Paula Finn had me at the mention of her father — Herbert Finn, legendary writer of The Honeymooners and The Flintstones, two of the most quotable and well-crafted comedy series of all time. The Flintstones in particular gets little credit for its high quality, especially in the shadow of The Simpsons, so Ms. Finn does us the service of asking top writers of The Simpsons if it influenced them, and of course it did (James Brooks wouldn’t admit it, though).
Sitcom Writers Talk Shop is a series of interviews with Carl Reiner (The Dick Van Dyke Show); Norman Lear (All in the Family, Maude); James Brooks, Treva Silverman (The Mary Tyler Moore Show); Leonard Stern (Get Smart); Matt Williams (Roseanne); Larry Charles (Seinfeld); Mike Reiss (The Simpsons); Phil Rosenthal (Everybody Loves Raymond) and many others.
There are lots of books filled with interviews about sitcoms, lots of books that go behind the scenes and quite a few radio programs and podcasts in which they are interviewed verbally. What this book does is offer insight into the writing process itself. Like most creative people, these folks are grateful that the talent seems to return to them again and again, even though they worry that it won’t almost every time they finish a project.
It’s not filled with a lot of “What was Jerry Seinfeld like?” or amateur questions like “Who was nice and who was mean?” though some of these answers come naturally through the working experiences of the writers. You’ll learn that a tough working environment could mean a hostile one or a quality-oriented one depending on the sanity of those in charge. Most of all, if you are a writer, aspiring, veteran, or just ongoing in the struggle, that you’re not plodding on alone. It’s fun and frustrating and solitary and satisfying and boring and exciting and just like anything worthwhile, hard work that pays off if you stay with it.
The long interviews are followed by a section of shorter quotes from various writers. All of these people are heavy hitters from the most important shows in history.
The only thing I didn’t like about Sitcom Writers Talk Shop is that it came to an end