Thursday, July 21, 2016
MTM was headquartered at CBS Radord in the San Fernando Valley. I got in on the tail end of that Camelot. At the time I joined MTM, they had THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW, THE BOB NEWHART SHOW, PHYLLIS, and RHODA.
What made MTM so special was its founder and president, Grant Tinker. He hired the best writers and created the best environment for them to do their thing. There was little or no interference, and he served as a buffer to networks, always taking the side of his creative team.
The day we went to our first runthrough Grant Tinker made a point of coming down to the stage, introducing himself, and welcoming us. This was unheard of. And still is. We were just two baby writers. Today studios welcome baby writers by forcing them to be paper partners so they can pay them half a normal salary.
Most of the writing offices were in a two-story building right off the main entrance. You’d walk down the hallways and see these names on the doors: Jim Brooks, Alan Burns, David Lloyd, Bob Ellison, Earl Pomerantz, Glen & Les Charles, Ed. Weinberger, Stan Daniels, Dave Davis, Lorenzo Music, Tom Patchett, Jay Tarses, Gary David Goldberg, Hugh Wilson, Michael Leeson, Charlotte Brown. It was the “We Are the World” of comedy.
And there was a lot of camaraderie between the shows. Gary Goldberg put up a basketball hoop and there were always pick up games. Filming nights were scattered so if you finished your rewrite night at a reasonable hour you would often swing by the stages of the shows that were filming. Paramount felt more like a college campus than a program mill.
Then, in the ‘90s, writing staffs would gather after filmings at the nearby Columbia Bar & Grill to compare notes and laughs.
It was a glorious time, when smart comedy was appreciated, and writers were treated with great respect. Our shows regularly got 30 million viewers a week so even without interference by the networks and studio we must’ve been doing something right.
Very few of these Camelots still exist. From what I hear, Shondaland is one. I cherish being part of two and honestly believe I became a better writer as a result. The striving for excellence mixed with support and camaraderie pushed me to always do my very best. Treating people well – what a concept! And everyone benefits from Camelot – not just the knights of the rewrite table, but the 30 million subjects as well.
By Ken Levine at 6:00 AM