099 – Ken Estin (Showrunner of Cheers, Taxi) and Paula Finn (Author, Sitcom Writers Talk Shop)

This week, host Gray Jones interviews veteran comedy writer Ken Estin, showrunner of Cheers and Taxi and creator of The Tracy Ullman Show, and Paula Finn, the author of Sitcom Writers Talk Shop.

Episode 099 is sponsored by Pilar Alessandra of onthepage.tv. Pilar is offering a 10% discount on her interactive-online class “Rewrite Techniques,” running Four Saturdays, May 23 – June 13. To get your 10% off, use the code onthepage10at checkout.

Paula Finn grew up in the shadow of her late father Herbert Finn, who wrote on such classic comedies as The Honeymooners, The Flintstones, and Gilligan’s Island. This also gave her unique access for her book. In Sitcom Writers Talk Shop, Paula interviewed some of the greatest names of the genre: Carl Reiner, Norman Lear, James L. Brooks, Phil Rosenthal, and many more.

Ken Estin, one of her interviewees, is also in this interview; he tells compelling stories of his unique path into the industry, becoming a showrunner of an Emmy-winning series within 2 years of getting on staff, running Taxi and Cheers, and creating The Tracy Ullman Show. He gives great advice and insight on comedy writing, and how writing sitcoms differs from single camera comedies.

INDEX TO THE EPISODE:

2:39 – Interview start.
3:10 – Paula talks about growing up in the home of veteran comedy writer Herbert Finn, what she learned from hanging around sitcom sets.
4:47 – What led to her writing the book Sitcom Writers Talk Shop, and what it was like to interview the greats like Norman Lear, James L. Brooks and Carl Reiner.
7:45 – Ken discusses writing on Taxi, and having to have big jokes, and other differences between writing then and now.
11:28 – Ken shares about his unique path into the industry, sending a Bob Newhart spec script to the Bob Newhart show… how that led to staffing on Taxi, and what he learned while writing that show.
18:57 – How Ken became the showrunner of an Emmy-winning show within 2 years of getting on staff, and then later ran Cheers.
22:55 – Ken talks about some of the careers that were made on Taxi.
25:50 – Sponsor ads.
26:50 – Specifics of comedy writing – coming up with ideas and jokes, and if there are rules to follow.
31:01 – What is the best part about writing comedy? The hardest?
34:43 – What is different about writing single camera comedies?
37:09 – Ken discusses creating the Tracy Ullman Show.
41:30 – How do veteran comedy writers feel about the state of the industry now?
43:11 – Paula shares highlights of interviewing the great comedy writers for her book, and what the response has been to it.
47:20 – Advice to someone starting out in comedy writing.

Follow Paula on Twitter: @Talkingcomedy

You can help with the ongoing costs of bringing these weekly podcasts to you by becoming a patron of the podcast – for as little as 25¢ per episode! There are many reward levels. CLICK HERE to find out more.

Buy Gray’s book for only $4.99! Look for it on Amazon – How To Break In To TV Writing: Insider Interviews.

Didn’t get your questions asked? Make sure you follow Gray on Twitter (@GrayJones) so you can get the scoop on who is being interviewed and how to get your questions in. Also check out our TV Writer Twitter Database to find Twitter addresses for over 1,200 TV writers. Find previous episodes and other resources at www.tvwriterpodcast.com.

Upcoming weekly interviews will include Shawn Ryan (creator of Timeless and The Shield), writers from Arrow, The Flash, Legacies and Warehouse 13, and lots more! PLEASE NOTE: there will be no episode the week of Memorial Day, and we will be moving to Tuesday releases in June, to line up with Script Magazine’s release dates.

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098 – Robert Hewitt Wolfe (EP of Elementary, The Dresden Files & Andromeda)

This week, host Gray Jones interviews veteran TV & feature writer Robert Hewitt Wolfe, executive producer of Elementary, and developer/EP of The Dresden Files and Andromeda.

Episode 098 is sponsored by Pilar Alessandra of onthepage.tv. Pilar is offering a 10% discount on her interactive-online class “Rewrite Techniques,” running Four Saturdays, May 23 – June 13. To get your 10% off, use the code onthepage10 at checkout.

Robert Hewitt Wolfe attended UCLA for screenwriting. His first screenplay, “Paper Dragons,” placed second in the prestigious Goldwyn awards. He started out writing features, but soon was able to pitch and write an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, which led to staffing on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, where he would write for five years.

After leaving Deep Space Nine, Robert worked on several pilots; one was produced as a TV movie called Futuresport, starring Dean Cain and Wesley Snipes.

Robert was then approached to develop the syndicated series Gene Roddenberry’s Andromeda, where he would serve as head writer for two years.

Robert has a lot of great stories of the subsequent years, writing for The 4400, The Gates, Alphas, Star-Crossed, and developing the series The Dresden Files. In 2016, he landed on Elementary for another long run; he explains how different it is writing for a series that doesn’t have a writing room.

Robert has spent a lot of time developing pilots, features, and novels, and has great advice for what’s needed on the page.

INDEX TO THE EPISODE:

2:16 interview start.
2:58 – Describes Star Trek franchise’s open script submissions.
3:49 – how he had an agent fresh out of film school at UCLA because of placing in contest, and was able to come in to Star Trek: The Next Generation to pitch.
5:37 – how he initially wanted to write features, and some features he wrote sold, but ended up in TV.
7:06 – his first staff writing experience, from the beginning of Deep Space Nine – discusses his many mentors from the show, and how different that room was to other more current shows.
12:00 – why he eventually left Deep Space Nine, but then was approached to develop Andromeda; stories about what it was like to develop and run that show.
18:53 – his career right after leaving Andromeda, back to writing features.
19:53 – went back to TV to help launch The 4400, then developed pilots, including the one that became The Dresden Files. Talks about that time, being a number two for two different shows, writing for several others, before landing on Elementary.
23:30 – talks about writing on Elementary, and what it was like to write without a writers room. Talks about the difference between that and having a writers room.
28:06 – talks about his mentors, and what he learned from them.
29:29 – mentoring others – how he feels it’s part of the job.
31:36 – sponsor break.
32:35 – discusses development, and what he does between shows – different situations, and how to succeed; finding your passion.
36:58 – talks about chasing IP, and why IP is so important.
41:25 – discusses his most recent show, Prodigal Son.
43:12 – what’s next – lots of irons in the fire.
45:52 – what will production be like after COVID-19.
49:50 – help for greener writers – make the show runner’s life easier, help their vision to come true, research.
53:08 – advice on the page – characters, dialogue, scene & story structure.
57:13 – general career advice – TV is a team sport.
59:28 – least and most favorite parts of being a TV writer.

You can help with the ongoing costs of bringing these weekly podcasts to you by becoming a patron of the podcast – for as little as 25¢ per episode! There are many reward levels. CLICK HERE to find out more.

Buy Gray’s book for only $4.99! Look for it on Amazon – How To Break In To TV Writing: Insider Interviews.

Didn’t get your questions asked? Make sure you follow Gray on Twitter (@GrayJones) so you can get the scoop on who is being interviewed and how to get your questions in. Also check out our TV Writer Twitter Database to find Twitter addresses for over 1,200 TV writers. Find previous episodes and other resources at www.tvwriterpodcast.com.

Upcoming weekly interviews will include Shawn Ryan (creator of Timeless and The Shield), writers from Arrow, The Flash, Legacies and Warehouse 13, and lots more!

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097 – Dan O’Shannon (Modern Family, Frasier, Cheers)

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?

Episode 097 is sponsored by Pilar Alessandra of onthepage.tv. Pilar is offering a 10% discount on any of her services: to get your 10% off, reach out to Pilar directly and mention the TV Writer Podcast.

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.

You can help with the ongoing costs of bringing these weekly podcasts to you by becoming a patron of the podcast – for as little as 25¢ per episode! There are many reward levels. CLICK HERE to find out more.

Buy Gray’s book for only $4.99! Look for it on Amazon – How To Break In To TV Writing: Insider Interviews.

Didn’t get your questions asked? Make sure you follow Gray on Twitter (@GrayJones) so you can get the scoop on who is being interviewed and how to get your questions in. Also check out our TV Writer Twitter Database to find Twitter addresses for over 1,200 TV writers. Find previous episodes and other resources at www.tvwriterpodcast.com.

Upcoming weekly interviews will include Shawn Ryan (creator of Timeless and The Shield), writers from Arrow, The Flash, Legacies and Warehouse 13, and lots more!

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093 – Sarah Watson (Creator of The Bold Type, Author of Most Likely)

This week, host Gray Jones returns to the Skype format due to the Coronavirus quarantine, but you’re sure to love his interview with Sarah Watson, creator of The Bold Type and executive producer on Parentood!

Episode 093 is sponsored by Pilar Alessandra of onthepage.tv. Pilar is offering a 10% discount on her interactive online class, Writing the First Draft, which started April 4th, but can be joined any time up to the second class on April 11th. To get your 10% off, use the code onthepage10 at checkout. 

Sarah is very open about the challenges along the way, and how she was able to spin some of the toughest experiences into victories, including her incredibly hopeful young adult novel, Most Likely. Just like the message of the book, she is optimistic that the world is changing for the better, and that the upcoming generation will be the key.

Learn about the innovative way she turned a class she taught at UCLA into a virtual writers room… how getting on staff wasn’t the Holy Grail, but each new opportunity taught her invaluable lessons… how getting onto a network show really propelled her career forward, and how she really found her voice working with Jason Katims on Parenthood… how and why she cancelled a meeting and went straight to Disneyland to buy a season’s pass… how taking a year off and being unavailable turned her into a hot commodity, even leading to a successful pitch to Steven Spielbergand an option on her book!

She also talks about what it was like to be in production on a pilot and getting ready for the big launch of her book, and having to shut it all down overnight because of COVID-19.

INDEX TO THE EPISODE:

0:00 – Introduction
2:57 – Interview starts
3:15 – Shooting pilot, book launch interrupted by COVID-19
9:45 – TV writing course Sarah teaches at UCLA, and why that program is special
13:38 – How Sarah got started, working on Rachel’s Room
15:23 – Early days, how Sarah got on staff
18:44 – How Sarah’s career really took off when she landed a gig on a network show
24:21 – Working on The Middleman with Javi Grillo-Marxuach
26:37 – Writing on Parenthood, and how she really found her voice
29:14 – How she got an overall deal and started to develop shows
34:50 – All the details about developing The Bold Type which is on its fourth season
38:38 – How a soul crushing year led to a hopeful YA novel
44:20 – Details about her untitled re-enactment pilot, and pitching to Steven Spielberg
50:59 – On adapting her YA novel for Amazon
51:45 – Advice to greener writers

Follow Sarah on Twitter: @SarahWatson42

Speaking of COVID-19, you can help with the ongoing costs of bringing these weekly podcasts to you, by becoming a patron of the podcast – for as little as $1/month! There are many reward levels. CLICK HERE to find out more.

Buy Gray’s book for only $4.99! Look for it on Amazon – How To Break In To TV Writing: Insider Interviews.

Didn’t get your questions asked? Make sure you follow Gray on Twitter (@GrayJones) so you can get the scoop on who is being interviewed and how to get your questions in. Also check out our TV Writer Twitter Database to find Twitter addresses for over 1,000 TV writers. Find previous episodes and other resources at www.tvwriterpodcast.com.

Upcoming weekly interviews will include Arika Lisanne Mittman (Paradise Lost, Timeless), Michael Narducci (The Originals), and lots more!

 

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046 – John Vorhaus (Comic Toolbox, Married… with Children)

John Vorhaus is best known as the author of The Comic Toolbox: How to be Funny Even if You’re Not. This seminal book on writing comedy for television and film is now available in four languages, and continues to be a definitive source of information and inspiration for writers from Santa Monica to Scandinavia.

An international consultant in television and film script development, Vorhaus has worked for television networks, film schools, and production companies in 30 countries on four continents.

Vorhaus’ own screenwriting credits include Married… with Children, Head of the Class, The Sentinel, The Flash and many overseas television shows and films, including the sitcoms House Arrest and Pretty, Sick and Twisted, and the movie Save Angel Hope.

John is also the author of the six-volume Killer Poker series, plus miscellaneous other books on the subject, including the novel Under the Gun, a “how-to whodunit” set in the world of high stakes tournament poker. His other novels include The California Roll and its upcoming sequel, The Albuquerque Turkey.

Vorhaus is a graduate of Carnegie-Mellon University and a member of the Writers Guild of America. He has taught writing at Northwestern University and the American Film Institute, and lectured for such disparate groups as Mensa and the New Jersey Romance Writers Association.

Discover more about John at his website: http://johnvorhaus.com

Follow John on Twitter: @TrueFactBarFact

Buy Gray’s book for only $4.99! Look for it on Amazon – How To Break In To TV Writing: Insider Interviews.

Didn’t get your questions asked? Make sure you follow Gray on Twitter (@GrayJones) so you can get the scoop on who is being interviewed and how to get your questions in. Also check out our TV Writer Twitter Database to find Twitter addresses for over 1,000 TV writers. Find our previous episodes and other resources at www.tvwriterpodcast.com or on Gray’s YouTube channel.

044 – John Finch (A Family At War, Sam, Coronation Street)

This week we are proud to welcome the creator of some of the UK’s finest and highest-rated TV series of the 1970s, recipient of the Best Series Writer award by the Writers Guild of Great Britain, writer-author-series creator John Finch!

John Finch was born in Liverpool during the Depression. When his father disappeared, he moved with his mother to a mining community in Yorkshire. Life was tough, and by the time he left school at the age of 14 he had been to 12 schools, including an orphanage.

At the outbreak of war, he joined the Merchant Navy at the age of 16 and sailed from Liverpool in 1941. He served as a sparks on a freighter, a tanker, a troop ship, and a rescue tug before being medically discharged in 1944.

He worked various jobs upon returning from the war, gradually moving toward writing as a career. In this time, he wrote for various magazines such as Illustrated and Picture Post, with occasional contributions to the BBC, and his first play, the first in television to have an industrial setting, was transmitted in 1958.

In 1960, he became the first trainee writer to be contracted to write Coronation Street, now the world’s longest-running TV soap opera, and later became editor and producer. He went on to became Granada’s most prolific writer and created, wrote and edited many of the company’s longest-running serials and series. These included the 52-hour series A Family at War, which sold throughout the world and is still being transmitted in countries such as India and Pakistan, and throughout the Middle East. Norwegian viewers recently voted it the best television series ever. He later created and personally wrote every episode of the 39-hour series Sam, a tribute to his mining village upbringing, and went on to create and write many other long-running series.

In 1975, he was given the award of Best Series Writer by the Writers Guild of Great Britain, and received the Broadcasting Press Guild Critics Award for Sam in the same year.

His novel, Cuddon Return, was a bestseller, and in 2002 he completed his first play for the theatre, JOE, described as “a play for two actors and a load of junk.” It has been warmly praised by critics, producers, actors and fellow writers.

He has lived with his family for many years in the Yorkshire Dales.

Visit John’s website: johnfinch.com

Buy Gray’s book for only $4.99! Look for it on Amazon – How To Break In To TV Writing: Insider Interviews.

Didn’t get your questions asked? Make sure you follow Gray on Twitter (@GrayJones) so you can get the scoop on who is being interviewed and how to get your questions in. Also check out our TV Writer Twitter Database to find Twitter addresses for over 1,000 TV writers. Find our previous episodes and other resources at www.tvwriterpodcast.com or on Gray’s YouTube channel.