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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 audience?

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 writer?

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 intended audience?

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 being creative.

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 the future?

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 bradmanzo@aol.com.

 

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