Exclusive Interview The Affair

Exclusive Interview with Sarah Treem, Creator of “The Affair”

" At this point, I feel like they’re leading me, rather than I’m writing them."

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Check out our episode reviews of The Affair here.

Sarah Treem is the co-creator and showrunner of the Golden Globe-winning Showtime drama The Affair. She was a writer and co-executive producer on the first season of Netflix’s House of Cards, and a writer on all three seasons of the HBO series In Treatment.

Talk to us about how you approached season four. What did you want to explore going into this season?

It was so long ago who remembers?? No, I’m kidding. I wanted to explore the idea of how people finally “move on”. How they let go, why they hold on. We can hold on to love for such a long time, long after it’s reasonable – and then all of a sudden, one day it’s just gone. I was interested in how and why that happens.

You recently mentioned that you see The Affair lasting one more season. Have you decided on how the show will end? If yes, is it an ending you always envisioned or something that evolved organically over the past few seasons?

Yes I’ve decided on the ending and it absolutely evolved over the last few seasons. That’s the great thing about working in TV – it is this very organic storytelling medium, always evolving, always changing. Each season I learn more about the characters. At this point, I feel like they’re leading me, rather than I’m writing them.

What do you think is the single strongest episode The Affair has ever produced and why?

I’m really partial to episode 4 in the first season but that’s just personal taste. Everyone who likes this show seems to like it for a different reason. That’s something I find so amazing about the feedback – two people will have such diametrically opposing opinions of the same episode. The criticism of the show plays into the whole concept so perfectly – everyone approaches it from their own perspective.

Is there any episode (or plotline) in the show’s run that you feel came out weaker than expected and why?

Oh of course, many (I’m the show’s harshest critic), but I don’t want to say which ones. We have such incredibly talented people working on this show at all levels – but there’s a certain alchemy involved in TV. The writing, direction and acting all have to come together to create something greater than the sum of the parts. Sometimes that happens and sometimes it doesn’t.

Which character do you enjoy writing most for and why?

I truly love writing for all of them.

What goes into your thought process of deciding who should get their own perspective?

A new character gets a perspective when there is no way to tell the story we want to tell without seeing their perspective.

The character of Juliette seems to have been universally disliked last season (particularly online). Were you surprised? Did it affect your approach going into season four? 

I was surprised and I don’t entirely agree with that first statement. But it did make me wary of introducing a new character with a POV before the audience has a chance to get to know and sympathize with them in someone else’s eyes.

The show’s title sequence and theme song by Fiona Apple are enormously haunting and beautiful. Can you tell us more about how the credits were conceived and how you go about changing them every season?

I have been a huge fan of Fiona Apple’s for as long as I can remember so when we were developing the show, I sent her the pilot script through a friend and she loved it and agreed to give us a song. We change the opening credits every year to try and reflect the tone of the season. Season three was a dark season, so the credits are in black and white. Season four is a more hopeful season, so there is some color bursting through darkness.

In episode two Alison remembers that Cole dropped off Joanie with her, whereas he doesn’t recall getting in the car with them in his perspective. Why are the differences in perspectives sometimes so jarring?

The scenes are about what’s important to the characters, emotionally. What we choose to show, is the way each character would tell the story if they were the first-person narrator.

Your piece about being a working mother who “has it all” had to be one of the most touching and inspiring things I’ve ever read. Can you tell us about people’s reactions to the piece and how you’re coping seven months later?

It was really nice, the response to that piece. I just wrote it quickly in bed one night and sent it off. I never expected it to catch fire in the way it did. But I wrote it from a very honest and (truthfully) exhausted place, so I think people connected to that feeling. My life is definitely easier now than it was a year ago. Things change 😉

What shows are you currently watching? Any favorites?

I’m watching The Americans right now. I never saw it while it was on, but everyone was raving about it, so I figured, better late than never. I’m so impressed with how immaculately structured it is. I’m learning a lot.

The Affair airs on Showtime in the US every Sunday night at 9PM ET/PT.

15 comments

  1. Great interview, Nad. It must have been exciting interacting with one of the minds behind The Affair.

      1. What do you think about The Affair ending after a fifth season? I’m amazed the show has lasted this long.

      2. Sara has a plan for ending it next year so I fully trust her! I think a five year run would be just perfect!

  2. I finally started watching Mr. Robot because Omar Metwally is in it. Confession. (Spoiler alert) I was kind of glad he was killed off because that show is confusing as hell and I didnt want to watch it anymore

      1. If he doesnt get (at the very least) serious consideration for a emmy nomination next year I’m gonna be pissed!

  3. This was so beyond cool! I absolutely love how responsive and interactive she is. That line about how the characters are leading her now rather than she’s writing THEM is something I’ve always aspired ever since I discovered television as a kid. Ok, not gonna ramble in this comment, just saying.

    So so glad you got to do this interview!! There’s really something very special about The Affair, always has been since it first started. I’ve got TWO episodes to catch up now, and I cannot wait any longer.

  4. MHO. I looked so forward to this season for so long and just like that they ruined it by saying they where probably going to kill off Vik. :-(.

    1. You never know but I honestly LOVE This season! So compelling and Vik had a brilliant episode this week

  5. I love Ruth Wilson! I was very disappointed that she will not be back. She is an amazing Actor! I do love the Affair also!

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