Blake Masters, Creator of Brotherhood
Interview by Kyle Braun
, contributing editor
Showtime's original series Brotherhood was a critical success from the minute it hit the airwaves. Set in an imaginary neighborhood within Providence, Rhode Island, Brotherhood explores the lives of two brothers, Tommy and Michael Caffee, who are striving for power through two very distinct means. The brainchild of series creator Blake Masters, Brotherhood came to life when he initially pitched the idea as a movie but found it was better suited as a TV series. Now Masters is the executive producer, co-writer and creator of one of Showtime's most edgy series, which is now out on DVD in Brotherhood: The Complete First Season.
UGO: Brotherhood is your first big break in television. How did it all happen for you?
BLAKE MASTERS: I was one of those people who got projects bought and worked for studios, but did not get originals produced. Then I had an idea that started as a movie concept and someone said, "Will it work on television?" I said, "That could be kind of fun," because the dynamic between the brothers was sustainable and compelling. At that point I took it to the first place, Showtime and they took it off the market before anyone else could hear it. They bought it and ordered the pilot script. They then ordered the pilot episode shot, and then they ordered the rest of the series.
UGO: How has Showtime been in terms of creative freedom?
They've been terrific. One of the things about Showtime, and especially about our show, is that they want to be ambitious. In a lot of places, there is a desire to stay within a certain paradigm and they want to try and hit a large sweet spot. Showtime knows that the best thing for them is to go out and try for greatness and try to go after the greatest TV series of all-time. They pushed us to be creative and to play in the moral ambiguity, because that's the type of thing you don't see a lot of, and that's the fun of it. There are series out there that do it. The Wire
is brilliant at it, as is The Sopranos
. To play in that area; Showtime has been incredibly encouraging.
UGO: Is it nice to be mentioned in the same group as The Wire and The Sopranos, or would do you really try to carve your own niche?
BLAKE: It is both a blessing and a curse. The blessing is that anytime anybody says your show is like The Sopranos, it's an incredible compliment because David Chase is Dostoevsky for television. At the same time, it is a curse because we aren't The Sopranos. We're a very different show. We're different socio-economically, thematically, in terms of our dynamics, and we're different in terms of our pacing and tone. We're different in a million ways, so we want to avoid being compared to certain things. I could do without the comparison in a way, because they're comparing me to probably the best TV series in the past ten years, dramatically, and it's a show that casts a long shadow.
UGO: With the Michael Caffee character, he doesn't seem to exist as a protagonist or an antagonist. Is there any particular way audiences should view him, or is he open to interpretation?
BLAKE: I think the idea is that whatever the viewership thinks he'll do, he'll probably end up doing the opposite in the following episode. Every character - Michael Caffee, Tommy Caffee, the cop Declan, and Tommy's wife Eileen - they're very human, and humans are neither good nor bad by their nature. They are fallible beings that do what they can, who sometimes follow the better angles of the nature and sometimes don't. But all of them, I believe, are organic constructions of the world in which they inhabit. Therefore, they will behave in ways that are consistent with the world in which they live.
UGO: Both brothers exist in a moral grey area as they search for power through different means. How important is the idea of moral superiority to your show?
BLAKE: I think we throw it out the window. One of my core beliefs is that one of the strengths and weaknesses of democracy is that to get anything done, you often have to use bad means to achieve good ends. Eventually, though, if you use bad means, those means will end up corrupting your ends. So it becomes an unsolvable problem. It's one of the conundrums of power in any form. Look at books like All the King's Men or movies like The Godfather. That always appealed to me, so I want the series to play in that ground. Each week I want the audience to question; if you accomplish something good using bad means, was it justifiable? Or were the means so corrupted, the good ends were corrupted? If you use good ends and accomplish something bad, is that equally justifiable? I want to allow the audience room to decide for themselves what they liked or didn't. I don't need the audience to like everything that our characters do; I need them to be compelled by what they do. I think the minute the audience feels there are lines that won't be crossed, it becomes safe for the characters. Their souls are no longer in jeopardy. The goal is to make sure the characters' souls are always in jeopardy.