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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096 – Keto Shimizu (Co-Showrunner, DC’s Legends of Tomorrow)

This week, host Gray Jones catches up with Keto Shimizu, co-showrunner and EP for DC’s Legends of Tomorrow, and who formerly wrote for Arrow, Being Human, and The Cape.

Episode 096 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.

Don’t forget that Gray interviewed Keto back in 2011 (episode 10), after she had just been staffed on The Cape. In that interview, she shares a lot about how she broke in to the industry. Check it out HERE or on any of the podcast aggregators.

Keto Shimizu biography:

Keto Shimizu was born in Princeton, NJ and spent much of her youth traveling the globe with a world music choir. A life-long fan of movies and comic books, she attended film school at Emerson College in Boston, then moved to Los Angeles in 2007 to pursue a career in the industry.

Following graduation she worked in post-production, using nights and weekends to follow her true passion: writing. Her hard work paid off, as she was accepted into NBC’s “Writers on the Verge” in 2009, and shortly thereafter was staffed on NBC’s The Cape. Following its cancellation, she moved on to SyFy’s Being Human where she spent two seasons.

She was then brought on to CW’s Arrow, and after three years writing for the DC comic adaptation she transferred to the spinoff Legends of Tomorrow where she is currently a writer and Executive Producer.

INDEX TO THE EPISODE:

2:18 – Intro, catching us up on her career since The Cape
11:15 – what was the experience like in the tough time after her first staff gig
13:59 – what to do between jobs
15:08 – using your genre calling card
18:27 – where she sees herself after Legends of Tomorrow
19:19 – the projects she’s currently developing
20:08 – on interviewing new writers
21:37 – on mentoring others, and general advice on pursuing a TV writing career
24:55 – how is the virus affecting Legends of Tomorrow

Follow Keto on Twitter: @ketomizu

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 Dan O’Shannon (EP of Cheers, Frasier, and Modern Family), Shawn Ryan(creator of Timeless and The Shield) and lots more!

WATCH NOW:

LISTEN NOW:

095 – Michael Narducci (Showrunner of The Originals)

This week, host Gray Jones interviews Michael Narducci, showrunner and EP for The Originals, co-EP for The Crossing, and writer and producer for The Vampire Diaries.

Episode 095 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.

Michael Narducci biography:

Currently working on an as yet unannounced Netflix series, Michael recently developed Warriors through ABC Studios. Prior to that, he was the showrunner of The Originals for Warner Brothers TV, and also served as a writer on The Vampire Diaries, Medium, The 4400, and The Crossing.  
 
Michael was born and raised in Youngstown, Ohio. He attended Harvard University where he lettered in football and graduated magna cum laude with a degree in psychology. He went on to receive his MFA in Creative Writing from The University of Virginia. His short stories have appeared in The Texas Review, The Virginia Quarterly Review, Pembroke and Gadfly magazine. He taught creative writing at The Idyllwild Arts Academy for seven years and has also taught writing in Boston, Charlottesville, South Central Los Angeles, and South Korea. 

INDEX TO THE EPISODE:

2:01 – Interview start
2:38 – how COVID-19 is affecting him and his work
6:16 – how he went to Harvard and lettered in football but ended up doing an MFA in creative writing
8:38 – how he published short stories, taught in school for several years, and started writing specs
11:50 – how the Warner Brothers writing fellowship helped him get his first staff gig and an agent
14:43 – on landing the staff gig without going the traditional route of being an assistant
18:15 – on having a manager since before the WB program, and what he feels managers offer
20:18 – in between series, what happens? Details about show runner meetings and pitching.
22:57 – landing the gig on Medium after a lot of unsuccessful interviews
24:49 – landing the gig on Vampire Diaries, and what made that show different
27:51 – traveling to New Orleans to research the Originals spinoff, moving up to EP
28:53 – getting an overall deal, and consulting on The Crossing
30:54 – on development
31:09 – what showrunners are looking for in interviews
32:42 – Michael shares about many mentors who have helped him along the way
36:04 – on being a learner, and a team player – references the book Difficult Men, and the masculine vs feminine style of showrunning
39:28 – his showrunning on The Originals, mentoring others
41:30 – on having an overriding principal idea for each season, with examples from each season of The Originals
45:08 – why mentoring and giving back is important to him, and the value of story
50:00 – on development, and some of the projects he has developed
56:17 – what he is most passionate about – common cause, ensemble shows where people begin as adversaries but grow together, and making people care about characters and story.
1:00:22 – hardest thing about being a TV writer
1:04:10 – best part about being a TV writer – the “what if” brainstorming sessions, and collaboration with other writers to develop story, working with incredible actors and seeing it come to life on scene .
1:06:26 – what is positive in the industry and what needs to change?
1:07:42 – how much more diversity there is in writers rooms now, and how it is a great time to break in
1:09:35 – advice to greener writers – what he looks for when interviewing and reading scripts, and mistakes he sees people making, including on social media.

Follow Michael on Twitter: @MichaelNarducci

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 Keto Shimizu (EP, Legends of Tomorrow), Dan O’Shannon (EP of Cheers, Frasier, and Modern Family), Shawn Ryan (creator of Timeless and The Shield) 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!

WATCH NOW:

LISTEN NOW: