What It’s Like To Write For A Network TV Show
We chatted with the writer/creator of “F is For Family” and Co-producer of “The Simpsons,” Michael Price.
If you can believe it, The Simpsons has been on Fox Television for 30 years and is the longest-running American sitcom, ever. Fox announced earlier this year that it has renewed the show for another two seasons, which will total 713 episodes by season’s end.
The show is immortalized as a cult classic in the animated sitcom realm for its exaggerated portrayal of the dysfunctional nuclear family unit. The Simpsons is based on The Tracey Ullman Show, a weekly American television variety show from the late ‘80s. The Tracey Ullman Show debuted The Simpsons as vignettes right before and after commercial breaks during its three-season run. Eventually, the cartoon characters caught on and the vignettes were made into a primetime televised series in December 1989.
The Early Days of The Simpsons
The Good Night episode is the first short to premiere on The Tracey Ullman Show. You can see in the video that the original sketches were roughly drawn, which was actually a miscommunication between the original writer and the animators. Instead of cleaning up the crudely drawn characters, the animators simply traced over them.
Klasky-Csupo, Inc. animated the cartoon shorts during the early days of The Simpsons. And before The Los Angeles Film School took residence in its current building, Klasky-Csupo had its animation studios and corporate offices here.
Students Meet With Long-time Writer and Co-producer for The Simpsons
A major perk of attending school in Hollywood is having production studios and industry executives in close proximity. You never know when a studio exec will attend a screening on campus or speak to students on a panel. As students advance in school, opportunities may arise to go behind the scenes on a live production set. Last fall, a class of Entertainment Business students visited The Fox Studios Lot in Century City. The class, along with instructor Donna Loyd, watched a writers’ table read with Michael Price for an episode of The Simpsons. After the table read, Price shared the process of writing a script and turning it into an actual show. Hint: It takes a LONG time.
The Process of Writing a Show Script:
The lead writer typically takes 2-3 weeks formulating the script for an episode. Then the writing staff will take a few days to do what’s called breaking the story where they map out the full scenes or “beats” of the script.
Once everything is mapped out and the script is assembled, a first draft is submitted for review. The staff gathers in the writers’ room and projects the drafted script on a big-screen TV. Everyone picks apart the script little by little. Basically, the writers pitch new jokes or omit lines that don’t work.
After it’s polished, the script goes to the table read. There isn’t anything glamorous about a table read. It’s held in a large corporate conference room packed with writers, show executives, family and friends. The idea is to have the actors read the scripts out loud and get the audience’s reactions. If certain jokes don’t land, the writers take notes and the script will then go to an additional rewriting session.
The script moves along the pipeline and into the voice-over sessions, storyboarding and production at the FOX Studios in Burbank. After the production is complete, the script gets shipped overseas to a studio in Korea where most of the animation is done for the show.
It takes about a year from the time the script is written to when it’s ready to air on television. The episode our students sat in on won’t air until November of 2019.
The Entertainment Business Program hosted Michael Price at The Los Angeles Film School
Michael Price started writing for The Simpsons in 2001 during the 300th episode. Before joining the writing staff, Michael bounced around the sketch comedy world. He wrote spec scripts, which are non-commissioned and un-solicited screenplays, in hopes to grab the various networks’ attention. A few jobs rolled in, but from 1993 until 2001, Price hadn’t found work on a show that lasted for more than one season. Price eventually landed the writing gig at the The Simpsons through a connection from his previous job at Homeboys in Outer Space. “It was a very silly show. Kind of like a space satire, but it was my first network sitcom, and I was so happy to be on there,” said Price.
Hear more about Price’s experience in writing for network television by watching the full video interview below!
A Conversation with Michael Price
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