101 – Shawn Ryan (Timeless, SWAT, The Shield, The Chicago Code, The Unit)

This week, host Gray Jones interviews veteran producer Shawn Ryan, who has created or co-created a number of series, including The Shield, The Chicago Code, Last Resort, Timeless, and his current series SWAT.

This episode is sponsored by Pilar Alessandra of onthepage.tv. Pilar is offering a 10% discount to TV Writer Podcast viewers. To get your 10% off, contact Pilar through her website and mention the podcast.

Shawn Ryan started out writing and acting in plays. He won the prestigious Norman Lear Playwriting Award, which included an opportunity to come to Los Angeles and observe the TV series My Two Dads. One of his pitches got turned into an episode for the series, and he knew he wanted to write for TV! But it would be several years of hard work, honing his craft and writing over a dozen spec scripts, before he finally got his first staff gig on Nash Bridges.

Shawn is a learner, and a very hard worker. He has many helpful stories to tell about how he learned his craft, and how he learned to be his own worst critic. You’ll love hearing how he came to create and run The Shield when he had very little production experience, and how he learned to create and co-create so many successful series.

Timeless fans will be especially excited to hear about how he co-created that show with Eric Kripke, the love he has for the show and the fans, and how hopeful he is for future continuation of the story.

INDEX TO THE EPISODE:

1:22 – Interview start, overview of creating and helping to create and run shows in a competitive industry.
3:24 – How has COVID-19 affected him?
7:18 – Back at the beginning, how did winning the Normal Lear Playwriting Award help launch his career? Discusses theater and playwriting, then going to Hollywood to observe My Two Dads as part of the award, and starting to pitch ideas on the show.
10:56 – Harder times after that show, getting days jobs and learning to increase his work ethic. Was a clever writer, but needed to learn the craft of being a deep writer.
12:28 – Wrote 16-17 spec scripts… talks about the 3 most important factors in breaking in.
14:53 – His first staff gig on Nash Bridges, after writing freelance episodes of Life with Louie.
16:54 – How the years of struggle are important for a writer.
19:23 – How not getting hired on Buffy the Vampire Slayer was actually better for his career — describes this training ground on Nash Bridges with Carlton Cuse and John Worth in detail, and working on Angel. Learning to become valuable to a show by being a story machine.
25:31 – How The Shield was born out of a spec pilot he had written… how he didn’t have much production experience but was open about what he didn’t know and relied on good people around him to succeed. Lots of detail about building this show for the new FX Network.
37:44 – The next few years, successfully developing many projects, working on The Unit with David Mamet, Mad Dogs. Getting excited about projects.
41:48 – Sponsor messages.
43:02 – All about co-creating Timeless with Eric Kirpke, and running that show. How he loves history, and the book The People’s History was a great resource for stories. How amazed he is by the fans, and how he is hopeful about the show’s future.
51:27 – How he feels about Peak TV as a show creator. Will TV decline the way movies did?
54:22 – Advice to younger writers, and to people trying to break in. How he asked to read a spec that was getting that writer work, and studied it. Learned not to settle for B+ work.

Follow Shawn on Twitter: @ShawnRyanTV

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.

PLEASE NOTE: we are now doing Tuesday releases, to line up with Script Magazine’s release dates.

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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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094 – Arika Lisanne Mittman (EP of Paradise Lost, Timeless)

This week, host Gray Jones interviews Arika Lisanne Mittman, EP of Paradise Lost on Spectrum Originals, and Timeless. She also wrote and produced on Elementary and Dexter.

Episode 094 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.

Arika got her start as an assistant on Dawson’s Creek… though she would not get her first staff gig for several years, she landed an agent during that time.

Her career took a detour when she was asked to head up a web initiative for Sony, producing dramatic short series for their website. This experience, combined with many years networking as an assistant led to her first staff gig on South of Nowhere. One of her first scripts there led to a WGA Award nomination and a Humanitas Award.

She tells about several series where she was stuck at the staff writer level, but how she was able to catch up on Medium and Dexter, which was really the show that put her on the map.

After several seasons of Elementary, and one season of Timeless, she was finally ready for the jump to showrunner — and shares about her first experience showrunning on Timeless, a show she was very passionate about, and then co-showrunning the new Spectrum Original Paradise Lost and getting it off the ground.

Arika is very open about the challenges of balancing a family with a busy TV career, and shares great tips about how to win in showrunner interviews, on the page, and in the writer’s room.

INDEX TO THE EPISODE:

1:58 – How is the virus affecting you? How will this impact the industry going forward — is there a “new normal” that will be a different way of doing business?
8:18 – Her unconventional start in the industry, pioneering into online content for Sony; how she has seen some parallels in Twitter and networking directly with fans.
16:26 – About South of Nowhere, her first staff writing gig, and how she was nominated for a WGA award and won a Humanitas award for one of her first scripts.
20:21 – Her experience getting an agent while still an assistant at Dawson’s Creek; got fired by that agent, and signed with another later on.
22:33 – How valuable it is to be an assistant, and what your attitude and work ethic needs to be — how this network will be what gets you work later on.
24:13 – On staff, now what? Her trials and tribulations on her first few shows… repeating the staff level three times, shows getting cancelled, and how Dexter changed the game.
30:48 – On developing pilots, while still working on Dexter and having 2 young kids.
32:53 – On getting offered a position on Elementary
34:17 – How it wasn’t easy – some of her challenges working her way up.
41:12 – Landing the gig on Timeless and becoming showrunner for the first time — how being passionate about the show is a key to getting the job, and the experience from the start of the show to its cancellation and movie wrap up.
51:40 – on Paradise Lost, co-showrunning a show, starting from scratch and staffing it.
53:24 – building a diverse staff.
56:25 – Help for greener writers — what she looks for in an interview, being enthusiastic about the project and being able to articulate why, as well as what you bring to the table.
1:00:49 – What she looks for on the page.
1:02:38 – Juggling young kids and a writing room, or working from home developing projects — how does she manage? What is her writing habit?
1:04:11 – Final thoughts — general career advice to greener writers.

Follow Arika on Twitter: @arikalisanne

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 Michael Narducci (EP, The Originals), Keto Shimizu (EP, Legends of Tomorrow), Dan O’Shannon (EP of Cheers, Frasier, and Modern Family) 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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