Photo by Camilla Pucholt
RUSTY TALK WITH ROB SHERIDAN
Kathryn Mockler: How did you first get into TV writing?
Rob Sheridan: I was doing some copywriting and working as a publicist, and generally hating it. But I had written a couple of sitcom spec scripts and submitted them to the television writing program at the Canadian Film Centre. I got into the program, and after that things started happening pretty quickly. Steve Smith hired me to write a few scripts for The Red Green Show, and hired me on staff the following year. I was already 30 by the time I went to the CFC, so when I hear a 24-year-old tell me they feel too old to break in to television, I always slap them. Not really. But I think about it.
KM: What is the writing process like for you when you write alone and/or as part of a writing team?
RS: On any sitcom you spend a lot of time in "the room" with a bunch of other writers, generating story ideas, working out the beats, and later doing punch up. It's great fun, very social, and a lot of great material comes out of that. But somewhere in between the writer goes off on his or her own and writes a first, and hopefully a second, draft. Some people hate that part, but I enjoy it. I can discover new things, and jokes and ideas occur to me when I'm alone that don't always come to me in the room. There are some shows that eliminate that step—scripts are "room-written" with everyone working on a draft at the same time with the script projected on a screen. It's not my favorite way of doing things. I think every writer deserves a chance to put his or her personal imprint on a script, if only so the other writers then have a chance to throw it out and re-write it anyway.
KM: How do you approach revision?
RS: The most annoying expression to any writer is "writing is re-writing" because we all want to think we nail it on the first draft, but of course we don't Especially not in TV. A lot of the revising is done, as I mentioned before, in the room. It's not for people with big egos. Stuff gets thrown out, changed, re-written. You have to enjoy that process and trust that it's making it better. Sometimes you lose something you loved but the gains generally outweigh the losses. You can always use your hilarious penis joke another time.
KM: What is the role of the showrunner?
RS: The showrunner is involved in every step of the process. In addition to the writing they have input on casting, costumes, sets, props, editing, the whole thing. And they're often on the floor working with the actors. It's different than features because in TV the showrunner really is boss as opposed to the director. Unfortunately, in my experience, Canada has never really properly embraced the showrunner model, at least in comedy. It's too much creative power in one person's hands. Some of the Canadian creative execs I've worked with fear and hate that. So the showrunner often becomes more of a glorified head writer. It's incredibly frustrating, and one of the major reasons I came down to the U.S.
KM: When should emerging writers approach agents?
RS: When they're absolutely certain their sample material is as good as it can be, and never before. You only get that one shot. It's a cliché, but you really do have to give that script to five or ten people that you trust (and maybe a couple that you don't) and take as much input as possible. You don't have to listen to everyone's advice, but if ten people all tell you your third act is rubbish and the lead character is boring, it means that your third act is rubbish and your lead character is boring. Also, for the love of God, watch the spelling and grammar. If I see someone write "your" when they mean "you're" on page one, I'm out.
KM: What are you working on now?
RS: I'm off to New York City this summer to work on a show called Next Caller for NBC. It's somewhat unusual for a sitcom to shoot in New York, though 30 Rock does it and it doesn't seem to have hurt them. The show was created by a writer named Stephen Falk who has written for Weeds for many years. His background in cable is evident in the pilot. It's very smart and funny and subtle where it needs to be...basically a battle of the sexes with two hosts working on a show at a satellite radio station. And it's a very strong cast. Dane Cook, Collette Wolfe, and Jeffrey Tambor, whom I love. I'm really looking forward to it, though I know I'll also be glad to get back to LA at the end of the year. I'm a convert to the constant sunshine. Kurt Vonnegut was right: California really does make you soft.
Next Caller, NBC, 2012
Description from NBC
What happens when a foulmouthed satellite radio DJ--played by the multi-platinum selling artist and outrageously charming Dane Cook--is forced to share the mic with a chipper NPR feminist? It's anyone's call in this sharp new comedy from producer Stephen Falk (Weeds) and Emmy-winning director Marc Buckland (Grimm, My Name Is Earl).
It's her first day in New York City, and 26-year-old Stella Hoobler is ready to take on the world. After a stint on public radio, she's been hired to co-host the no-holds-barred show Booty Calls with Cam Dunne. Smart, spunky and passionate, Stella is determined to elevate the show beyond its boys'-club-locker-room humor into a respected debate about men, women and the state of human relationships. But there's a problem: Cam! She's going to find out the hard way that he's got no intention of sharing the spotlight, especially with someone like her. It's going to be a tense fight, but with the station's one rule being "make some noise," Cam and Stella could be a winning combination - as long as they don't knock each other out on their way to success.