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August 28, 2015

Six great depictions of writers on TV

by Bob Sassone, posted Apr 10th 2007 11:01AM

Sally, Buddy, and Rob

Welcome to TV Squad Lists (formerly 'The Five'), a feature where each blogger has a chance to list his or her own rundown of things in television that stand out from the rest, both good and bad.

TV usually gets the writing profession wrong. I've never understood why, since shows and characters are written by writers themselves. Maybe they think they have to dumb it down for the general audience. That's why you have writers like Jessica Fletcher, who just sits down at the typewriter and the words come out fine and she mails it off to her publisher. This happens all the time on television. And have you ever noticed that when you hear the writing that a writer character has done on a show it's almost always terrible? Why is that?

After the jump are six writer characters on TV that were done correctly.

1. Rob Petrie, Buddy Sorrell, and Sally Rogers (The Dick Van Dyke Show): What I like about this team was the fact that they all worked in one small office (no separate offices or giant conference table), and there were days when they got NO work done at all. The writing would come really hard to them, and Rob would pace and Sally would knit and Buddy would sleep on the couch and they'd talk about everything else except writing. That's usually how writing works.

2. Oscar Madison (The Odd Couple): If you bumped into Oscar Madsion, you'd never think he was a writer. He was a slob, he often had a cigar in his mouth, he overslept. Wait a second, that is a writer! Jack Klugman did a great job with this role. You saw him banging away with two fingers on his typewriter, and you just knew that he was a good writer and didn't get all flowery or liteary with his words. Then he'd hand the pages to his secretary Myrna (right before deadline, of course), and you just know she had to rewrite it a bit and fix all the typos.

3. Matt Albie (Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip): It's probably not a big surprise that this is a good depiction of a writer, since Aaron Sorkin writes the character and he based it partly on himself. But what I like about Albie is that you really do believe he's a writer. He paces a lot, mumbles to himself a lot, gets easily frustrated that whatever he's writing really "sucks," he smokes, he's always nervous, and he's sarcastic. Maybe it's just the fact that Matthew Perry plays him so well.

4. Dave Barry (Dave's World): Of course, I say this because the character of "Dave Barry" was based on the real life writer Dave Barry, but Harry Anderson did a good job with this, too, portraying a suburban husband and dad who was also a popular humor columnist, and his attitude rang true. I haven't seen the show in years, but didn't he have a separate office that he worked in and he wore a bathrobe a lot? Those were nice touches if I'm remembering that correctly.

5. Toby Ziegler and Sam Seaborn (The West Wing): Yeah, I know, another Sorkin creation, but he writes well. I like even though these two were opposites of each other (Toby was mumbly and easily irritated and sour, Sam was optimistic and upbeat and romantic), they had the same vision when it came to writing for the President. What we heard of their writing - and over four years it was more than you usually get on TV shows - was actually quite good. Inspirational, yet easy to understand and snappy.

6. Carl Kolchak (The Night Stalker): Actually, this guy has to be on the list because what other life did he have besides writing? And he wrote dozens of stories that he knew would never get published. That takes dedication. I don't think that most writers would be caught in the same outfit every single day (outside the home anyway). Unless you're Tom Wolfe.

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Karen Young

What about depictions of writers in the movies? My favorite is Michael Douglas in "Wonder Boys." Other good ones are Geoffrey Rush writing with his own blood in "Quills" and Paul Giamatti in "Sideways."

April 10 2007 at 6:11 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
David D

Coincidental that I mentioned this show on another thread yesterday, but I always liked Dabney Coleman's sportswriter "Slap" Maxwell. As obnoxious as the character was (although he was no Buffalo Bill), he did have a way with words, and Jay Tarses got to put some lovely sportswriting into the scripts from time to time.

I taped the whole series a hundred years ago, and I've got to go look at it again -- it's never gonna show up anywhere else.

April 10 2007 at 6:02 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

My biggest problem with Sex and the City was that never for one moment did I believe that Sarah Jessica Parker's character had ever written anything, let alone wrote for a living. Then, to top it off, she went to Paris without her laptop (the only writing tool we had ever seen her use)! What writer would move to Paris without looking forward to the opportunity to write? Arggh!

April 10 2007 at 4:00 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I loved the slacker staff writer who worked with Nancy Travis's tv producer character on "Almost Perfect". I can't remember the actor's name, but he played Miles on "Thirtysomething". He was utterly hysterical, wearing sunglasses, being "cool", acting like he was perpetually stoned. Somehow, I suspect that tv writers are more like him than they want to admit.

April 10 2007 at 2:46 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Joe in LA

I also enjoyed "Lou Grant" the drama sequel to "The Mary Tyler Moore Show."

April 10 2007 at 1:41 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Jeff N.

I like how the writers are portrayed on 30 Rock. I think they should of been included.

April 10 2007 at 1:03 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I would add Dan and Casey from Sports Night to the list, making it all 3 Aaron Sorkin shows represented. They weren't shown writing as much as the other two shows, but from what we did see, it isn't easy writing about sports games, as we saw in the episode when Dan gets writer's block and tries writing about the Red Wings-Flyers hockey game. Also, the episode where Jeremy writes to his sister Louise.

Great list and love the redesign! I just wish that the American Idol ice cream ad could go away. Firefox 2.0.3 has to let it play in its entirety before it loads anything else. Very annoying!

April 10 2007 at 12:33 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I think you're leaving out a very notable example- the cigarette smoking man from x-files. the episode where you find out about his background, and it turns out he's really just a frustrated writer is just brilliant...

April 10 2007 at 12:30 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Why TV hasn't made a series around a Blogger's life is beyond me. Seems like it'd be a fresh well of material.

April 10 2007 at 12:16 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I always liked Phil (and Jerry, and the other writers, but mostly Phil) from the Larry Sanders Show. He was competitive, grumpy, self-centered, and rude, and the quality of his writing suffered when he was happy.


April 10 2007 at 11:44 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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