silver Spoons, Saturday morning cartoons, and Murder, She Wrote while eating an insane amount of Stouffer’s French bread pizza. I was sucked into it all.”
But unlike millions of other children who were raised by television, Rash turned his early adoration into a very lucrative career over the last 20 years; first, he guest-starred on everything from Cybill to Friends, then he played the scene-stealing Dean Pelton on NBC’s Community, and, most recently, he’s hosted Sundance’s The Writers’ Room, which dedicates each of its six episodes to a conversation with the creative forces behind a different television show (the Scandal-focused Season 2 premiere airs on Friday, April 18 at 9 p.m.).
“I am always up to steal secrets from smart people,” Rash joked when asked why he wanted to host the series. “In truth, I have always been amazed by a group of people who all work toward putting one person’s vision forward — that’s an interesting story for me. And I’ve been genuinely taken aback by how many shows are written by people that have this intense feel of a family unit. You see it, you feel it, and shows like Breaking Bad, Scandal, and House of Cards are so good because they’re driven by that dynamic.”
Though Rash needs little advice on the subject — considering the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay sitting on his shelf for 2012’s The Descendants, which he co-wrote with Alexander Payne and Nat Faxon — the biggest benefit to come from hosting The Writers’ Room has also been the most unexpected.
“I really didn’t anticipate the therapeutic benefit,” Rash said, all joking aside. “I always have moments when I think, I’m terrible. I can’t figure this script out. This is the worst shit I’ve ever written in my life and everyone will hate me because of it. Doing this show has been wonderful reaffirmation that, yes, every writer goes through the same feelings, and, on a practical level, it’s reminded me to have the tenacity to keep going.”
While some writers — like Shonda Rhimes, Lost’s Damon Lindelof, and Rash’s Community boss, Dan Harmon — have achieved household name recognition in recent years, Rash sees The Writers’ Room as a celebration of everyone who plays a part in shaping the most beloved shows on television. “Actors are so quick to say they’re blessed with great material, but passionate writers are why we love the shows we love, and I think it’s fun to watch people talk about how excited they are about their chosen careers,” he said.
As for his own career, Rash remains perfectly content focusing on screenplays and leaving the showrunning duties to others. “The idea of working on a show that you know is going to be 13 episodes interests me,” he said, citing Game of Thrones, Orange Is the New Black, Veep, and Mad Men as a few of his current favorites. “I’ve always wanted to develop a show for myself; I’m envious of Louis C.K. and the Always Sunny guys because I like the idea of creatively being involved at that level, but I don’t know if I could be a showrunner.”
And though running a writers’ room is not currently atop his wish list, Rash does dream about the possibilities should Sundance renew The Writers’ Room for a third season. “I would love to do episodes all about classic TV shows,” he revealed. “We still have Norman Lear, Jimmy Burroughs, and the writing staffs of these great shows like Cheers, M.A.S.H., and The Mary Tyler Moore Show around. I would love to talk about working in what was very clearly a golden age of TV, and see how far we’ve come. That would be fascinating.”