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From their obsessive rituals (Peppermint Patties! Oatmeal! Bruce Springsteen!) to the parts of their jobs they hate most (killing characters off, dealing with agents), TV’s most influential writer-producers featured on The Hollywood Reporter‘s annual list of the Top 50 Showrunners come clean about the people, things and quirky habits that keep them — and their shows — alive.
The show that inspired me to write:
Jean: Mary Tyler Moore, Barney Miller and Taxi. I couldn’t believe people wrote things so funny and heartfelt, and I still can’t believe I’ve worked with some of the people that wrote them.
My big break:
Jean: Editor at National Lampoon magazine, back when there were such a thing as humor magazines.
My TV mentor:
Jean: Bob Bendetson, on Alf, and Sam Simon, on The Simpsons, taught me how to do the job I do.
My proudest accomplishment this year:
Jean: Working on the short, silent Simpsons film The Longest Daycare, which aired before Ice Age: Continental Drift. Someday I hope to write a two-reeler.
My toughest script to write this past year:
Jean: Working on the episode where Lady Gaga came to Springfield. And I give her credit: she filmed herself making voiceover debut, which took a lot of guts.
The most absurd note I’ve ever gotten:
Jean: A film exec, a while ago, told me that if you take a comedy, and remove all the humor, what is left should still be funny.
The one aspect of my job as showrunner that I’d rather delegate:
Jean: I don’t enjoy making budget cuts in personnel; can’t imagine any showrunner who does.
My preferred method for breaking through writers’ block:
Jean: I never stop thinking about The Simpsons. I don’t feel any relief till we’ve cracked all the stories for the year, then we’re right back at it again.
If I could add any one writer to your staff, it would be:
Jean: I’d get back Conan O’Brien. His office is waiting.
The show you’re embarrassed to admit you watch:
Jean: Not embarrassed whatsoever; the two shows I watch without fail are Mad Men and The Daily Show.
If you could scrub one credit from your resume, what would it be?
Jean: I would never dis a former showrunner I worked for that way.
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