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writing for television

Discussion in 'General Discussion' started by minor muppetz, Feb 27, 2010.

  1. minor muppetz

    minor muppetz Well-Known Member

    I have been wondering quite a few things about television writing, especially recently. Recently in the "Ask Jim Lewis" thread Jim said he always figured the writing for the show was a group effort, and said it was that way on Muppets Tonight. I commented on my confusion over this, having thought for years that each sketch and backstage plot would have had different writers and then the stuff would be put into one script.

    Somebody in that thread explained a few things about the situation to me, and also mentioned that some sitcoms often are written by all the writers, with only one or two writers credited (I think Newsradio was a cited example). Then again, I wonder if this is true for Family Guy.. I notice that most episodes have one or two credited writers, and Seth Macfarlane is rarely credited as a writer. Though I wouldn't be surprised if the show's various writers write cutaways that get put into full episode scripts. On the other hand, in the audio commentary for The Weird Al Show, it was said that each episode had to give writers credit to everybody who contributed to the writing, even to writers who may have contributed to only a small gag.

    Still, I assume that most variety/sketch comedy shows have different writers contributing to different sketches (that's how I would do it, if I had my own variety series). There was a book about Saturday Night Live, with quotes from the cast and crew, and I recall a quote from Chris Rock, saying that every individual sketch from a recurring sketch or character was written by the same person each time, while on In Living Color any writer could write for any recurring sketch or character. Of course I think there are exceptions... Considering Weekend Update has been in almost every show since the start (I feel like it was missing from the Desi Arnez episode... Or maybe that's just the syndication version), there would have to have been different writers for that, and I would have thought the various writers would write different news stories for each individual sketch. And of course it's sourced that each Muppet sketch was written by whichever writer drew the shortest straw that week.

    I assume that each Sesame Street insert is written by just one or two writers (and I think I have seen some sources confirming this). I would think that each sketch on SCTV was written by a different person, but several backstage plots would be group efforts (especially stuff like the pledge week shows, the christmas party episodes, and the award show episode).
  2. D'Snowth

    D'Snowth Well-Known Member

    While I can't comment on variety/sketch shows, usually when it comes to writing for televisions, there's two main aspects...

    1. When you have a network show, usually the show has a writing staff - either composed of single writers, or writing partners (ala the famous Ken Levine & David Isaacs, responsible for episodes of such shows as M*A*S*H, Cheers and various others); usually at the beginning of each season, all of the writers get together and discuss the shape of shows for the upcoming season. Most of the time, whoever comes up with an idea for an episode is the one who writes the script for it, however there's several occasions where other people contribute input to the script's progress - these people are usually credited during the closing credits as "Story Consultant" or "Creative Consultant", etc. Other times too one may come up with a plot, while another fleshes it out in text (hence why sometimes you see credits like "Story By ____, Teleplay By ____"

    2. If you're working independently, either the creator of the show does all the writing himself, or they'll commission a very small number of writers to write the scripts for the episodes; Sid and Marty Krofft are big examples of this, shows like H.R. Pufnstuf, The Bugaloos and Lidsville each usually only had two writers that wrote all the episodes. I usually do most of my own writing too.
  3. minor muppetz

    minor muppetz Well-Known Member

    Over the years I have thought up ideas for TV shows, often sitcoms, sketch comedy, and the kinds of shows that are a little bit of both... For some of my series ideas, I've thought up many ideas for episodes and characters... If any of my more well-developed ideas ever get made officially, I'd want the majority of my character and episode ideas to stay (especially for one that I've thought of a few seasons worth of shows for). I wouldn;'t mind having other writers work with me on my creation, especially if some episode ideas don't have enough for a full half-hour (or... a full 22-minutes? A full half-half hour?).
  4. Super Scooter

    Super Scooter New Member

    Yeah, that's why Frank Oz got a "Creative Consultant" on The Muppet Show. He was involved in the writing of it to some degree.

    For The Dick Van Dyke Show, the writers all got together at the beginning of the season to figure things out, as you said, then they went off and wrote their own episodes. But many people contributed to those scripts and helped flesh them out. For instance, Carl Reiner was only credited for writing one episode of the show's final season, and other than that was really only credited as the show's creator during that season. But he was still contributing ideas and jokes during that time.

    And on Seinfeld, every episode went through Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David (when he was working on the show) before it was shot, and they would sometimes even do complete re-writes.

    I think you need to do that to make sure your work is the funniest it can be, but also the most consistent.
  5. D'Snowth

    D'Snowth Well-Known Member

    Yep - this is where a Story Editor (or Editors) come in - their job is to essentially go over a script before it's met with approval to make sure all of the petty details are accurate - the characters being in-character, the storyline being consistent, making sure that it would work for the show's progress, etc.

    Often times, the show's creators serve as Story Editors; more examples I can think of are Courage the Cowardly Dog and Alvin and The Chipmunks - with Courage, creator John Dilworth wrote a vast majority of Season One episodes, afterwards, he only wrote one for Season Two and one for Season Four, but among all that, he was the Story Editor on the show; with The Chipmunks, it was produced in association with Ruby-Spears Enterprises, so RB handled a lot of the bigger production, allowing creators Ross Bagdasarian Jr and Janice Karman to handle the writing, which most of the time they handles (particularly the first five seasons). Afterwards when the show was animated by DiC, most production was done in-house, which meant the two fo them had a lot more creative control, and they hired more writers to staff, while they served as Story Editors.

    Incidentally, I can tell you with the curse of today's broadcast commercialism, it's a pain to try to cram as much content as you can into 21 minutes' worth of show and make sure it flows smoothly and makes sense... I've often considered doing TWO versions of the same episodes myself - have a print 21 minutes long for broadcast, and maybe an extended 25-26 minute print for maybe DVD releases or something.

    But make sure you protect your ideas Double M, because some people out there are going to try and take them away from you and pass them off as their own. NEVER SELL ANYTHING THAT YOU CREATE.
  6. minor muppetz

    minor muppetz Well-Known Member

    I am protective. Though I have made several youtube videos, written fan fiction, and often make fantasy wishlists on message boards like this, I otherwise haven't really talked much about the ideas I've had for years regarding movies and shows I'd like to make (I don't really expect any ideas I have involving already-copyrighted characters like the Muppets or Looney Tunes to get made as official productions... But you never know!) here... I have talked about the gist of some ideas to a few people I trust (though I guess the most trustworthy of people very well could be the people you shouldn't trust).

    One thing I've noticed about the Simpsons... It seems like Matt Groening didn't write many episodes. Maybe it's just me but it seems like the audio commentary for several episodes seem to imply that the credited writers are the only writers, and looking through the index in the Simpsons "complete guide" books it looks like Matt Groening was only credited as a writer in a few episodes, most of which are clip shows (which I presume credit him because he wrote episodes that clips were taken from).
  7. minor muppetz

    minor muppetz Well-Known Member

    Sometimes I wonder if for variety shows if the writers have some kidn of udnerstanding not to take too much credit for each individual segment they write. The credits just list all writers without saying who wrote what sketch (I wonder if that would complicate the credits? Especially considering the titles often don't appear on-screen). Of course I know that writers do sometimes talk about speciffic sketches they wrote, saying that they wrtoe them.
  8. D'Snowth

    D'Snowth Well-Known Member

    I believe that's pretty much the case as you mentioned - so as to not complicate the credits, and when you do have a variety/sketch show with multiple/several writers, they usually list all of the series' writers (for that season) alphabetically, though there's usually a separate credit for a head writer (like SST in case), or a "story editor", who usually is one of the creative forces behind the show, and makes sure each script remains in continuity, and that everybody in the script is in character and such.

    SOMETIMES, however, some shows that do have on-screen titles will list the title of the sketch in large font, with smaller font underneath that says "Written By ___"; Land of the Lost, while not a variety/sketch show, practiced this form of credit.


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