WGA Awards to Honor Comedy Writers Merrill Markoe and Paula Pell

Merrill Markoe and Paula Pell - Getty - Split - H 2019
Valerie Macon/Getty Images; Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images

The original 'Late Night With David Letterman' head writer and 'Saturday Night Live' alum will receive their honors at the February ceremony.

The Writers Guild of America will honor TV comedy veterans Merrill Markoe and Paula Pell at the 2020 WGA Awards in February.

Merrill Markoe, an Emmy-winning writer on Late Night With David Letterman, will receive the Paddy Chayefsky Laurel Award for Television Writing Achievement. The award is presented to a guild member who has “advanced the literature of television and made outstanding contributions to the profession of the television writer,” according to the WGA.

The award is named for Oscar-winning writer Sidney Aaron “Paddy” Chayefsky, the scribe responsible for the 1976 multiple award-winning film Network. Chayefsky helped shape the landscape of television writing during the golden age of the 1950s with work on Repertory Theatre, Goodyear Playhouse and many other programs. Previous award recipients have included Jenji Kohan, Aaron Sorkin, Shonda Rhimes and Garry Marshall.

Markoe was Late Night’s original head writer and created many of the show’s signature segments, including “Stupid Pet Tricks,” “Stupid Human Tricks” and “Viewer Mail,” among other trademark comedy bits. Her writing credits also include work on Newhart, Moonlighting, Sex and the City and The Garry Shandling Show, as well as several solo HBO specials which she wrote, directed and starred in.

“Merrill Markoe’s pioneering work created what was then a new language of comedy in television, and her writing has influenced every comedy variety series in the last three decades. We are truly honored to give her this award,” said WGA West president David A. Goodman in a statement.

The Herb Sargent Award for Comedy Excellence will be presented to longtime Saturday Night Live writer-producer Pell. Presenting the award will be SNL alum Amy Poehler.

The WGA East gives the Sargent Award to a writer who “embodies the spirit, commitment and comic genius of Mr. Sargent, as well as his dedication to mentoring new writers,” the WGA said in a statement. Herb Sargent served as president of the WGA East for 14 years and was a writer-producer on SNL for more than 20 years. The award has been presented to many influential comedy writers including Judd Apatow, Tina Fey and Robert Carlock, Steve O’Donnell, Lorne Michaels and James L. Brooks.

“I am truly thrilled and honored to receive the WGA Herb Sargent Award for Comedy Excellence,” said Pell in a statement. “I heard many stories of Herb’s legendary work when I joined SNL in 1953. I will proudly put this next to my lifetime achievement award from Clever Matron Magazine.”

Pell created numerous characters during her 20 years on SNL, among them Debbie Downer and Gilly. Her sketches include the "Appalachian Emergency Room," "The Spartan Cheerleaders" and Justin Timberlake sketches "Omeletteville," "Homelessville" and "Liquorville."

Paula is currently in production on the Quibi series The Mapleworth Murders, which she is writing and starring in. Paula is also in production on the CBS All Access and Funny or Die comedy series No Activity and currently stars in Lorne Michaels' NBC comedy AP Bio.

The 72nd Annual Writers Guild Awards will be presented at concurrent ceremonies Feb. 1 in New York City at the Edison Ballroom and in Los Angeles at The Beverly Hilton. Pell will be honored at the ceremony in New York City, Markoe in Los Angeles.