Monday, August 03, 2009

Writing Room Dining Tips

August is when most of the half-hour comedies go back into production. For writing staffs that means long hours, Lexapro, and eating your next 450 meals out of Styrofoam. As a veteran of the wars, allow me to offer some suggestions. I realize some are geared towards LA based shows. But I'm sure there are equivalent BBQ joints in New York and Kiev.

If Superman were picking up your dinner order at a restaurant and then flying back to the office with supersonic speed it would still arrive cold. So the P.A. who drives a Kia and is new to LA has no shot. The only food guaranteed to arrive warm is sushi.

Pasta does not travel well. Unless your fettuccine preference is a congealed brick, order a salad. Don’t be thinking “what would be best?”; think “what would be safe?” Caesars with chicken or shrimp are a good bet. So are sandwiches.

Any entrĂ©e that depends on sauce – avoid. That's actually good advice in general.

Beware of Barbeque food on a night you suspect might be a long one (i.e. later than 7:00). But when you feel nothing will hit the spot like animal fat, go to Doctor Hogly Wogly’s Tyler Texas Style BBQ way up in the valley. Send your P.A. now if you want it for Thursday.

Chinese food is always a staple because it can be served buffet style. Order from Twin Dragons. Just say “Bob Ellison for (how many)”. Bob has ordered there so many nights on so many shows that just his name becomes a short cut key stroke.

Deli buffets are good too. And it'll be a nice change not having it at a condolence call.

One night on FRASIER we had stone crabs. That was twelve years ago and they’re still picking shards of crab shells out of the carpet. Don't order items you can never get out of the room Tommy's chil burgers are another example. The smell of one of those babies will last long after civilization as we know it ceases to exist.

P.A.’s, don’t take everyone’s order like a waiter would. Pass out copies of the menu, let everyone circle what they want, and just collect them. It’ll save time and you won’t have to answer “whether the salmon is fresh”. How the fuck would you know?

Writers, when your order comes back wrong (and it WILL), never yell at the P.A. He’s overwhelmed, doing the best he can, and five years from now he’ll be the VP of Comedy for a major network. This happened to me. Thank God I was nice to Cheryl Dolins. She was our P.A. on CHEERS and years later I was pitching a pilot to her at NBC. She still didn’t buy it but that was the idea’s fault, not the Daily Grill’s.

And don’t be a P.A. Killer. Don’t send a 19-year-old coed out to get you soul food at 2:00 in the morning from an all-night stand in Compton.

When the food does arrive, eat it. That sounds obvious but on one show I consulted the show runner wouldn’t break for meals until we finished the scene we were working on. You could almost see the icicles forming on our Styrofoam boxes. This does not create a carnival-like atmosphere among the troops.

If the studio will let you, have a Starbucks run at 3:00 or 4:00. That jolt of caffeine should keep you awake during runthroughs. When actors share their concerns about lines or scenes they generally frown on you sleeping through it.

Bananas are a good snack food. The potassium can give you a second wind. Anything made by Hostess is bad. And may be left over from season three of ROSEANNE.

Don’t eat chocolate covered coffee beans unless you plan to be up for sixty straight hours.

Drink lots of water.

If you’re on some bizarre restrictive diet and require special attention you better be the funniest person in the history of the world or your staff will kill you.

Yeah yeah, we know the bagels aren’t as good as New York. Just shut up and eat one.


Instead of Cherry Skittles and Strawberry Starbursts, consider as a daring alternative: cherries and strawberries.

The greatest incentive for writing an episode that is in great shape is not to win an Emmy, or gain the actors’ trust, it’s so you can go home and eat a real meal on a real plate.

Jesus! Just writing this I need a Tums.


Richard Cooper said...

Ken, How does pizza rate in the Writers' Room? It's good hot or cold, can be ordered half and half for wider buffet selection, and is pre-cut to get slow writers back to work quicker...

wackiland said...

Remember the "old days", when some sitcom folk could actually keep a chef on staff? Sigh.

Joe said...

Why is it that a studio will likely frown on spending, say, $1K on a superautomatic no-thinking, pushespresso machine and $15/month (Starbucks whole beans and milk at Costco) but but not on spending $30/day for X days for X months (assuming 6 writers at 130 days of writing roomness, that works out to $3900/yr.)


Joe said...

(Yeah, I mangled that previous comment. Sorry.)

Mary Stella said...

They need to feed you writers better.

The only involvement I've had with a television production was a location shoot done here at my day job. I was amazed at the emphasis on food. A mobile catering truck in the parking lot offered amazing choices for breakfast and lunch. How anyone had an appetite after the craft services woman plied them with food and drink all day, I can't imagine. She started with espresso and mid-morning paninis followed by a fruit and cheese tray and the ever present cart of various candies and other snacks. Half an hour after the lunch break, the woman began offering mango smoothies, freshly baked cookies, more fruit, more of everything.

Actresses trying desperately not to grow beyond a size two must need to hide out in their trailers.

How come everyone on the crew isn't as big as a house?

Wayne said...

Sitcom writing. 10+ hours sitting in a crowded space. Bad meals. The only exercise is walking to restroom. It's like flying to England every day.

Todd said...


Very savvy tips. Lunch was always provided to the writers (FREE!) on the show I worked on. Here are a few additional observations:

Avoid: French fries don't travel well. By the time they get to you, they'll either be soft as mush or hard as the showrunner's stare after midnight.

Feast: A favorite was El Pollo Loco. Just a huge batch of chicken and sides (this was before they branched out into burritos and that most Mexican of desserts, Foster's Freeze soft serve). Piling all bones on a central plate quickly helps establish primal writer bonds.

What were we thinking: We once ordered Cuban food from Versailles - rice, beans, pulled pork, plantains - and lived to regret it on a cold winter's night with the windows shut.

Sometimes FREE isn't really "FREE".


James said...

If I was a show runner - I would have a 45min break at some point in the late afternoon for exercise. Writers could jog, hit the gym (which would be located close by the production offices), or ride a bike - anything to get us all of our asses and get the blood flowing. A good jolt of exercise is ten times more effective than a cup of coffee...and healthier too.

Saj said...

Ok, I am the dinner order P.A. Two tips:

you don't drive. you let others deliver to you.

Nathan said...

Your post and the comments got me thinking about this:

Mel Ryane said...

Jokes need grease. Depression needs grease. Late nights need grease. I'm guessing green beans don't do the same trick.

footstepsofjimburrowsthiswaycomes said...

Good grief! Writers need stamina. Writers need endurance. Writers need fresh air. Writers need a raison d'etre... not a grease clot in the femoral artery!
I'm thinkin' you guys need more conjugal visits and less take-out.
Also, stay away from any KUSH Dispensary in Venice Beach, CA. but if you must....opt for the Kush with the giddy-up rather than the mellow-out stuff. The giddy-up Kush will stimulate everything but your appetite. You'll be an asset to your writers room. Grease is a liability. Sugar is a toss-up. About as malignant as a marshmallow peep. Caffeine is a given. An alkaloid trumps grease every time.

thevidiot said...

It is a lesser known fact that on many shows, the editors too get to eat on the show's budget much of the time. The catch is that we have to eat where the Writers want to go. Gad sometimes those are the most awful places and if you are at a place like Paramount, where Editorial is miles from the Production Office, lunch can arrive at 4PM! Burgers are like rocks and if you were stupid enough to get cheese on them... just bypass the meal and go vomit down the hall!

Ah, it all makes me want to be back there working so badly!!

Paul said...

You probably shouldn't complain about getting free takeout food every night, Ken. Most of us are unemployed and eating stale peanut butter & jelly sandwiches.

aj said...

Salads are def key when it comes to situations like this. Oddly enough, when I was sitting around all day and eating free cobb salads five days a week, I was ten pounds LESS than I am now, unemployed and eating homemade meals.
I guess blue cheese and calorie-packed dressing really DOES slim!

Anonymous said...

why would the studio net let you drink coffee? unless "starbucks" is code for "acid" (which I assume is great help for writing, but the studio might have reservations about it)

Anonymous said...

Hi Ken,

How about providing for us an "upside" column regarding the day-to-day grind of working on a sitcom?

faith said...

Teachers must think of some activities which they can do for the students to quickly learn the art of writing.