This week, host Gray Jones interviews multiple Emmy winning and Oscar-nominated comedy writer Dan O’Shannon, Executive Producer of Cheers, Frasier, and Modern Family, and author of the book, What Are You Laughing At?
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Dan O’Shannon is a writer and producer who has worked on such hit comedies as Newhart, Cheers, and Frasier, as well as many other TV series, like The Odd Couple, Better Off Ted, and the drama Jericho. He was an executive producer on Modern Family until he left after season 5, to accept a development deal at CBS TV Studios.
Dan has won six Emmy Awards, five WGA Awards, and several Golden Globe Awards for his TV work. He also was nominated for an Academy Award for writing the short animated film Redux Riding Hood, which was produced by Disney. Another animated short he wrote and produced, The Fan and the Flower, received an Annie Award.
Dan is the author of two books, What Are You Laughing At? A Comprehensive Guide to the Comedic Event, and The Adventures of Mrs. Jesus.
INDEX TO THE EPISODE:
2:40 – Intro, Gray geeks out about how Dan wrote on Newhart.
4:13 – What inspired Dan to do standup comedy – how he learned to be funny.
5:15 – Challenges in learning to write TV comedy pre-internet — how he took a one-way trip to LA with $100 in his pocket.
7:33 – Talk about his book – is it possible to learn how to be funny?
10:13 – How important is it for a comedy writer to do standup? Also learning how to tell a story.
12:05 – How multicam comedy offers a chance to learn how a live audience will react to jokes.
13:13 – How he made the jump from standup to TV writing.
15:10 – You’re in the writer’s room — now what? Mistakes writers make when they get on staff.
18:25 – The tough times between the first staff gig and his bigger shows.
20:48 – Secrets on how to get freelance scripts sold.
21:26 – How the writer’s strike of 1988 led to him pairing up with Tom Anderson in a writing team, getting staffed on Newhart and Cheers together, eventually showrunning the show together, and then how they split apart in a way that didn’t hurt their careers.
24:10 – On creating the series Maggie.
27:23 – The time between Maggie and Modern Family, writing drama shows for the first time.
29:04 – How Modern Family was different from a writing perspective – tight, economical writing and using mockumentary. Also discussed the production and post-production of the show.
33:10 – Single cam vs multicam from a writing perspective.
36:00 – The onset of social networks and how that affected writing.
39:00 – On developing pilots, and writing on The Orville.
41:12 – What has been the hardest part about writing for TV? On the pressure of always having to work toward deadlines, and not having a real life.
43:51 – The best part about writing for TV – working with and hanging out with some of the funniest people, and making people laugh.
45:38 – How the industry has changed over the last 35 years.
49:39 – How he distilled his decades of observations into the book What Are You Laughing At?
51:07 – About his book Adventures of Mrs. Jesus.
52:39 – Advice for less experienced writers – making your showrunner happy, what elements you need to have a successful career as a writer, and how to pitch successfully.
59:26 – What he looks for when hiring writers, in interviews and on the page. Does he read specs or pilots? Why writing a spec is so valuable, even if people will only read pilots.
1:06:27 – What might he say to his younger self based on what he knows now — don’t make your career your identity.
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