If you’re going to host a show called “The Writer’s Room,” what better credential to have than an Oscar for screenwriting?
Jim Rash, who won the Academy Award for co-writing the George Clooney film “The Descendants” with writing partner Nat Faxon and director Alexander Payne, will go behind the scenes on the small screen with this new series on Sundance, premiering Monday at 10 p.m.
Over six episodes, Rash, who is also an actor — “Community” fans know him as the outlandish Dean Pelton — sits down with writers from acclaimed shows including “Game of Thrones,” “Breaking Bad,” and “Parks and Recreation” to see what makes them tick.
We recently sat down to chat with the playful Rash when he was in town to promote his new, shot-in-Boston film, “The Way, Way Back.” Joining Rash on the couch and occasionally piping up was his co-writer on both films, actor-writer Nat Faxon. The Manchester-by-the-Sea native said of his longtime friend (they met in the Groundlings comedy troupe), “I think Jim is the perfect host for this show because not only is he a very engaging and fun person to be around but he’s also an incredible talent and writer.”
Q. Although you’ve won an Oscar, have you done any writing for television? Are you actually qualified to host this show?
RASH: No, I’m totally unqualified. (Laughs.) Other than the experience of working a couple of weeks on “Community” [writing an episode] and also I’ve done help on friend’s pilots a week here and there, so it made me a good host in the sense that I really love to talk about the inner workings of that and writing as a collaborative effort. But for me it was really about the creators and talking about the behind the scenes of it . . . why the choices were made. What happens when you disagree? What’s that story line that someone will not stop pitching?
Q. Had you watched all these shows? Or did you need to binge-watch in order to prepare?
‘I really love to talk about the inner workings . . . about the creators, and talking about the behind the scenes of it . . . why the choices were made.’
RASH: I did binge-watch. Some of them luckily I had already been watching. But I didn’t want to do the show and sit there and have some producer tell me, “This happens and this happens and then she dies.” I’d be lying and they’d see it on my face. That was important to me to know the journey they had taken.
Q. In recent years there’s become a stronger focus on creators and writers in television. Fans know names now like Shonda Rhimes (“Grey’s Anatomy,” “Scandal”) and Matt Weiner (“Mad Men”). As a writer do you think that’s a good thing? Do you want fans peering behind the curtain and asking process questions?
RASH: Yes, if you’re a writer, the insight of other writers — if there’s some kind of Holy Grail message on how to deal with writer’s block or how to deal with any problem that can come up — whether you’re writing about yourself or a group of people, I find that very interesting. Someone asked me if middle America will like this. There are writers everywhere, and fans will love these because it’s one more piece of their favorite show. And for me, anybody can inspire me or give me some piece of advice. Speaking for myself as well as I’m sure for Nat, the evolution for us as writers, it’s so helpful, because usually you go to your writer friends to help you.
Q. So essentially, you’re doing this show in order to glean the secrets of other writers like a succubus?
RASH: (Laughs). I’m sucking all of these creators dry and then I’m just saying, “Listen to all my great ideas!”
Q. Do you guys write in the same room?
RASH: Yeah we’re not the types who go off and divide and conquer. We’re usually more present. Because of our improv background I think it suits our style.
Q. Was there something that you learned as a writer from doing this, that you’ve brought back to use in your work with Nat?
RASH: Well one thing. I talk about this on the show. When I was in the writing room on “Community,” for those two weeks we were talking about writer’s block. And [writer] Megan Ganz told me about the errand thing which I told to Nat and now I do it. When you hit a wall and you’re frustrated, she says, just go run an errand, go to the bank, go do one easy task to relax and let your brain feel like it succeeded at a task.
FAXON: Now our whole day is full of errands.