Photo: Karen Neal
Hunt Baldwin

Photo: Karen Neal
John Coveny 
“Being in the writers room is like taking a master class; it’s not about pushing your own agenda. You hone character, theme, structure, and it’s really important to be open to learning.” - Hunt Baldwin
Pitch Men
Written by Tara de Bach

Hunt Baldwin and John Coveny, didn’t create the world of advertising, nor are they the first to cover it with a prime-time show, but they make great poster boys for it, especially on the heels of their new TNT series Trust Me.

Trust Me follows Mason (Eric McCormack) and Conner (Tom Cavanagh), a pair of upwardly mobile ad men whose creative partnership and friendship are tested when one of them is promoted to creative director over the other. The world is authentic, complicated, funny and fast, and weaves a memorable ensemble cast through interoffice politics and professional jealousies. In other words, the show is a lot like real life. Thus, it’s not surprising the show’s two creators, who served as co-executive producers on The Closer, have a combined total of over 20 years of advertising world experience at J. Walter Thompson and Leo Burnett Advertising in Chicago.

While theirs is not the first show set in an ad agency to hit TV in recent years, the duo insist that they’re undaunted by the comparisons they’ve drawn to the award-winning drama series Mad Men. “The comparison of shows inhabiting the same universe is inevitable, but I think an audience couldn’t have a more different experience watching them,” says Baldwin. “One is modern day and the other is set in the 1950s. Mad Men is a great show, but we have a different voice, different themes, and different moods.”

Setting Trust Me in the present also allows the Baldwin and Coveny to incorporate real brand names into the show. The Writers Guild of America, West Web site sat down with the duo to find how they balance story with pitching products and how they go about “selling everything but their friendship.”

Okay, so which one of you is Conner and which is Mason?

[Both laugh.]

Hunt Baldwin: I think it’s safe to say all of the characters, the regulars, the guests, everyone are a sort of bizarre Frankenstein mix of both Coveny and myself.

Photo: © 2009 Turner Broadcasting, Inc.
Tom Cavanagh and Eric McCormack in Trust Me.
How did Trust Me come about?

John Coveny: Over many a 5 a.m. freezing morning while developing campaigns for big companies like Dewars or Coke, we had always talked about doing a show set in the advertising world. Post-Closer, we were approached by an executive for our take or vision on a show set in the world of advertising. Needless to say “our take” had been gestating for a very long time.

What lessons did you learn from The Closer that you’ve applied to Trust Me?

Hunt Baldwin: We learned to focus on the character and the character’s story, and not to be distracted by what doesn’t happen. Too, you find people you want to be with in a writers room and that you’re challenged by. That’s what creates a good show.

John Coveny: Every show is challenging and different, and your writers room will reflect that, as ultimately the room morphs into what best serves the show. On Trust Me, we have a reduced staff, sort of a mini-writers room because that’s what works best, which is a lot different than The Closer.

Talk about the use of “product integration” in Trust Me.

Hunt Baldwin: From the beginning we wanted to use real brand names for authenticity. In advertising the POV is that you’re neutral, the brand is not good or bad, it’s what you do with it as an advertiser. That said we use both real brands and fake brands to have the freedom to tell the stories we want to tell.

John Coveny: We always create a story outline first, that we share. Ironically some of our most compelling and dark story lines, we get feedback like, “Hey, that’s my life!” But we also go to great lengths should something not work, we’re able to change it out and use a different product. For example, with the pilot, the outline was written around a restaurant, but in the end, we substituted a cell phone company. We always create enough flexibility to be able to sub out or interchange a product, so we can tell the stories we want to tell. The DNA of the story doesn’t change, the product can and will if there’s an issue.

What do you look for in a spec script when you’re hiring a writer?

Hunt Baldwin: Fresh character voicing. Something about the writing that is surprising in that it in some way reveals something insightful or deeper about the character.

John Coveny: [Submit] original material rather than specs that simply mimic the voice of the show. An original voice does matter. It’s one of the most revealing things about a writer.

Hunt Baldwin: I should also mention the 10-page rule. With the amount of scripts we receive, it’s impossible to read through each one. So if something surprising -- the voice or the hook -- doesn’t come across in the first 10 pages… Just make sure you’re operating on all cylinders in the first 10 pages.

What advice do you have for a writer working on a show like Trust Me?

John Coveny: It’s not your show until it’s your show, and even then it’s not your show. You’re part of a team and a writer should serve the goals of the show first. As a writer don’t come in with how you’re going to fix it. Your job is to write to the show’s vision.

Hunt Baldwin: Being in the writers room is like taking a master class; it’s not about pushing your own agenda. You hone character, theme, structure, and it’s really important to be open to learning. As a writer, you’re always learning, and that’s what being a part of a writers room is all about.