Paris Barclay: A TV Insider With An Outsider Instinct The veteran director and producer talks with Neda Ulaby about his TV career, from NYPD Blue to Sons of Anarchy and Glee, and shares his experience as one of Hollywood's few openly gay African-American decision-makers.
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Paris Barclay: A TV Insider With An Outsider Instinct

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Paris Barclay: A TV Insider With An Outsider Instinct

Paris Barclay: A TV Insider With An Outsider Instinct

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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And even occasional viewers of primetime TV, those who barely watch TV at all, have likely seen the work of one director, in particular. That's because Paris Barclay has directed old-school favorites like "E.R." and the buzziest of new shows like "Glee," plus the "West Wing," "Lost," "CSI" and others.

Now he's executive producer for the show "In Treatment" on HBO, and NPR's Neda Ulaby has this profile.

(Soundbite of conversation)

NEDA ULABY: In a dumpy, dim editing room, Paris Barclay and his editor, Joe Hobeck, are intently scrutinizing a scene from "In Treatment." They're looking for flaws in a scene where a teenaged boy is showing his therapist pictures on a camera.

(Soundbite of series, "In Treatment")

Mr. JOE HOBECK (Television Editor): Go to the next one.

Mr. PARIS BARCLAY (Television Director): What, this?

Mr. HOBECK: Yeah.


Mr. HOBECK: So that's this guy that - on my corner who...

Mr. BARCLAY: Wait. Wait. Wait. Wait. Wait. Wait. What is the shot that's happening when he gets up and just becomes a nothing shot? What is that?

ULABY: Barclay's sprawled on a lumpy, brown couch, as if he's in therapy. He's figuring out the best shots with his editor, who's sitting in front of a TV and manipulating the editing software.

Mr. HOBECK: This shot basically starts here. So...

Mr. BARCLAY: It starts there?

Mr. HOBECK: Well, there's a big pause before he leans in.

Mr. BARCLAY: All right, let's roll back.

ULABY: This is how you direct a TV show, once everything's in the can. There's a real challenge to making a therapist talking to a client look interesting. The setup's so inherently static, it's kind of a joke on set.

Mr. HOBECK: Okay. Now, everybody get ready, here comes our action sequence.

(Soundbite of laughter)

ULABY: Someone's getting up off the couch.

Mr. HOBECK: Basically, getting up and going out the door becomes the action sequence.

(Soundbite of laughter)

ULABY: But Paris Barclay actually does direct action sequences in gritty police procedurals.

(Soundbite of TV show)

Unidentified Man #1: Gracie, get the hell down. Call for backup now.

ULABY: And he's orchestrated flashy musical numbers on "Glee.

(Soundbite of TV show, "Glee")

(Soundbite of song, "Proud Mary")

Unidentified Woman: (Singing) Big wheels keep on turning. Proud Mary keep on burning.

ULABY: And he's directed a famous "West Wing" walk-and-talk.

(Soundbite of TV show, "West Wing")

Unidentified Man #2: Porous borders between the U.S. and Canada and the governors of Washington...

Mr. BARCLAY: I'm booked six months in advance. I'm famous for doing a lot of episode number two's. After someone has spent, like, millions on the pilot, I'm the person that they call and say, okay, we're doing this second episode, and we only have $2.95. But we want it to look exactly like the 10 to $20 million pilot.

ULABY: The guy who created "Glee," Ryan Murphy, has credited Barclay with helping "Glee" find its groove. Barclay is known for immersing himself in the visual culture of the shows he directs: the look, rhythm, language, sensibility to bring out each show at its best.

Mr. BARCLAY: It's not about saying, oh, this would be so fantastic, "In Treatment." I'm going to shoot it like Quentin Tarantino would, just to show how incredibly clever I can be.

ULABY: A lot of people don't understand there's not a lot of continuity in television directing.

Mr. KURT SUTTER (Creator, "Sons of Anarchy"): You're in and out. It's a pretty thankless task, sometimes, for directors.

ULABY: Kurt Sutter created the FX show "Sons of Anarchy." It's a critically acclaimed series about a gun-smuggling motorcycle gang.

(Soundbite of TV show, "Sons of Anarchy")

Mr. CHARLIE HUNNAM (Actor): (as Jackson Jax Teller) Got a garage filled with AK-47s. Need a place to assemble and store them.

Unidentified Man #3: I've got a strip club down on 95 - huge basement, private.

Mr. HUNNAM: (as Jackson Jax Teller) Sounds perfect.

ULABY: Sutter brought in Paris Barclay to direct the third episode.

Mr. SUTTER: In my mind, it was the episode where I really had a sense of, okay, this is really the formula that works.

ULABY: And now he's got Barclay on board as basically a director-in-residence.

Mr. SUTTER: Quite honestly, thematically, there's nobody that understands what it's more to be an outsider or an outlaw, if you will, than a gay black man.

ULABY: Before Paris Barclay became the first black board member of the Directors Guild, before his Emmys and Peabody Award, he was a kid from a rough Chicago neighborhood. He won a scholarship to an elite Midwestern boarding school. [POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: Paris Barclay was not the first black board member of the Directors Guild of America. Barclay is the first black officer of the DGA board.]

Mr. BARCLAY: I was going to be the first black student in this very small, very white school in Indiana - which, by the way, is the home of the KKK. And I thought to myself, I need some backup. So I didn't want to go alone.

ULABY: So he finagled another scholarship for his brother.

In high school, Barclay developed a taste for theater. At Harvard, he wrote for Hasty Pudding shows. When he graduated in 1979, he went from advertising to directing music videos for the likes of LL Cool J.

(Soundbite of music)

ULABY: Now, Paris Barclay is one of a very few openly gay, black decision-makers in Hollywood. He's used to hearing the same line from other industry executives when they see scripts with characters like him.

Mr. BARCLAY: That's just too much. Isn't it enough that they're just gay? Or isn't it enough that they're just black? As if, you know, one cross is enough to bear. But if they're gay and black, I just think that's just too overwhelming.

ULABY: Barclay and his husband have adopted two kids from the Los Angeles foster care system.

Mr. BARCLAY: There's 35,000 kids in foster care just in this sort of L.A. County region. Many of them are dark-skinned like myself, and are not being adopted because of that. And that made me furious.

ULABY: Barclay said their impulse was to adopt as many as possible.

Mr. BARCLAY: But we settled on two. We thought, let's not be too ambitious. And since then, they've changed our lives.

ULABY: Having kids has made Paris Barclay more interested in developing shows for tweens. He's working on a couple that takes on intolerance, because, he says, that's the crisis of his kids' generation.

Neda Ulaby, NPR News.

MONTAGNE: And this is MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.


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