https://youtu.be/FyLKJD3CJ5I?feature=shared

On this week’s episode, Writer/Executive Producer Alex Berger (Blindspot, Glen Martin D.D.S, Quantum Leap, and many many more) talks about his writing career, thoughts on breaking into the industry as well as his experiences taking a “Showrunners Course” through the studios.

Show Notes

Alex Berger on IMDB: https://www.imdb.com/name/nm1584238/

Alex Berger on Twitter: https://twitter.com/alexbergerla?lang=en

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Autogenerated Transcript

Alex Berger:
They said, when you’re interviewing a director, ask if you’re the showrunner and you’re interviewing somebody who’s coming in to do an episode of your show, ask the director, do you cook? And if so, are you a person who uses a recipe or do you like to improvise? And there’s no right answer to that, right? But if you cook and you’re the person who is going to measure out the exact number of grams of flour and the exact number of grams of sugar, that’s kind of how you’re going to approach directing. If you’re going to come in with a shot list, you’re going to be going to stay on time. You’re going to make sure that you move the set along. And if you’re the person who likes to kind throw a little salt to throw a little sugar, you might be a little more improvisational on say you might be a little more, more. There’s little things like that that you’re going to how to dig in on this with those. Now

Michael Jamin:
You’re listening to Screenwriters Need to Hear This with Michael Jamin.
Hey everyone. Welcome back to Screenwriters. Need to hear this. Michael Jamin here. I have another wonderful guest today and this guest, we’re going to talk about drama writing because he works primarily in drama and his story is fascinating how he broke in. And we’re going to get to please welcome Mr. Alex Berger and he’s worked on Alex. Let me introduce people to some of your amazing credits here and you can fill in in, I’m just going to go for some of the highlights. Well, I know you did Kil, you co-created Glen Martin d d s, which is the show. My partner ran Covert Affairs, the Assets Franklin and Bash the Mentalist Blind Spot. And currently you are a writer on Quantum Leap, so you got a lot of drama. Burger. Welcome, welcome to the podcast.

Alex Berger:
Thank you so much for having me. It’s, it’s good to be here. I’ve been enjoying listening to it.

Michael Jamin:
Oh man, I’m so happy you’re doing this. Let’s talk. Let’s start from the beginning because I think it was so interesting about your background. So many people say, how do I get a showrunner attached to sell my show? And you kind of sold your show, your show, Glen Martin, d d s. You were pretty new to the scene and then you got a show on the air without much experience. So how did that happen?

Alex Berger:
Yeah, I’d been out here for probably five or six years and I’d had a couple of staff jobs. I’d had a job doing a sort of comedy variety show before that. That was a very sort of small potatoes thing. But that came about because Steve Cohen Cohen, who I know you’ve talked about before, was a friend of mine and had mentioned this idea that Michael Eisner had for a long time about a family who traveled the country in an rv and they had writers attached for a long time. Tim and Eric of Tim and Eric Show were attached to write the thing.

Michael Jamin:
I didn’t know any of this.

Alex Berger:
They got a 60 episode order on their other show, and so they had to back out. And so Steve would come in and pitch a take. So I came in and I pitched a take, and Michael Eisner, who had just left basically running Hollywood, he was running, Disney had just started a company, and he had just had larynx surgery, so he couldn’t talk. So every time I pitched something, he had to write his response on a computer, which was fun, but a little challenging.

Michael Jamin:
But what was the idea, how much, when you pitched your take, what did they give you?

Alex Berger:
He had said Family lives in an rv. Basically it travels the country and animation. And he had more than that. I mean, it is been almost 20 years, so I’ve forgotten. But he definitely had a real idea. He’d had this idea for 30 or 40 years that he’d wanted to do over the years at Disney and he wasn’t able to do it. So he had a pretty formed idea of what he wanted the show to be. But

Michael Jamin:
Was it dentist you came up with that through

Alex Berger:
Development? I mean, that was sort of like Steve and I, Steve became sort of a, and it was almost like an incubator instead of a typical situation in which I would come in and pitch a show, he kind of brainstormed with me and created the ideas with me, and we kind of toyed with a couple of different versions of it and came up with the idea of him being, why is he on the road and what’s he driving in? And came up with the idea of a dentist that was in his mobile dentistry unit and sort of built some of the characters around that. And it kind of kept getting added to,

Michael Jamin:
Because all that stuff became comedy gold throughout the seasons. We were like, what kind of idiot has a dental car? Who does he think, what kind of clients? How does that work? And it all became fodder for the show,

Alex Berger:
For the circus at one point. And it was doing dental work on animals, if I remember correctly. But it was definitely, I didn’t think I’d seen that before. So that was kind of one of the things that was fun to explore.

Michael Jamin:
And so you came up with all the, well, at least the dynamics for the characters, because what I remember, we watched the, I dunno if it was a pilot or presentation that you saw, but yeah, the characters you invented were funny. You had the dumb kid, he had the daughter and she had an assistant, which we hadn’t seen that before.

Alex Berger:
It was definitely even more than other experiences I’ve had in development, very much a team effort. And then we had sort of come up with a script, and then I think you had Eric Fogle on the show before, and Eric came on and was also sort of added his vision both in terms of look and feel and tone and story, and was digging in with us. And then Michael on his own, paid for an eight minute pilot presentation. So they made an eight minute stop motion, basically the first act of the show. And he took it downtown and took it everywhere. And we ended up setting it up at Nick at night with this 20 episode order. And I think that’s when you guys sort of made the picture, right?

Michael Jamin:
So you started, I’m curious. It’s funny how I never even asked you about this. So at that point you had to meet showrunners for a show you created, which we’re going to talk about a second. Did you meet a lot of showrunners?

Alex Berger:
I met none of the showrunners. I met you guys after you’d been hired.

Michael Jamin:
Oh, really? I wonder how many they had. So

Alex Berger:
The tote system was, they wanted to sort of make that decision. And so they met with showrunners and had decided they were very much immediately captivated by you guys and were really excited about, and I don’t think it was a pretty quick decision. And then they had me come to meet you guys.

Michael Jamin:
Now the thing is, I imagine you were very easy to work with and to your great credit, I always felt like you just turned over the keys and it was like, okay, here you go. And it was never an ego thing if you, but was it difficult though for you?

Alex Berger:
I mean, I can give you the answer that I was thinking at the time, and I can give you the answer that I have in retrospect. I think at the time I felt like, I don’t know. It’s a good question. Let me give you the answer in retrospect first, which is in retrospect, I know that I was inexperienced to know, especially about comedy writing a lot and certainly about running a show. I think at the time I was very happy for you guys to come in and run it. And exactly as you said, take the keys. I think that I felt intimidated because it was a room full of really seasoned comedy writers. I knew I was one of the least experienced writers on the show, and yet my name was on the show. So it was a kind of a weird game. It’s not like a typical situation in which a more experienced writer comes in, but they’ve never run a show.
So they pair them with a show runner and then they’re really a triumvirate or something. I definitely felt like experience wise and sort of comedy chops wise, I was with folks who’d broken 2, 3, 400 episodes of cool sitcoms that I really admired. So I felt like I wanted to contribute from a character and comedy perspective as much as I could, but I also felt like I was learning on the fly that I had my name on. So it was definitely tricky to sort of figure that out. But you guys were great about never feeling like you were stepping on toes, and you always would consult with me, especially at the beginning, but it was very clear that it was your show, but it was also that you wanted me to sort be on board with what we were doing.

Michael Jamin:
And I mean, it was a fun room. I mean, maybe I shouldn’t speak for you. I thought it was a fun room. Yeah,

Alex Berger:
Yeah, it was great. I mean, it was like I’d never been in a sitcom room before. I mean, I’ve been in a couple of drama rooms as an assistant and a writer, and those rooms are more buttoned up and a little more like, let’s come in at 10 and start talking about the story at 10 15. And there’s definitely bits and sort of digressions, but a comedy room has a certain energy that you can’t replicate. And it was really fun to be in that room. And I’ve been in rooms that are a little bit like that since, but never anything that was, I laughed quite so much, just had it.

Michael Jamin:
I was going to ask you about that, right? I haven’t worked in any, we’ve done dark comedy, but never drama. And so I’m curious, you’ve done a lot of drama. So are the rooms, are they really what you’re saying? Are they buttoned up? Are they sur because it’s still a creative shop?

Alex Berger:
It’s fun. I would say this is based on a very small sample size of my two years in Glen Martin. And then just listening to comedy writers talk, I think comedy writers find the genius through procrastination. I think that it takes the tangent sometimes to get you to the gold. And I know you guys, especially more than other comedy writers I’ve known, were very focused on story structure. I know from your time with Greg Daniels and Seaver had bought a book at the mall,
And it was very important to you that the story felt like it had load-bearing walls, but it did feel like more free flowing and there were room bits and there was a whole sitcom inside that room of three characters, both people in the room and people we were looking out the window at. So that’s definitely different than other shows I’ve been on, other shows I’ve been on, it’s a little more like, all right, let’s get to work. And especially these days with room hours have gotten shorter and so on less. And I’ve been in Zoom rooms for the last couple of years, so it’s even less of a room

Michael Jamin:
Basic. Oh, so gotten, haven’t gotten, your last rooms haven’t been in person either. You

Alex Berger:
Haven’t? Yeah, I’ve been in three Zoom rooms since the pandemic.

Michael Jamin:
It’s funny you mentioned because comedy rooms have room bits and our offices were on Beverly Hills and Big glamorous street in Beverly Hills. We would look out the window, and you’re right, we would create stories when we weren’t making stories for the tv, we were making stories for the regular characters that we would see outside our windows.

Alex Berger:
Yeah, I mean truly. I know you had Brian and Steve and a couple of other people from the show on. I have not laughed that hard in a room.
It was a blast. And I also think there’s value to it creatively. It’s not wasted time. I think it’s just a different way of getting to the process. I remember hearing once of, I can’t remember which one, it was a Simpsons writer who would be on draft. He had two weeks to write his draft, and he would past around the fox lot for 12 days and then write the draft in the last two days. And someone asked him, why don’t you just write the draft for the first two days and then be done? And he said, because I need those 12 days of pacing to get me to the last two days. And I think copywriter are more prone to that kind of way of thinking. I think.

Michael Jamin:
See, see, I don’t remember that way always. I always get nervous when that story’s not broken. I always want to crack the whip seavers more. Like that’s, but to me, I was always,

Alex Berger:
When you were in the room, it was more like, let’s stay on story. And when see, it was a little more. And then when you guys were both out of the room, it was even more free flowing, which is not to say that all of the eps weren’t trying to keep us on story, but its like it’s was a silly show about silly characters and absurd, every premise of every episode had a massive degree of absurdity to it. And so you wouldn’t be too serious in a room like that, or you wouldn’t be ready to make that kind of show. I mean, at least that was my take on it.

Michael Jamin:
I would describe that as a writer’s show. It was always about what made us laugh and not the 15 year old kids who shouldn’t be watching or the 10 year old kids. I know

Alex Berger:
It was either Brian or Steve who said it was a show with a demographic of nobody.

Michael Jamin:
Yeah,

Alex Berger:
The demographic of the 15 people in that room for sure. We all really enjoyed watch them. They’re all really funny. They’re

Michael Jamin:
Funny.

Alex Berger:
It was on the wrong network.

Michael Jamin:
Oh, for sure. Steve and I were horsing around procrastinating on some work we were doing, and for some reason we stumbled on, maybe it was some guy’s YouTube channel where he was talking about Glen Martin and this guy nailed it. It was like he was in the room. I don’t know how he knew every, it seemed like he knew where we messed up. He knew where we got it. Right. I was just

Alex Berger:
Amazed. I saw that video and I was like, I can’t believe somebody watched the show. I thought that literally, I could not imagine that this guy was that deep into the show.

Michael Jamin:
Oh no. I get a lot of comments on social media like, oh my God, you ruined my childhood. Really? Like you gave me nightmares.

Alex Berger:
My wife’s cousin is like 25 or 26, and he’s dating a girl. And on the second date, he asked her what your favorite shows are. And the second show she said was Glen Martin, d d s. And when he said, oh, my wife’s cousin wrote that show, she was instantly smid with him. She gave him so much gr.

Michael Jamin:
Oh, that’s so funny. I mean, it was a wild show, man. Too bad. That was a shame. We were going to spin it off too. We all, oh yeah,

Alex Berger:
Stone spin off right behind. Oh

Michael Jamin:
Yeah, there you go.

Alex Berger:
The Drake Stone. Yeah,

Michael Jamin:
All my dolls. Yeah. As soon as they went under, they go here. Here take some. You must have some dolls, right? They give you some dolls. I have

Alex Berger:
Alen Martin Puppet and an Alex Burger puppet, and my kids constantly want to play with them and I won’t let them.

Michael Jamin:
Who were you in the show? I don’t remember what kind.

Alex Berger:
I think I was a Greek God carrying somebody at some point in some fantasy sequence and they would reuse the puppets. That was what was so funny. So I think that was one thing, and then they reused me as another thing.

Michael Jamin:
And did you ever get out to Toronto to see the

Alex Berger:
No. Did you go up

Michael Jamin:
There? Oh yeah. We went once and Fogel and I had a very romantic dinner together on top of the Toronto Space Needle or whatever they call that. I saw

Alex Berger:
Them shooting the pilot presentation, which they shy in New York. It was incredibly cool, but just I’ve always found set to be tedious in general, but I can’t imagine how tedious it must be to do stop motion.

Michael Jamin:
Do you go, oh, I think they wanted to poke their eyes out, but do you go on set a lot for dramas? Yeah. Is it just your episode or what?

Alex Berger:
Depends on the show. I did this show called Blind Spot for five years, and basically we would have a writer on set for every episode and we would try to make it your episode, but oftentimes it was the writer who wrote the episode had a baby and is on maternity leave or they can’t go to New York at this time or if they went to New York and they wouldn’t be back in LA for the breaking of their next episode. So we tried to shuffle it around a little bit and it’s trickier when it’s out of town. You’ve got to make people have life that they’ve got to plan around. But you’re going for three and a half weeks to New York.

Michael Jamin:
Are most of your show shot out of town?

Alex Berger:
It’s been mixed Quantum Leap, which is the show I’m on now is Shot Year on the Universe a lot. Blind Spot was New York Covert Affairs, which I went to a lot of episodes for, was in Toronto, which was a lot of fun. And then I’ve had a couple Franklin, imagine the Mentalists were LA and it’s been sort of a mix.

Michael Jamin:
How many day shoots are most of your shows? Dramas?

Alex Berger:
It depends on the budget of the show. Blind Spots started as nine and then was eight and a half and some tandem days and by the end was eight. They keep pulling money budget every year. Quantum Leap I think is eight.

Michael Jamin:
Interesting. And then what do you, as a writer on set for comedy when on set, it’s like, I want to make sure they’re playing the comedy right, making jokes, but what are you looking for that the director isn’t covering?

Alex Berger:
Well, first of all, it’s a lot of times if you have a great director, it’s a team effort. So the director is obviously in charge of the set, but if you have a director who’s collaborative, they’re asking you, do you feel like that works? Or which take do you feel like was better? It’s blocking work for you and your main job is just to make sure that you’re the protector of the script and a protector of the story. And it’s not like, excuse me, you didn’t say the word there. Although there a Sorkin set, they will keep you word perfect, but it’s more like, actually, I know you want to change that line. It doesn’t feel comfortable in your mouth, but it’s really important that you say this. It’s going to set something up that we’re doing in three episodes, or Hey, just so you know, when you’re saying this to this character, you’re actually lying and you’re going to be revealed to be.
It’s a lot of making sure that everybody knows the episode up to the episodes we’re leading to. And then, yeah, there’s still a lot of shows I’ve worked on have a fair amount of comedy. So you’re still making sure jokes, land and actors, this doesn’t feel comfortable in my mouth. Do you mind if I say it like this? Or if you work with an actor who wants to have a little bit and wants to assert a line, sometimes I need to be the one to say, okay, well then that means that this person needs to say this line after to keep a joke going.

Michael Jamin:
Right? Right. It’s interesting, and especially when scenes are shot out of order, it is easy for actors to lose track of where they are in the story. So that is the

Alex Berger:
Part I really like is Prep, because I’ve worked on a lot of big shows, big action shows and into you fly to New York with your script in hand and you’re so excited. And then the first thing that the line producer tells you every single time is, we’re $400,000 over budget. Before you even say hello. The fun part to me is the puzzle of how do you protect the story with the constraints of we can’t shoot this in nine days. I’ve walked into episodes that were supposed to be seven day shoots, and the board came out and it was 10 days. And so you’ve got to figure out, okay, we can move this back into the house so we can take this care, we can do this here. And actually the shootout that happens after the bank robbery, maybe that happens off screen, stuff like that.

Michael Jamin:
So are you doing a lot of rewriting on set then?

Alex Berger:
It’s usually in prep.

Michael Jamin:
Okay. In prep,

Alex Berger:
By the time you’re on set in a drama, you’re pretty close to set to go unless something changes or an actor nowadays, if an actor gets covid, then all of a sudden you’re taking that actor out of the scene and rewriting the scenes and why are they, that kind of thing.

Michael Jamin:
And then are your showrunners ever on any of these shows ever on set? Or are they always sending proxies? Yeah, it

Alex Berger:
Depends. It depends on the show. So typically on the shows that I’ve been on, the showrunner, the showrunner was there for the pilot. They’re usually going to go for 1 0 2 just to, it’s been four months and they want to reestablish a tone and kind of be a leader, and then they’ll try to pop in and out a bunch during the year so that it’s not like they’re just coming when there’s a problem. And then when the show’s in la, the showrunner will usually try to pop by after set, especially if before the Zoom Room thing, the writer’s room would wrap at seven, the production’s still going, so they usually come for the last couple scenes, something like that.

Michael Jamin:
How many writers are there usually on these hour shows?

Alex Berger:
I mean, I’m curious to hear what your answer is for comedy too, because it’s really shrinking in the beginning. I mean, Glen Martin was what, 10, 12, something like that, including if you’re Partners is too, and then it’s gotten down to 10 and then eight. And then I think Quantum Leap were about 10, which is a big staff, but the Netflix show I just worked on was six. The show, the Assets that I did, which was a limited series was five. And this is a lot of big issues of the strike is these rooms are getting too small. What are the root comedy rooms like now? Because I know there’s been, it’s like sometimes it’s like 25 people in a room

Michael Jamin:
Well, on animation, but I think those days are kind of over

Alex Berger:
Or big network sitcoms aren’t there.

Michael Jamin:
I don’t think they’re that big. I don’t think there aren’t big network sitcoms anymore, but I don’t think, I mean it was never,

Alex Berger:
What was the Tacoma room?

Michael Jamin:
Oh, it’s probably eight or so. But that’s a small cable show,

Alex Berger:
But they’re all small. I think they’re all like that now. Even the network comedies, unless you’re Abbott, they’re all 13 or eight or

Michael Jamin:
Yeah, I think even just shoot me back in. This was in the day, I want to say maybe 10 or 12 times. Oh really? That’s it. Yeah. Yeah, Roseanne. Roseanne was famously Big. Fred had a big staff, but that was Roseanne. It was a giant show.

Alex Berger:
And The Simpsons, I know there’s these shows that have the two, I mean the drama rooms, there’s a bunch of writers who having a big staff and then they like to split the room in two and break two episodes at the same time. A lot of showrunners actually want a small staff and hate having too many voices. I like a big room. I like eight to 10 people because you’re always in a drama room, especially you’ve always got one writer on set, two writers on draft sometimes set, so there’s three or four people gone every single day. So your room thins out real fast, and I think you need at least five people to break a story.

Michael Jamin:
Oh yeah. Now the thing is, you’re a funny guy. You have a good sense of humor. You started in comedy, but do you miss at all comedy or do you feel I’m a fish in water with drama?

Alex Berger:
Yeah, I was in over my head in comedy, I be the guy who can do a little bit of comedy on a drama staff than that guy in a comedy room who’s mostly focused on story. I mean, I felt like, obviously I wrote Pilot and I felt like I had a voice on that show, but it was clear to me that this was not the type of show that I was going to be thriving at. I really enjoyed it, but it was like just comedy wasn’t my thing. I love writing on a Funny One Hour, Franklin and Bash, which was a legal show, was essentially a comedy that had the stakes of a drama, but the tone of a comedy. And I love because I like being able to go to the serious scene to have the emotional he, to not have to have a joke at the end of every scene. And then I’ve written some pilots and stuff that have a fair amount of comedy, but I always want, and I’ve written half hour dramas. It’s just I want the pressure of three jokes a page and beating a joke and beating a joke and beating a joke. It just wasn’t my pace.

Michael Jamin:
Well, I got to say, I think it was probably the last script you wrote was you and Pava teamed up to write a Christmas episode. Oh yeah. And you guys crushed it. I remember coming back, you guys turned it in, whatever you guys did together, were like, you guys, you’re going to do this together. Probably because PA wanted to write a musical. I was like, Papa, I’m not writing a musical. And he probably did, but you guys turned in a great draft. And I was like, if that show had gone, I’d be like, I remember thinking, well, these guys are going to be stuck in a room together for a long time. Because yeah,

Alex Berger:
That was a lot of fun. That was a lot of fun. And it’s funny, I want to show my kids the show. They’re really young and there’s not a lot of episodes that are appropriate for little, that one’s pretty tame. That one’s pretty tame. We did a rom-com parody sort, the Wedding planner parody, and then we did a, what was it? I forget the other ones. It was a lot of fun.

Michael Jamin:
Oh yeah. What is nutty stuff? So now the dramas, I’m sorry. When you go off to write your own pilots, when you’re developing your own, is there a unifying theme tone that you like to pitch? Yeah,

Alex Berger:
I would say two things. One is fun. I don’t want to write some things super dark. I don’t want to write. I like watching shows like that. I watch Last Of Us and The Leftovers and a lot of shows that are real bleak and I really enjoy them. But when I’m living in the world for 12 hours a day, for eight years, I want it to be fun. I want to have a certain amount of lightness to it and sort of levity to it, which is not to say it has to be a comedy, it can still be a drama. There just needs to be something fun about it. And even when I’m writing on a show like Quantum Leap, we’ve had episodes that are really serious, but the ones that I do, I try to make them, I did an airplane hijacking episode, but I tried to make it fun and sort of like an eighties action movie. And then the other thing I would say is sort of optimism. I try to write something that makes you think that the world is going to be a better place. I’ve written a lot of political shows and politics is pretty dark these days. One, my take is sort of, but if we do this, we can all get through it. None of those have gotten on the air. So maybe that says something about what people feel about optimism these days.

Michael Jamin:
Well, it’s also a numbers game, but how do you feel, let’s say you were given the keys to run your show, got on the air somewhere, eight episodes on the air. How do you feel? Feel about that? Yeah, let’s do it. I’m ready. Or like, oh my God, what did I get?

Alex Berger:
Both. I mean, I did the Writer’s Guild showrunner training program a couple of years ago, which is phenomenal. What

Michael Jamin:
Was that? Tell me all about

Alex Berger:
That. It was great. But so essentially it’s a six week every Saturday, all day, every Saturday college course on how to run a show. And it’s run by Jeff Melvoin, who’s a really seasoned showrunner, and Carol Kirschner, who’s been working in the business forever. And then they bring in John Wells is usually a big part of the program and they bring in really heavy hitter showrunners all the way down to people who were in the program last year and then got a show on the year. And they’re like, bill and Ted when they come back at the time Machine and Bill and Ted’s, and they’re like, you’re in for a crazy journey. And so it’s really cool to hear from all of those people and they focus one day is on writing, one day is on post one day on production. And what I learned from that was having been on staffs for something like 250 episodes of tv, I’ve learned basically all the things you can do in terms of book learning to run a show.
But the last 20%, you can’t learn until you’re there. Sort of like if you read a hundred books about swimming, you kind of know how to swim, but if you dropped out of a helicopter ocean, you’re going to have to figure it out and you’re going to be drowning while you’re doing it. And literally, I don’t know if this was your experience when you guys had it, but every other show I’ve talked to says nothing fully prepares you for it. So I have a couple shows in development right now, and if you told me that they were to go, I think the first feeling would be utter terror and like, okay, let’s do it. Let’s go. This is the time to do it. And I’ve run a lot of writers’ rooms and stuff like that, but I’ve never actually had the keys to the castle, so

Michael Jamin:
Interesting. Right. Okay, so you’ve run the room, you’ve been breaking stories, you’re in charge of that. Now time in terms of tell me about the short run is problem You apply, how do you get in?

Alex Berger:
You have to be recommended by somebody and applied and they want someone, they’re trying to find people who are the next shows up. And so people in the program have a pilot that’s already been shot and that’s already ordered a series, but they don’t know how to run a show. You people who’ve worked in features or worked in writing novels who are transitioning into television. So all the production stuff to them is totally new. And then you have lot of people like me who sort came up as staff writer, story editor and just worked their way up the ranks who’ve been around for a while, who just haven’t taken that next step, who want to know more about what it’s like to run a show. I loved it. First of all, it was like being in college, man, it was just absorbing material and taking notes at a frantic pace and reading that they recommended. But it was just so interesting to hear. It’s like this, your podcast is so great because you could hear people speak, but these are people who are specifically targeted at the demographic of you’re a co eep and you’re about to run a show. Here’s what you need to know.

Michael Jamin:
And so you don’t pay for this, right? Or you

Alex Berger:
Do, the guild pays for it and the studios pay for it. It’s a phenomenal program.

Michael Jamin:
And then it’s so interesting. And then, alright, so then how big of a cohort, how big of a group is

Alex Berger:
It? 30. And it’s a bummer because these days it’s been on Zoom and so you don’t really get to the year. I did it in 2017 or 2018. And so I got to know those folks and they were sort of, yeah, again, my cohort and three quarters of them are running shows and everybody else’s EPS or eps, running rooms. It’s a very fun dynamic to have a group.

Michael Jamin:
What are they teaching you? I’m so curious as what they teach you. I bet there’s stuff I don’t know. And we’ve done three shows. What are they teaching you about post that you were surprised?

Alex Berger:
The overwhelming, the first thing they tell you when you walk in the door is quality scripts on time. The bug that they gave me, the showrunner program, quality scripts on time, and that was basically the theme of it was being efficient, being and knowing when to cut your losses and say move on. And knowing when to say this isn’t good enough. And so for posts, it’s like, are you the type of person who wants to be in post for 10 hours a day? That’s fine, but then you need to have somebody who’s going to be overrunning the room, or do you want the writer who produced the episode to do the first and the second cut? And then you do the last cut and they bring in editors and they talk, editors tell you about what they want to hear. A lot of things that I’d been in post a lot before I was in that room and then editors were telling me things that I was doing that annoyed the crap out of them. And I was like, oh, little thing like what? Snapping, when you say cut there,

Michael Jamin:
Oh,

Alex Berger:
That annoys.

Michael Jamin:
That annoys them. It’s like a dog

Alex Berger:
Thing. Yeah, exactly. And a lot of editors, some editors want line notes. Some editors want you to say, this scene doesn’t feel funny enough, I’m not getting the comedy. And then they’ll say, okay, let me take another swing at it. And you need to feel like, is this the type of editor that wants to do it on their own or that type of showrunner that wants to do that. But broadly speaking, it’s essentially a leadership training program. The nuts and bolts stuff with all stuff that I had seen up close being a lieutenant on a show, there are a lot of little tips that I picked up here and there and when I get a show, I will go back to my notebook and frantically look through it, but it’s mostly about how do you lead, how do you manage, how do you fire people? How do you delegate? How do you tell people that they’re not doing a good enough job but give ’em a second chance? Interesting. They bring a lot of directors in, stuff like that.

Michael Jamin:
What was the last thing you

Alex Berger:
Said? How to interview a director? How to interview director. A big director came in and talked to you. Here’s some questions you should ask when you’re interviewing. Here’s a great one that they said. They said, when you’re interviewing a director, ask if you’re the showrunner and you’re interviewing somebody who’s coming in to do an episode of your show, ask the director, do you cook? And if so, are you a person who uses a recipe or do you like to improvise? And there’s no right answers to that, right? But if you cook and you’re the person who is going to measure out the exact number of grams of flour and the exact number of grams of sugar, that’s kind of how you’re going to approach directing. You’re going to come in with a shot list, you’re going to be going to stay on time, you’re going to make sure that you move the set along. And if you’re the person who likes to kind of throw a little salt to throw a little sugar, you might be a little more improvisational. I say you might be a little more, more. There’s little things like that that are like how to dig in on this with those people.

Michael Jamin:
Now I’m learning. What else can you share with me that

Alex Berger:
Might be helpful? I can get my notebook you,

Michael Jamin:
Hey, it’s Michael Jamin. 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 going to spam you and it’s absolutely free. Just go to michaeljamin.com/watchlist.
I remember when we’re running Glen Martin, which is the first show we ran a lot of this, and you probably weren’t even aware of this, A lot of it was me. If I was at the board or whatever, it was me like, okay, I want to make sure I’m not losing the room. I want to make sure everyone, no one’s losing focus. And I think part of that was make a decision even if it’s a bad one because you can lose the room if you can’t pull the trigger. You know what I’m saying? It’s so frustrating. You guys

Alex Berger:
Did a good job with that. And then I think that decisiveness, I think is actually one of the most important qualities in the showrunner, but also willingness to admit you were wrong if you made a decision and moved on and then a day later you realize you were wrong. You have to and say, I made the wrong decision. And one of the things I’ve learned running that I’ve really tried to do when I’m running a room is if there’s an idea floating around that I hate, but it’s getting energy and it’s getting excitement, I try not to step on it until it either burns out on its own or it’s reached a critical mass and I’m like, look, I think this is not going to work, but let’s talk it out because there’s nothing worse as having come up on staffs. And this is one of the most valuable things when you’ve been a staff writer and a story editor as opposed to getting your own show as the first thing that happens to you is you know how demoralizing it is when everybody’s super excited about something now it’s not going to work. It’s so demoralizing. Yes, A lot of times you think it’s not going to work. You just sit there back and listen for 20 minutes and you’re like, oh, actually, you know what? There is a version of this that’ll work if I just add this one thing. It’s an organism and you’re leading an organism and it’s very hard. You guys did a great, and you guys are a team, which is even harder because you’ve got to read each other’s minds about
This works.

Michael Jamin:
You bring a good point. I remember one time, so when Glen Martin, I would go, I would direct the actors on Wednesdays or whatever and see would be running the room, and I remember coming back at the end of a long day directing, come back to the room and you guys had made a lot of progress on the script and everyone’s excited. Everyone’s excited about this idea and you guys pitched it to me. I wasn’t getting it. I didn’t get it. I was like, I didn’t want to shit on it because I could tell everyone was so excited about it. And so I just kept on asking questions just to explain it to me so that I would get on board.

Alex Berger:
That’s a really hard part is and because I’ve never been the actual showrunner, I’ve never been the one, I would be like, I’m sorry we’re vetoing this. A lot of times what I would do, because I was a number two, was if I hated something, if I left the room and then I came back and I hated something, I’d be like, look, I’m not totally on board with this idea, but let’s give it its day in short and let’s pitch it to the showrunner. And I would try, when I would pitch it to the showrunner be to not give away which side I was on or to say, look, here’s one side of the argument, here’s the other side of the argument. But when it’s ultimately up to you, it is hard because I always analogize it to in Family Feud when the first four people give their answer and then that last person has to give the final answer and they want to go against the rest of the family. It’s a hard thing to do. You’re wrong.

Michael Jamin:
Yeah,

Alex Berger:
I guess, I don’t know. What was that experience like for you? Did you feel like it was like you had to balance? What was your favorite idea versus losing another 10 people’s morale?

Michael Jamin:
It wasn’t even about my favorite idea. It was more like I just want to make sure if sea’s on board than I trust, I trust him. But it’s also like I wish I can remember what the episode was. It just didn’t make any

Alex Berger:
Sense to me. No, I remember that a couple times. Every show I’ve ever been on has had that. Every show I’ve ever, the showrunners left the room, the room gets excited about, something comes back in and it’s not what they want, it’s just part of show running. The value of having a staff that’s been together for a while is the longer the staff has been together, the more you can say, oh, secret and Michael are going to hate this. We shouldn’t even this path. Versus early on, you’re going down a million paths you don’t know. But once you get to know the showrunner, you kind of get to know what they like and what they don’t like.

Michael Jamin:
Yeah. There was another idea that we had in that, I don’t remember what we were all on board, but Seaver wasn’t on board. It was something crazy.

Alex Berger:
Oh, I think it was the radio episode and there was something about wires or no wires, and they weren’t recording the music the whole time,

Michael Jamin:
Who wasn’t recording music.

Alex Berger:
Glen went to, you got to cut this out of the podcast.

Michael Jamin:
No one’s going to care. But

Alex Berger:
It was like there were a lot of room bits that I think that’s the problem with room bits is they take on a life of their own and then they’re an inside joke. And if the runner comes in and there’s a room bit in the script, it’s an inside joke. It just doesn’t work. You weren’t there for the beginning of it, which is a good sign that it’s not a good story because the audience wasn’t there for it either. But I think it was Glen becomes a radio producer named Stacey Rappaport.

Michael Jamin:
Yes.

Alex Berger:
His wife was also named Stacey Rappaport. Yes. And I know he works for Stacey Rappaport. And anyway, the whole time it was the, you guys were doing the Brady Bunch, Johnny Bravo episode basically as a

Michael Jamin:
Yeah,

Alex Berger:
Remember the debate was like, were they actually recording by the way? I will say again, you can cut this out early, but it’s not relevant at all. But I grew up watching the Brady Bunch for whatever reason, even though I’m 10 years younger than you guys. And that was number one reference that you guys talked about. So I did feel like at least I got those references.

Michael Jamin:
Oh, it’s so funny. I remember that. I remember because I think I was the one who pitched the name Stacey Rappaport.

Alex Berger:
I remember because I had a friend named Stacey

Michael Jamin:
Rappaport. Oh really? That’s so funny. It was just a man’s name that the joke was that Glen was going to choose a new identity for himself and he chooses a woman’s name.

Alex Berger:
What have you gone back and just watched full episodes of the show?

Michael Jamin:
No. And everyone, people want to know about. People ask me that a lot. I don’t touch. I should. I love that show, but I don’t touch anything that I’ve written. I just don’t. It’s over and I don’t know why, but you do

Alex Berger:
Just not even about Glen Martin. That is an interesting thing about writers is whether they want to go back. I go back and watch stuff and I hate it because I’m like, but because Glen Martin was not really mine. It was such an organism of the room. I laugh when I go back and watch it except the one I wrote, which I don’t like.

Michael Jamin:
Oh my God. We had some fun in that show. But okay, so when you take, I have so many questions for you. When you were young, when you were a kid, did you want to be a writer? I know Time

Alex Berger:
Know was a profession. I loved television. I was a youngest kid. I was raised by the Cosby Show and the Brady Bunch and G I F. And my idea of a family was basically what those families were probably to go back, rethink the Cosby one. And then even in college, I interned at Saturday Night Live and late night with Conan O’Brien back when he was on, which were fantasy camp, especially the s and l one was truly a dream come true. And it still didn’t occur to me that it was a profession that I could go do. I was go to law school and then a buddy of mine, we were in Jerry’s Subs and Pizza, which is an East coast person you probably remember. And we were sitting there talking about what we’re going to do and he’s like, like I said, I’m going to go to LA and be a writer. And I said, how do you do that? And he said, someone writes this stuff, why couldn’t it be us? And it just gave me this epiphany of like, oh yeah, everybody who’s out there as a writer at some point wasn’t a writer and just got out there and learned how to do it. And so we all went out together and we kind of got our start.

Michael Jamin:
Did your friend become a writer too?

Alex Berger:
Yeah, we all ended up creating a show together. So the earliest thing that we did was we were on the high school debate team together and we walked into National Lampoon, which at the time was doing low budget cable programming, and the head creative guy there just made fun of my resume the entire time and made fun of debate. And then by the end of it said, there’s a show here. And so we came, pitched him a show called Master Debaters that was a debating society, and we ended up getting to make, it was like our film school. I knew nothing about how to make a TV show and that one, I was throwing the keys to the castle. I was casting it, writing it, producing it. I was in it, posting it with every crisis. But it was so low stakes because the budgets were tiny and they were in syndicated cable stations and college campuses. No one would watch me. So I got to learn by doing and I loved it. It was great.

Michael Jamin:
Interesting. And then, all right, so then you became a writer and then you just kept on writing. I guess mean it’s not an easy path, but you’ve made a really pretty good name for yourself over the years.

Alex Berger:
Yeah, I mean, thank you. It was a winding path when I came out, I thought for a minute I might want to be a development executive. I read a book by this guy, Brandon Tartikoff, who used to run N B C called The Last Great. It was like basically made it out to be, you’re sitting in your room and the smartest people in the world come and tell you what TV show ideas they have, and then you pick the eight of them and pick the order in America Shears. And so I worked in development for a minute and I was not what it was like at all, and I was miserable and I was jealous of all the writers who were coming in. So I said, that’s the job I want. And so I quit. What

Michael Jamin:
Was it I didn’t know you worked at VO for? I was

Alex Berger:
Assistant. I was an assistant in development at N B C.

Michael Jamin:
What was it like then?

Alex Berger:
It’s very busy and not as creative as I wanted to be. I actually really enjoyed the conversations I had with the executives when it wasn’t time to do my job and it was just time to talk about tv. But the actual job I was doing, I was terrible at, I mean, it was a lot of keeping track of who was calling, and I’m an absentminded first, but

Michael Jamin:
That you’re an assistant. I mean, surely

Alex Berger:
You, but it’s a long time before your branded Tartikoff, right? Almost everybody else under branded Tartikoff has a lot of business responsibilities to do. And it wasn’t, that’s not how my brain works. My brain needs more free time. I think if I worked at a place that was smaller that was incubating three or four shows, I probably would’ve enjoyed it more. But we had 50 comedies and 50 dramas in development, and I was trying to get of all of them and who was calling and the letterhead changing and all this stuff. And it was just like I was not good at it. I mean, my boss even said to me one day, he said, you’re a very smart guy. Why are you not very good at this? And we had a nice conversation about that. But the main thing was the writers that came in that I was, can I get you a coffee?
Can I get you a tea? Can I get you a Coke? I was so jealous of them. Door would close to the pitch, and I just wanted to be in there listening to. And so I realized I should follow that. And so I didn’t last that long. I left like eight months and I quit. I at the time had been, I think had a couple of writing jobs, like smaller writing jobs lined up that show Master Debaters had been optioned of VH one. So we were writing a pilot for VH one and a couple of their small writing jobs. So I went to go do those and then got back in the beginning of the line as an assistant, I was a writer’s assistant on a show, and then I was an assistant to a showrunner and then I stop.

Michael Jamin:
So it’s a brave move for you to leave that behind in.

Alex Berger:
It was definitely, I mean, I had some stuff lined up, but it was definitely a risk, but I just knew it wasn’t the right, I was in the wrong place. But it’s interesting, it was an incredible learning experience. I knew how development work from the inside, and I still think I know more about what’s actually going on at the network than a lot of my peers because I was on the other side. And then the folks I met who are the other assistants to the other executives are now all executive vice presidents of networks or presidents of networks or I met my agent because he was an assistant to an agent that used to call, and then he signed me while he was still a coordinator. One of the people on that hall now became the president of Fox, another one who I’ve dealt with a lot became the president of N B C. I met a ton of great folks through that who have become friends and allies over the years, and I sold Joe to,

Michael Jamin:
But okay, so it’s probably changed lot since you were in assistant that was probably 20 something

Alex Berger:
Years ago, 19 years

Michael Jamin:
Ago. So what is it like then that we don’t understand?

Alex Berger:
I think the main thing that I didn’t understand, and this has for sure changed and certainly in cable and streaming is just a volume. They are not spending as much time thinking about your script as you are by definition. But in development, there are literally 40 to 50 scripts at least back then on both on comedy and trauma. And so my boss, who was in charge of both has a hundred scripts to keep track of. So he was very smart and could make a judgment very quickly about a script, but he would read it once, sometimes read it again, and then he was making a judgment about whether it was a show. So as a writer now I know they’re reading fast, they’re reading it at three 30 in the morning, or they’re reading it on the plane, I’ve got to grab attention fast, I’ve got to hook you in. I cannot lean, oh, the great twist, wait till the Great Twist. It’s on page 55. And when I’m pitching, it’s the same thing my boss said to me, I hear 300 pitches a year. I typically hear about five ideas I haven’t heard before. The other 95 I’ve heard before. It’s about take, it’s about the writer, it’s about their passion. And so when I go and pitch an idea, the substance of the idea is the second most important thing. And my connection to it and why it has to be me is the first most important.

Michael Jamin:
And that’s the hard part. I feel that’s the hard part because usually you think of an idea, you can’t really, I don’t know, you’re a hundred percent right. They always, they want to know why are you the only one in the world who can write this idea truthfully? It’s like a lot of times you’re not a lot of times like, well, this is the characters we created. It’s a funny situation, but there’s probably a lot of people who could write this idea.

Alex Berger:
I think that what I have seen, and I’ve never done this, but I know folks who have is, I knew a writer once who his sort of why me paragraph was, I just run a show for a bunch of years. I came off of running that show and I didn’t know what I wanted to do next and I had an identity crisis. And so it got to the idea of identity crises and here’s a spy show, an action spy show, but at the center of it as a character going through an identity crisis. So it’s not

Michael Jamin:
Grew

Alex Berger:
Up and my dad was a spy, and therefore sometimes it’s emotional or sometimes I had this interaction with a guy on the subway and I couldn’t stop thinking about it. And it led me to this show. And sometimes by the way, you retrofitted sometimes you already come up to the show and then you’ve got to come up with that first paragraph that’s retrofitted and sometimes often it feels organic even though it was come up with that

Michael Jamin:
Word. That’s so interesting because I’m glad you said that to me. It almost sounds, it gives me some soce knowing that, because a lot of times we’ll say, okay, this is why we’re the only ones, and this is from seabird’s idea home life or my home life, and then it doesn’t sell. And you’re like, well, I don’t know what to do now. But you’re actually broadening it out into a thematically, it’s more personal to you. It’s not necessarily a dynamic. It’s more like,

Alex Berger:
Here’s how I think about it. I think that, and I could be wrong, and by the way, it’s different in a comedy because you’ve got to make ’em laugh in a comedy, and I know certain comedy executives don’t laugh, but for the most, if you’re funny in the room, they’re thinking, okay, I want to be in business with these pets, but in drama, are there twists and turns? Am I hooked on this? Is this going to fit with something that we have on the air? Do we have something similar? But I always think what they’re going to remember when they’ve heard six, they hear six to eight a day, and then at the end of the week they go tell their bosses about the ones that they bought. So what they’re going to remember is, oh my God, you’ll never believe the story this guy told about the time that he was held hostage on the subway, or you’ll never believe that, or a cool twist or a cool character. They’re not ever going to remember the third beat of the pilot, or when pitch episode ideas, here’s so

Michael Jamin:
Interesting.

Alex Berger:
I think you need that stuff to be in there, but what they’re going to remember, it’s like when you walk into a house, when you’re looking for a house, you remember, oh, I was dazzled by the kitchen and the master bedroom had the fullest bathroom and yeah, yeah, it had five bedrooms and five baths, which is what we need. But it felt like this when I walked in. It’s like, how do they feel? That’s another, I’m sorry to ramble, but

Michael Jamin:
No,

Alex Berger:
For drama. I think in a pitch, if you can make the executives feel how the show is going to make them feel, that’s a successful pitch to me. Comedy’s a little different, I think. But

Michael Jamin:
Interesting. I feel like I’m learning a lot from you actually, because I mean, honestly, we’ll sell shows and we’ll not sell shows.

Alex Berger:
We’re learning all that time from you guys for 40 episodes on the murder.

Michael Jamin:
But a lot of this is, like I said, we will sell a show or we won’t sell a show, and I won’t know why. I don’t know. I’m not sure why this one sold this one, the other one didn’t sell. I can, but that’s

Alex Berger:
Why I really don’t like Zoom pitches because you can’t. I love, that’s actually my favorite part. I think it comes from, like I said, I was on the debate team in high school and college, and I loved trying to persuade someone who was not necessarily on my side at the beginning that I’m right. And I viewed every pitch as a miniature debate. I’m debating against the person who says, don’t buy this. And I love the feeling of like, oh, I’ve got them hooked, and they’re now, they are going to buy the show as long as it continues to go on this pace. And I hate the feeling of, I think they’ve checked out. And actually when I’ve memorized a pitch, when I think they’ve checked out, I’m talking, but my internal monologue is, well, I guess we didn’t sell it to Fox. All right, well, if we can sell it to Fox, we can go to a B, C. Because I’m sort of like, I’ve moved on.

Michael Jamin:
How much off book are you have notes or not?

Alex Berger:
I’ve developed this method that I got from this guy, Martin Garra, who I’ve worked for eight or nine years for some blind spot, and now on Quantum Leap, it’s different, but I love it, which is, it’s different on Zoom, but when we go back to in-person pitches, what he does is he brings in his laptop and he puts it on the table in front of him and it acts as a teleprompter. And so he’s looking up at you making eye contact and occasionally looking down. And then he is got a remote that flips page to page and the script is there word for word. So if you’re like, oh shit, I’m about to get to the part that I always mess up, then you just look down and read for a minute and they know you’ve written this. It’s not like no one is under the illusion that you walked in and RIFed for 20 minutes off the

Michael Jamin:
Topic. Does he do this in person or on Zoom?

Alex Berger:
Both. On Zoom, it’s so easy because you can have your screen, but in person, I thought, oh, they’re going to think it’s offputting. But because I was practiced, I got to the point where 70% of it was eye contact and the laptop was there as the security one did.

Michael Jamin:
And what program is he using? That’s a teleprompter

Alex Berger:
Work.

Michael Jamin:
Oh, so you’re just scrolling. Oh, you’re just clicking.

Alex Berger:
There’s this Bluetooth remote that he uses that I was now in my drawer, and it’s just you click and it’s to the next

Michael Jamin:
Page. You have a Bluetooth remote that works on your lap. I didn’t even know this such a thing. I’m learning so much from you Burger.

Alex Berger:
Oh, you know what? I’ve lost it. Oh, here. Yeah, so it’s like a little U S B that plugs into the back of your computer, and then you’re just like, you click, click, click and it’s, you look like you’re giving its head talk it 5% easy. And I actually think in a comedy pitch, it might come off as too dorky, but for a drama it’s like, I’m going to tell you a story. I’m going to deliver a pitch. And I wrote it. And the reason I find it useful is a lot of times when you’re developing with the pod and the studio and then also the non-writing show runner, so many Sunday night, you’re getting notes for a Monday morning pitch and stuff’s changed. So if I get to the section that just changed, I might look down a little bit more

Michael Jamin:
Interest. So I was going to say, are you going in mostly with pods these days for people who don’t know that they’re producers on the overall deals at studios, but is that how it works in dramas as well?

Alex Berger:
I don’t think I’m going to show on the air anymore without an entourage. So when I was on Blind Spot, it was produced by Greg Ante and I did a couple pieces of development with him and then also with Blind Spot. I just think there’s the business side of it, which is that these networks want to be in business with their 800 pound gorillas and the not. So if you walk in with one of them, even if it’s my vision a hundred percent, and it’s my personal story, the fact that this brand is behind it really helps. And then I also, I actually enjoy the process of crafting the idea with smart people. I don’t want to work with a pod who’s annoying and gives dumb notes or a studio who does that. But every pod I’ve ever worked with, if I’m stuck on an idea, I’ll say, Hey, can we hop on the phone for half an hour and work out this story problem? You guys have each other so you can get in a room and hash out a story problem. But I need to talk. I cannot think through any

Michael Jamin:
Interesting,

Alex Berger:
And we’ll work it out. Oh,

Michael Jamin:
So you’ll really use them as a resource. It’s so interesting.

Alex Berger:
I mean, this guy, Martin Garrow who runs Blind Spot Quantum Leap, I’ve developed him a bunch of times and he’s a writer.

Michael Jamin:
Yeah, it’s different

Alex Berger:
Stuff is acting as a pod. But I can call him and we have such a shorthand, we’ve broken 150 episodes a week, but

Michael Jamin:
That’s different because he’s a writer. He is not, I mean, he’s a writer, is writer producer, but he’s really a

Alex Berger:
Writer. So it’s Greg Ante. I like working with folks who are on the creative things, and I’ve worked with producers who weren’t writers, but could be because they’re a creative, the worst part of that development is when someone gives you a note and they don’t realize, oh, that’s going to unravel. They think it’s two lines, but it actually unravel all. Whereas when you work with people who’ve made a lot of tv, they’re like, look, I know that this blows everything up to do this one little thing, but here’s why I think it’s better. Or Hey, they gave a huge note. Here’s easy fix. It’s only two lines.

Michael Jamin:
Yeah, I mean, that’s so interesting. You’re absolutely right. There’s a huge difference between, I think between working with a producer, producer and a writer producer, because the writers, they just know what’s going to unravel everything. I don’t know. Yeah, that’s Producers

Alex Berger:
Are good for like, oh, you know what? Who’d be great for this is this actress. And they make the call and they’re good.
I find that you find everybody’s in this business, they’re good at something. Nobody who’s come to this business and is just dashing a check. Well, probably not true, but the people that I try to find work with are people who are in this business smart. And even if they’re not totally up on exactly what I wanted to do, fix the script, they have something that they’re really good at that I want to use. So even if it’s, there’s one person at this company who’s mostly the production person have a really good idea about like, Hey, if we shot this in Buffalo, we could do this.

Michael Jamin:
Right. Interesting. Wow. I think I’ve learned a lot from you. Before we conclude, you want to write drama with

Alex Berger:
Me? Let’s go that. Let’s talk about drama.

Michael Jamin:
I think I’m going to get into the drama business with you. I think you’re going to be my pod. What advice do you have for young writers? You must have something to Wise to say.

Alex Berger:
Yeah, I mean, I probably don’t have anything wise to say, but I’m happy

Michael Jamin:
To. Or how are they breaking in the business?

Alex Berger:
It’s funny. The answer was so different 10 years ago to four years ago. It changed rapidly, and it’s very different now because of the writer’s strike. So if you’re talking about what should I be doing right now, if I want to break in? I was just talking to a writer today and my advice to her was, just use this time to write. It’s not a good time to try to get a producer attached or a showrunner attached or an agent. It’s a good time to just be writing and really writing diligently. And then this is over. And in general, my advice is get a job in the industry, even if it’s as an assistant. If you can’t get a job as an assistant in a room, get a job as an assistant in post or get a job as a PA on set, just get into the room. Then just keep building a network and talking to everybody. And when your cousin comes and says, you know what? I used my college roommate, I think as a writer, I don’t know what he take them up on all of those opportunities because you never know what’s going to result in something. The first three jobs I got were from general meetings that I didn’t want to take because actually two of them were from people. My mom had met
Parties in Washington dc but they were another assistant who was leaving their job and happened to open up. And then the last thing I would say is, I think the thing that people don’t do as much of it that they should do is engage in the continuing education piece of this. So your listeners to your podcast are obviously trying to learn how to write, and that’s important. There’s a lot of other good podcasts out there. There’s Deadline Hollywood, which everybody should be reading every single day. There’s business podcasts like The Town and the Business and Fresh Air that people should be listening to understand the macro pieces of their business. So often you get people who come out here and they have no idea how the business works, but there’s film school available for free. There’s 97 episodes of your show and other shows like it. And there’s a lot of episodes about how the business works that I think people, you said sort of absorb

Michael Jamin:
Alex Berger, you hit it out of the park. Dude, I think this is,

Alex Berger:
I wrote it with pava.

Michael Jamin:
You wrote it with pava. You did this Screw pava. No, I found, I don’t know. I hope people go back and even listen to this again and again. I think you said so many smart things in this that were even kind of new to me. And I don’t know. Thank you for sharing all your knowledge. I think it was hit out

Alex Berger:
Of the park. You’re doing a great service. What I love about your podcast is that you ask the question that I want everybody to ask on these podcasts, which is like, tell me your story. Tell me how you got started, and then you interrogate what the lessons are along the way. So many of these podcasts, it’s like, tell me about your latest project. And essentially they just become promotion vehicles. But you dig in and you really, the 90 writers that you’ve had on the show, every one of their stories is different. But there’s a lesson in every single one of them. And that’s what I just add on to the thing that I was talking about young writers is when you hear people’s stories, if you walk away with one kernel of wisdom of like, oh, they got fired off the show and they were miserable, but here’s what they did wrong, and now I can take that forward, or the networking advice they gave me, or Here’s the little piece of advice about how to get your way out of a scene with a cool blow line. You can pick all that stuff up from everybody that you meet.

Michael Jamin:
Yeah. And I also find, because everyone wants to, everyone wants to, what’s the path to breaking through the business? And I always think there’s only one door. You have to go into that door, and then once you go through that door, it closes. Now the next person has to find their own door. But you can find a common characteristic that everyone has that broke into the business. So it’s not like they didn’t go through the one path, but they all had a same trait that they have.

Alex Berger:
I mean, perseverance. And then it sounds silly, but a lot of young writers I talk to aren’t writing a lot. They have the one script that they’ve been polishing forever or half a script or an idea for a script, and they want to know how to break in. And by the way, I always liked that from 22 to 25, I did not, I wrote one script and was, I should have written 10 because I’m 20 years into the business now. Every script I wrote right now is leaps and bounds better than the last script I wrote because I’m still learning. And so when you’re 22 or 25, or even if you’re 45, breaking in, get those bad scripts out of the way early so that when you’re actually being paid to write, you’ve gotten the phlegm out and now you’re actually getting something good on the page.

Michael Jamin:
Absolutely. Before we sign off, is there anything we should plug? I mean, not really. I mean, you have Quantum Leap.

Alex Berger:
Yeah. I’ll be picketing at Fox on Tuesday

Michael Jamin:
How they can find you. My wife was an actor in the original Quantum Leap. She was a guest. Oh, really? This is a long time ago. I’ll

Alex Berger:
Look it up. That’s so cool. I knew she was on Quantum Leap. They did like a hundred of those. That’s a really rabid fan. No, I mean, quantum Link will be on in the fall, and I hope people will watch it. We’ve got eight episodes that we made of season two before we had to shut down, and then we have five more that we’d like to make when this is all done. If this is ever, I hope people will watch it. It’s a really, it’s a great show.

Michael Jamin:
Yeah. Thank you again, Alex Berger. Thank you again so much. Don’t go anywhere. Let me just sign off. Alright, everyone, thank you. Another great episode. Listen to this one again and again, and yeah, lots of free stuff on my website. Get onto my free newsletter, all this stuff @michaeljamin.com, and that’s it. Until next week. Until next, just keep writing. Okay, everyone, thanks again.

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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