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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LISTEN NOW:

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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077 – Own Your Career – Sterling Anderson (Sterling Writers Group)

Sterling Anderson is back! In an interview that is sure to change the path of your career, Sterling relates in great depth how and why some artists fail, and others succeed. This one is not just for writers!


No stranger to the podcast (interviewed in episode 053), Sterling Anderson is back for a full video in-person interview, to give us a much deeper look at his great career wisdom. He shares many tips from his second writing book, Writing Without Fear, 15 Steps Towards Becoming a Successful (Artist) Writer. If you haven’t read his books, you will want to after this interview!

In particular, Sterling shares about deconstructing the various forms of self sabotage, and what winning habits you can replace them with. The lessons are practical for any artist, or anyone with a dream!

Sterling also discusses his new script consulting / mentoring company, Sterling Writers Group, and has some strong words to say about why it’s important to do your homework when choosing a script consultant or mentor.

For more info:

– Watch Sterling’s first podcast interview: PODCAST 053
– Visit Sterling’s personal website: sterlingandersonwriter.com
– Visit the Sterling Writers Group website: sterlingwritersgroup.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.

053 – Sterling Anderson (Beyond Screenwriting, The Unit)

Sterling Anderson is an award-winning screenwriter, TV writer, and author. His newest book, Beyond Screenwriting, goes where no other industry book goes… into the trenches of today’s writer in Hollywood.


Sterling Anderson has written for some of the most popular network television shows, such as The Unit on CBS, as well as NBC’s Medium and Heist. His TV movie The Simple Life of Noah Dearborn, written for CBS and starring Sidney Poitier, received an Emmy nomination and won an Image Award. Sterling’s extensive resume also includes screenplays written for Lions Gate, Disney, HBO, TriStar Pictures and Columbia Pictures.

A graduate in English from St. Mary’s College, the accomplished writer also spent five years teaching screenwriting courses as an adjunct professor at the USC School of Cinematic Arts.

Sterling’s first book, ‘Does He Cheat?,’ is a hair-raising, controversial expose on infidelity. He has written three books on writing, ‘Writing Without Fear’ (2010), Beyond Screenwriting (on Kindle and in paperback), and Writing Without Fear: 15 Steps Toward Becoming a Successful (Artist) Writer (on Kindle only). The author often guest lectures and panels on screenwriting at film schools and festivals across the country.

Born in Cincinnati, Ohio, Sterling spent his early childhood in Tuskegee, Alabama, before moving to Davis, California. He writes from Los Angeles today. His talents span far outside the world of writing. Sterling has a fifth degree black belt in Tae Kwon Do and was an award-winning winemaker in Napa Valley.

Follow Sterling on Twitter: @byondscrnwrting

Visit Sterling’s website: sterlingandersonwriter.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.