Splitsider

Wednesday, June 22nd, 2011

The Greatest TV Writers Rooms Ever

A sharp and clever writing staff is the key to a great comedy series, but some shows in television’s past have gone above and beyond, recruiting a murderer’s row of comedy minds to fill the writers’ room, with each member later creating an impressive body of work on their own. Either by design or by luck, some of the best comedy shows ever have featured an eclectic, unusual mix of personalities behind the scenes. This is a list of some of the most remarkable groups of writers in the history of TV comedy, not the best-written shows. Take The Dana Carvey Show, for example; it’s a cult hit but never lasted long enough to be considered a classic. Nevertheless, the combination of comedy writers on staff was the most noteworthy thing about it, with everyone from renowned stand-up Louis C.K. to quirky cinephile darling Charlie Kaufman to late night satirist Stephen Colbert typing up scripts.

Without further ado, let’s take a look at some of TV’s most extraordinary collections of comedy writers. We’ve left out most current series because it’s too soon to evaluate their staffs, as their impact and future endeavors remain to be seen.

Your Show of Shows (NBC, 1950-1954)
Staff: Mel Brooks (Blazing Saddles); Carl Reiner (The 2000 Year Old Man); Neil Simon (The Odd Couple); Danny Simon (Caesar’s Hour); and Mel Tolkin (All In the Family)

Head writer Mel Tolkin presided over the most prestigious comedy writing staff in TV history, and one that the show’s members couldn’t stop writing about for years to come. Playwright Neil Simon wrote Laughter on the 23rd Floor about his experiences here, Carl Reiner used his time on Your Show of Shows as the basis for The Dick Van Dyke Show, and Mel Brooks produced My Favorite Year, which was inspired by his stints on this show and its successor, Caesar’s Hour. The staff also included Danny Simon, who inspired The Odd Couple and is also credited with teaching brother Neil Simon and Woody Allen how to write comedy. It’s a common misconception that Woody Allen and M*A*S*H* creator Larry Gelbart were also on staff at Your Show of Shows. Gelbart joined up with the group later for Caesar’s Hour, while Woody Allen came onboard later to write on Sid Caesar’s TV specials that followed that series.

The Dick Van Dyke Show (CBS, 1961-1966)
Staff: Jerry Belson (Gomer Pyle U.S.M.C.); Sam Denoff (That Girl); Sheldon Keller (Caesar’s Hour); Carl Kleinschmitt (The Odd Couple); Garry Marshall (Happy Days); Dale McRaven (Perfect Strangers); Howard Merrill (F Troop); Bill Persky (That Girl); Carl Reiner (The 2000 Year Old Man); and John Whedon (The Donna Reed Show)

The Dick Van Dyke Show was about the head writer of a comedy show, so it’s only fitting that the real staff would be so star-studded, or at least become stars in the near future. The two biggest names are, of course, Garry Marshall, who created Happy Days and adapted The Odd Couple for TV, and nine-time Emmy Award winning creator Carl Reiner, who directed Steve Martin in The Jerk and All of Me. But there’s also John Whedon, writer for The Donna Reed Show and Joss’s grandfather; the creators of That Girl, Sam Denoff and Bill Persky, and Perfect Strangers, Dale McRaven; and Martin Ragaway, who also wrote for The Red Skelton Show, working alongside Sherwood Schwartz. Over five seasons (and hundreds of still-impressive physical comedy gags), The Dick Van Dyke Show won 15 Emmys, including the Outstanding Writing Achievement in Comedy award from 1962-1964.

The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour (CBS, 1967-1969)
Staff: Allan Blye (The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour); Ernest Chambers (The Dick Van Dyke Show); Ron Clark (Silent Movie); Gene Farmer (Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In); Hal Goldman (The Jack Benny Program); Al Gordon (Three’s Company); Steve Martin (The Jerk); Lorenzo Music (The Bob Newhart Show); Rob Reiner (All in the Family); and Mason Williams (Saturday Night Live)

The Comedy Hour began as a relatively tame variety show, but it quickly became required watching, due partially to the musical guests (the Who, Cream, Buffalo Springfield, etc.) but also to the “hip” comedy writers who were penning topical and satirical jokes that others programs at the time wouldn’t touch. Steve Martin is the most well-known name, but the behind-the-scenes team also included Bob “Super Dave” Einstein (Marty Funkhouser on Curb Your Enthusiasm); Pat Paulsen (who the Smothers Brothers convinced to run for President, and he did six times, once with the slogan, “I’ve upped my standards. Now, up yours.”); “Classical Gas” composer Mason Williams; and Rob Reiner, the All In the Family-starring, This Is Spinal Tap-directing son of Carl. And let’s not forget Ron Clark, who penned Silent Movie and High Anxiety with Mel Brooks, and Lorenzo Music, the creator of The Bob Newhart Show and the pre-Bill Murray voice of Garfield the Cat.

Monty Python’s Flying Circus (BBC, 1969-1974)
Staff: Graham Chapman (Monty Python and the Holy Grail); John Cleese (Fawlty Towers); Terry Gilliam (Brazil); Eric Idle (All You Need is Cash); Neil Innes (The Innes Book of Records); Terry Jones (Labyrinth); and Michael Palin (Life of Brian)

Even though Flying Circus's writing staff was just made up of the six members of its central cast, it’s still an impressive group of comedic minds nonetheless. With contributions from Neil Innes, the Seventh Python, the whole was definitely greater than the sum of its parts. Monty Python stuck together after the show’s end to make some amazing film comedies, including The Life of Brian and Monty Python and the Holy Grail, but each of the members, with the exception of gone-too-soon Graham Chapman, created spectacular bodies of work on their own. This group of projects includes Fawlty Towers, A Fish Called Wanda, Time Bandits, Brazil, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, The Rutles, and so much more.

The Mary Tyler Moore Show (CBS, 1970-1977)/Taxi (ABC, 1978-1982; NBC, 1982-1983)
Shared Staff: James L. Brooks (The Simpsons); Stan Daniels (The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson); David Davis (The Bob Newhart Show); David Lloyd (Cheers); Earl Pomerantz (Phyllis); and Ed Weinberger (The Cosby Show)
Just Mary Tyler Moore: Allan Burns (Lou Grant); Martin Cohan (Who’s the Boss?); Bob Ellison (Dear John); Monica Mcgowan Johnson (The Larry Sanders Show); Steven Pritzker (Silver Spoons); and Treva Silverman (The Monkees)
Just Taxi: Glen Charles (Cheers); Les Charles (Cheers); Ken Estin (The Tortellis); Barry Kemp (Coach); Ian Praiser (Bosom Buddies); and Sam Simon (The Simpsons)

Many of the writers for Mary Tyler Moore later worked for Taxi, too, so we combined the two, and separated those who penned episodes for only Mary and only Taxi. The biggest link between the two shows is James L. Brooks, whose TV history is pretty much unbeatable: he wrote for That Girl and The Andy Griffith Show; created Room 222, Taxi, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Rhoda, and Lou Grant, the last three with Allan Burns (who also came up with the brilliant idea of My Mother the Car); and produced The Tracey Ullman Show, The Simpsons, and The Critic. Plus, he directed Terms of Endearment, Broadcast News, As Good As It Gets, and last year’s How Do You Know. Not too shabby. Among the Shared Staff members, Stan Daniels, who won eight Emmys during his time writing for Mary and Taxi, is probably the most influential; according to The Simpsons' Al Jean, the “Stan Daniels Turn” is well-known in the comedy world and refers to when a character says one thing (“I’m not afraid of anything!”) and then immediately and unconsciously contradicts themselves a second later (“…But would you hold me…”). Glen and Les Charles, who, yes, are brothers, would later create Cheers.

Saturday Night Live (NBC, 1975-Present)
Glory era staff (1975-1980): Dan Aykroyd (Ghostbusters); Anne Beatts (Square Pegs); John Belushi (Animal House); Chevy Chase (Fletch); Tom Davis (Coneheads); Jim Downey (Late Night with David Letterman); Brian Doyle-Murray (SCTV); Al Franken (LateLine); Tom Gammill (It’s Garry Shandling’s Show); Lorne Michaels (Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In); Marilyn Suzanne Miller (Rhoda); Bill Murray (Ghostbusters); Don Novello (SCTV Network); Michael O’Donoghue (Scrooged); Max Pross (Seinfeld); Herb Sargent (The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson); Tom Schiller (Not Necessarily the News); Harry Shearer (The Simpsons); Rosie Shuster (The Larry Sanders Show); and Alan Zweibel (It's Garry Shandling's Show)

Under head writer Michael O’Donoghue, the original writing staff for Saturday Night Live created the most successful and longest running sketch show to ever grace the airwaves of American television. The writers of SNL's original years established the dominant format of modern TV sketch comedy, and the most crucial choice every sketch show since has to make is whether to imitate the show’s structure or rebel against it. As a part of SNL's dominance of the Emmys during its early years, the writing staff won the Outstanding Writing in a Comedy or Comedy-Variety or Music Series award in its first two seasons and was nominated the other three. This group of comedy writers went on to rule Hollywood, working on a diverse grouping of comedy projects following their respective departures from the show. Most notably, Aykroyd, Belushi, Chase, and Murray all found movie stardom; Al Franken was elected to the U.S. Senate; Harry Shearer became involved in two highly-important comedy outfits with This Is Spinal Tap and The Simpsons; Don Novello went to SCTV; Anne Beatts created Square Pegs; Alan Zweibel co-created It’s Garry Shandling’s Show; Rosie Shuster briefly wrote for Shandling’s other show, Larry Sanders; and Lorne Michaels still runs the show today.

1980s comeback staff (1986-1991): A. Whitney Brown (The Daily Show with Jon Stewart); Tom Davis (Coneheads); Jim Downey (Late Night with David Letterman); Al Franken (LastLine); Greg Daniels (The Office); Jack Handey (Our Time); Phil Hartman (The Simpsons); George Meyer (The Simpsons); Lorne Michaels (Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In); Conan O’Brien (Conan); Bob Odenkirk (Mr. Show); Herb Sargent (The Steve Allen Plymouth Show); Rob Smigel (Late Night with Conan O'Brien); Bonnie Turner (That ‘70s Show); and Terry Turner (That ‘70s Show)

Although SNL's original staff gets all the credit, this group of writers has made an equally large mark on comedy. These guys saved SNL from the clutches of cancellation, with a nice mix of veterans from the show’s original years, including Lorne Michaels, Herb Sargent, Jim Downey, and the comedy team of Al Franken and Tom Davis, and brainy newcomers. Amongst these fresh faces were two Harvard alums who would each create their own comedy empires in the decades that followed: Greg Daniels and Conan O’Brien. Daniels cut his teeth on classics like Seinfeld and The Simpsons before co-creating three seminal series in King of the Hill, the U.S. version of The Office, and Parks and Recreation, while O’Brien also wrote for The Simpsons before moving in front of the camera and hosting a series of beloved late night talk shows. Robert Smigel would serve as head writer for O’Brien’s first show, Late Night, as well as creating and voicing Triumph the Insult Comic Dog and generating the regular SNL feature “TV Funhouse.” A. Whitney Brown was popular on SNL with his “The Big Picture” monologues, later joining the staff of The Daily Show, while Jack Handey’s “Deep Thoughts” were pieces of absurdist gold that spun off a book series. George Meyer, who had previously written for Letterman and created the infamous comedy zine Army Man, enlisted with The Simpsons and was one of the most significant writers in that show’s early-goings. Bob Odenkirk had perhaps the biggest influence on sketch comedy with his work on The Ben Stiller Show and Mr. Show, while husband-and-wife writing team Bonnie and Terry Turner created more conventional fare in 3rd Rock from the Sun and That ‘70s Show.

SCTV (Global, 1976-1981)
Staff: Dick Blasucci (Muppets Tonight); John Candy (Planes, Trains, and Automobiles); Brian Doyle-Murray (Saturday Night Live); Joe Flaherty (Freaks and Geeks); Paul Flaherty (The Tracey Ullman Show); Eugene Levy (Best in Show); Andrea Martin (My Big Fat Greek Wedding); Rick Moranis (Ghostbusters); Catherine O’Hara (Home Alone); Harold Ramis (Groundhog Day); and Dave Thomas (Arrested Development)

Or why Canadians are funny. SCTV, about an independent TV station creating low-budget local programming (like Farm Film Celebrity Blow Up) and a nice example of writers acting and actors writing, was the starting-point for many of the people who would shape the comedy of the 1980s and 1990s. Really, it’s impossible to discuss what’s funny in those decades without mentioning Ghostbusters (Moranis and Ramis); Planes, Trains, and Automobiles (Candy); Uncle Buck (Candy); American Pie (Levy); Home Alone (O’Hara); Groundhog Day (Ramis); Caddyshack (Ramis and Doyle-Murray, brother of Bill); and even Freaks and Geeks (Flaherty), which began in 1999. Both the writers of The Simpsons and Mystery Science Theater 3000 have labeled SCTV as an influence, and if it’s good enough for them, it’s good enough for us.

The New Show (NBC, 1984)

Staff: Valri Bromfield (The Rosie O’Donnell Show); Tom Davis (Saturday Night Live); Jim Downey (Saturday Night Live); Al Franken (Saturday Night Live); Tom Gammill (Seinfeld); Jack Handey (Saturday Night Live); Buck Henry (Get Smart); George Meyer (The Simpsons); Lorne Michaels (Saturday Night Live); Max Pross (Seinfeld); Dave Thomas (SCTV); and Alan Zweibel (Saturday Night Live)

Easily the least remarkable show on this list, The New Show still boasts an impressive roster of writers. The New Show was one of several projects that Lorne Michaels attempted to keep himself busy with during the hiatus he took from Saturday Night Live between 1980 and 1985, and the writing staff was a nice mix of scribes from SNL's golden age and the next generation of great comedy writers who would go on to revive the seminal sketch show following The New Show's quick demise. The New Show was cancelled due to low ratings after a nine episode run, but the writing staff is still pretty remarkable. The series featured members of SNL's original writing staff like Al Franken, Tom Davis, and Alan Zweibel, as well as future SNL writers Jack Handey, George Meyer, Tom Gammill, and Max Pross. This newer crop of comedy writers would be the key to SNL's late ‘80s renaissance and go on to write for some of the best comedy shows of the ‘80s and ‘90s, including The Simpsons, Late Night with David Letterman, Seinfeld, and It’s Garry Shandling’s Show. The staff also included the three performers that made up the central cast: Valri Bromfield, who was Dan Aykroyd’s former comedy partner and part of the original Second City Toronto cast; SCTV's Dave Thomas; and prolific writer Buck Henry, who co-created Get Smart with Mel Brooks and co-wrote the screenplay to The Graduate, amongst many other extraordinary accomplishments.

It’s Garry Shandling’s Show (Showtime, 1986-1990)
Staff: Larry David (Seinfeld); Richard Day (Arrested Development); Jeff Franklin (Full House); Tom Gammill (Seinfeld); Al Jean (The Simpsons); Larry Levin (I Love You, Man); Monica Mcgowan Johnson (Laverne & Shirley); Max Pross (Seinfeld); Mike Reiss (The Critic); Garry Shandling (The Larry Sanders Show); Sam Simon (The Simpsons); Ed Solomon (Men in Black); and Alan Zweibel (Saturday Night Live)

Garry Shandling presided over a staggering group of comedic minds for the first series he starred in, It’s Garry Shandling’s Show. After creating the show with original SNL staffer Alan Zweibel, the two hired several writers that would come to shape TV and film comedy over the next few decades. Al Jean, Mike Reiss, and Sam Simon all went on to become major parts of The Simpsons' history during that show’s best years, while the writing team of Gammill and Pross, who were on staff for just about every good TV comedy during the ‘80s and ‘90s, and I Love You, Man writer Larry Levin would join the writing staff of Seinfeld, a series that was clearly influenced by Shandling’s show. Of course, I couldn’t mention Seinfeld and It’s Garry Shandling’s Show in the same sentence without pointing out Larry David’s minor contributions to this series. David wrote one episode in 1987, using the pseudonym Mac Brandes for unknown reasons (presumably out of some sort of contractual issue, not because he was ashamed of his work here). Also on staff were Monica Mcgowan Johnson, who was Albert Brooks’s writing partner on most of his movies; Jeff Franklin, co-creator of Full House and Hangin’ with Mr. Cooper; and Richard Day, who went on to write for Larry Sanders and Arrested Development.

Roseanne (ABC, 1988-1997)
Staff: Jeff Abugov (Cheers); Tom Arnold (The Jackie Thomas Show); Roseanne Barr (Roseanne); Betsy Borns (Friends); Eric Gilliland (The Wonder Years); Brad Isaacs (Newhart); Danny Jacobson (Mad About You); Maxine Lapiduss (Ellen); Chuck Lorre (The Big Bang Theory); Norm MacDonald (Saturday Night Live); Cynthia Mort (Tell Me You Love Me); Daniel Palladino (Gilmore Girls); Amy Sherman (Gilmore Girls); Rob Ulin (The Middle); and Joss Whedon (Buffy the Vampire Slayer)

Roseanne recently wrote an article for New York magazine, discussing how much of a struggle it was for her, a female, to make it in Hollywood and how not much has changed today. It’s a fascinating portrait of the early seasons of ABC’s Roseanne, including her problems with producer Matt Williams, who originally listed himself the creator of the program (which she didn’t realize until the first episode aired on TV). After the show’s hit first season (which Roseanne now says is “god-awful”), Williams left to create Home Improvement with Tim Allen, and Roseanne began to weed out all the writers who found “stinky-pussy jokes” funny. She then, in her words, “hired comics that I had worked with in clubs, rather than script writers. I promoted several of the female assistants — who had done all the work of assembling the scripts anyway — to full writers. I gave Joss Whedon and Judd Apatow their first writing jobs, as well as many other untried writers who went on to great success,” such as the creators of Gilmore Girls, Amy Sherman (and her husband, Daniel Palladino, who wrote for Gilmore and produced the pre-cancellation episodes of Family Guy), and Tell Me You Love Me, Cynthia Mort.

The Ben Stiller Show (FOX, 1992-1993)
Staff: Judd Apatow (The 40-Year-Old Virgin); Robert Cohen (The Simpsons); David Cross (Mr. Show); Brent Forrester (The Simpsons); Jeff Kahn (Drawn Together); Bob Odenkirk (Mr. Show); Bruce Kirschbaum (Seinfeld); Sultan Pepper (MADtv); Dino Stamatopoulos (Community); and Ben Stiller (Zoolander)

Just because The Ben Stiller Show, the winner of the 1993 Emmy for “Outstanding Writing in a Variety or Music Program,” is sort of the reason why The Andy Dick Show exists doesn’t mean it’s not good; in fact, it’s pretty darn great with a capital-Amazing group of writers. It was the first time TV series writing credit for Judd Apatow, David Cross, Brent Forrester, and Dino Stamatopoulos, and it was also where Cross and Bob Odenkirk met for the first time, leading to Mr. Show two years later. Between that and Robert Cohen writing one of the best Simpsons episodes of all-time, “Flaming Moe’s,” surely we can forgive Stiller for The Andy Dick Show, right?

The Simpsons (FOX, 1989-Present)
Seasons 4 and 5 Staff: Gary Apple (The Sinbad Show); Bill Canterbury (2Gether: The Series); Michael Carrington (Martin); Greg Daniels (Parks and Recreation); Al Jean (The Critic); Jay Kogen (Fraiser); Adam I. Lapidus (Full House); Jeff Martin (Late Night with David Letterman); Dan McGrath (King of the Hill); George Meyer (Late Night with David Letterman); David Mirkin (Newhart); Frank Mula (Cosby); Bill Oakley (Mission Hill); Conan O’Brien (Late Night with Conan O’Brien); Mike Reiss (The Critic); David Richardson (Malcolm in the Middle); Jace Richdale (The Oblongs); Sam Simon (Cheers); David M. Stern (Ugly Americans); John Swartzwelder (These Books); Jon Vitti (The Larry Sanders Show); Josh Weinstein (Futurama); and Wallace Wolodarsky (Monsters vs. Aliens)

Just like when Mr. Burns hired Don “Sideburns” Mattingly, Ken Griffey Jr., Daryl Strawberry and a team of ringers to beat Shelbyville Nuclear Power Plant in a game of softball, Sam Simon, when choosing who to hire to pen the early episodes of The Simpsons, picked a bunch of All-Stars. The original staff was made up of John Swartzwelder, Jon Vitti, George Meyer, Jeff Martin, Al Jean, Mike Reiss, Jay Kogen and Wallace Wolodarsky, but we included everyone who wrote an episode in the show’s stellar fourth and fifth seasons. With the possible exception of Your Show of Shows, the Simpsons' writing staff is probably the most famous and adored in the history of television, led by Conan O’Brien (who wrote “Marge vs. the Monorail,” “Homer Goes to College,” “New Kid on the Block,” and Bart’s introductions in “Treehouse of Horror IV”) and Greg Daniels, the co-creator of King of the Hill, Parks and Recreation, and NBC’s The Office (hence the Homer doll). Whether it’s reading the New Yorker profile on Meyer for the 13th time or wondering what the reclusive Swartzwelder is up to (and looks like) today, comedy fans hold the Simpsons writing staff in the same esteem as baseball fans do the 1927 Yankees (although I, for one, would choose the radiation poisoned Mike Scioscia over Earle Combs any day).

The Day Today (BBC 2, 1994)
Staff: Peter Baynham (Borat); Steve Coogan (I’m Alan Partridge); Rebecca Front (Knowing Me, Knowing You with Alan Partridge); Armando Iannucci (The Thick of It); Graham Linehan (The IT Crowd); Doon Mackichan (Smack the Pony); Patrick Marber (Closer); Arthur Matthews (Father Ted); Christopher Morris (Four Lions); and David Schneider (Uncle Max)

A satirical show from the UK that came to shape British comedy in the years that followed, The Day Today was a miraculous confluence of comedic talent, especially in the writers’ room. The show, an adaptation of the radio program On the Hour, picked up where that series left off and kept most of its writing staff, with the exception of the team of Stewart Lee and Richard Herring. The Day Today marked the television debut of Steve Coogan’s character Alan Partridge, who was a major influence on another sitcom anti-hero, Ricky Gervais’s The Office character David Brent and, by proxy, Steve Carell’s Michael Scott. Writers Rebecca Front, Armando Iannucci, Patrick Marber, and David Schneider went to work with Coogan on the subsequent Alan Partridge series Knowing Me, Knowing You, while Arthur Matthews, Graham Linehan, and Peter Baynham followed Christopher Morris to Brass Eye, a show that expounded on the work Morris did on The Day Today and largely influenced Sacha Baron Cohen. Armando Iannucci and Christopher Morris were the two big auteurs to spring out of this staff. Iannucci’s drawn acclaim for a lot of his work, most recently The Thick of It and the resulting movie In the Loop, while Morris’s terrorism comedy Four Lions made waves last year. Patrick Marber proved to be an unexpectedly strong dramatic writer with his play Closer (he also wrote the screenplay for the film adaptation) and his work on the screenplay to Notes on a Scandal. David Schneider’s show Uncle Max has proven popular with children and families, while Graham Linehan created Father Ted with writing partner Arthur Matthews and Black Books and The IT Crowd without him.

Mr. Show (HBO, 1995-1998)
Staff: Scott Aukerman (Between Two Ferns with Zach Galifianakis); David Cross (Arrested Development); Brent Forrester (The Simpsons); Eric Hoffman (Brainwarp); Jay Johnston (Moral Orel); Bill Odenkirk (The Simpsons); Bob Odenkirk (Tenacious D); B.J. Porter (Between Two Ferns with Zach Galifianakis); Brian Posehn (The Man Show); Dino Stamatopoulos (Community); Paul F. Tompkins (Real Time with Bill Maher); and Mike Upchurch (Cheap Seats)

It goes without saying that Mr. Show holds an almost-mythic place in the hearts and minds of comedy nerds, and the caliber of the show’s writers plays no small part in its greatness. Cross and Odenkirk pulled a lot of talent from L.A.’s alternative comedy scene to fill their writers’ room and started a lot of amazing careers in the process. Since Mr. Show, Brian Posehn has seen his stand-up career blossom with the highly-popular The Comedians of Comedy tour/movie/TV series and served three years in the cast of The Sarah Silverman Program, along with fellow Mr. Show writer Jay Johnston. Dino Stamatopoulos, now most recognizable as Star-Burns on Community, has consulted and written for that series, as well as creating the Adult Swim stop-motion comedies Moral Orel and Mary Shelley’s Frankenhole. Bill Odenkirk and occasional Mr. Show contributor Brent Forrester went on to write for The Simpsons, with Forrester currently on staff at The Office. Scott Aukerman and B.J. Porter created the long-running weekly live comedy show Comedy Death-Ray (now called Comedy Bang Bang), and Aukerman hosts the equally popular podcast of the same name. Paul F. Tompkins has his own beloved podcast in The Pod F. Tompkast and he’s currently working on a new Comedy Central series called Evil Genius with The Best Show's Tom Scharpling serving as the show’s co-creator.

The Dana Carvey Show (ABC, 1996)
Staff: Louis C.K. (Louie); Steve Carell (The Office); Robert Carlock (30 Rock); Dana Carvey (Saturday Night Live); Bill Chott (Saturday Night Live); Stephen Colbert (The Colbert Report); Jon Glaser (Late Night with Conan O’Brien); Charlie Kaufman (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind); Heather Morgan (The Comeback); Robert Smigel (TV Funhouse); Dino Stamatopoulos (Community); and Michael Stoyanov (Mr. Show)

Oddly, it’s the show’s namesake who’s had the weakest career since the mid-90s. Because within the writing staff of The Dana Carvey Show, there’s the writer of one of the finest movies of the 2000s, if not the finest (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, written by Kaufman); one of the most world’s respected comedians (C.K.); an Emmy and Grammy winner (Colbert); a five-time Emmy nominee and the creator of Delocated (Glaser); the co-show runner of 30 Rock (Carlock); one of the Joker’s goons, Dopey, in The Dark Knight/a Mr. Show writer (Stoyanov); the brain behind The Ambiguously Gay Duo (Smigel); and Michael Scott (Carell). It’s mind-boggling that the show, every episode of which was named after the advertiser sponsoring it (episode four: “The Diet Mug Root Beer Dana Carvey Show”), only aired for less than two months.

Want more? Check out part 2 right here.

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Tags:

tv, writers

  • http://www.willhines.net/ Will Hines

    Love this!

    • Megh Wright

      @Will Hines I second that

  • Jen Cordery@twitter

    This is awesome. What I wouldn't give to have been a part of any of those writers' rooms! Such an insane amount of talent.

  • will mclaughlin

    Wow. That there was some work on the page. Nice job.

  • wilberfan

    Odd that you keep primarily associating Carl Reiner with the "2000 Year Old Man"–which was largely improvised by Mel Brooks? Carl has plenty of credits you could have used instead…

    • Joshua Kurp

      @wilberfan That's on me. I just really like 2,000 Year Old Man, and when Homer mentions it to Mel Brooks: "Hey! Let's do that 2,000-pound man thing. I'll be that Carl Reiner guy and you be what's-his-face."

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Nathan-Smart/578299991 Nathan Smart

    I don't remember The Andy Dick Show being THAT bad…

    • http://twitter.com/bradfordevans Bradford Evans

      @Nathan Smart It wasn't that bad, but it made Andy Dick a household name and brought us years of drunken talk show appearances and news stories about him exposing himself in public. He was already known for NewsRadio, but he wasn't a lead actor until The Andy Dick Show.

  • kiara ink

    Quite the list, although I still think Gilmore Girls should be featured more prominently (at least it got mentioned). I had before never seen that Billie Jean clip by Steve Martin. Take that, King Tut.

  • kiara ink

    Whoops I meant "never before seen"

  • Billy Florio@twitter

    didnt Douglas Adams also write for Monty Python's Flying Circus?

    • http://twitter.com/bradfordevans Bradford Evans

      @Billy Florio@twitter He only wrote one sketch, so we didn't feel it was a significant enough contribution to the show to list him with the other writers. Still pretty cool though!

  • Jason Farr@facebook

    Word. Great article.

  • Gary@twitter

    Should have also mentioned the writers behind Blackadder.

    • http://twitter.com/bradfordevans Bradford Evans

      @Gary@twitter They only had three writers on staff throughout the run of the various incarnations of Blackadder and usually only two at a time. Even though Ben Elton, Rowan Atkinson, and Richard Curtis are all pretty prolific, those three guys can't compete with some of these 10-people staffs full of big names. A lot of UK shows only have two writers. Fawlty Towers or the original version of The Office, for example, are both well-written and influential shows but they never had full writing staffs.

    • cdthomas

      @Bradford Evans Then if the criteria's a "full writing staff", then UK writers of the modern era won't make the cut. Most often, a handful of writers shape a 'series', because the lesser episode orders and gaps between sets of episodes aired don't require large staffs to turn product out quickly.

    • http://twitter.com/bradfordevans Bradford Evans

      @Gary@twitter It's a list of the greatest writing staffs ever, not the best-written shows ever, so shows without full writing staffs don't qualify. There have been a lot of great shows written by two people, but a writing staff with 10 amazing comedy writers on it trumps one with 2 or 3.

  • Joe Bill@twitter

    Great job with this…love it!

  • Emma Tolkin@facebook

    Mel Tolkin (Your Show of Shows head writer) was my grandfather. The fellas used to get so frustrated in the room that they threw pencils in the ceiling. Apparently it was just completely full of pencils.

    • http://twitter.com/bradfordevans Bradford Evans

      @Emma Tolkin@facebook Haha that's awesome. Your grandfather was in charge of one of the most respected TV writing staffs ever.

    • Joshua Kurp

      @Emma Tolkin@facebook That IS awesome. And if Wikipedia is to be believed, he also played the "glockenspiel in a military orchestra." That's even awesomer!

  • MikeT

    just got word Imajilan Television is looking for top comedy / drama writer to head a large team. Project details still under wraps.

  • Jorge Garrido

    You guys are missing Mighty Mouse: The New Adventures and Late Night With Conan O’Brien.And you forgot that Laura Kightlinger was also a writer on Roseanne. And speaking of Laura, what about the room for Lucky Louie? Louis CK, Pamela Adlon, Dino Stamatopoulos, Greg Fitzimmons, Mike Royce (Everybody Loves Raymond, Men of a Certain Age), Kit Boss (King of the Hill), Patricia Breen (Frasier), Aaron Shore (The Office, Everybody Loves Raymond) and Dan Mintz are among the greats that wrote for that show.
    Also, why would you not include the shows Woody Allen and Larry Gelbart wrote for instead of Your Show of Shows?
    And what about The Colgate Comedy Hour? Woody Allen, Norman Lear, Danny Arnold, Danny Simon, among others. That’s a killer line-up. Danny Arnold is truly one of the greatest comedy writers of all time. His season of Bewitched is absolutely killer.

    • Jorge Garrido

      I just saw your honorable mentions paragraph. You did mention Late Night after all. But do you really consider Seinfeld to be one of the best writer's rooms ever? Most of the writers on there are pretty much only notable for doing Seinfeld, and they didn't even write in a room. Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David would do the final draft of each episode themselves. It's a great show, but it's not as if it's filled with guys who went on to do really great stuff elsewhere, except for maybe some SNL, Curb and The League guys. Why not just include Arrested Development?

  • These Lists are always awful

    Urgh…I hate articles like this. You guys never do research, you just "Google" your topic and then re-cycle stuff. And why is it that you barely leave the context of your generation. It's great that you listed "Your Show Of Shows" but you and I both know that you've never seen the show, and you merely listed it because it probably came up in your Google search as being number 1 cause frankly, it deserves to be there. You guys completely stepped over the writing team which I think everyone knows is the team behind the greatest sketch comedy series in the history of television, The Carol Burnett Show. Again, just because you weren't alive when the show was on, doesn't disqualify it from your list. You really should've researched more. You've overlooked the great Bill Richmond, Ed Simmons, Gene Pirret, Jeanne McMahon, and Barry Levinson for god's sake. The show that influenced your generations TV comics, and again a show that everyone steals from today. Do you homework before you make another list PLEASE.

  • Buddy Stevens

    This article is terrible! You don't even mention Frasier? With writers like Joe Keenan, Christopher Lloyd, Steven Levitan, Anne Flett, Chuck Randberg, Rob Greenberg, etc. Frasier had THE BEST writing team of any sitcom!