Interview with Larry Brody, Emmy Award Winning Writer/Producer
By Brad Manzo
Larry Brody began writing for television in the 1960's. Since then he has
written for almost every television genre, including animation, and has been an
Emmy Award winning producer and an executive consultant. His resume boasts
credits for shows such as “Baretta,” “Barnaby Jones,” “Diagnosis Murder,”
“Hawaii Five-0,” “Police Story,” “Star Trek Voyager,” and “Walker, Texas Ranger”
(to name just some of them).
Currently, he's involved in several projects, including a non-profit
organization for writers, Cloud Creek Institute for the Arts. He recently
completed a book, Television Writing From the Inside Out: Your Channel to
Success, and maintains TV Writer.com, a website that offers classes, contests,
and an annual seminar, Brodystock, to aspiring television writers.
I recently interviewed him to discuss his various projects-- centered on writing
for television-- and to gain some insight on how new and established writers can
succeed in the business.
How did you break into television writing? What was your writing background?
I was a guy who always wanted to be a writer. As far back as I can remember. By
the time I was 22 I'd sold several short stories to science fiction magazines
and had an advance on a science fiction novel. But I loved television-- TV meant
more to me than films because I watched TV every day and fantasized about being
involved in every aspect, from star to producer-- so I wrote a spec TV movie
that my literary agent gave to the late Sylvia Hirsch, a William Morris agent.
Sylvia read my script and called me. I flew out to L.A. and met with her and she
said, "You're a good writer. You have as good a chance as anyone already here of
getting writing work in TV." The idea of having as good a chance of working as
an established pro was a huge compliment to me. I had just gotten married and
moved to L.A. with my then-wife.
Living in L.A. means meeting other people who are in show business at various
levels. They're everywhere. Through Sammy Jackson, a former sitcom star who
lived in the same building I lived in, I met a producer who hired me to write a
screenplay. This was within six weeks of moving to L.A. Because I had written a
paid-for WGA screenplay, everyone in TV Sylvia Hirsch told about me wanted to
meet me. I was writing episodes of a series, “Here Come The Brides,” within a
few months. Over the next three years there were various ups and downs, but by
year four or so I was established as one of the 80 or so writers who worked
constantly in TV, and I stayed among that group for over twenty years.
Is it easier or more difficult today for a new writer to break in?
It's much harder now than it was when I started in the late '60s. The WGA has
four times as many members, for one thing, and now that colleges have film and
TV programs, more and more people want to write for TV and films. Writers who
would've had a novel on the typewriter thirty years ago now have spec “Will &
Grace” scripts on their computers. And in spite of the fact that there are more
shows on the air than before, there are fewer jobs available for writers. That's
because in the "old days" freelancers were hired to write almost every episode
of every series. Even with repeats there were many more assignments available
than there are now when small staffs of three to six people do all the writing
on a show.
What can a writer do to overcome those odds?
The best way to get started in TV now is to play the "corporate game." New
writers are now moving up from the ranks of assistants in the tradition of
other, non-show biz oriented businesses.
The best thing to do is move to L.A. and get yourself an entry level job on a
currently shooting series, or in general at a studio, prodco (production
company), network, talent agency, etc. and be the most efficient and
ingratiating gofer who ever inhabited the planet. That way you make friends who
can get you whatever script assignments are available, and who will want to do
it because they like and respect you and see you as someone who has learned how
to rise to any challenge. Jobs like this take a lot of networking to obtain, but
they give you the chance for still more networking, which is currently the "way
it all works."
What's the most difficult part about writing for a weekly television show?
The most difficult part of writing for television is and has always been dealing
with the egos of the producers and network executives who all too often cause
endless rewrites because they disagree with each other and because they don't
understand what "good" writing is.
What's harder to write the dialogue or the story? Additionally, which of the two
skills makes a writer more marketable?
Most writers find plotting the toughest part. I couldn't plot a decent story
until I'd been in the business for seven years and had already become a
producer. Which answers the second question, doesn't it? Good dialogue is what
gets you hired and creates your career. What's good dialogue? It's dialogue that
is original and clever, yet realistic. It's dialogue that expresses the old ideas
TV constantly presents in a new way and which propels both story and character
along-- without calling attention to the fact that it's giving out information.
You've been both a producer and a staff writer. Can you tell me what the
differences are between the two roles?
I've literally written almost a whole book on this subject, Television Writing
From the Inside Out: Your Channel to Success. The short answer is that at the
present time there isn't any difference except prestige and salary. Most
writer-producers now are being paid exorbitant weekly salaries to be on the
premises for story meetings and to write two or three episodes a year of their
series, for which they're paid extra. They don't produce anything, and they
seldom if ever rewrite anyone but themselves. That means that the average TV
episode now pays anyone with a producer title about $100,000. Writer-producers
get $300,00 a year for hanging out and writing three shows. Staff writers get
about half that.
You've also been an executive consultant. What does an executive consultant do
on a television show?
An executive consultant is usually just another staff writer who in the past had
a producer title but whose career has taken a dip so this time around he
couldn't negotiate strongly enough to be a producer again. To save face he
becomes an executive consultant.
An executive consultant can also be the creator of a show who has a deal that
obliges him to be available for genuine consulting on the show and for which he
gets a per-episode salary. It's a way of negotiating a bigger royalty without
calling it a royalty. Or, an executive consultant can be someone who was the
show-runner but who has gone on to other things. But to keep the network happy
he has remained associated with the series--and collects money for it.
You mentioned the book before. Can you tell me more about it and its intended
Television Writing From The Inside Out: Your Channel to Success quite simply is
everything I know about the television business that I can put down on paper
without getting sued. My experience is that the creative and business sides of
TV (and all show biz) are inextricably interwoven so you've got to know about
both in order to get started-- and in order to survive. The book is for new
writers in the field and covers everything from format and how to plot an
episode to what kind of clothes to wear to meetings and where to get your first
apartment when you move to L.A.
Was it difficult or easy landing a book deal as an already established TV
Getting a deal for this kind of book wasn't all that difficult because of my
background and reputation in the business. Getting a GOOD deal, however, was
tough. Turns out publishers are resistant to putting out books about television
writing because they don't understand the enormous interest in and potential of
the field. I think Television From The Inside Out is the first new book on TV
writing to appear in several years.
Let's discuss some of your other projects. What is Brodystock and who is the
Ah, Brodystock, which is really the TV Writer.com Summer Intensive Seminar, is
an annual gathering of writers who frequent my TV Writer.com website-- and
writers who should be frequenting it. We have anywhere from half a dozen to
thirty or so pro writers and producers lecturing to and hanging out with the
attendees, who usually number about fifty, exchanging tips and info about all
aspects of script writing-- whether it's for films or TV, major studio product
or indie. We talk about the practical aspects of the business and what new
writers have to know about the business end in order to get their chance at
What is the Cloud Creek Institute for the Arts?
Cloud Creek Institute for the Arts is a non-profit
corporation created to advance the arts-- all arts-- by putting newcomers
together with experienced pros so each can learn from and teach the other. We
have online courses and courses onsite in our-- truly-- beautiful mountaintop
ranch in the Ozarks. My goal with Cloud Creek is to enable artists of all kinds
to create what they NEED to create, to concentrate on their artistry and not on
their sales. In a corporate world where the definition of "good" is "something
my boss will like," Cloud Creek is a place for rebels who care about quality and
fulfilling the needs of the audience and not those of the gatekeepers. Currently
we're producing a TV pilot and working to get grants that will allow Cloud Creek
to pay both students and teachers to do their stuff. Then we'll get it out
before the public ourselves as well.
Are you currently working on any other projects and what do you have planned for
Right now I'm heavily invested in making Cloud Creek a creative force. That's my
prime goal. I've also been approached to write another book and am currently
working on a secret project for a very well-known software manufacturer. My
contract with that company literally forbids me from saying more...but it's all
about TV writing and it's very, very cool.
Brad Manzo has written for several magazines, including, The Writer, Writers
Digest, RealScreen, and Writers’ Journal. His writing has also appeared in
books, such as the Writer’s Handbook 2004 and Tickled by Thunder’s The
Year’s Best Fiction, newsletters, and on websites such as Writersweekly.com and The
Writer Gazette. When not writing, he teaches Professional Writing and Editing at
Hofstra University. You can reach him at email@example.com.
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