Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Shame on you, Stephen Colbert

As readers of this blog know, I’m a big fan of Stephen Colbert. Even his CBS show.  Despite the growing pains, I'm rooting for him in a big way.  But he and his show are doing something I find highly objectionable. They’re looking to add a new staff writer, and inviting people to apply. Nothing wrong with that. Nice that they’re inviting everyone, not just folks with a long resume or Harvard grads.

They’re asking to submit some material. Okay. We all have to audition. But here’s where it gets dicey: There is a packet with specific instructions of what you must submit. And trust me, it’s not three or four jokes.

Briefly, here is what you’re expected to provide:

Two examples of cold opens. These often feature Stephen backstage or in the office. They’re full sketches. Two of ‘em are required.

Five opening monologue jokes.

A topical news segment – digging deeper into a news story. Since Stephen performs these at his desk, also suggest specific over-the-shoulder graphics, elaborate props, or “even characters that emerge from beneath Stephen’s desk.”

Three confessions where Stephen “admits to faults and asks the audience’s forgiveness.” They should be real but crazy.

And finally, two pitches for segments, at least one must be an idea for a guest segment. You don’t need to script these out (as opposed to the other requirements). Just explain how the bit would go, provide examples of jokes, and only be a page tops.  A page?

That’s all. Forget that it would take a seasoned writer several days to complete this. The deadline is today. And the packet reiterates that the applicant is doing this for free.

Here’s a confession I would include. “I’m taking advantage of young writers. I’m asking for a ton of free work. I’m preying on the fact that jobs are hard to come by. I’m probably going to use at least some of the material from applicants I reject and just claim that we ourselves were working on something similar.”

Oh wait. I forgot to add two free jokes.

My first thought of course is why is the WGA allowing this practice? Supposedly they’re “investigating” this. I hear that other late night shows have done similar stunts but I can’t confirm it.

Look, all writers do work for free. We all write specs, pilots, screenplays, and various samples. We have to audition like everybody else. But a few jokes, maybe one sketch, a sample of sketches you wrote on spec for SNL or THE DAILY SHOW. Not thirteen specific bits.

The movie industry has stretched gratis labor to professional writers. Now, for an open assignment, you’re expected to come in with a fully worked out story treatment for free. Same with a rewrite assignment. I was once up for a movie rewrite and had to pitch an entire new outline, how I would change the story, solve all the existing script problems, and redevelop the characters.  It took me an entire week.  The executive listened (my pitch took about an hour) and said, “Let me hear ten jokes.” I told him I didn’t write any jokes but assured him the script would be funny. I had written extensively for CHEERS and MASH and FRASIER. The jokes would be there. I didn’t get the assignment. Why? I didn’t provide the jokes.

This too is an issue the WGA should address, but at least we’re working writers. We can say no to participating in a pro bono rewrite derby (assuming we have other work). But what recourse does a non-professional writer have?

And the abuse goes even further. Do you know that on a lot of sitcoms now writers assistants are required to pitch jokes? Showrunners can claim it’s a great way to audition them, but let’s get real. They're getting staff writers at rock bottom assistant prices. Again, where is the damn WGA?

Stephen Colbert’s show is currently in a state of flux. There have been showrunner changes, new directions, major changes in the way the show is put together. For all I know, Colbert himself was either not aware of this “submission packet” process or didn’t fully understand the ramifications. I would still like to think that if he realized how young writers were being taken advantage of, he would put a stop to it. The fact that networks and studio pull this kind of shit, hey, that’s to be expected. That’s why (in theory) we have a watchdog union. But come on, Stephen. You’re better than that.

47 comments:

Mitchell Hundred said...

Reminds me of the kinds of stuff documented on this Twitter account.

Wally said...

Word of the day: Irony
http://www.cc.com/video-clips/mdmdd0/the-colbert-report-nothing-in-the-prompters

Dee said...

Hi Ken,
I'm a little confused here...I honestly thought this type of packet was the norm for most late-night shows.

I was asked to submit to Colbert's "Late Show" last year prior to the show's launch, and wow, their submission packet was waaaaaaaaaaaaaay more general...literally, it was about a paragraph of instructions: 2 scripted bits, 2 pitches, a pitch for a guest and one topical news piece with four or five jokes. That was it. It said to me that since his "Late Show" didn't exist yet, the playing field was wide open for any type of humor, tone, style, etc.

But now that the show has been on the air for nearly a year, it seems as though since tone and style has been established (although I think that's still a work in serious progress over there), now any submission packet would be much more specific.

I also got to submit to Sam Bee's show, and their submission packet was similar: 2 scripted bits, 2 pitches and about 4 or 5 tweets for its social media end. Maybe that doesn't sound like a lot, but the packet sure made it sound like it.

So I'm on the side that this isn't that big of a deal. I think the Deadline article you got this from made it seem like the Colbert people JUST sent this packet out to folks and expect people to turn it in today. But the fact is that there has been a "Comedy Writer" job posted on CBS's careers site (which I find highly strange to begin with) for weeks now. So I'm assuming that at least two weeks ago, this packet got sent out to people who applied and who got vetted by someone at the network or at the show directly.

On another note, I noticed this packet's last two pages include instructions for newbies who are not familiar with how to format a late night packet. Sam Bee's packet did the same thing. Do you think this may be the shows' way of balancing out what people are perceiving as unfair by saying, "You don't have to be a professional, you just have to be funny"?

Thanks!

Carol said...

I wonder what the odds are they'll pick one from an amateur submission and say they'll use it and give the writer 'exposure' instead of paying the person.

Mark said...

Friday question:

Being outside the profession, I've assumed that a writer's room would have a variety of talents just like a bullpen will have a variety of talents available (set up guy, hard throwing left-hander, a Jamie Moyer type, etc). Like a writer who maybe can't write a script but comes up with great jokes, or can edit really, really well. Someone who comes up with great stories but isn't great with dialogue. Writer's can't do it all (except for you of course!) so what deficiencies would you accept, and is it like a bullpen in that regard?

I can't tell you how much I enjoy seeing inside the curtain of your field, it's so interesting and fun to read about. Thanks, Ken.

Wendy M. Grossman said...

Stuff like this has become common for staff jobs in some areas of journalism, too. Basically, any time you have a lot of people who want to work in a field you're going to find employers who take advantage and tell themselves they have to do stuff like this in order to winnow down the applications they have to go through to people who are really serious.

wg

Some Writer said...

Hi Ken-

I can tell you that years ago I was asked to submit a packet for Letterman when he did Late Night. It was similar hurdle of requirements: monologue jokes, 2 desk pieces, an entire top 10 list, and maybe one or two or things like audience piece or idea of a remote or some other bit. This was after Late Night saw me perform and solicited me to submit a packet.

Needless to say, I didn't get it. The thing about late night shows or SNL or Daily Show or whatever, is not every writer is strong in every area. Not every SNL writer does Weekend Update bits, political cold openings, character sketches, the guest host monologues, etc. But for some reason when you "audition", they ask you for everything.

When you do those packets, it can be sort of fun to do things in your wheel house and imagine writing in someone else's voice. But then you also have to submit material you know isn't as good just because it's required. I think it dragged down my other stuff, personally. But then again, I don't envy the person that has to read this and do the staffing.

David G. Whitham said...

"But come on, Stephen. You’re better than that."

Apparently, he isn't.

Stephen Marks said...

Shame on him is right. I took a shot anyway and just submitted my packet, here it is....

- Colbert plays a fast talking afternoon movie host called Art Fern assisted by a hot blonde as his matinee lady. Advertising silly products, Fern gives directions to the stores selling the products by saying stuff like "take the Slauson cutoff and cut off your slauson."

- Segment called "Headlines." Colbert reads real, actual headlines from papers around the world, example: "Cop makes arrest in bathroom after smelling crack." He'll also read real wedding announcements that have funny names, example: Stolen-Ford wedding, Toole-Burns wedding.

- Stupid fish tricks. People bring their fish on stage and have them do wild tricks while Colbert throws out pre written one liners. Example, goldfish jumps out of tank while trying to catch food and Colbert says "I guess that's the one that got away"

- 1000 Year-old Man: Colbert plays a man who has lived to be 1000 years old and sits on a mountain dispensing advice. Example: "Vote for Hillary for president, you'll get a smart, savvy woman with a husband who has no problem maintaining an election."

Just before saying goodbye, to end the show Colbert apologizes for not being able to have a guest who was waiting in green room on because of the shows length. Joke is that the guest is someone nobody would ever have on the show, like Mark Hudson from the Hudson Brothers, or guy who played Uncle Joe from Petticoat Junctson,

philip said...

This didn't seem so crazy to me, because in Academia standard practise is to write entire papers (20-30 pages) of a well researched original thesis and send it along to get reviewed, taking sometimes up to a few years, and then possibly having all that work rejected leaving you with nothing for your cv.

But, on second though, that's pretty bonkers too.

Joseph Scarbrough said...

I never cared for Stephen Colbert as Letterman's replacement. It's not that I don't like Stephen Colbert, because I do, it's that he's a mostly political comedian, and his old show was mostly political comedy . . . as such, THE LATE SHOW has become a mostly politcal comedy, which, I don't know, I kind of feel like political comedy works better for cable. Or maybe I just miss Dave and Paul too much. Late night comedy just doesn't seem the same without them.

Anonymous said...

It's almost like
1. Having actors work for free in rehearsals, and/or play tryouts, or
2. Having an auditioning actor's characterizations/ideas used - at the behest of others- by those who get hired for the parts.

Mike Scully said...

Agreed. It's the same way that many sitcom showrunners now think it's okay to have potential writers pitch four or five story ideas in a general meeting for a staff job. They meet with 50 writers, get about 200 free ideas, 10 or 20 of which will have merit, then give out the one or two jobs they have available and all that free material is there for the taking and nobody's going to stop them. For some reason, some showrunners, who wouldn't have wanted to be exploited when they were trying to break into the business, have no problem doing it to others. The WGA looks the other way, the writers agents encourage their clients to be exploited, the writers want a shot at the job, and it continues. Some showrunners are so desperate to please the network and studio, they will have their staffs do things they know are illegal just to try and keep their show on the air. The writers feel powerless because if they don't do what their boss is demanding, they might not be asked back if there is another season. Some showrunners are just tools of the network and studios and no longer fight for their staffs. I've been trying to get the WGA to address the problem of showrunners and agents not standing for their clients (the way they used to) for years. Nothing has happened. Too busy counting that digital media money.

MikeN said...

Isn't this what all the star writers do? Doris Kearns Goodwin, Charles Ogletree, Stephen Ambrose, etc. It's how they ended up guilty of plagiarism, when the real guilty party was the grad student whose work they put their name on.
At least Tom Clancy and some others put their ghostwriters name on the cover.

Jeff said...

I could be wrong, but it certainly seems that is is a growing problem across many different fields. I'm a web developer and I keep seeing job offers where the applicants are expected to develop entire web apps just to apply. My friends in design report similar situations.

(Worse yet is when an ad says something like: "10 years experience in Node.js required" -- particularly difficult since Node.js has only existed for about seven years.)

Dixon Steele said...

This reminds me of the time back in the early 90s, when I was looking to get a development job. Marvin Worth, an A-list producer on the Paramount lot, ran an ad in the trades, looking for someone. I replied and was called into meet with Marvin, who was busy with his upcoming passion-project MALCOLM X.

I briefly met his Dev. VP (now a successful producer) and I was asked to do coverage on FIVE scripts. Fine. I looked around the office and wanted to be there.

I had a lot of experience in coverage at the time and I worked my ass off to make sure these five were perfect. They were and I delivered them.

Crickets. Nothing. Nada.

About ten years later I had written and directed my first feature and had an office on Beverly Blvd. I noticed that Marvin's D-Guy-turned-Producer also had offices there and, sure enough, I found myself alone in the elevator with him one day.

I couldn't resist so I introduced myself to him and told him of my Marwin Worth experience. He chuckled and told me that every year or so, when the unread-scripts piles had become unmanageable, they would run the ad.

blinky said...

Somewhere, somehow Stephen is getting bad advice. Blue suits? Goose stepping dance on his first monologue? That goofy vamp music between the monologue and the desk?
The Colbert Report was the best and funniest show on TV (Sorry Jon Stewart).
His new show is not in the same ball park.
I saw Obama on Jimmy Fallon and that show has got it together! They are way better and I can't stand Jimmy Fallon.

Jonny said...

Fittingly - Vice just posted an essay about someone's terrible interview with Stephen Colbert. Terrible, not because Stephen is a jerk, but because the interviewee choked. Stephen actually comes across like a pretty cool interviewer in this story.

My Job Interview with Stephen Colbert Was a Total Fucking Trainwreck

Matthew Kugler said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Velcro Fathoms said...

Respectfully, I think you are wrong.
As someone who has been writing for years, with piles of jokes, features, specs, pilots, sketches and shorts, I would have jumped at this opportunity (if I saw it before today).
Writing for television is a closed system, with no entry level opportunities. I personally have never had the opportunity to submit a packet, had a producer or agent request my material, had a general meeting or an interview for an entry level job. It is the same for most of my friends I know that have been trying to break in for years.
Many of us are starving for a shot. We need more opportunities like this, not less. I am a huge fan of your work, but you started in the industry in a different era, I'm not sure you have the same perspective as those of us outside have.

Tammy said...

Wow. That is infuriating. I've heard that happens in the translating business too, where applicants get sent "samples" of the text to translate, only each applicant gets a different sample, and voila! Done for free! (Of course a text translated by 20 different people is not going to look so good, but quality is not a top priority for these people.)

Dixon Steele: That is infuriating too. And that he would so freely admit that they did that... I have no words.

Jonny: Thanks for the link. That guy is pretty funny, I think I'll follow his stuff.

Steve Mc said...

Ken, nothing to do with today's post but saw this and thought of you. I think Keegan Michael Key has very nicely summarized improv. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=coZARWbdNls

Tom Michael said...

Friday Question: the WGA has a service where you can register scripts, treatments, outlines, etc. before you submit them. While they say up front that this isn't absolute protection, there is an implied benefit and basically a date-stamp proof for your product. This is also a service that you have once or twice referred to using. My questions are: what are the actual benefits and protections that you get? And, in this Colbert submission situation in particular, does this give a writer a practical and effective recourse if the show did not hire the writer but later used the writer's bits?

ADmin said...

Agree with you 100% Ken. Highly self-indulgent of them. And I'm starting to get the impression, though job postings I've seen, that other employers are doing similar. Soon, you'll have come in at Noon, handle a lunch rush, invent 2 new burgers and pitch a new shake flavor to be a fry cook at Wendy's.

Bryan L said...

Actually, this sort of thing was common practice a couple of decades ago for non-entertainment writing. I'm a professional writer, but write non-fiction materials for corporations (articles, brochures, etc.) I was invited once to take a 'test' for a staff position at a publishing company. 30 or so writers sat in a room, were handed a bundle of articles and research on a topic, and basically created a chapter for a textbook. After the 'test' I talked to some of the other applicants, and discovered each of us had been assigned a different chapter (some highly suspicious sorts wouldn't share with the rest of us -- their loss). So the company basically got a free textbook out of the deal. I didn't get the position, and I actually doubt one ever existed.

I told the story to a friend later, and he said he'd been through the same thing with computer code. A number of people were assigned chunks of code as a 'test,' but he found out they were all working on different sections. Again, the company got a ton of free code out of this.

I don't take 'tests' any more. I'll give you samples, even by-lined samples, but I don't take 'tests.' I'll just walk away. You want me to write for you, you pay me.

DBA said...

Velcro Fathoms, I think your disagreement misses the point. Ken wasn't objecting to their opening up the hiring to anyone. His objection is to the amount of sample material the show is requesting be written specifically for it in order to apply. It'd be one thing if they asked for samples of the types of things they've specified in the packet, but to specifically request all of them is, as Ken noted, maybe a week's worth of work done for free just to apply. There's nothing in the process that allows for samples of similar work that could theoretically illustrate the ability to do what this show wants. There's no portfolio. This is more similar to if every sitcom asked applicants to write a spec of their show and would only accept that. So you'e writing a specific show for free every time you want to apply. It's like if a chef applied at a restaurant and instead of cooking a dish or two for the owner while applying, they had to run the dinner service for a night for free. That's not the best analogy...but it's closer to what I mean.

Anonymous said...

I spent 20 years writing in late night and I share your outrage about this. But why assume this is to net young writers? The show also could be trying to appeal to old pros who are desperate to work again, which makes it even worse. The Writers Guild looks the other way every single time. This is why we have to vote in people to the Board who will amend these horrendous practices.

Milton the Momzer said...

This, sadly, is not different from the common practice of using unpaid interns in all sorts of business, not just show.

Oscar Solis said...

Harlan Ellison says it all:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mj5IV23g-fE

BrettJ said...

I honestly wish I could say this surprises me, yet it doesn't. I so like Colbert when he's good, he's smart, funny and savvy. However, far too often, he's been bad. Boring guests, the same lame chat every other show rolls out and bits that stopped being funny a decade ago. If he isn't doing re-tread Letterman, he's doing openings that waste a minute of my life I will never get back. Why not do something that will break the mold? He has the talent. My best hope is perhaps someone will submit something that hasn't been done before, or at the very least, in quite some time.

JR Smith said...

I know that this isn't really a commentary on the show, but I will anyway. Colbert's Late Show can't seem to figure out what it wants to be. I tried watching it early on and then stopped back a few times. He doesn't seem all that comfortable doing this format of show. The theater, the set, the show...all seem like a suit that's too big for him.

Maybe they ought to just hire and pay some great writers and get a show runner who's done late night.

I dunno.

Velcro Fathoms said...

DBA
I understand the point and in a perfect world, packet requests like this wouldn't be necessary. I understand their point of view, if they just opened it up as you suggest they would get an impossible to weed through number of responses. They need some way to whittle down to the serious and interested applicants. If the implication is that they are using this as a way to generate material for their show, I doubt that is the case.
Look how many people got their start writing for television through Star Trek:TNG, a show that similarly courted outsider material.
The only other options for outsider writers are diversity programs and contests. In the diversity applications you usually get a handful picked from among thousands. This year so far I have written three specs and an original pilot for diversity applications, had I seen this opportunity I would have gladly taken a week to write material towards it.

Ted said...

I will disagree (and agree with Velcro!). Let's just say that you are an undiscovered brilliant comedy talent, and your specialty just happens to be late-night. This is an opportunity to get hired by the CBS late-night show! And there's more: what if you're picked for the staff, and then you become the writer who is responsible for the show's dramatic turnaround in the ratings! Ok long shot, but worth the effort? (and you've got all those jokes and sketches already written anyway, so what's the harm?)

Stephen Robinson said...

Previous posters have mentioned that they were "asked to submit." That implies someone of hiring authority is going to review the material and devote at least an hour or of so of their time to determining if the applicant is worthy of further consideration. As Mark Evanier said on his site, it's highly unlikely that Colbert or frankly anyone with regular access to him (i.e. not an intern) is going to look at it.

What's fair and reasonable at the entry-level stage is to ask for a portfolio of work. In journalism, for example, you would submit a few of your best clips. You weren't asked to research and write a front-page article on spec.

I also agree with Evanier that the more specific and time-intensive submission is reasonable when you've advanced to a finite pool of about a dozen or so people. I liken it to the third interview.

But I greatly resent the trend in all areas of business to demand that people looking for work do a great deal of work for free as part of the initial application process. A friend was once asked to prepare a Powerpoint deck for a client presentation. She could spend an evening laboring over something an intern will glance at once.

It's a shame because in my experience, the people trying to hire talent are usually too busy to deal with basically reading the equivalent of WAR AND PEACE. If you cut down on the tap dancing required of applicants, you could ensure that someone actually reviewed all the submissions rather than settling on the first few that don't suck.

LateShowApplicant said...

Ken, I love your blog and respect your opinion, but I think you're wrong of accusing The Late Show of doing this to steal material from applicants.

Because if they did, they completely screwed it up.

The Late Show is a topical show. Almost everything in that packet is never going to be useful again. If you go through the packet, the Cold Opens, Topical Story, Monologue Jokes and guest segment were already old by the submission deadline. Heck, they even ask for writers to only write guest segment pitches for guests that have already done the show in June.

The only things that were evergreens were the one general segment pitch and the three confessions. And if they were mining those for ideas, they would've had writers send in tons more. For examples, I've submitted packets for Late Night shows that asked for 10 or more segment pitches.

And honestly, this is the easiest Late Night packet I've ever had to assemble. Most places require much more of each piece than this one.

Mike Rowe said...

This practice started with Jimmy Kimmel over 15 years ago. The WGA stepped in at that time. Everyone who wrote a submission on spec under their guidelines was paid 600 bucks each. Then, those fees just went away. I have friends who run talk and variety shows and when they look for writers, they get at least 400 submission packets (seriously). Here's what I think writers need to do. -- Don't do the packet. Not out of protest. Don't do it because they're reading tons and tons of the same jokes and bits. Write what you think is funny and in your voice, and it'll stand out. It'll also tell your boss your true sensibility, this means they know your strength and they'll continually go to you for those type of jokes. You could become more of an asset this way.

Phil In Phoenix said...

I submitted a packet. But I wrote everything as if it was being performed by James Corden. Because it's only a matter of time.

The previous packet I submitted for a shot at fame and fortune required a lot less work: 2 silly ideas, a bunch of stupid nicknames, and the ability to bullshit people.

I didn't get the gig, but I understand why. That Trump guy REALLY nailed it!

suek2001 said...

With any relationship, there will always be an issue of trust...Most young writers are too trusting to give away their talents....I find it sad that those in the "arts" professions are told they have to give away their talents to gain that all important "exposure"....it happens in music as well as in writing...
I do have a slight fear that some comment I make on my blog will be stolen and used without attribution but no one reads my blog so I have no worries...

Jahn Ghalt said...

@Oscar Solis

Thanks for the link to three minutes of Ellison - what an excellent, on-the-money rant.

I've heard of so-called "interns" get abused - not only for chicken feed wages but sometimes for no pay.

Hell NO!

D. McEwan said...

I once submitted a couple pages of jokes to a comedian whose name everyone reading this would recognize. Frankly, I thought then and think now that he was second-rate, but he was very famous. Trust me, you'd all know his name. So I wrote a few pages of samples, and, as per usual, stuck what I thought were my weakest jokes at the bottom of the last page. He didn't like any of what I thought were the good ones, but praised the "Gems" I'd buried at the back. "Those are great jokes. You should lead with them." I was invited to attend his weekly writers room joke pitch session in his home to "Audition." (He had a radio show at the time on a station you could pull in in about half the country, and he was on network TV often.) I participated, and five or six of the jokes I pitched went into the show. When I inquired if I was to be paid for the jokes I'd "Auditioned" that he was going to use, he went ballistic. I was "Auditioning" and would not be paid. He was furious at the mere mention, at my gall that he should pay to use the jokes I'd "Auditioned," though use them he did. (I hadn't demanded money, merely inquired.) Anyway, we never spoke again. He's still alive. (This was exactly 40 years ago.)

Breadalbane said...

The egregious amount of material required of auditioning writers *reeks* of desperation. Which isn't all that surprising, because so does Stephen's show.

Now, I loved The Colbert Report. Never missed it.

But I stopped watching Colbert's Late Show regularly after about a week or two. Since then, I'll occasionally check in, maybe once a month ... but since I started doing that, I haven't lasted more than five minutes with any given episode.

It's not quite a trainwreck, mind you, it's just dull. And forced. I can't imagine the young demo embracing it, and the older demo probably -- and quite sensibly -- goes to bed after the monologue falls flat yet again.

Oh, and the band is simply annoying. And the bandleader is a faux-hip comedic vacuum where humour goes to die -- in comparison, Branford Marsalis had the comic chops of Chris Rock.

But hey ... that gets me thinking. You know who'd be *perfect* at appealing to at least CBS's core demographic of people between the ages of 65 and dead? Branford's old boss.

And Mr. Leno's free right now, I think...

Wendy M. Grossman said...

Jeff: Same thing at the beginning of the web. In 1995, one of my friends was doing some temporary stuff setting up a university news web server. He learned on the job, by reading books, by reading technical documentation, etc. The department he was working for then advertising his job for a full-time. Among the requirements: "Five years of experience." Who had five years of experience developing websites in 1995?

wg

Milton the Momzer said...

I once submitted jokes to Phyllis Diller. She bought 2 or 3 at like $2 each, sent me a check I wish I never cashed but kept, and offered commentary on why she rejected the others. I think that was classy.

Geoff with a G said...

Interesting conversation. All I can think to add is that the cold open sketch on Colbert is typically a very short, setup and joke, something around 20-30 seconds, with some exceptions that went as long as almost a minute. I'd hesitate to characterize any of them as a "full sketch."

Matt Celis said...

Pretty shady and widespread in most creative industries. And Stephen Colbert isn't all that funny.

Sharilyn said...

No, shame on you, Ken Levine. You must be hard-up for page views to display such willful ignorance. MASH tales not earning the clicks anymore?

As a longtime reader, I can honestly say I’ve never seen you this grossly off-base about anything. Where do I start?

First: writers had six days to submit their packet. The guidelines didn’t just go out the minute you read about it. If someone can’t write a few simple bits in a work week + a day, they shouldn’t be a staff writer on a daily show.

Second: there is nothing new about the ask. Of what you characterize as 13 full bits, 8 of them are just jokes. Setup/punchline. Simple. Your puffed-up version of the packet is in reality far less intense than the requirement during the Colbert Report days (for years, they asked for a complete Word as part of it). And if you want to talk brutal: for years, the Daily Show required that a finalist’s second packet a) consist of the same stories the show did that week, Mon-Thurs b) be delivered that Friday. So you effectively had less than a day to write your second packet.

How many people ever went to the media and bitched about those? None, because it’s required, and every idiot in the game knows it. How else does the show know you can write in the host’s voice - and do it quickly?

With all the late night talk shows on the air, all of which need to hire someone new at minimum once a year, how many times has anyone ever accused one of those shows of lifting material from a packet? But this is going to suddenly start happening now, simply because… you have a hunch? There’s no way you truly believe that, Ken.

The only unprecedented aspect of this process was that it was made so open, by CBS’s choice. The job posting was public, and the majority of the people who submitted resumes received the packet instructions.

Licht and CBS should be commended for opening the gates to all, even to those with few or no produced credits. Of the people I personally know who were invited to submit, HALF are unrepped.

Has that ever happened with a network show before? Would those people have otherwise had the chance to submit? No and no.

Is it ever going to happen again? When they’re subjected to accusations like this, and the Deadline article you regurgitated them from, absolutely not.

This was a huge opportunity for anyone other than friends-of-friends to submit, so the whole slate of candidates wouldn’t be a white twentysomething sausage party. You know this, Ken. Never write a word about diversity in writing rooms from this point forward, because now we know how you really want this process to run.

You spout off about “ramifications,” but fail to look in the mirror. This could’ve been a game-changer if other shows adopted the process, giving talented people of all levels, all geographies, a shot at being hired onto a network writing staff, joining the WGA, and having a great career. Instead, you’re teaching other showrunners to never try this. Keep it in the family, or else.

Now, let’s just all sit back and watch as the show uses all this “free” topical material generated by others. I can’t wait to hear Stephen’s hot takes on June news now through September. We all know that after being a WGA writer for 20 years, he’s going to choose this specific moment to start breaking the rules and being an unscrupulous dick.

I’ve lost a lot of respect for you today, Ken, but I hope you and your extra traffic are very happy together.

LateShowApplicant said...

I've got to ask Ken... Have you ever submitted a late night packet?

It's a different skillset than a sitcom writer. You've got to create material on the fly and hit the ground running and that's what this packet is about. You're not going to find someone who can crank out dozens of jokes per day by asking for (as you put it) "a few jokes, maybe one sketch, a sample of sketches you wrote on spec for SNL or THE DAILY SHOW. Not thirteen specific bits." You've got to be able to see if candidates can provide material on a quick and timely basis, especially when you're looking for writers who aren't necessarily established.

On that note, why are you attacking a process when that's very clearly an attempt by the show to bring in writers who aren't through the usual writing packets? Don't insult someone who's trying to make writing jobs more accessible to diverse and outside writers. Unless you don't think that's a problem at all?