https://youtu.be/bT1BSKLh9Jw?feature=shared

This week, Emmy nominated Writer/Producer Jonathan Fener, (American Dad!, iCarly, The Mindy Project, and many more) is on the podcast discussing the importance of having access to industry professionals, getting his footing in the industry, and working in the multi-cam world.

Show Notes

Jonathan Fener on IMDB: https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0271779/

Jonathan Fener on Twitter: https://twitter.com/jfenski

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Autogenerated Transcript

Michael Jamin:
I always say, you’re kissing the wrong asses. Kiss the asses of assistants because they’re not go, you know, they don’t get their asses kissed. They, they love it. I mean, who wouldn’t get, give ’em some attention. They get abused all the time, then they rise up eventually. So, yeah, those are the ones. You gotta be nice to the assistants always, you know.
Hey everyone, it’s Michael Jamin. Welcome back to Screenwriters. Need to hear this. I have a wonderful guest today. This is a, this is a, I’m gonna tell you the story, how, how we met. So, as you know, the Writers Guild of America’s on Strike, and my next guest is a well-known Setcom writer, although we’ve never worked together over the years. So our paths, you know, we haven’t really crossed, but we know all the same people. And then we started, we were on the picket line outside of CBS Radford, and we started chatting and we had a really nice talk. And I was like, well, this, I gotta bring this guy in the podcast. So everyone, if you’re driving your car, please pull over, put your hands together. A warm round of applause for Mr. Jonathan Fener. He is, let me just give you some of his credits before I let him talk.
You’ll notice it’s a 45 minute podcast, and I, I do talking for about 44 minutes of it, but I’m gonna talk about your credits. He, he wrote on Bette, the Bette Midler show, Veronica’s Closet, do-Over Kid, notorious. It’s all relative Method. And Red Father of the Pride, you remember that one with Siegfried and Wright the 78th Annual Academy Awards. I wanna talk about that. American Dad. We know that happy endings, old Soul telenovela, the Mindy Project. How come that wasn’t a show? Why was that? Just a project. Trolls Holiday, Elliot to Vegas, American Housewife, trolls, holiday in Harmony. We’ll talk about that. And most recently, the iCarly reboot as well as well Mullaney. But guys, this guy’s been around the block. John, thank you so much for being on the show.

Jonathan Fener:
My pleasure. Thanks for having me. Thank.

Michael Jamin:
So, I wanna find out, I wanna know all about your, your history. Let’s take it back from the beginning when your great grandparents met. Let’s really do a deep dive into your life. <Laugh>,

Jonathan Fener:
Eastern Europe.

Michael Jamin:
Eastern Europe. Let’s just

Jonathan Fener:
Do, yeah, let’s go back to Eastern Europe.

Michael Jamin:
But tell me were you, were okay, so how did you first break into the business and did you always know you wanted to be a, a, a setcom writer?

Jonathan Fener:
Yeah. I, I, even when I didn’t know that’s what I wanted to do, I, I look back and I’m like, oh, that’s what I wanted to do. You know, I, I feel like I’m part of a, a generation that you know, back to watching television shows, videotaping, you know, Saturday Night Live and Uhhuh <affirmative> and sitcoms and, and like I used to audiotape them to

Michael Jamin:
Study

Jonathan Fener:
Them and watch. Yeah. And, and, and like, I would, I would watch Saturday Night Live, even when I was old. It wasn’t old enough to like watch it. I would tape it on the VCR that we had, the, the one that popped up <laugh> Yeah. At the top. And then and then I would have an, and then in the morning I’d watch it all day. And I would, and, and I used to make mixtapes, I guess video mixtapes where I would like, like mix and match different sketches that I liked. And then I and I used to listen to those all the time. And then I would also, I’d watch television shows. I did do that thing where I, I would tape television shows and then I would try and like write out the script. I didn’t, I didn’t know what the formatting was, so I always was interested in Yes, you’d

Michael Jamin:
Write it, what kind of word for word? Or you’d write your own,

Jonathan Fener:
I’d write it word for word. I would transcribe.

Michael Jamin:
Because that made you a writer then. Did you think that was, what was the point of that?

Jonathan Fener:
Well,

Michael Jamin:
<Laugh>,

Jonathan Fener:
It’s like this this, this is gonna sound douchey maybe, but I remember reading this quote, I, I, I think Hunters Thompson once said that he used to just type pages of the Great Gatsby, just to feel oh, what it was like to really, to write those words. Yeah. and so you can draw a direct line between me and Hunter s Thompson and The Great Gatsby. Yeah. And, you know, the Bette Midler show. Like, they’re basically one to one.

Michael Jamin:
But then, and Okay, go on. So then, then as a kid, you,

Jonathan Fener:
Well, I always was a, I was a huge comedy fan. I was a huge movie, television, e everything fan, standup comedy. I loved standup comedy. Right. So was always too afraid to do it. But yeah, I mean, I always knew I wanted to be part of making that comedy, you know, television, movies, all that stuff. So I went to Fast Forward, I went to usc. I, I I didn’t go to the film school, but I, I just was, just wanted to be in la Oh. And I guess sort of the way sort of goes, you, you get outta school and, and I, I knew a guy that I went to school with who worked at a talent agency, and he got me a job as a messenger when they were still in

Michael Jamin:
Existence as a messenger. And so you were driving around town delivering envelopes.

Jonathan Fener:
That sounds terrible. Thomas Guide. With

Michael Jamin:
Your Thomas

Jonathan Fener:
Guide, right? No yeah. In the heat and the traffic. And how

Michael Jamin:
Long did you do that for?

Jonathan Fener:
I was probably a messenger for about, I don’t know, matter of months, maybe like 3, 4, 5 months. And then a desk opens up and then you’re, you’re answering phones, so, oh, so

Michael Jamin:
You didn’t have to go to the mail room, you went from Messenger to

Jonathan Fener:
It really wasn’t a mail room. I, it was a very small town agency. Okay. It, it was called the Herb Schechter Company. Sure. I dunno if you ever No, I’ve heard. And it was like back in the day where, you know, he mostly represented like TV writers. They had a whole below the line department. It was a small agency and they didn’t really have a male. One boutique. Yeah. Boutique. Boutique. They had a lot of like, guys that were like supervising producers on Magnum, stuff like

Michael Jamin:
That. But that’s a good, but then, so how long, cuz you know, I was a, I was an assistant at William Morris for three days. I got fired on my second day and I go, but I stuck out the week. I finished the week <laugh>. So I, I applaud you for being like, it’s just a hard job being an assistant for an agent, because I found it was,

Jonathan Fener:
Yeah. Yeah. I mean, I was an assistant for a lot of different people. I was, I, and it, I think it helped that it was kind of, I, I don’t know if low, I guess low stakes, cuz it wasn’t like, I wasn’t at caa. I wasn’t at, you know, William Morris. I was at this tiny little agency and this woman I worked for was, you know, she represented like stunt coordinators and, and oh, like that. So not that, look, I still had to do the like, rolling calls thing and all that

Michael Jamin:
Stuff. But did you, but did that, did that give you context? Like what did that, what what, what was your takeaway from doing that job for however

Jonathan Fener:
Long? Honestly, a lot of the jobs I had until I was a writer were, it taught me what I didn’t want to do. Yes. I’m like, oh, I work for an agent. I don’t wanna be an agent. Right. And then there’s like a network of assistances mm-hmm. <Affirmative> where, you know, there was another agent there, this really nice woman named Deborah Lee. I still remember her. She she called me in one day. She’s like, what do you want to do? What are you doing? I’m like, I don’t know. You know, I mean, I, I think I wanna write, but, you know, may maybe I wanna be a creative exec. I just, I wasn’t sure. Okay. So she was like, well, I have a friend who works at Fox and they need an assistant. So, you know, if you wanna get outta here and go work there.
And I was like, great. So I went to go work for this other woman and then I just met, I would just meet assistants and they would offer me other jobs. I worked for this guy. My biggest assistant job was I worked for this guy John Matian, who was the president of Fox Network. Mm-Hmm. <affirmative>. So that was the first time where I saw an entire television season from pitches, development scripts and shooting all the way through. Right. Cause I was on his desk and I read every script that came across his desk that was like, I don’t know if you remember that guy, or even like, that was the year, that was like in the early mid nineties when they were like, maybe gonna try and do like friends. Like they had this show called Partners and Ned and Stacy and

Michael Jamin:
Ned and Stacy. Yep.

Jonathan Fener:
It was becoming a little bit more of like, let’s try and make a, a friends clone. So like the XFiles was happening then, right? It was just like, it was, I had one year where I had an entire overview of television and I’m like, and then I would read the scripts and I’m like, I think I can, I I can do this. I can. So

Michael Jamin:
Did who, where did you learn to write then? What do you, what was the next step?

Jonathan Fener:
I just figured it out. I mean, I think that what happened was I met my partner who was my friend Josh by Cell. And we were buddies. And he was at UCLA in screenwriting school actually. Okay. And he was actually writing with his dad. He, him and his dad were writing a script together. It was, it was very, and I was, we would just talk about stuff. And, and then, so the story is that we had another friend who was a PA on this show called The Single Guy. Yep. Remember that show with Jonathan Silverman? Yes.

Michael Jamin:
Jonathan Silverman. Yep.

Jonathan Fener:
Yeah. The Brad Hall show. And we, he used to bring home scripts every week and we would read them and we were like, I can’t remember, one of us pitched an idea, but funny if they did an episode, whatever, like in real time of whatever. And then we’re like, we should write it. Let’s just write it. We know how to do it. We should just write it. So we sat down and wrote this script and it was, I thought it was pretty good. And <laugh>, we, we, and, and again, the assistant network was we knew somebody who was an assistant to Richard Whites at the time. Yeah. Who was a young guy. And

Michael Jamin:
And young agent. He was I c m probably, right?

Jonathan Fener:
Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. And, and it was just one of these things where like, after a while I was assistant for three, four years and I had access cuz all the young people that I was working with were now becoming executives or agents. Yeah. So there were people you could actually hand your script to. They would read it as opposed to just throwing it in a pile. Right. And the, the, the long and the short of it was Richard read the script because Brad was a client of his, and I remember he called me at my house and he was like, your friend Mallory gave me your script. I think it’s funny and I think that you need to write something else because no one will read a single guy. He’s like, I only read it because I represent Brad, but no one will read. He’s like, you have to write friends, you have to write Seinfeld, you have to write news, radio, whatever. So Right. That, that was kind of the first thing where we were like, Hey, we can maybe do this. Let’s do

Michael Jamin:
This. That’s interesting because this is what I say. Cuz people always sit and they’re like, well, do I have to move to Hollywood to break into Hollywood? It’s like, well, this is how you do it. You get these jobs, you know, you become an assistant and you network or you get on the network and then that’s how you make connections. So that’s what you did. I do. I wonder, do you think the assistant network is still strong now? I mean, so everything’s changing so much.

Jonathan Fener:
Yeah. You know, it’s a good question. You know, it’s like, that’s the age old question. Like, how do you break in? And, you know, I feel for years now that like, maybe that’s not the way it’s done anymore. May maybe I’m just looking at like, stuff as like an older guy where like I look at people and I go, I don’t know. Can’t you make your own television show on your phone? Or something like, I, but you know, you, you still need some kind of access, I think. And maybe I don’t even, maybe I don’t, I can’t wrap my mind around it a little bit. But like, it just seems like if you do, if you write something, if you make something, someone’s gotta watch it. Someone’s gotta see it. Mm-Hmm. <affirmative> that can make a decision for you or, or help you. Right. And that’s about, that’s about that relationships.

Michael Jamin:
But then how did, so what was your next step? How did you get on staff?

Jonathan Fener:
We wrote a bunch of specs and we had some friends that were becoming agents. A guy that I, I, I was, I was an assistant with a guy who became an agent and he was a paradigm. We, we kind of, we worked with him for a little bit, but it was, we, cuz like we were friends and like, when things don’t go so well sometimes mm-hmm. <Affirmative>, it’s like it’s messing up the relationship. So I think we just were able to get, look, we, we, we, anybody that would read our script, that was a, that was a young agent, we would somehow try and get to them. And everybody passed. One guy at I C m mm-hmm. <Affirmative> was signed us. I mean, I, I remember very clearly getting a phone call. I, I, you know, my partner and I, Josh, our birthdays are a week apart. We really were like, you know, we were friends, we were, you know, we, it was like intertwined lives. But we were having like a joint birthday party mm-hmm. <Affirmative>. And we got a phone call that, you know, they wanted to sign us. And that was a big, big fucking

Michael Jamin:
Deal. And, and what, and they submitted you to which show? What was the first show then?

Jonathan Fener:
Well, this is funny how things work too. So his one big connection was this woman shit. Her name was Debbie. This is Embarra. I, that’s okay. She, she ran Bry, Kaufman Crane. She was like their development person.

Michael Jamin:
Right.

Jonathan Fener:
And I feel bad that I don’t remember her name cuz she was sweet. And, but that was a good relationship that he had. Mm-Hmm. <affirmative>. So they submitted us for Veronica’s Closet. Right. The, it, it was, it had done a year. It did. Well, you know, Christie alley’s back to TV and it was, I mean, it was Thursday night. Yeah. Nbc I mean, it was a huge, huge show. And

Michael Jamin:
Let’s take it back for a second. That used to be a big time slot. <Laugh> Thursday night, n b slate, nbc. Now I don’t even know what now. I don’t know what they, what they’re doing there, but maybe some, it’s reality. It’s so

Jonathan Fener:
Fire, something fire.

Michael Jamin:
Is it some dump Dumpster fire? But that’s the one. So, but it’s, so, but this is something else that you bring up which I think is really interesting. Like, people always say you’re kissing, I always say you’re kissing the wrong asses. Kiss the asses of assistant because they’re not go, you know, they don’t get their asses kissed. They didn’t, they love it. I mean, who wouldn’t get, give ’em some attention. They get abused all the time, then they rise up eventually. Yeah. So those are the ones you gotta be nice to the assistants always, you know,

Jonathan Fener:
Oh, yeah. Christmas, you know, send them, get the, get the gift card, do the thing. Yeah. I mean, you know, they’ll put your call through. I mean, look, I mean, they can do only so much, but yeah, it was, it’s just, again, everybody, even if it’s the same trajectory, everybody’s story is a little bit different, you know? Yeah. And you know, it, it was, I think we were, I think we were lucky, but it was also, it was a, it was, you know, I, I hate to sound like I’m a thousand years old, but it was a very different time. Yeah. And, you know, staffing was like, almost were all seemed like so many opportunities. And it was just like, it almost seemed like, it wasn’t like, you know, if I’m gonna get staffed, it was sort of like, where am I gonna get staffed? And, and but, but you know, you sweated out and I never felt like that. I mean, and for every, we, we, I don’t think, you know, look, I, I think we were good and, and, but and still are. But you know, I never felt like we were juggling offers <laugh>. Yeah. You know, it was definitely like, you know, okay, we got this gig and, and you know,

Michael Jamin:
Yeah. People don’t, people don’t realize that as well. Like, once you’re in, it’s great. It, that first job is hard, but you’re, then you always gotta worry. You gotta worry about your next job. None of it’s, you know, if people think well, you know, it is like you must have it made, but you don’t, you never have it made. You’re always hustling.

Jonathan Fener:
Never.

Michael Jamin:
What did you feel your first season as a staff writer? Did you feel comfortable? Did you feel like, oh, and over your head?

Jonathan Fener:
Honestly, no. I, I, I can say that with confidence. I felt like I got there and I was like, yeah, this is what I should be doing. Oh, you said I’m not just Yeah. You know, look, we were the youngest guys that, you know, we were the staff writers. Right. The baby writers. It was a very challenging <laugh> place to work. I mean, you know, Bry, Kaufman Crane, you know, look, we, I could, we could do an entire podcast on just working on b Brianca’s Closet and just literally being down the hall from season five of friends. It’s like the Beatles. Yes. They, they, their, their dressing room is down the hall. And I’m, you know, with Jerry the Pacemakers or something. Not that, not that. That’s, that’s a great reference, by the way, for all your younger,

Michael Jamin:
I don’t, I don’t know. Listener. Yeah.

Jonathan Fener:
Just some, but it was like, and the show was, you know, it, it was what it was. It was funny. There were tons of funny people on that show, people I still talk to, to this day. Honestly, but it was like the, the culture of that. And I think it, it’s a, it’s, it’s not a news story in sitcoms. But, you know, we worked, we watched the Sun come up all the time, and it was really, that was my first step. It was like, I had never done it before, but I was like, I knew immediately. I’m like, this is not the way it, this is not the way it should be. Right.

Michael Jamin:
Was it cause stories were being tossed out? Or notes from the network or what?

Jonathan Fener:
Yeah, it, it was poor, poor management.

Michael Jamin:
Oh, time management. It was

Jonathan Fener:
Poor time management. You know, I would say like, you know, you’re, when you work on a, on a show with terrible hours, you’re just like, you’re a victim of somebody else’s bad

Michael Jamin:
Work. Well, there’s, there’s that. Yeah. Yeah. I always felt very when we were running a show, I was like, I always felt I would crack the whip just because I felt like I want people to go home. I want stop messing around. And, and I was a hard ass in that way. Cause I wanna go home and I think you wanna go home too, don’t you? You know, like, let’s just work and go home.

Jonathan Fener:
Those are the ones, the ones that don’t want to go home. Those are the

Michael Jamin:
Worst. Yeah. Those are the worst. Right. Did you, were you on many shows like that, where you felt like a hostage <laugh>?

Jonathan Fener:
No. well, let me think. Not really. That was the worst. And then there were a couple other shows that were rough, but I think that, like, as time went on, I definitely got lucky as time went on that I, I worked for de Decent people.

Michael Jamin:
Well, you also had another show that was basically the stepchild, which was American Dad compared to Family Guy. I mean, family Guy. Was this behemoth, not that American Dead was any slouch, but you were still in the shadow of a, a family guy, right?

Jonathan Fener:
That’s right. The other one. Yeah. Yeah. The other show. Which, but that Yeah. And that, that was good point. No, but it was, it was and animation was something that I, you know, we got into pretty early on too. And I really, really liked that. And you know, there, there’s animation usually is not terrible because the deadlines are, are way far apart. Yeah. Like, as far as like, you know, like Multicam is probably the worst because it literally, you gotta rewrite it

Michael Jamin:
Tonight at four, at four o’clock you start your day basically. Yeah. After

Jonathan Fener:
The run Yeah. Run through is it ruins your whole night. And then it’s like someone has, like, if you’re doing single camera, you know it, you’re usually reading a script for the next week. So, you know, you want to get it done by tonight, but, you know, maybe you can leave a couple of jokes and then the next day you can like, sort of clean it up. Right. But like Multicam, they’re, they’re at rehearsal at 9:00 AM so they need a script.

Michael Jamin:
Yeah. Yeah. And that was your joint. You were on the Warner Brothers slot. All right. So then, so then what happened? You, I’m gonna, I’m going with your credits over here. So Veronica’s closet. And then what about, what was, you were there for, well, how many, well, how many seasons was that? The show was what? Two seasons?

Jonathan Fener:
They did? Th they three. I was on the last two.

Michael Jamin:
The last two. And then when it was done, what happened?

Jonathan Fener:
When it was done, I was like, I, I did it. I, you know, no, I, I was like we, we just got back out in the staffing pool, you know?

Michael Jamin:
Right. And then you just jumped.

Jonathan Fener:
We, we, yeah, that was the next, the next season we went to, we got on the Bette Midler show, which at the time was like massive. It was massive. That

Michael Jamin:
Was massive. And then,

Jonathan Fener:
And that’s another, I’m sorry to interrupt. I was gonna say, like, that’s an interesting story where, you know, I don’t know if you think of 2 26 year old guys as like, yeah, we gotta get those guys on the Bette Midler show. Mm-Hmm. <affirmative>. But our agent submitted us, and at the time we were even thinking to ourselves like, what, what samples can we write that are a little different? So we wrote a Buffy, the Empire Slayer Script, just cuz like, we liked the show and Right. The tone. And so we wrote that and then, and I think we were like, maybe we can look and see about, you know, maybe getting on like an hour or something like that. And then the, it just so happens that Jos Whedon, I think worked for the guy that created that show, Fette.

Michael Jamin:
So I was gonna say, I wanted to say Cohan and Nik, but no, that, I don’t think that’s right. Who created it?

Jonathan Fener:
Jeffrey Lane.

Michael Jamin:
Jeffrey Lane, of course. Right,

Jonathan Fener:
Right. Who was a big mad about you, dude.

Michael Jamin:
Yes. And then, then working for Bette. I mean, that’s, that’s a whole other thing. You have this oversized star, really a giant star. And she must have had a lot of creative input.

Jonathan Fener:
Yeah, yeah. You know, she had opinions, but no, she was it was, it was nuts. I mean, you know, they picked that show up for a full season, which even, even then wasn’t a thing. And she, she just was like, like such a massive force, you know? Yeah. Almost too big for television. I would even say, like, I remember thinking, she’s on the stage and I’m like, and I mean the sound stage. Like I can see her playing Caesars just live or in the movies where she’s gigantic. But there’s also, there’s, there’s, I don’t know if muting is the right word, but you know what I mean, like, like, there’s just something about those mediums that like, sort of, and, and I just think on tv she just was like, massive. Just like, but, but, you know, really funny. And, you know, she did everything. You know, she sang the Rose and she, it was like, pulled out all the stops. It was just, it was almost like, and I don’t think she knew what being on a television show entailed. I think when you take people that have never worked on TV and put them on tv, they’re like, I have to come back again tomorrow. And Yeah. Tomorrow. And it’s a new script today. And like, they’re used to shooting films, but even like, it, it’s, it’s a grind for everybody. Yeah.

Michael Jamin:
Yeah.

Jonathan Fener:
So

Michael Jamin:
She, she became a little cantankerous. You think <laugh>?

Jonathan Fener:
She, I think, yeah. No, she, she, she, you know, she liked me. <Laugh> she liked me and my partner. We, we wrote this episode actually with Kobe Bryant in it.

Michael Jamin:
Oh, okay.

Jonathan Fener:
And I think they were like, get the young guys to write this. And Kobe was, and he agreed to do the show. I think his wife was a huge Bette Midler fan. He, I think he said, I mean, he was nice guy. I remember meeting him and the show, I mean, think about this. We shot the sh we shot our episode in the forum. Like, and, and the, the, the plot of the show is that, that becomes like, she basically accidentally gets onto the court and she starts dancing with the Laker girls. I

Michael Jamin:
Don’t know, but it was a multi happened. It was a Multicam, right?

Jonathan Fener:
Yeah. But they just, they shot it on the forum, I mean, on form. They, and it was, it was the kind of thing where it was like, whatever it cost, it cost,

Michael Jamin:
Right.

Jonathan Fener:
They booked the forum and, and that episode sort of turned out okay. And then I think she felt like, oh, these guys get the show. So they took us out, she took us out to lunch, and she’s like, what should, what should the show be? You guys see that? Oh

Michael Jamin:
No. Oh no. And you guys are, you guys are story editors at this point. Right. See, that would be panicked about that. That’s not good.

Jonathan Fener:
Co Cohen was at that lunch too.

Michael Jamin:
Oh, she took Rob. See, that’s the thing. She loved

Jonathan Fener:
Rob, loved Rob.

Michael Jamin:
My, my rule of thumb early in my career is don’t let the actors know your name cuz only bad things can come of it. <Laugh>. And then, and then, right. So she takes you and now you’re, maybe you don’t wanna talk about this, but I, that puts you in a difficult position because she should be taking the showrunner and the showrunner should be bouncing you. She should be bouncing the ideas and not, you know,

Jonathan Fener:
You know. Yeah. It was a Yeah, it was. I mean, I didn’t know. We were just like, well, you know, just more do more of this stuff. Right, right. You know, we’ll, you know, go to a baseball game. Or, I, I just think she, I, I, look, I think that she was searching for what the show was. I think the showrunner was, I think they just were, and it was a, it was a weird, not a weird premise, but it was like, she, she played a character named Bette, and she played Aer that was a famous Hollywood actress and had been in a movie called The Rose <laugh> and all these things that were true. Right. But she kept saying, I’m, but I’m not Bette Midler.

Michael Jamin:
She would say that in the show, but I’m not Bette Midler. She would say, she would say that to

Jonathan Fener:
Us. Oh, okay. Cause we would write jokes and she’s like, but I’m not Bette Midler. And we’re like, but you were in The Rose. And we’re like, okay. Bette Schidler. You’re bet. Schidler. Yeah. And, and, and a lot of stuff that happened to her in real life we would try and put into the show. But it was like, it was just one of those things where we were just trying to find our footing and, and, and never really found it.

Michael Jamin:
Wow. But that’s pretty cool though. I mean, hanging out with Bette Midler’s pretty cool. She

Jonathan Fener:
Was something else, man. She was like a, like I said, like a force, like just funny and, and just larger than life. And

Michael Jamin:
You know, but we were, we didn’t just shoot me. And and George Siegel, of course, in the seventies, there was no bigger actor than George Siegel. And he was

Jonathan Fener:
Huge. Yeah. Funny.

Michael Jamin:
And then c just shoot me. And we wrote an episode and he, George could not have been a sweeter guy, such a nice guy and great sense of humor. But there was one episode he, I guess he wasn’t happy with what he was playing. Maybe he didn’t have enough lines, or maybe he thought his storyline was dumb or whatever. <Laugh>. But I remember he, we were all the writer’s rehearsal. And George goes, you know, I was nominated for an Emmy. I’m sorry. He was, you don’t have nominated for an Oscar. You know that. Right. And one of the writers goes, yeah, that was a long time ago. George. Get in the dunk tank. <Laugh>. And George thought that was so funny. I mean, he like, to his credit, he just laughed. He thought it was great. <Laugh>.

Jonathan Fener:
That’s so funny.

Michael Jamin:
That’s what’s fun about working with some of these, you know, some, some of these old timers are great, some of them are, you know, a little di difficult. Who knows. All right. So then what, at what point did you guys start developing your own shows? Cause that’s always a big leap.

Jonathan Fener:
You know, we, we were kind of like wanting to do that early. And I remember that was another thing that was not encouraged. Yeah.

Michael Jamin:
Not then it

Jonathan Fener:
Wasn’t at all. It was just sort of like, it was the tail end of it, but it was kind of just like, here’s the model. Get on staff. Mm-Hmm. <affirmative> work your way up to producer, supervising producer, get a deal. Mm-Hmm. <affirmative> and then you develop. Right. So that was the, that was the the road. But we were like, no, we have some ideas. And you know, if they don’t wanna listen to us at, at nbc, then maybe they’ll listen to us at mtv. So we had heard that MTV was looking to develop shows. Cheap show. I mean, it’s like that thing every, like couple of years. MTV’s like, we wanna do scripted. And then they would hardly ever do it, but Right. We had this idea that we would do cuz they wanted to repurpose videos, but somehow do it in a scripted way.
So we had this idea that we would do like Dream on, but with music videos. So it was about a kid whose interior monologue was music videos instead of old movies. Right, right. And like, just seemed it was like risky business, but the kid is 16 and he’s just that. So we sold that. We actually sold that and wrote it and it never got shot. But that was like, pretty early. That was like a couple years in. And we sold a movie. Like, we were kind of like trying a bunch of stuff. But I think that we early on were like, I feel like we should do our own stuff too. Uhhuh <affirmative>. So I always have said like, like, like I don’t, I don’t know what it’s like to have just like one job. I always feel like I was doing two things at once. So like, eventually if people are always like, they’re on staff, like I was always on staff. And then on the weekends I was working on the other thing.

Michael Jamin:
You see, people don’t understand how exhausting that is cuz you’re on staff, you’re working very long days and then on the weekends you’re working more. You know, it’s, it’s, it’s good for you when you’re, you know, it’s hard. It’s hard to do that. Yeah.

Jonathan Fener:
It was hard. And I think it was the right look. I wasn’t, I was, I was, I was married, but I didn’t have any kids and mm-hmm. <Affirmative>, you know, but it’s, it was tough, man. I mean, you know, and, and that was back before you, we were zooming. So like, we would go, I’d go to Josh’s house, he’d come to my house, Uhhuh, <affirmative>. I mean, we used to literally meet in the middle and trade.

Michael Jamin:
Oh. Cause you guys, you guys let, did you live far apart from each other?

Jonathan Fener:
Yeah, yeah. We, we, we, yeah. Usually

Michael Jamin:
Trade far discs. So I’m, I’m skipping ahead a little bit, but, but I’m curious to know, well first of all, I wanna know how, what was the academy, how did you work on the Academy Awards? How did that come about? That’s such an odd term for you that

Jonathan Fener:
Yeah, that was, that was the connection. There was, that was the year John Stewart hosted, I don’t know if that was his first time. I know he did a bunch of times. It was the year of crash crash one. Okay. The best picture. And like Philip er Hoffman one for Capote, but John was Right. Was hosting and he brought out like a bunch of daily show people. And my partner went to college with a guy, Ben Carlin. Yes. Who I kind of became friends with too, because of those guys. So, so Ben was running the Daily Show. He was one of the eps. And so when he came out, he called me and Josh and a couple of other guys and asked if we wanted to be part of the staff of people. Basically they, the, the Daily Show guys wrote the monologue. They asked us the la guys to write like short film parodies of the nominees.
Right. So, and then, you know, maybe help out with the, and and, and on on show night we would be part of the joke room cuz they’re writing jokes throughout the night. With like, I mean, Bruce Lance was there mm-hmm. <Affirmative> and some local school guys were, were there. But so yeah. So we basically pitched like 20 little short filmed things and they picked five or six of ’em and then we got to produce them and, and, and all that. But we were part of that whole thing. That sounds fun. Yeah, it was really fun. It was really, really fun. And like on show night, we literally, they put us down in this basement and we are like watching the show live and it was like instant messaging. If whatever, who, if somebody won something, we would like shoot a bunch of jokes up to them and the wings. But

Michael Jamin:
Did you have to wear a tuxedo to do that? Yes. In my mind. You, I knew it in my mind, you have to wear a tuxedo even though you’re not gonna be on camera, but you’re at the Oscars. Wow. They tell you that

Jonathan Fener:
Because Yeah. Be because we were, I mean, it was really cool. I mean, we got, went, went to, you know, my, my wife and, and Josh’s wife and, and all the wives got to go to the show. Right. They got tickets to the show. We were downstairs and then afterwards we went to the governor’s ball. Right. I mean, it was really, I mean, we had access.

Michael Jamin:
That’s a trip.

Jonathan Fener:
That’s, it was, that didn’t get a gift back. I was really hoping I’d get like a, because I always, I’m like, there’s like a trip to Australia in there or something, but I,

Michael Jamin:
But you got a nice, you got a nice paycheck that’s got that kind of counts for something.

Jonathan Fener:
I don’t remember how much we got paid. I don’t know if it was, I, I feel like, I don’t know

Michael Jamin:
Now what about it was great. What about the Mindy Project? Cuz that was like a big, that must have been a big experience for you.

Jonathan Fener:
Yeah. Yeah. That was, that was fun. And, and that when we were, we had a deal at Universal mm-hmm. <Affirmative>. And we had, we, we were kind of lucky. Like we, that was when I worked on the Malaney show and Right. We did a lot of development when we were there and we supervised and ran a couple of shows there. But that was sort of towards the end where they just asked us to come and help out.

Michael Jamin:
Okay.

Jonathan Fener:
Oh, for a season. Yeah. And it was it was like, it it is one of those things though, where it was a very tight, well-oiled machine and we, and it was, it was fine. It, it was, it was kind of funny though cuz it was like, you, this sort of happens where, you know, you, you write pilots, you shoot pilots, you run shows, but then sometimes you’re a staff guy again. Yeah. And that was a gig where we were sort of like, alright, we’re part of this staff. And, and everybody there was like, really funny, really smart. Like, I think, I think that writer’s room literally had like three former Lampoon editors, Uhhuh <affirmative> and just like really, really funny smart guys. Right. And women. And we just were like, okay, we’re just pitching jokes.

Michael Jamin:
You’re, oh, okay. And then so that, that’s, that’s the whole experience. But did Mindy run the show? Was she the showrunner at,

Jonathan Fener:
I mean, she, I she, she had, there was a guy named Matt War Burton, who was sort of running the room mm-hmm. When she was gone. Because the most impressive thing was that she, she shot all day. Yes. Because it was seeing the camera show. She was the star of the show. But she came in at lunch, Uhhuh <affirmative>. And Matt would pitch her and she very efficiently was like, I love this. I love this. What if this happens? What if this happens? Gotta go. And so she, she had the final say. Right. But she was busy, you know. Yeah. And, and that, I I’m trying to think Melany was that way too, but Melany was really part of the writing and that was also a Multicam. So,

Michael Jamin:
And that was probably, it’s, that Melany show was probably three years too soon. Like, you know, like before he really became huge.

Jonathan Fener:
Yeah. Yeah. That was, you know, I, I think that, that, this was my opinion and I’m not like making this up. And I remember we used to talk, like John was trying, I feel like John was trying to do something where, you know, everyone just looked at it and at face value and said, oh, it’s Seinfeld. He’s just doing Seinfeld. But Uhhuh, I think he really, really liked the, the medium. He liked multi-cam, but there was a part of it that I think was a little bit satirical. Mm-Hmm. <affirmative>. But it really, I, I think that if you didn’t know that you’re just like, oh, he’s just, is just a, you know, like I feel like some of the stories that he pitched he felt were funny because it’s like, oh, this is kind of a clammy story. But I, but I think it’s funny in like, I’m doing it with a wink. Right. But I think people maybe saw it and said, there’s

Michael Jamin:
No wink. I don’t

Jonathan Fener:
See the wink. Yeah. There’s no, yeah. And, and, you know, but it, it was, it’s not that it was the wrong vehicle because it was his show. And, and, and he is the funniest guy in the room always, you know? Right. I mean, and NA, see Petra was on the, was in the cast too. She was really funny. There was a great cast. Elliot Gould was on that show. Martin Short was on that show. Yeah. It was like, it was, it was, it was really, really fun. But yeah, maybe it was, I, I think maybe he was trying to like rein, not reinvent the multi-cam, but just like, turn it on 10 a little bit. Right. And it maybe wasn’t, no one was like, ready for that.

Michael Jamin:
Hey, it’s Michael Jamen. If you like my videos and you want me to email them to you for free, join my watch list. Every Friday I send out my top three videos. These are for writers, actors, creative types. You can unsubscribe whenever you want. I’m not gonna spam you and it’s absolutely free. Just go to michael jamin.com/watchlist.
Did you, cause whenever we developed for comics, we, you know, we wound up studying, then we read, we watched the act, we read, listened to their, whatever the audio books or, you know, read their, did you do the same as well for

Jonathan Fener:
I just knew you mean for that show or for,

Michael Jamin:
Well, for Malaney or, or for any, any comic that you’re writing for. Really. Or even like Bette, you know, for example,

Jonathan Fener:
Well, Bette, I mean, we definitely like combed through her career and her life and mm-hmm. <Affirmative> tried to get stories from it. Mm-Hmm. <affirmative> yeah. Whenever, and, and, and, and, you know, the, the Mullany thing, we, we kind of like, we were also, that was a period of time where like, we were on that staff for a period of time, and then we had a pilot picked up and went to go shoot it. Oh. So we were sort of there for a, a specific period of time. But like, that show was all him to me. I mean, he ran that with a guy John Pollock, a good friend who who’s also like, he, he’s, he’s such a good, he’s a pro guy. He’s a pro and, and can guide things. He’s so funny and smart. But so I think that, that they really clicked well. And there were a lot of really funny people on that staff too. But yeah. Yeah. I, I think that to answer your question, it’s always good, especially if you’re dealing with somebody who’s gonna put a little bit of their lives into it, to just mm-hmm. <Affirmative> because I mean, frankly, you, you kind of want to like, connect with them too. Like, it’s something that they can connect with. Right. Unless they don’t wanna do it. Unless they wanna be completely a different person if they’re being some version of themselves. Yeah.

Michael Jamin:
What’s so odd is that you and I have never worked together, even though we’ve worked with so many of the same people, you know? Yeah. It seems, it seems like very odd that, you know, how how did that never happen? But how do you see, like, so okay, we are on strike. How do you see the business now? Like, what do you, like, what’s your take on the past, I don’t know, three to five years? You know

Jonathan Fener:
Everything’s going great. It’s great.

Michael Jamin:
Everything’s perfect.

Jonathan Fener:
<Laugh> and just getting better

Michael Jamin:
<Laugh>.

Jonathan Fener:
I, everybody knows what’s going on. Yeah. no, I I think it, to me it feels like it’s a massive sea change. Yeah. It really feels like even having lived through the first strike, like that was streaming was just kind of coming around and, you know, Netflix was a thing and, but now everything has completely been disrupted and mm-hmm. <Affirmative>, I just think that I mean look, this is nothing new, but like, you know, to, to me, cable seemed to be working okay. And then streaming came in and it just seemed like there were no parameters. It’s like all the streaming services come, came around. And I understood economically that like all the studios are gonna want to have their own thing mm-hmm. <Affirmative> and not have to license it to anybody anymore. But without the structure of a, of a schedule, like a nightly schedule, it’s just like, it just became a bottomless pit.
Yeah. And so there was this five, you know, it, it was the, it was the old, it was the, the Wild West again. And there’s a billion shows. And I, I, you know, some of these studios I guess were just like, wait, this is so expensive. Like a full staff for every show and we’re making so many shows. We need to, now, now it’s like we overspent now we need to back up a little bit. And then, but in the meantime, to me, I just felt like it was, like the rules got changed where there was a somewhat of a model in network television and even cable where it’s like, we’re gonna pick this show up for X number of episodes. We’re gonna have this many people on staff. That’s the way it’s done. Mm-Hmm. <affirmative>. And then now the, it’s like, oh, we have this new area of streaming. We’re just gonna do things differently. Now we’re gonna hire three people. Mm-Hmm. <affirmative>, or the guy that created the show is just gonna write ’em all and then shoot ’em all. And it, it just, I don’t, it’s, it’s, you know, I mean, all I can know, all I can do is keep doing what I do, but it’s, you know, it seems more, it, it really seems, it feels like the ground underneath us is that much more Yeah. Shaky. Really shaky.

Michael Jamin:
How do you, and what’s your take? I don’t know if you work a lot with, well you know, young, well, let’s see. I actually, I have two questions I wanna ask you cuz your last, your last network show was probably was what The Mindy Project? Cause I haven’t worked, I haven’t worked in the network for a while. It’s all been cable. Right.

Jonathan Fener:
The last network show I worked on was American Housewife

Michael Jamin:
Oh. American House. So it’s so interesting. Which wasn’t even that long ago. And so you’re working with young, there’s bigger staffs on network. You’re, they’re bringing in younger writers. What’s it like? What, what are the kids like? Do you think they’re different these days on network shows?

Michael Jamin:
Because we had a hierarchy. We had, there was a pattern. There was a, you know, all broken.

Jonathan Fener:
Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. I, I, I, I think it’s probably better. I mean, I worked, I worked in some rough rooms and then I worked in some more, you know, I certainly, I don’t feel like I ran a rough room. What do you mean?

Michael Jamin:
What do you mean by rough room? What were they like?

Jonathan Fener:
Just a, that the, the real hierarchy. Like when I was a staff writer, you were not really expected to talk very much. Right. It was kind of like sit and listen. Right. But and then I’d say I’d, I’d pitch something and they’d be like, not now. And I’d say, I’m sorry. And they’d say, don’t be sorry. Just be quiet.

Michael Jamin:
<Laugh>. Don’t be sorry. Don’t let happen

Jonathan Fener:
Again. Don’t be sorry. Just be quiet. I, I, and like, look, that’s the, that’s the, it was always done with a joke. You know what I mean? Right. And, and like, I don’t ever feel like I was treated cruelly. Mm. I mean, I mean, I guess I, I guess it was cruel that, you know, I did feel like I was held hostage and, you know, yeah. Going home at 6 30, 7 o’clock in the morning in, in rush hour traffic the wrong way. Like yeah. My nights and days were mixed up. But like, eventually what I was gonna say was I just feel like there was something to earning it a little bit. You know, I, I just feel like, you know, even even those first jobs, like, especially like Bright Coffman Crane, I remember there were certain things that you, like, they were big on floor pitching Right.
On, on, on, on show night. And that’s great experience. I mean, look, multi cams aren’t around as much as they used to be, but like, I remember learning a ton. Like, I, I can still shoot back to the time we were on show night and a joke bombed, and then you just huddle up mm-hmm. <Affirmative> and you’re just staring at each other and everyone’s thinking, and you gotta come up with an alt. And people are pitching stuff and it’s like, and you pitch a joke and everybody laughs and you’re like, oh my God, you’re the

Michael Jamin:
Hero.

Jonathan Fener:
Amazing. And then, yeah. And then, and then they put it in and it

Michael Jamin:
Dies and it, and it dies. Yeah. That’s what a flip joke. People listen. That’s what a floor pitch is. I’m showing that on a multicam, you at the last minute throw a joke in after one bombs. So

Jonathan Fener:
Yeah. Right. And then you finally, you, you give up and you just pitch a joke with the word nipple in it. <Laugh>. And people laugh at that and you’re like, ah, I hate myself. Yeah. But no, but, but I, I think that now, you know, ha like being the older guy and, and even, you know, running a show, like, there, there is a, there is a certain level of like, everybody has an equal voice mm-hmm. <Affirmative>. And, which I think is good, you know, but I also think that there’s, it’s not that you are less than at all. To me it was always about like experience. Mm-Hmm. <affirmative>. Like, you, you just gotta, you know what it is, it’s about, it’s, there’s, there’s no substitute for being able to read the room. Yeah. And there are people sometimes that are younger and less experienced and they, they pitch an idea and no one says anything, which is like the night, it’s, it’s, you know, the worst is if someone says, that sucks. Right. But if you pitch a joke or a story and no one really like, jumps on it, no one Yes. Ands it, you know what, let it float away because Yeah. You know, and then if you re-pitch it and then you re-pitch it,

Michael Jamin:
You’re gonna get yelled at, you’re

Jonathan Fener:
Gonna get yelled at. Like, that’s just not cool. And I feel like sometimes maybe people don’t like that anymore. You know? Yeah. Like, you’re not supposed to do.

Michael Jamin:
Yeah. I hear you. What, what? Surprised It’s so hard. There’s a huge learning curve on their job. And when someone pitches an idea, if it’s a good idea, it really doesn’t matter who it comes from, but it’s pretty obvious when it’s a good idea. The right. Like the, the senior writers are, oh, that’s good. Right. And if you’re new inexperienced, you just don’t know what’s, what’s a good idea from a bad idea. And I think they sometimes get a little offended or hurt. It’s no, it’s, it’s not, it’s not, it’s not, it’s just the idea. It’s not you, you know? Right. The idea didn’t land.

Jonathan Fener:
Sometimes it’s them. No. Sometimes it’s

Michael Jamin:
Them

Jonathan Fener:
<Laugh>. But yeah, it’s, it best idea wins always, always, always. Yeah.

Michael Jamin:
Best idea. Gets you homework faster and so and so. Yeah. I know. Well, I was gonna ask you something else. Oh. Oh, that’s, that’s how I was gonna say we met, we met years ago. Cause you were running a show, which is an interesting thing that you did was said you were running a show called Awesome Town, but you were running it. Someone else with less experienced writer wrote it and you guys were brought on to supervisor it. Right,

Jonathan Fener:
Right, right.

Michael Jamin:
It was like, so talk about your experience doing that kind of stuff.

Jonathan Fener:
That was the first time we’d ever done that. We’ve, and we’ve done that a bunch just because I feel like my partner and I, that’s not really something that a lot of people love to do, like run other people’s shows. Everybody wants to, you know, get your own thing. And we were writing our own pilots at the time too. But if you get enough experience, honestly, you know, my feeling is you want to have as many skills as possible in this business because mm-hmm. <Affirmative>, you know, you want to just have another arrow in your quiver.

Michael Jamin:
Yeah.

Jonathan Fener:
That’s the right term. But like, so i, if you can successfully help someone just guide the ship and it’s their show and they’ve never done it before, cuz that’s a really hard job.

Michael Jamin:
Were there creative struggles though, between you and them at all when you do this?

Jonathan Fener:
No, honestly, no. I really feel like it was this guy, Adam Ste. Hillel, who’s like super nice guy. He he’s like big feature guy now. I think he wrote Black Adam. Mm-Hmm. <affirmative>, he like, works with the Rock a lot and, and he created Undateable with Bill Lawrence too. Mm-Hmm. <affirmative>. So he’s, he’s had a bunch of stuff. No, he’s very nice guy. Very funny. And it was actually kind of cool that he got this job on, it was basically just about the, these four like early twenties friends and negotiating life afterwards and they threw a lot of stuff. It’s funny, I remember they, they picked the show up because I feel like a, b C was looking to do something in the younger space. Right. But it did, it was one of those shows. It wasn’t, it was very low concept. And there was a whole opening teaser that we, I I always suspected, this is why it got picked up cuz it was very, it was very American pie.
It was like kind of dirty and there was like a couple and somebody had peanut butter on them and a dog was looking and Right. You can imagine. So but I remember thinking like, this is why they picked it up because this is outrageous. There’s no way they ever shoot this though. Right. Which is like, that’s like an age old story in tv. It’s like the thing they love about it. Mm-Hmm. <affirmative> is the thing they cut first. It’s exactly right. You know, it’s like you, you, you pick up a show called like Immortal because the, the lead character ha has been alive for a thousand years. Uhhuh. And then the first note is, can we make him immortal please? Yes,

Michael Jamin:
That’s exactly right.

Jonathan Fener:
Yeah. but, and you do it cuz you’re like, oh, they just they just picked up the show. They just gave me a budget and Right. But so they, they made a bunch of changes to this show and including changing that entire teaser. But it was, it was just an opportunity that came because again, like I think we had written a pilot for the studio that made it and they needed somebody we, like, we had just gone through, you had a deal,

Michael Jamin:
You probably had a deal at the time, an overall deal. Right.

Jonathan Fener:
I don’t know if we had it like, you know what we did, I think we had just sold a pilot to like 20th Uhhuh <affirmative>. And it was like a very good experience, but we just, it just was one of those shows that like almost got there but didn’t Yeah. But then, then they picked up all their other shows and they’re like, oh, we’re gonna pick up this show with these guys. And we had a good relationship with the development people that like, you know, maybe John and Josh can help with that. So that was awesome. That was, that was like, and I remember like, we cast whoever we want. Like we changed roles because we found, like I’d never seen Brett Gelman before and he came in and was so funny. We’re like, we’re putting him in this show somehow. He was easily 10 years older than everybody. Well, was supposed to be a coworker, Uhhuh, <affirmative>, ally Wong came in, we’re like, Uhhuh, let’s create a intern. But it was like, it, it, it was like, it was the first it was a good gig to get. And then from there we, we got a bunch more of those gigs to sort of

Michael Jamin:
Like, see, that’s, that’s a talent, because a lot of, I think sometimes when you have a no, a young creator will create a show. Then they assign a showrunner, and sometimes the showrunner’s like, well, listen, my name’s on this too, and I don’t want this to have, I don’t have a stink on me if this is terrible. So they kind of turn into what they want it to be. It doesn’t sound like you did that. It sounds like you were very much trying to realize the vision of the person who created these shows, which is nice of you.

Jonathan Fener:
Yeah. I mean, I don’t, maybe that’s just the way that we are. I mean, I just feel like that’s the fir like, and I’m, look, by the way, that’s probably a good way to get the gig, is to go have lunch with them and go, listen your show, man. We’re just here to help you carry the water from here to there. Right. And we know how to do it. And but that it’s the truth. I mean, honestly, I like, I don’t want it to be bad, but like, you know, and like, I’ll tell you what, I think I’ll give you my opinion, but also like, again, I don’t know anybody that could ever do that, show that job alone. Like, it’s, it’s miserable and not mis, you know what I mean? And we we owe, and plus, you know, you could relate to this too, just being, I mean, being on a writing staff is collaborative anyway, but being in a writing partnership, you just really learn how to negotiate

Michael Jamin:
Mm-Hmm. <Affirmative>

Jonathan Fener:
Compromise. Mm-Hmm. <affirmative> and talking it out. And, you know, single writers tend to be really, you know

Michael Jamin:
Yeah.

Jonathan Fener:
Hold onto their stuff cuz there’s mm-hmm. Never any other counterpoints. So I feel like we have the right skillset for

Michael Jamin:
That. Yeah. There’s also a sense of, there’s so many decisions to be made. If I don’t make this one decision, that’s okay. I gotta make a million other decisions. So it’s okay if I didn’t, if I don’t make this one decision, you know, there’s a lot to do.

Jonathan Fener:
Yeah. I don’t need to be in wardrobe. I always say that. I don’t need to be, I don’t need, I I you can do rack check. I don’t need to do that.

Michael Jamin:
Yeah, yeah. There’s exactly, there’s exactly, there’s a ton. I, when we ran Marin, we, the the wardrobe people loved us cuz they chose us choices. And I go, what do you think, you know, well this one. And I said, well, why do you think that one, they gimme reason. I go, all right, sounds like you know what you’re doing, <laugh>. Sounds like you got a good idea there, so let’s do what you say.

Jonathan Fener:
Yeah. Yeah. I mean how, how many episodes did you do of Maryland?

Michael Jamin:
We did four seasons. I, I want, it was probably around 50. Cuz each show, each season was, I don’t know, whatever, 12, 13 or something like that. Uhhuh <affirmative>. So, yeah. But that was I c and that was a pleasure because it was low budget. They just leave you alone. It was wonderful. So, yeah.

Jonathan Fener:
And I mean, did you finally that it was, was it hard to produce? Because I mean, how big was your staff

Michael Jamin:
The first season? So that was a show that was created by this guy Duncan Birmingham. We didn’t create it, but he wrote the pilot. He was a young writer. He wrote the presentation and then with Mark, so that season, the first season when they picked it up, it was Mark Marin, who’s very good writer, but had no writing experience for sitcoms. He’s a, you know, standup, this guy Duncan Birmingham, who was a, a young guy who they just, they they could exploit. So he had no experience and it was me and my partner, and that was it. So we, the ones with any real sitcom experience. And then, but then as each season one, we picked up a couple more writers and then we rounded it out. But but it was a great, it was a wonderful experience, but the budget was tiny. The budget was, it was like nothing. It was nothing. Yeah. And we shot each episode in two and a half days, so

Jonathan Fener:
Really?

Michael Jamin:
Yeah, it was, yeah. As long as someone’s finger wasn’t in front of the lens, we got it. <Laugh>, let’s move it on. So yeah, that was, that was such a great experience. And, and, and no one remembers that. No one remembers, you know, like, hey, the show, it wasn’t that perfectly lit. Yeah, that’s okay. But people liked the writing. They like the acting. That’s the important thing, you know. So what if the camera went like this a little bit <laugh>?

Jonathan Fener:
Right. my, yeah, my partner always was like, when you’re like, he’s like, they’re doing laundry. They’re paying their, they’re paying their bills while they watch this. Like, they like the people. Oh,

Michael Jamin:
Oh, yeah.

Jonathan Fener:
Yeah. They’re like, they’re, they’re, they’re like, they’re listening. They’re half, you know, they’re, they’re not,

Michael Jamin:
Not even anymore. Now they’re on their phones and watch. I mean, now they’re really not watching the show. <Laugh>. He’s Right. Cause like everyone, you know, Siebert, you say the same thing you’d say. Like Yeah, they’re, they’re reading People magazine, not any anymore. They’re not, now they’re on, they’re watching the show and on TikTok and getting text messages, <laugh>, they’re not paying attention.

Jonathan Fener:
They’re reading the live tweeting. Yeah. Of other people read, like

Michael Jamin:
Watching the show for them, so. Right. It’s an odd time, but yeah. So what do you s so what do, what excites you then going forward? What, as we, as we wrap it up, what is your, like what excites you now?

Jonathan Fener:
In entertainment?

Michael Jamin:
Yeah. Or just, yeah. As a, as a writer. Yeah.

Jonathan Fener:
I still, I mean, I like what I always liked, honestly. Like, I feel like right now I want to, the thing that I want to do is I, I want to try new things, but I also, I know this is like, but but, but, but also I feel like as I get older, like you have to, you have to always write what’s sort of like, I don’t know, is like personal to you. Like, I don’t know, this is, because then it sort of seems inauthentic. Right? but having said that, like I think that I, I would really like to get back into animation mm-hmm. <Affirmative>, I feel, I feel like I, I know it’s like, I feel like features, like, like I feel like weirdly streaming has opened that up. Mm-Hmm. <affirmative> a little bit too, cuz like, you know, it’s hard to get a movie out in the theaters. I mean, especially now. Yeah. it’s not a Marvel thing or something like that. So like, there might be like avenues to go with with streaming movies and stuff like that. But like, I don’t know. That’s, I mean, it’s, it’s, it’s, I I feel like I don’t have any, a good answer to that question because I still really, like, I, I still feel like I always have ideas, Uhhuh, but and, and honestly like more often than not, like I’m looking to collaborate with more people. Yeah. Different people, you know, because

Michael Jamin:
Not necessarily on air talent, but writers as well.

Jonathan Fener:
Other writers. Yeah. Yeah. I just feel like, you know, if you’re lucky you have a long career and mm-hmm. <Affirmative> a lot of different types of careers and, you know, my partner and I always said like we we’ve sort of had an open marriage a little because mm-hmm. <Affirmative>, we started out together, we, and, you know, you work very closely with a writing partner and, and we worked together for many, many years and then we sort of split on staff for a while, and then we came back together mm-hmm. <Affirmative> for a while, and then now we’re separate again. But

Michael Jamin:
Was that hard for you when you’re writing after you split to start writing alone? Let’s say even on staff, cuz this is the first Okay. You usually, you have somebody to bounce an idea off of. Now you’re, you’re on, you know, you’re looking at that blank page by yourself.

Jonathan Fener:
Yeah. Yeah. It’s hard. Mm-Hmm. <affirmative>, it’s hard to be in that. It’s, it’s, it’s definitely hard. And I feel like I’m getting better at like, sort of reaching out to mm-hmm. <Affirmative> other writers and just sort of like, can you look at, because it’s like my wife can’t hear it anymore, you know? Yeah. Like, go walk into the kitchen. It’s like, would this character say that? She’s like, I don’t know, like, what are you talking about? So I have to, I I I just feel like you have to, I guess you, you learn to sort of like mute your ego a little bit mm-hmm. <Affirmative> and just sort of like, let o let other, like, sometimes you just have to talk it out and, and that’s what a partner was for, you know. Yeah. but I don’t even know if I answered your question. That’s

Michael Jamin:
Okay. We’re just, we’re we’re chatting. What about, what about advice for aspiring writers? What do you, what do you tell them? Either about the craft or about the business?

Jonathan Fener:
I mean, to get in now

Michael Jamin:
Mm-Hmm. <Affirmative>.

Jonathan Fener:
I think that starting out the, the best thing about now to me mm-hmm. <Affirmative>, is that it seemed like in the beginning when we started, it was really all about like, what’s the speck of the big show.

Michael Jamin:
Mm-Hmm. <affirmative>,

Jonathan Fener:
Which there’s a, there’s an art to that, you know, because, you know, being on staff and being a good staff writer means that you are, you’re using your talent to sort of like, mold it. You mold your voice to be this voice of the show. Exactly. Like, you’re not there to have your own opinions. Like Right. Write for this character, write for this show. Right. And, but now I just feel like it’s all about your own voice. It’s all about creating something. You know, like, like a, a friend of mine has a, has a, like a young, young, much younger sister who’s trying to break in and like, she wrote a script and I thought it was pretty good. Like, she had a specific voice and she’s like, I, and she’s like, got an actor friend. She lives in New York, and she’s like, I was thinking of just like shooting 10 minutes of this. Mm-Hmm. <affirmative> like just getting a camera and this, that. I’m like, yes, do that. Right. Somebody will, you know, like the stuff that I wanna do now. Like some, I know it’s time consuming, but it’s like, you know, you gotta take that next step. You know, if you have an idea, write it. You know, and, and that’s something that I, I didn’t do enough of, I feel like back in the, in the day and mm-hmm. <Affirmative>. Cause it was really like, not, not

Michael Jamin:
Part of the, it was, you didn’t need to. I mean, it, it’s, you’re exactly right. Your job was not to have your own voice. Your voice, your job was to capture the voice of the existing show. And so you don’t, you don’t wanna have your voice. Your job is to blend in and, you know but now it’s, it’s very different. And I think it’s actually harder to have your own, to figure out what your voice is. Have that confidence. Especially when you’re young. You’re like, I don’t, what’s my voice? You know?

Jonathan Fener:
That’s a good point. No, I, I think that maybe there was some comfort in the, in the guidelines.

Michael Jamin:
I, I think so. Yeah. Like,

Jonathan Fener:
I, I’ve watched a hundred, you know, it’s like I’ve seen friends a million times I can write.

Michael Jamin:
Right. You know what Joey’s gonna gonna say. Right. You know, if Phoebe’s gonna say when in this situation, cuz she’s out there and, you know, but what’s your voice? Like? I don’t know. You know, you gotta find that. I used

Jonathan Fener:
To think, I remember just, I always used to think that too. Even, you know, it’s like, you know, like an executive wants to, like, they don’t know what the show, they don’t know what these characters are. Right. They don’t like,

Michael Jamin:
Right.

Jonathan Fener:
So, but then that’s, you know, look, even before I was a writer, or while I was trying to be a writer, I was a reader. I worked at Sony and I did coverage.

Michael Jamin:
Right.

Jonathan Fener:
And I remember even then, that was another thing that actually, that’s something that I also would recommend to, to people is to read.

Michael Jamin:
Right.

Jonathan Fener:
Read TV scripts, read good pilots. Read good screenplays, like read good writing. Mm-Hmm. Because it is really helpful. Right. some people don’t like to do that cuz they feel like it’s, but I don’t, I don’t know if I agree with that. I think yeah. That it’s, it’s, you, you can tell when something is like sort of economically written and mm-hmm. <Affirmative> and that, and I remember even back then like, doing so much reading, I’m like, oh, I can tell that this is like a good writer or a good script or something like that.

Michael Jamin:
Yeah. You, you can totally tell you. You would read, like, I remember reading like an old Larry Sanders, like, oh my God, this just feels, it just feels so real. It doesn’t feel like it’s contrived or forced. It’s, yeah.

Jonathan Fener:
Yeah. That was our first, we wrote a Larry Sanders and I think we wrote, we wrote a curb, like really, really early

Michael Jamin:
Curb. Curb, curb was after Seinfeld.

Jonathan Fener:
Yeah. We wrote a curb like in ear, like, like Right, right. When it came out. Okay. Like in the early, because that, that show’s been on forever.

Michael Jamin:
I didn’t know, I don’t remember how many years I thought Curb my Mind has only been on for 10 seasons. But you’re saying it’s not <laugh>.

Jonathan Fener:
And it was actually, it was a great piece of advice that we got from like an agent. They were like, you should, because I remember at the time it’s like, oh, the show isn’t written. It’s improvised. Right. But you should write a version of what you think it is. Right. that’s the other thing too. Remember back in the day when like people would, like, after a while everybody would write their own, everyone was writing the same specs, you know? Right. The Drew Careys and the news radio. So like, you try and do something to get noticed. Like, I remember somebody wrote a really filthy full house.

Michael Jamin:
Right.

Jonathan Fener:
I don’t even remember who it was.

Michael Jamin:
I don’t remember that. Okay.

Jonathan Fener:
But it was like, oh, that at least is gonna get you noticed then that’s that. You know what I mean? Like, honestly, like you have to, you, you gotta make some noise.

Michael Jamin:
Uhhuh,

Jonathan Fener:
I guess.

Michael Jamin:
Yeah. And now it’s hard to know exactly what to write. Yeah, yeah,

Jonathan Fener:
Yeah. We didn’t solve it.

Michael Jamin:
No, we didn’t, we didn’t fix anything for anybody. But it was interesting hearing about your experience. I thought it was great that we ran into each other. Now we have a friend. No, no.

Jonathan Fener:
It, it was, you’re your a name that I had heard of and I knew of your podcast and your tos and everything. And I, and I, I’ll say this again, live on the air. Like I really it admire you sort of putting yourself out there and, and you know, sort of saying, you know, I have something, you know, I have all this experience and you know, you’re, this is a good example of like mm-hmm. <Affirmative> the things that people should be doing too. Because, you know, I listen to all these podcasts all the time and, and no matter how many stories you hear, it’s always interesting. And especially if it’s stuff that you can relate to and it’s like, oh, I had that same experience but different and you know, you and I have Yeah. Have led some kind of parallel eyes

Michael Jamin:
And you hear patterns. I, I, at least I’ve picked up patterns. I dunno if people have listened to all my episodes. You’re like, oh, it’s not, when I hear the, you know, how did someone break in everyone’s story is different. But you, there’s similarities in terms of like, just not, they don’t quit or they take whatever job is beneath them and they take one below it and they, you know, and they, you, you just get as close as you can to the job you want. And then hopefully talent, experience and, and luck will, will fall your way. You know, that’s a dog barking. Yeah. All right, John, what a great conversation. Thank you so much for being on my show, my little show and sharing your, your, your experience and wisdom with all the, with everyone. That’s it. My pleasure. Thank you again. This was, this was really fun. I really I enjoyed this very much. I, it was my pleasure, really. Thank you so much again. Don’t go anywhere. Alright everyone, thank you so much. Until next week keep writing and remember we got lots of great resources on my, on my website, michaeljamin.com. You can sign up for my newsletter and all that stuff and all that free stuff. All right everyone, thanks so much. Until next week.

Phil Hudson:
This has been an episode of Screenwriters. Need to Hear This with Michael Jamin and Phil Hudson. If you’re interested in learning more about writing, make sure you register for Michael’s monthly webinar@michaeljamin.com/webinar. If you found this podcast helpful, consider sharing it with a friend and leaving us a five star review on iTunes. For free screenwriting tips, follow Michael Jamin on social media @MichaelJaminwriter. You can follow Phil Hudson on social media @PhilaHudson. This podcast was produced by Phil Hudson. It was edited by Dallas Crane Music. By Ken Joseph. Until next time, keep writing.

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Michael Jamin, Showrunner, TV Writer, Author

Michael Jamin

For the past 26 years, Michael Jamin has been a professional television writer/showrunner. His credits include King of the Hill, Beavis & Butthead, Wilfred, Maron, Just Shoot Me, Rules of Engagement, Brickleberry, Tacoma FD and many more.

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