'Don’t think about us as a cancelled television show. Think of us as a really exciting miniseries that's eight hours long'
When HBO announced last month that it was choosing not to renew Togetherness for a third season, the show’s devoted fans were crushed (including, yours truly). On Sunday night, the series finale aired — you can read our recap here — and we talked to Jay and Mark Duplass who, in addition to creating the show with Steve Zissis, wrote and directed every one of the 16 episodes.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: There’s been a tremendous amount of sadness and rage and support from fans in the wake of Togetherness getting canceled.
JAY DUPLASS: It’s been amazing. It’s not just Twitter feedback either — we’ve heard from all our friends, friends of friends, people at the grocery store. [Laughs]
MARK DUPLASS: It’s been a very bittersweet time receiving all of that love, which is sometimes enraged love, but it’s really nice. But it also makes the mourning process kind of long.
When you are writing and directing every single episode — to say nothing of Mark being one of the lead characters — it must make it extra hard to say goodbye
MARK: It’s tricky.
JAY:Yeah, it is. It’s very close to us and what are lives are like right now. We haven’t really quite done anything this personal since [the 2005 film] The Puffy Chair.
MARK: It’s bittersweet. The making of the show is extremely difficult and it sort of destroyed us and took over our lives. We loved it, but it was really hard and since we’ve started to get a little more space, we’re realizing all the things we can actually do now — which is kind of exciting. It may be that we’re looking for the silver lining, but when we started making the show, you have a certain amount of story in your brain. For us, that was the first two seasons of the show. We always knew what that story was. As we were writing the third season, we were rebooting things and it was exciting but it felt like the first two seasons were kind of a story in and of itself. So there’s a small part of us that thinks there’s something kind of nice about going out with Togetherness at the top of its game rather than starting to stink it up around season five or six. [Laughs]
If you were working on as season three, I take it that the cancelation came as a surprise?
MARK: We were surprised. It seems like everybody was surprised. We don’t feel like anything nefarious was going on at HBO. The whole energy leading up to the airing of season 2 was: you guys are one of our favorite shows, you are some of our favorite people to work with, we have a big future together and we’ll probably make a season three. What we’ve since learned, which I think we knew, is that the TV business is, first of all, not something we really understand. And the truth is, nobody knows how to be a successful subscription service right now. Everybody is making tons and tons of TV and trying to find ways to stand out. HBO isn’t the only place struggling with that. But I think as far as we can understand, there’s a shift in priority and everybody’s viewership numbers are coming down, and the subscriptions are coming down because there’s a lot of stuff out there and everybody is trying to figure out what to do to keep eyeballs on their channel. Sometimes things just happen and you can caught in the crossfire, and that is our understanding as to what happened to Togetherness. Admittedly, that’s a bit limited, but that’s how we see it.
It does feel like such a shame because I know that there were some true hardcore fans.
JAY: What we’ve been feeling is that the people who liked it, loved it — and that feels really good. Honestly, we’re just thankful for the the platform. To have 3 million people watch each one of our episodes? It’s as good, if not better, as studio movie releases we’ve had. So, you know, the way Mark and I have always felt is that we are not picky about how people watch our stuff. We just want to make things and have them reach people. The fact that what we made had that impact — we’re still in a place where we just feel incredibly humble. And humbled by all the people who are reaching out to us not just to say, your show is great, but also, what do you want to do next? And how can we work with you? We’re just kids from the suburbs of New Orleans who never knew anyone in the film industry! Maybe it’s hard for people to believe, and I can sense their outrage, but we just feel so thankful that we got to make these two seasons that we feel great about. I don’t know about you, Mark, but I think it’s the thing that we’re ultimately the most proud of. It almost killed us, but we’re so proud of what we made. Our overwhelming feeling is thankfulness and, of course, we’re mourning it but we’re also excited to do new and different things too. There’s no limitations right now as far as what we can see and what we would like to do.
A question I’ve heard from fellow fans is whether or not someone else — like Netflix or Amazon or Hulu — could swoop in and give you a third season.
MARK: The long and the short of it is that it’s not a possibility for a show like this due to the way it was made. Technically it’s not something that can be done. Unfortunately the show was built by HBO and it lives and dies there.
Sunday’s final episode actually brought the show to a pretty satisfying conclusion.
MARK: I think a lot of people are thinking, Oh God you guys got so wronged you didn’t get a chance to wrap up your show. Just serendipitously, this season happens to end with a pretty interesting resolution that for us kind of works as a series finale. We want to stress this to people: don’t think about us as a canceled television show. Think about us as a really exciting miniseries that’s eight hours long, and HBO let us do whatever the f— we wanted to do with our friends and promoted the s— out of us. To us, that cannot be looked at as anything other than a win.
I don’t suppose you want to tell us what you were planning for the third season?
MARK: You know, things we were talking about doing may or may not have been successful, and we came to this natural little landing place. So, we’re just f—ing going to dock the plane and call it a day.
You’ve said this show has almost killed you but would you ever think about doing something like this again?
MARK: Oh yes, 100 percent.
JAY: Definitely. We learned so much in these last few years and we are glad that we wrote and directed everything but maybe going forward we would employ more creator/showrunner ethics so we could preserve our own humanity and sanity throughout the process.
MARK: We have a document that has over 100 TV shows and movie ideas that we kick around constantly and say things like, ‘I’d love to make that but we don’t have any time.’ And, uh [laughs] a little bit of space has now opened up in our lives. We’re going to go deep fishing for a big idea and see what really speaks to us and that’s exciting! We haven’t been in that place for a while.