PeopleHop: Karl Mayer, The Guy Who Brought You “Skins”
Written by Bwog Staff
CC senior Karl Mayer is a political science major, Sigma Nu brother, and one of the former screenwriters for the American “Skins,” a.k.a. that show where teenagers go apeshit. Karl is, by his own account, “one of those people who’s obsessed with storytelling,” (read: talented) and sat down with Bwog to tell the story of his claim to fame.
Bwog: So give us the low-down on your Skins involvement.
Karl: I was a huge fan of the British show and noticed a call for young writers; this was the summer after my freshman year. They picked various people between 17 and 20 [during a selection process] and we would go in and read the scripts with the writers. This was even before the actors were hired…they wanted to make sure it sounded fresh and like something teenagers would say. After that, they invited us to write for the online content, and they ended up picking me and 4 or 5 others. We wrote the web episodes for the site [before becoming a junior writer]. As most people know, it was not a very successful show…but not because of the writing staff! Nah, I’m kidding.
Bwog: Do you know how the writing process compared between the British and American shows?
Karl: It was exactly the same. Every two or three seasons, the junior writers—as we were called—would become the main writers, and there’d be a new crop of junior writers. And that way Bryan Elsley [the creator] would train them and kind of indoctrinate them into the Skins brand.
Bwog: Are you particularly proud of anything you wrote or helped produce?
Karl: I think I’m the most proud of just being involved in the actual content and getting teamed up with another writer. Having that responsibility and trust was really cool. And obviously meeting Bryan Elsley. But the best thing was when we finished—we all got to watch the premiere together and that was really fun, to see what we had literally created from scratch come to life on the screen.
Bwog: What went behind the decision to mirror the UK plotline so closely?
Karl: There were some significant changes, but I think the producers wanted to transplant the same story. Skins has really grown into more than a TV show; it’s become not so much a brand, but more of a culture. And I think they were seeing if they could take the same storyline and characters and see if it could work in a different audience. The original show did have a very British quality, and I think that was a small part of its failure. Not to mention the different television laws.
Bwog: Oh yeah. That was definitely interesting.
Karl: Yeah, we were constantly getting flack from the Parent’s Television Council—they accused us of making child porn. *laugh* Yes. I guess culturally, I think our television isn’t quite ready for MTV to have that type of show.
Bwog: What did your parents or friends have to say about this — especially after all the “child porn” drama?
Karl: It was funny. I’m surprised my parents a) allowed me and b) pushed me towards it. It was just not a very well-recieved show among parents…my parents were like, “Ok. So you’re going to write for this. That’s interesting.” They never really formed a full opinion. I remember my dad taking me aside and saying “So, I hear you’re writing child pornography.” But they were always really proud when I came to them with new developments, like becoming a junior writer. I did have to do some defense work—there are a lot of die-hard British fans, and everyone was shocked and repulsed when they heard that the U.S. was making a version.
Bwog: When have you felt the most famous?
Karl: They had the Skins premiere party in this huge party space/warehouse thing. And rather than standing on line I got to stand with the V.I.P.s and watch the actors roll up and walk in with them. Feeling cool.
Bwog: Your favorite Skins character?
Karl: My favorite character was Tea. She was very controversial because the creator switched the character of Maxie for a lesbian cheerleader [Tea]. A lot of gay rights groups were up in arms about it because she identified as a lesbian and ended up developing a relationship with a guy over the course of the show. And I do understand that, but at the same time I think her story spoke to attraction that goes beyond physicality and sexuality, because she and Tony really were a good match emotionally. Granted, it didn’t work out…but I think it was a good story. I also really liked Katie: she was much more deadpan and seemingly stoic [than Cassie, her British counterpart].
Bwog: If you could have done one thing differently in regards to the show, what would it have been?
Karl: I don’t want to say anything bad—I don’t think I’m legally allowed to say anything bad! For this show they tried to get unknown actors, which they did for the British show, but I think at times the actors themselves didn’t seem to align with the character. They didn’t seem to fully have a grasp the character, which as a writer is frustrating. I had this image and idea of them, and when my idea differed from their artistic idea, that was frustrating. But I think that’s also the fact that I’m a control freak.
Bwog: Have you ever thrown or been to a Skins party?
Skins parties is more of a British phenomenon. Have I been to a party similar? Actually, I have! In high school a post-prom party was held at this really wealthy girl’s guest house. It was condemned so her parents let us go there and go wild. Everyone was doing things we shouldn’t have been doing, and I believe there was a sledgehammer or two involved…so I guess my experience in that did lead to some inspiration for the show.