On this week’s episode, I have Writer/Showrunner Max Mutchnick from Will & Grace, The Wonder Years, and many, many more. Tune in as we talk about his journey as a writer and what some of his creative goals and hopes are for the future.

Show Notes

Max Mutchnick on IMDB: https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0616083/
Max Mutchnick on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/maxmutchnick/?hl=en
Max Mutchnick on Twitter: https://twitter.com/MaxMutchnick

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Autogenerated Transcript

Max Mutchnick:
By the way, I think Miley Cyrus is the only sitcom actor who is able to move the needle. They push you during sweeps. Can you get a Shatner? If we could get Shatner on Big Bang. I know we’ll write, that’s probably not a good example because it probably worked. But for the most part, shows just get what they get. They always get what they get. It doesn’t matter. These co-stars and these, none of that mattered,

Michael Jamin:
Right?

Max Mutchnick:
Is it funny? And do you like the people? Do you like the people? Do you like what? They like the world of it?

Michael Jamin:
You’re listening to, what the Hell is Michael Jamin talking about? I’ll tell you what I’m talking about. I’m talking about creativity. I’m talking about writing, and I’m talking about reinventing yourself through the arts.
Hey everyone, welcome back to another episode. Today, I have a wonderful guest that no one deserves to hear. And yet, as a gift, if you’re driving your car, pull over, you’re going to want to hear this guy, this man and his writing partner, they are responsible for literally one of the biggest hits in the modern era. I’m talking about Will and Grace. This is the co-creator of Will and Grace Max. Much Nick, but lemme tell you what else he’s done. All right. It’s not just that. I’m going to run through his profile for a second and then I promise I’ll let him get a word in edgewise. One word’s Dennis Miller show. He was right around the Dennis Miller Show, the Wonder Years Good advice, the single Guy Dream on co-creator of Boston Common Co-creator of Good Morning, Miami Co-creator of Twins, co-creator of Four Kings. This guy’s got a lot of work done. Shit, my dad says. Co-creator, partners co-Creator clipped, co-creator, and of course Will and Grace Max, welcome to the show. And let me tell you why this is so meaningful to me to have you here

Max Mutchnick:
And me too, just to get an award in.

Michael Jamin:
Okay? I wonder if,

Max Mutchnick:
And by the way, those credits were in no particular order.

Michael Jamin:
Well, it is the IMDB order.

Max Mutchnick:
It’s a weird order, but I’m still thrilled to be here. So I’m going to let you keep going because I like all this.

Michael Jamin:
Everyone loves having smoked Blunt.

Max Mutchnick:
It’s fantastic.

Michael Jamin:
Let me tell you why it’s so meaningful, because one of the very first jobs I had in Hollywood, I was a PA on a show called Hearts of Fire a max, and his partner writing partner David, were, I don’t know if you guys were staff writers or story editors,

Max Mutchnick:
I think on Hearts of Fire, we were staff writers. I think we were staff writers. Yeah.

Michael Jamin:
So I’d get you lunch. That’s basically it. But you guys were, you guys were so kind. You always let me in. I come into your office, you’d invite me into your office, which to me felt like a big deal. And you guys were both, to me, you were the epitome of what a comedy writer is supposed to be like larger than life, charismatic, funny, ball busting, but also just, I don’t know, just energetic and enthusiastic and bursting with creativity and to be around you guys three

Max Mutchnick:
Seconds away from tears at all times.

Michael Jamin:
Yeah. Oh yeah, that

Max Mutchnick:
Too. But I mean, we maybe didn’t show that to you, but again, I hate to interrupt you when you’re saying all this nice stuff.

Michael Jamin:
Well, I do remember one time, David, I was sitting with you and he’s like, what have you heard? I’m like, what have I heard? What do you hear? I’m like, dude, you guys are the only people who talk to me. What have I heard? Nothing.

Max Mutchnick:
That’s so good. What have I heard? And I was listening to you, and by the way, it gives me nothing but joy to be here, and I have to do full disclosure. So I start watching you and listening to you, and this is what happens when you get to be 40 57. I said, I’m like, I know him. I have a feeling of love for him. I do not know how we know each other. It’s so funny. I couldn’t remember the show that we worked on. I couldn’t remember the show we worked on. And then I heard you talking about Mike and Maddie. Yes. The other day. And it was, which isn’t on my IMDB page.

Michael Jamin:
It is. I skipped over it. I didn’t want to embarrass

Max Mutchnick:
You. Yeah, no, I’m glad that we can talk about that too. But it all started at Hearts of Fire.
I mean, it’s just unbelievable. And that was such an incredibly formative time, and it’s so interesting to me that you had this experience of us is mean, and by and large, that’s what we are. I mean, I always look back on life and I reflect on it, and I’m always happy when I look back on the things that I’ve done and where I’ve been and where I’m going and all that stuff. But today, not so much. What do you mean? Well, it’s like I’m saying, when I’m in the moment of today, a lot of times I really can get wrapped up in being depressed about the business and where things are. And I am starting to say things that like old people say, and I don’t want to, because I always thought I would never do that. I would never say the business isn’t like it used to be. But I’m

Michael Jamin:
Surprised you even feel that way. You’ve already accomplished so much. I don’t think I would ever get to your level of success. I would’ve stopped long before.

Max Mutchnick:
I mean, that’s nice. And I know that there are people who are in my position who feel like they’ve done it. And definitely the collision of a career and social justice, which kind of took place with Will and Grace, the idea that we did this thing and that it had a reverberation on another level should be enough. But I am still a guy with ambition and drive, and I still feel like I have more to say, and I’m not spoiled in that sense. I really don’t want to be done at this age. And if anything, my ego is in a better place because I can even fantasize about the idea of being in a room that I wasn’t running, which is crazy because that’s in the middle of my career when it’s at that really hot space. It’s like, oh no, I could never be in a room that I wasn’t in charge of. But that’s not how I feel so much. But the

Michael Jamin:
Hours are so long and exhausting and you’re like, sure, I’ll work till two in the morning every night. Well,

Max Mutchnick:
I couldn’t. That’s the one thing I would don’t feel like that is something that ever needs to be the case. I’m way into having dinner with my family, and I feel like it’s after 10:00 PM it’s diminishing returns. I actually think after 8:00 PM it’s diminishing returns because emotionally you get so your skin starts to break out. You’re eating out of styrofoam, and it’s just not, it’s so bad for where you are. You have to just love the fucking show you’re on. Can I say bad word? You

Michael Jamin:
Can say, sure. You can say show.

Max Mutchnick:
You have to love where you are so much to be working late or own. But

Michael Jamin:
How did you keep, were the hours good on Will and Grace?

Max Mutchnick:
Yes. Because we’ve run a meritocracy and we always have, and that is the best idea will out. So I don’t care if it comes from a LB like Michael Jamin or if it comes from John Acquaintance, wherever the best idea and wherever the most honest idea that’s organic to the characters comes, and that’s the one we’re going with. And I’m very, I think one of the things you master or you have to master to be a showrunner that works well and runs a tight ship is the ability to say no quickly and without a lot of ting. So I’m going to say no, and I’m going to say it quickly, and it’s going to feel like it hits you hard, and maybe it does. But in order for us to run a tight ship, that’s just the way that it has to go. Famously, one of the best showrunners of all time, David Crane, I guess really, it was very democratic and everybody got to talk and pitch, and he didn’t cut things off fast. I mean, sometimes there’s a German there and you’ve got to find it and tease it out and stuff like that. But for the most part, immediately, no, that’s not the way that we’re going. And no, that’s not the way the character.

Michael Jamin:
And they had long hours in that show,

Max Mutchnick:
Very, very long hours. They famously worked really late. And I was also listening to you the other day talk about those schools of,

Michael Jamin:
And that’s what I was going to get to.

Max Mutchnick:
Yeah. And you could say that you talked about, there’s the Friends school. I think there’s also the Diane English strain. Did you mention that one?

Michael Jamin:
No, I did. I only really mentioned the one that I thought I came from, I think I came from, which was Frazier. Cheers Taxi. Right.

Max Mutchnick:
And I call that that’s the David Lloyd’s, I mean,

Michael Jamin:
And Chris Lloyd, yeah. Okay. What would you say your lineage would be then? And do you agree with that?

Max Mutchnick:
Yes, I did. I agreed with everything you said. I mean, my lineage is actually, it’s a must see TV sound. It’s an NBC, it comes down, but that’s really the friend sound. And I come from that because my first real job was on Dream on which Martin David created. And then I came in late. David and I came in late on that show, but I also come from the Diane English School because Michael Patrick King was such a giant influence in my sound,

Michael Jamin:
And that was good advice or what

Max Mutchnick:
Good advice. But he had come from Murphy Brown. Right, of course. So if you worked at Murphy Brown, you prayed at the altar and English. I mean, but those friends people, they just spawned so much, so

Michael Jamin:
Much. But you don’t run the show the way they did, though.

Max Mutchnick:
Not at all. No, not at all. Yeah. We learned as much on shows from what not to do than from what to do. The benefit of being on shows where there, it’s just, and I’m not using David Crane as an example because I’ve never been in a room with him, but we have been in rooms where either we weren’t used or there was just endless talk that went absolutely nowhere and the decisions weren’t made to just, that’s good. That’s it. Put it up on the board. You can get there very fast and not like there is a famous school that I don’t want to talk about that it’s good enough. It’s good enough. It’s good. Enough’s not what I’m talking about. I don’t do, it’s good enough. But there is a world of shows that’s run with that ethos.

Michael Jamin:
See, I thought one of the first, the advice that we got when we started running shows was I think it was Steve Levitan who said, just pick away, even if it’s wrong, pick away. Yes. Or you lose the room.

Max Mutchnick:
Yes. I mean, it’s like you can fu around forever about, oh, what you want to do with your life. I don’t necessarily know that this was what I was going to do, but it happened and I went for it, and I got rewarded at a certain point. I feel like if you get rewarded in something that you’re doing within six months to 12 months, stay there.

Michael Jamin:
Were you running a show that wasn’t your own, it was your first job at, or No,

Max Mutchnick:
I’m I’m rare. I’m rare in that regard that I was at Emerson in college, and my dear friend was a comic named Anthony Clark. And Anthony called me and said, they’re making shows now in la and there’s a company that’s very focused on writers who have strong relationships with standup comics. And the company was Castle Rock. And Larry David was just making Seinfeld at that time. And the guy that ran the company with Rob Reiner was a wonderful man named Glenn Paddick. And he gave us our first break, but we had to go into Warren Littlefields office as these young guys and argue for why would I ever give a show on this golden network to two guys that have never done the job before? You’ve never run a show.
Excuse me. I was on single guy. So I mean, I had worked, but I had never run a show. The first time I ran a show and I wasn’t even close to running a show. I was a co-producer. And I went in there and I said to him after I got David Cohan a white shirt with a collar like, you have no idea. The Prince of a collar and a what? The difference that it makes put on a goddamn buttoned up shirt. And we go and we sit in there and I say to Mr. Littlefield, who I owe a great deal to, if you give me the keys to the car, I promise not to scratch the car. And if I scratch the car, you can take the keys away. You can bring in whoever you want. They can oversee me, but just give me, literally give me a week, give me a show, and I already know what to do and not to do, and I’ll run this thing the right way.

Michael Jamin:
Wait, this was before you wrote the pilot? This was just to get the chance to,

Max Mutchnick:
We had written the pilot and they wanted to make it. Oh, okay. And then they said to our agents, or they said to Glenn Pad, Nick, these guys have no experience. You’ve got to go get showrunners. And I was just so anti the idea that someone was going to creatively be open, and I asked for the meeting and I begged him, and I kind of tell that story. And the whole truth of that story is a day or two before he went to our agent and said, I want someone at that table read who runs a show. I want an experienced showrunner in case at the pilot table read, they fall apart. And God bless the writing team of Roberto, Roberto Bebe and Carl Fink, even Fink, I think. And I could be getting that wrong, and I hope someone calls us out on it. But anyway, those guys were so cool. And they sat at the table read, and we got our notes, and then they walked up to us on the stage where we were shooting the show on Radford, and they were like, you got this boys, we’ll see you later. And we never saw again. Really. And then we were show running.

Michael Jamin:
Did you bring top heavy writers to the first

Max Mutchnick:
David’s sister who wasn’t the superstar,

Michael Jamin:
Right. That she’s now

Max Mutchnick:
Was

Michael Jamin:
I’m talking about your first staff I’m talking about.

Max Mutchnick:
Yes, I know. Yes. Really. And I don’t know who the third one was. I remember there being, it was a mini room before. It was self-imposed before it was imposed on us. And it was just this very tiny group because David and I didn’t know how to ate and do all that. And we figured we would do all of the heavy lifting, which was not possible. And we eventually brought in Carrie Lizer, but we started with a very, very tiny group of writers and just crawled our way through.

Michael Jamin:
Wow. Yes. It’s cool. Should we spend the next 59 minutes talking about the single guy, or should we continue talking about

Max Mutchnick:
Your No, no. Can’t talk about that show. But it was really cool to work with Ernest Borgne, and I’ll just put it to you. Yes. What is the, I’m going to ask you a trivia question.

Michael Jamin:
Johnny

Max Mutchnick:
What?

Michael Jamin:
Johnny was his name?

Max Mutchnick:
Yes. Wasn’t it? Yes. I went to high school with him, so that’s not, and his dad was Johnny Silverman’s father was David Cohen’s rabbi in real life. Oh, wow. But I mean, we lived in an industry town. That’s what it was. But no, Ernest Borg nine, in addition to having a wife that was a cosmetics had of cosmetics Dynasty, Tova nine was the name of all the lotions and potions. Earnest Hemmingway, little known Borg. What?

Michael Jamin:
Borgnine, not Hemmingway. Not Hemmingway.

Max Mutchnick:
Shit, that would be so bad. Ernest Borgne had the best collection of what? Does anybody know

Michael Jamin:
Doug?

Max Mutchnick:
No, no, no. He had a good one though.
But moving on, he had the best collection of Abraham Lincoln memorabilia because on the weekends, he used to go to Beacons moving and he would sell off the dregs of whatever was left in a truck that people didn’t pick up. And one time he went and he bought a painting, and it was of Abraham Lincoln, and he takes it to wherever, Sotheby’s or Heritage, whatever he did. And it turns out to be one of only two portraits ever painted of Abraham Lincoln while he was in office. Wow. That started this epic collection. We’ve digressed into such boring stuff. And I blame you. I

Michael Jamin:
Blame you. I brought up,

Max Mutchnick:
You’re running this room. You could cut me off at any point.

Michael Jamin:
No, I could not. But let me ask you this, though. You’ve created so many shows, and obviously the writers are the same. So what is it, why was Will Grace, why that one not the other ones? Why was that one that blew up?

Max Mutchnick:
Well, I think I have a glitch in my casting programming. I didn’t know to second guess myself in the way that I did after Will and Grace. I mean, it’s a great question because it is the thing that, if anything, it could be a regret in my life. It’s that I haven’t made great decisions at crunch time and

Michael Jamin:
Wait, so you think it was casting decisions, you think, but you don’t get to catch.

Max Mutchnick:
You put it on the page, and then it’s these brilliant actors that have to operate in a medium that’s not respected, but possibly the hardest form of acting. And there are very, very few people that can do it as well as the ones that we know. And Jim Burrows always says it’s lightning in a bottle.

Michael Jamin:
Yeah, it is.

Max Mutchnick:
So it’s that, and it’s less Moonves also being not great to me.

Michael Jamin:
Well, I mean, I was going to say, every casting decision has been approved by a million other people. It’s not like you could, right?

Max Mutchnick:
I know. And you want to believe it at the time, and you get in there and you sell, and you do your thing. And then sometimes you don’t believe in a person that’s going into a cast, but Les has got a thing for that person, so they go in there. But by the way, that man gave me a lot of breaks, and he was good to me for a period in my life, but I also think he did some super fucked up things to our shows too. Partners should have stayed on the air, and he took partners off the air too quickly, and no one had done anything like that. And they should have explored a gay guy and a straight guy being best friends. That’s an interesting area.

Michael Jamin:
What is it? But you guys mostly work in sitcom. I know you did some movie work, but is that just the form you wanted to be in? Is there any other itch you have?

Max Mutchnick:
No, not really. It just kept, I mean, we kept every few years when they say it’s back, we want them, let’s go to people that know how to make on that list. And I mean, I’m doing it again, by the way, since this strike is over, and I hope that they work.

Michael Jamin:
What you’re taking out

Max Mutchnick:
Multicam Ideas couple. Yeah. Yeah. We’re working on a couple of Multicam right now that I’m really excited about, but I would love to not do it anymore. I would love to not do it anymore.

Michael Jamin:
What do you mean you’d love to not do it? I don’t understand. I

Max Mutchnick:
Would love to write what I think single camera comedies are, which is a beautiful, when it’s done exquisitely. I think it’s, if you write Fleabag, that’s like the masterpiece.

Michael Jamin:
It was a masterpiece, but it was a play. I remember watching you go, this is a play.

Max Mutchnick:
Yeah, but you can’t, I don’t know. You can’t knock it like that. It doesn’t, oh,

Michael Jamin:
It’s not a knock. I mean, it’s a compliment. I mean, these long monologues, and it’s just not done. But

Max Mutchnick:
She still was so brilliant that she figured out, she figured something out about how to make great fucking

Michael Jamin:
Episodes. Oh, listen, we’re on the same page. I was a masterpiece fricking masterpiece. And what I like about it is that it does feel like a play to me. It’s really, it’s conversational and it’s intimate and brave. It’s courageous, man. Man.

Max Mutchnick:
I think it’s the final 20 minutes of the second season. I think that it, it’d be hard pressed to find a better single camera comedy ever written. Yeah, I agree. From the moment the priest shows up at her apartment to sleep with her. And I think that goes straight to the end. I don’t know. Beat for beat where I’ve ever seen it, where I’ve ever watched a better script.

Michael Jamin:
How do you feel when you watch something like that? What does that do to you? Because you’re a professional writer with a huge, great track record. How does that make you feel?

Max Mutchnick:
I only have that attitude of the more, the merrier. It’s only good to me if you’re asking me in a coded way, am I ever jealous of something

Michael Jamin:
A little? Yeah.

Max Mutchnick:
I mean, yeah. Would I like to have created the bear? Sure. Yes. But I’m more proud of Chris store and impressed that I know him, and I love, and I love that that happens. I mean, I get more offended by the bad stuff. I just can’t stand the bad stuff, the good stuff. I’m like, God damn, that’s exciting. That got made, and somebody left that writer alone and their vision was carried through to the end.

Michael Jamin:
Hey, it’s Michael. If you like my content, and I know you do because listening to me, I will email it to you for free. Just join my watch list. Every Friday I send out my top three videos of the week. These are for writers, actors, creative types, people like you can unsubscribe whenever you want. I’m not going to spam you, and the price is free. You got no excuse to join. Go to michael jamin.com and now back to What the hell is Michael Jamin talking about
Will and Grace, you could tune in an episode, and you knew you were in for some big, big laughs every episode. And I don’t know, you were inviting these friends into your home every week. That’s what it felt like. You were inviting your friends over. And there’s an art to that.

Max Mutchnick:
Yes. And there’s an art to picking the best writers that money can buy, which is what Will and Grace always had. I mean, the star power in the writing room at Will and Grace was spectacular. And I mean, to a person, it had the best run of writers, but the only time it went off the rails is if the heart got taken out of a story. And if the heart wasn’t there, then the thing didn’t hold up. That’s right. And so you have to lay a foundation in the first act and make sure that all that stuff is true and real at the beginning. And then you can go kind of wherever you want in the second act. Then you can get nuts and then resolve in a very real way. But if you don’t actually start from a true place of, oh my God, I cannot believe you are sleeping with my brother, that hurts me so much. Why? Because you’re mine. Whatever that story is, you want to just hit those notes that everybody understands.

Michael Jamin:
Now, when you rebooted Will and Grace, did you bring back the entire writing stuff?

Max Mutchnick:
We didn’t bring back everybody, but brought back most everybody.

Michael Jamin:
And what’s shocking about that you had this amazing writing staff and that they were available.

Max Mutchnick:
We had to be patient. We had to work a little bit of magic. And I also think, I mean, it’s embarrassing for NBC, but David and I had out of pocket some fees.

Michael Jamin:
Oh, really? You wanted them that bad?

Max Mutchnick:
But it’s worth it. It’s worth it. It’s like, oh, you, you’re going to stop at 25 k an episode for this wildly talented person and for their integrity, and they need it to be 27 5. It’s like, take it out of mine.

Michael Jamin:
Right.

Max Mutchnick:
And we had to give you the full truth on that. It was more with crew. With Crew that we did that.

Michael Jamin:
Did you want your old crew?

Max Mutchnick:
Yeah. I mean, there are people that you want, you want the show to sound the same and you want,

Michael Jamin:
What was it like bringing it back though, for you as a creator? It

Max Mutchnick:
Was incredible, honestly. It was such an incredible thing. I mean, we brought it back thinking that Hillary Clinton was going to be president. And the twisted irony is that the game show host won the office, but it ended up really giving us stuff to write to, because if you’re just preaching to the third that you have, it’s like, what’s fun about that? But

Michael Jamin:
To me, I guess I’m interested in your characters are now much older. And now I wouldn’t have thought when Will Grace ended? I’m not really thinking about where they’re going to be years from now. I’m just done thinking about them.

Max Mutchnick:
I know, and it kind of did have a finality to it, but I mean, I’ve told the story, but the set was at Emerson. How was it? And it was done, and they were done with the installation, and it was getting moved back on a flatbed to la. And my husband and I were in London, and I was bereft about the way the election was going and sitting in the back of a cab, I said to him, if I had the show, I would have Karen training Rosario on a rock climbing wall. I would do a story about, you’re going to go back to Mexico, but then you’re going to climb back in after you go back. Right. And I just wanted that to see that visual of Shelly Morrison on a rock climbing wall and caring training her, and in response to him, those horrible policies. And Eric said to me, well, honey, why don’t you just go do something about it and make it the set’s where it is? All the actors are where they are, and they were amenable. Thank God, God bless them for doing that, because it didn’t have to go that way. It was

Michael Jamin:
Easy.

Max Mutchnick:
It was much easier than you would think to bring it all back together.

Michael Jamin:
Right. That’s with the rebuilding. That’s so interesting. When you guys are coming up with show ideas, I mean, are they just coming to you? Are you always coming up with ideas or is it like, okay, we got to come up with an idea?

Max Mutchnick:
No, I mean, I’m coming up with ideas all the time until someone pays me and then all of a sudden

Michael Jamin:
Nothing. Can’t think

Max Mutchnick:
Of anything. Yeah. It’s like, I don’t know. I can’t sleep. I mean, do you sleep? I don’t turn. My brain doesn’t shut off. And so I’m always kind of thinking about stuff. And by the way, we’ve written some of the things that I love the most that we’ve ever done. They’ve never seen the light of day. And I think that one of the little twisted crimes of our industry is the fact that agents and studios, if they have any sense that you’ve written something ago, that you wrote it back when they don’t want to, it’s like a loaf of bread or something like that, as opposed to a piece of art that it is still relevant. It still makes sense. These characters are vibrant and exist, but it feels like used goods even if it’s never anywhere.

Michael Jamin:
And so you guys, your partner, you meet every day and you’re coming up with ideas, or even when you’re not,

Max Mutchnick:
I’m very good that way. I don’t feel like I can stop and I don’t want to stop. Dave is arguably a happier person, and he doesn’t feel the same desire to beat himself to death. That’s what it’s, yeah. But we’ve had a dynamic for mean our daughters are very, very close, which Oh, really? A gift of life for both of us. But always, I mean, I say this in front of him and behind his back, our relationship has that lovely Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin, sort of one of us is in love with the other one, and one of us doesn’t care. And Dave’s just like, but he’s my brother. So he’s not like he’s going anywhere. But it’s just like, stop trying so fucking hard. I get a little sweaty when I don’t need to.

Michael Jamin:
Well, yeah, you’ve had so much success. It occurred to me. I just remember one time I was over at your place once, I don’t remember where you were living, but I remember you had Enya on.

Max Mutchnick:
It’s so crazy. So wait, I’m going to make my relationship to Enya. I’m going to bring it back to writing sitcoms because Okay. My anxiety has always been a present part of who I am and what you referred to as the fun of coming into my office. Yeah, you’re right. But it’s driven by a kind of anxiety and on, I guess it would’ve been good advice for Michael Patrick King. I was having such heavy, crazy anxiety. Anxiety to the point of passing out anxiety that I had to go every time we had a break down to my car and listen to Anya on AC cd.

Michael Jamin:
Is it because you’re worried you’re going to be fired? Is that why

Max Mutchnick:
I just didn’t have that? There’s a, that very scary moment of existing in a writing room of what your output is. Like Jeff Astrof, by the way, such an incredible writer in a room, such a good room person. But he lives by the thing. If I don’t put a joke into that script today, I can’t go to bed tonight. And that drives a person. And I just was in these, so you have to get, but Michael Petra king got me a little bit more comfortable with, I listen to you sometimes and I watch you construct comedy on the fly, and I am impressed with it. And I think, what the fuck? Can’t I still do that? But I tap into something different. I tap into a different thing because I think life just across the board, other than rape and cancer and Israel is pretty much, everything is funny. And I feel really good about exploring the most uncomfortable truths of my life, and that’s where I get the stuff from. But I wasn’t there. I wasn’t there, and certainly not at the beginning. And Dave Cohan comes from such a pedigree family that it was second nature to him to just construct really clever wordplay and stuff like that. And I was really panicked about that at the beginning.

Michael Jamin:
Interesting. Because you know that in the room of writers, if I’m going to choose a team of writers and I have eight picks, the first eight are story people, not joke people.

Max Mutchnick:
And that’s that generic question you ask a writer when you interview them. So what do you think you’re best at story or, well, really good at story, right? They’re really good at story.

Michael Jamin:
You’re good at stories.

Max Mutchnick:
You can tell a fucking story.

Michael Jamin:
None of you’re

Max Mutchnick:
Good. It’s crazy. It’s crazy how many people can’t tell a story or the joke thing of you want to say to people and you don’t. It’s like, okay, close your eyes. Go to the table, put that joke in the actor’s mouth and tell me the response that you hear. Do you actually hear people laughing at those words? Because that’s how I always do it. I’m like, and then it becomes second nature. Yeah, that sounds right. They will make ew. She’ll make ew funny. That will get a laugh. That will get a laugh. But it’s always shocking to me like the clunkiness sometimes that’s pitched and it’s like, that’s not going to

Michael Jamin:
Work. Yeah. Yeah. How funny. How funny.

Max Mutchnick:
And if I’m calm and you got time, it’s like you can try to get it, but you want a Michael Jamin in your room to just give it to you. Done.

Michael Jamin:
Oh, give it to me. Done. It’s so interesting. Go starting out. I was just a joke guy. And then you won’t keep your job long if that’s all you understand, right?

Max Mutchnick:
No, you have to be able to, because you go to that run through and the entire back half of that story falls apart. So you have to be a technician to say, if you do this and you do that, the back half will, as we say, it’s an F 12, it will write itself. It never does that, unfortunately. But I will tell you this, speaking of that, during all of this AI and the strike, and my writer’s assistant that’s been with me for a very long time, and I won’t say his name because he hates that he’s a writer’s assistant, but he’s incredible. A friend gave him a Will and Grace, an AI written Will and Grace.

Michael Jamin:
Oh, and

Max Mutchnick:
I mean, this is the upsetting part.

Michael Jamin:
No, don’t go there. Don’t say any of this. What is

Max Mutchnick:
It? I know. I mean, but the truth is, it’s like, well, if this is what came to me, if I sent a team off, if I sent a group off and I said, Karen and Jack are going to have a garage sale, bring me back that story. I want two, I mean, I’d break the scenes with them, but two scenes of the first act, two scenes in the second act, it’s AB story. Bring that back to me. It wasn’t like it was so far off.

Michael Jamin:
Wasn’t so far off. So better than staff writer.

Max Mutchnick:
This is

Michael Jamin:
Scary.

Max Mutchnick:
Yeah, no, I know. I mean, I don’t know. It’s like if it was in front of me, we could even read it, but I don’t have it. I don’t want to give any credit to that, but I’m going to name drop. But I told that story to Norman Lear at dinner not too long ago, and he told me that someone had done it for him too on, I think it was on all of the Family. And I believe that we agreed that it wasn’t an abomination.

Michael Jamin:
This makes me sick a little bit.

Max Mutchnick:
Oh, it’s sickening. Yeah, completely sickening. Because it calls 246 episodes of Will and Grace. It figures out what those people sound like. I mean, look, if I delivered, I wouldn’t deliver it at a table read. It would still, it would be that thing that I was talking about. There wouldn’t be laughs. It didn’t have, it didn’t have heart construction. Yeah, but good enough. Yeah, but it could go right. That’s a callback number 56 on

Michael Jamin:
Callback. Good enough. I posted about James Burrows yesterday about what he said. I dunno if you saw,

Max Mutchnick:
Oh, I did. And we should talk about that.

Michael Jamin:
Yeah. What’s, because he basically said, and I think it was misinterpreted a little, that there are, there’s only about 30 great writers to do sitcoms. And what I think he meant was 30 great showrunners or potential showrunners, not writers. But

Max Mutchnick:
Yeah, I absolutely didn’t agree with him. And you started to talk about it, and then always, I kind of turn you off about five minutes, but I will say this, it’s like you hit on exactly what it is. The reason why we like it is because Multicam are the comfort Food of America. I mean, that is the show. You want your kid, when they come home from school, turn on an episode of friends and watch that thing, and then dinner will be ready and it goes down easy and you love it. You even can know where it’s going, and it’s still satisfying. But I didn’t agree with Jim, and I hope that he was misquoted because I am not sure that it’s over because of how much it’s actually liked by Go ahead and create. Everybody loves Raymond and I dare America to not want to watch it.

Michael Jamin:
Well, okay, growing up, there was a show called Small Wonder. It was one of these syndicated whatever. And I would watch that. And I said to my partner recently, I was like, how come we can’t get on small wonder? Where are those shows put on Small wonder? I’d rather be happy working on Small Wonder. But they don’t exist.

Max Mutchnick:
Well, no one programs that way anymore. I still believe if someone made the commitment, I mean, they must have papered this out somewhere, but I always think, shit, if I ran a network, I would ask the higher ups. Can I please develop sitcoms from eight to 10, put them on the air, and will you give me a guarantee that I get to put them on the air for two years straight, all four of them? Because it doesn’t happen like a movie. It doesn’t happen. I mean, you try really hard, but it’s a fluke to get anybody to get a pilot off the ground in that a scene. They don’t know anybody. Right. It’s the hardest thing in the world. But I believe that if Multicam, I believe that they weren’t driven by star casting because star casting always fucks up a multicam. Of course, there are examples of big stars that have made shows work like Charlie and Julia even. But I mean, there’s that list of names that if we weren’t being recorded, I would just say it’s all these fucking famous people that aren’t funny. And

Michael Jamin:
Wait, is it because you think they get executive producer and they give notes and they change it? They make the show what they want it to be, you mean?

Max Mutchnick:
Yeah. I mean, I don’t give a shit about that, but that’s all bad. Jim Burrows, though, won’t allow that, which is a gift, though. The world is so changed that if Miley Cyrus wants to do a sitcom, by the way, I think Miley Cyrus is the only sitcom actor who is able to move the needle. They push you during sweeps. Can you get a Shatner? If we could get Shatner on Big Bang, I know we’ll write, that’s probably not a good example because it probably worked. But for the most part, shows just get what they get. They always get what they get. It doesn’t matter. These co-stars and these, none of that matters,

Michael Jamin:
Right? No.

Max Mutchnick:
Is it funny? And do you like the people? Do you like the people? And do you like the world that they’re in?

Michael Jamin:
That’s what actually, and that is a good segue to what I wanted to talk about as well. Shit, my dad says, you guys were on the forefront. That was a Twitter popular What? It

Max Mutchnick:
Was the first one.

Michael Jamin:
Right? The first ones. So I’m saying you were on the forefront. You were the first ones who did that. And I remembering because it was based on the Twitter feed, I remember thinking, is this what’s going on now? And yes. Yes, it is.

Max Mutchnick:
I know. I mean, it’s funny. I remember when I was a kid and all of a sudden in the music scene, there was punk rock. And I remember being a worried Jewish boy saying to my mother, ma, I think punk rock’s going to ruin the world. I think punk rock’s going to ruin the world. And it was like all of a sudden, Twitter, a Twitter account, a tweet for Justin Alper. Brilliant. I mean, creator Elementary with Pat Schumacher, and this was Justin’s, it was his account, but at a beginning, middle to an end, when you heard it, it was just like, shit, my dad says, it’s just like, well, inside that line, speaking of Hemmingway, the best story, the shortest story ever written.

Michael Jamin:
Yeah. What is it?

Max Mutchnick:
Baby Shoes for Sale, never Worn.

Michael Jamin:
Right? Right.

Max Mutchnick:
They might be out of order, but those are the words I think, and shit my dad says was like, oh my God. You know exactly what that is. That’s a son with being embarrassed by a father that he loves. So it was all there. It was there. Yeah.

Michael Jamin:
But if, I don’t know, was there ever a moment like now, sure. Oh, this guy, this person has a big Twitter feed. Yes, bring him in. Let’s talk with them. Right. But was there a moment when you were doing this? Are we really basing a show on a Twitter feed? I mean, I know you saw more, but I would’ve been worried.

Max Mutchnick:
Yeah, yeah. But it was literary. I mean, I don’t know. Justin was just so sharp and smart, and there were ideas immediately, so it didn’t feel hacky at all. But by the way, I will say this, it was one of the handful of terrible, deadly fatal casting mistakes that I made in giving the job of the Sun to the actor that we did when the actor of the hundreds of people that we read for that part, there was only one guy who came in and he was a slam dunk, and he was the one, and he was the only one of all the 500 men that read for the part that Bill Shatner said, that’s the guy. And that guy was David Rum, Holtz

Michael Jamin:
Rum,

Max Mutchnick:
David m, it was so there in the room. Yeah. I forgot it was him. He understood everything. And I brought some of my own bullshit to it, and so did everybody else. David didn’t, he didn’t look like we wanted it. Look, we wanted a cuter person and all kind of stuff.

Michael Jamin:
Pretty, it’s so funny. We did a show with him years later. Crummy Sweet kid, sweet guy. Interesting.

Max Mutchnick:
Wow. Forgot about that. Yeah. Such a talented guy. Such talented

Michael Jamin:
Guy. Yeah. Interesting.

Max Mutchnick:
And a brother in neurosis.

Michael Jamin:
Yeah. Yeah. Well, let me talk about that, because you tend to put yourself into the characters you write. And how hard is that is difficult for you? Does everyone know that it’s you, I

Max Mutchnick:
Guess? I think so. I mean, well, I only tell the stories in first person. I mean, I don’t say, I have a friend who had sex with a Chauffeur for Music Express. I tell the story about what I did and how embarrassing it was and what I did and what I did to recover from it. And I got very comfortable with that. And it’s made it possible to tell a lot of stories because that’s what I have.

Michael Jamin:
But on the flip side, are you sometimes protective of the character when someone else pitches an idea and Well, I wouldn’t do that. Well, it’s not you. It’s,

Max Mutchnick:
Oh my God. No. If it feels true, and it sounds true, I completely, I mean, I’m not going to go back on what I said. If your story is fantastic and it’s not nuts, I mean, I want to tell that I want tell that story. Right? I mean, those are the ones that I, the ones that really like are like, oh, Jesus Christ, that’s so uncomfortable. That’s so uncomfortable and so awkward. And we have to do that. We have to tell that story.

Michael Jamin:
Did you start on your shows that you run, do you start every morning with like, Hey, what’s everybody up to? Are you trying to pull stories out of people, personal stories

Max Mutchnick:
We call a host chat?

Michael Jamin:
Is that what you called it? Yeah,

Max Mutchnick:
We call a host chat, because when I first started out, I knew I had a rundown of, I think Regis. Regis and who is Frank ER’s wife?

Michael Jamin:
Kathy Lee.

Max Mutchnick:
Kathy Lee. Kathy Lee. And it’s called Host Chat, by the way. It might’ve been on,

Michael Jamin:
Mike Madia was called that as well. Yeah. Yeah.

Max Mutchnick:
I mean, that’s where it comes from. It doesn’t come from Regis, it comes from that. And David, and I mean, it’s arguably sometimes the best part of the day.

Michael Jamin:
Well, yeah, it’s funny. You guys set up Mike and Maddie, and then you bounced off that show probably in a matter of months. And then I took, I took the job that you vacated and I was thrilled. And with you was, I dunno. For me, it was like, oh my God, this is this giant opportunity. And you guys, this is your temporary gig.

Max Mutchnick:
Oh, well, it wasn’t a temporary gig. It was a fall from Grace. I mean, I think we had already been working, something was going on in our career, either we were in between agents or something, but that was an absolute blight. I mean, it was terrible. That experience.

Michael Jamin:
And why, what was it For me,

Max Mutchnick:
We were WGA primetime,

Michael Jamin:
And that was not all of

Max Mutchnick:
Sudden we’re writing a strip bullshit show with two hosts that hate each other. And I mean, a great thing came out of it though, the first week of the run of those shows, David Cohan is in all of the sketches.

Michael Jamin:
Oh, I didn’t know that.

Max Mutchnick:
Yeah, David, we wrote him into the sketches. He played kind of this dumb PA character, and we would do these cold opens that they could never make them work. They could never make work because Maddie couldn’t act. And Mike was always frustrated. But Dave’s in them, they’re online, I believe, and they’re pretty funny.

Michael Jamin:
Oh my God. How

Max Mutchnick:
Funny. Yeah, it’s incredible.

Michael Jamin:
And so I guess going forward, as I take up a lot of your time here, what do you see going forward with the industry? I don’t know. What does it look

Max Mutchnick:
Like to you? That’s one thing I won’t do. It’s the more I realize how little I know kind of thing. I believe this. I believe that good shows always will out. They will always happen. And even in spite of the system. So I think that that can happen. But I don’t know. I’ll tell you, in six months, I can come back and we’ll talk about whether the multicam that I have in the hopper right now, if they work and if they get on the schedule, because things just, it just doesn’t happen anymore.

Michael Jamin:
People think, yeah, people, when you’re in it, you’re made well, your next job is never guaranteed.

Max Mutchnick:
I don’t like that 50 something year old guy that doesn’t work anymore. I don’t want to be that. I don’t that person and I can be okay. I guess reflecting, looking back on, I tried really hard and I kind of want to, this might be embarrassing, but I really would like to show myself that I have not disconnected from the popular culture that I can tap into the way people feel still. And I’m not just a guy making dad jokes. I mean, I’m not that guy anyway. My daughters, that’s not their experience. So it is just a matter of can I get the system to work on my behalf?

Michael Jamin:
What do you tell young writers trying to break in then give

Max Mutchnick:
Advice that there’s always room for one more. I mean, I still feel that way, but I feel like you’ve got to be, if you get on a show, I think the goal is to parrot the showrunner.
Yes. Make the sound that he’s making. Don’t make some other weird Crispin Glover sound. Make the sound that he’s making, and then improve upon that act. It’s like actors that you hire to do a guest spot on a show, and they kill it, and you hire them, and then they get on the floor and they give you something else. It’s like, no, no, no. Do exactly the thing that we hired you for. So a writer, it’s like, I read your spec script. I love it. I love your tone. I loved talking to you. And by the way, in that meeting, I’m thinking as much about what’s it going to be like to do post chat with this person and do anything else? Because I don’t know that I should say this, but I will because I don’t stop myself. A lot of times when we meet writers, we read them after we met them,

Michael Jamin:
You read ’em after

Max Mutchnick:
They have a thing. If they’re in the system to the point that the studio and the network are saying, oh yeah, we love this person. We think this person is great. This person’s just come out of NYU. We think you’ll help this person. Right? You’ve got to meet this guy, or you’ve got to meet this woman, this human. I sit down with them and then it’s like, okay, you are,

Michael Jamin:
I wouldn’t trust anything they say, though. That’s the thing. Why? What do you mean? Well, because you got to meet this writer, and they’re like, but I don’t think they know what I’m looking for in a writer. That’s the thing.

Max Mutchnick:
But it’s like both have equal power in the hiring. So it’s like you meet them, do I like them? You can read a script and then all of a sudden you imbue all the stuff that, and they’re just like, Ugh. They’re a drip. And they’re not cool. And they’re not easy to talk to. I mean, by the way, mean if the script’s brilliant, you’re going to hire them. But well,

Michael Jamin:
Also, I imagine we’re also intimidated by your success too. It’s not easy to sit opposite you guys,

Max Mutchnick:
But we try really hard to pull that out of the room as fast as we can because it gets in the way. And like I said, it’s like I won’t really comment on our position in the world and that kind of stuff. I just can’t even think about that. If someone’s coming in to talk to us, I feel as much want them to. I’m still the same as my husband says, everybody has diarrhea. It’s like, I want them to like me.

Michael Jamin:
You still sob to Enya?

Max Mutchnick:
Yes. That I don’t do anymore. I do. I’m a little bit my spine’s illustrator. I don’t have one way of doing anything is really the moral of the whole.

Michael Jamin:
Wow, max, I’m so appreciative that you took the time. I don’t know, just to talk because oh my God, you have so much wisdom to share. It’s just so interesting to hear your journey, and I don’t know.

Max Mutchnick:
It is a joy to talk to you, and I don’t usually enjoy these things as much as I have that says everything about you, and

Michael Jamin:
It’s at

Max Mutchnick:
Ease. Yeah. I mean, you’re just easy and good and smart and everything. A lot. I mean, your commentary throughout the strike was just fantastic and on point. And you were putting yourself out there in a way. And

Michael Jamin:
Ballsy is what I

Max Mutchnick:
Ballsy. Ballsy. Yes, that’s right. I mean, one gets scared making things when you have, I guess you don’t have that much to lose.

Michael Jamin:
That’s pretty much it. That’s pretty much it. Yeah.

Max Mutchnick:
So can you just tell me before we say goodbye? Yeah. What are you working on?

Michael Jamin:
Well, we’re going to talk more. We’re done talking. Okay.

Max Mutchnick:
Okay. So do you want to wrap it up? Do we sing or what do we do?

Michael Jamin:
Yeah. We hug virtually and we tell everyone to be their best creative versions of themselves.

Max Mutchnick:
That’s exactly right.

Michael Jamin:
Encourage people. There’s room

Max Mutchnick:
For one more.

Michael Jamin:
I love that. There’s room for one more. So if you’re listening always. Yeah.

Max Mutchnick:
No matter what it is. And God damn, I wish I could sing the theme for, I mean, if you have your sound engineer, why don’t you just have your sound engineer fade in the theme from the Mike and Maddie show written by Charles Luman.

Michael Jamin:
Mic

Max Mutchnick:
Shine. It’s a beautiful day in America.

Michael Jamin:
I’m not paying for that needle drop. I got my own music. He

Max Mutchnick:
Doesn’t need the money.

Michael Jamin:
I’ll talk to him. Okay. All right. Thank you again, max. I really appreciate it, Janet. Yeah. Okay. And don’t go anywhere. Alright everyone, we got another more great episodes. Wasn’t that interesting talk? He’s a great guy. Go watch him. Go watch Will and Grace again. It’s ageless. Alright, thanks so much everyone, until next week.
So now we all know what the hell Michael Jamin is talking about. If you’re interested in learning more about writing, make sure you register for my free monthly webinars @michaeljamin.com /webinar. And if you found this podcast helpful or entertaining, please share it with a friend and consider leaving us a five star review on iTunes that really, really helps. For more of this, whatever the hell this is, follow Michael Jamin on social media @MichaelJaminwriter. And you can follow Phil Hudson on social media @PhilaHudson. This podcast was produced by Phil Hudson. It was edited by Dallas Crane and music was composed by Anthony Rizzo. And remember, you can have excuses or you can have a creative life, but you can’t have both. See you next week.

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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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