Listen to This Great Podcast About Writing

Slate's Culture Blog
June 8 2012 3:45 PM

Listen to This: The Nerdist Writer’s Panel

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The day that Comedy Bang Bang bursts out of its podcast chrysalis and becomes a TV butterfly is a fine time to marvel at the impact of podcasts on the world of comedy. Goofy interview-sketch hybrids like Comedy Bang Bang or behind-the-scenes interview shows like WTF With Marc Maron—which will also soon morph into a TV show on IFC—have been a boon to comedy nerds. But TV-writing geeks need not be jealous. There’s a podcast out there that delves into the nuts and bolts of the craft and business of TV writing with a WTF-like intensity—and without some of that show’s narcissistic excesses.

The format of the Nerdist Writers Panel is pretty straightforward. Host Ben Blacker, a writer with credits on Supah Ninjas and Supernatural, interviews TV writers—often in groups of three, but occasionally one-on-one—about how they broke into the business, their experiences working on various shows, and how different showrunners, writers rooms, and networks operate. The discussions are usually taped in front of an audience (the shows benefit nonprofit tutoring program 826LA), and attract an impressive array of guests, including Breaking Bad’s Vince Gilligan, Lost’s Damon Lindelof, Justified’s Graham Yost, and Community’s Dan Harmon. Blacker is a skilful interviewer who keeps the conversation moving, asks follow-ups when they’re needed, and doesn’t shy away from sensitive topics.

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Blacker’s willingness to ask tough questions was especially evident this week, when he talked with Josh Friedman, Alexa Junge, and Andrew Miller about how pilots work. All of the guests were tending fresh wounds: Friedman’s pilot, The Asset, wasn’t picked up; Miller’s show, Secret Circle, was canceled after one season; and Junge worked on two short-lived 2011-12 shows, Free Agents and Best Friends Forever. The discussion of the “brutal” process—how they pitched their pilots, how they learned that their projects have been killed, and how they lined up their next jobs—offers a fascinating peek into an insular world that plays out in a few square miles of Los Angeles. Other recent standouts have been Jane Espenson (Buffy, Caprica, Once Upon a Time) and Douglas Petrie (Buffy, Pushing Daisies) ruminating on motivation, stakes, and structure, and an episode featuring former Community writer Neil Goldman that was recorded a day after Dan Harmon was fired from the show.

Since Blacker is focused on helping people to break into the business, he usually asks how new writers can make their mark on a writers room. The answer is almost always, “Don’t be an asshole.” If WTF With Marc Maron highlights the pain most comedians tap into to make other people laugh, the odd conclusion of the Nerdist Writers Panel is that the best way to keep working in the world of television is to be a nice person.

June Thomas is a Slate culture critic and editor of Outward, Slate’s LGBTQ section. 

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