It’s all about experience…or is it? We don’t know about you, but we found this an interesting and ultimately very sad story:
by Paul Brownfield
When the writers of the ABC sitcom “Last Man Standing” broke for lunch one recent Friday, five of them took their food to Ed Yeager’s office on the lot here.
Mr. Yeager’s office is unusual, in that half of it is dressed as a tiki bar (for post-taping drinks). Elvis and Rat Pack memorabilia further bring out the retro theme, while the couch, where Sid Youngers was seated, was adorned with a homey, “Roseanne”-themed afghan.
Former stand-up comedians, Mr. Youngers, 57, and Mr. Yeager, 58, got their start on that ABC sitcom, which ran from 1988 to 1997 and is now chiefly remembered as one of the last socially aware sitcoms built around a genuine standup star, Roseanne Barr. Inside the TV business, “Roseanne” is equally recalled as an exemplar of the sitcom’s Versailles period, a time when writing staffs were large and the jobs flowed. “Roseanne” didn’t have a writers room; it had joke rooms and story rooms, the better to accommodate Ms. Barr’s habit of bringing writers on as quixotically as she fired them.
In a way, that profligacy still reverberates. Five of the writers on “Last Man Standing” once wrote on “Roseanne.” One of them, Miriam Trogdon, is now part of a writing team with her own daughter, Gracie Charters, 26.
“Last Man Standing,” which stars Tim Allen, is in its fourth year. It is the sort of multicamera, middle-of-the-road sitcom that the broadcast networks now schedule almost without telling anyone, lest they appear fusty-branded compared with the trendsetting shows on streaming services.
For the “Roseanne” 5, however, it is a plum gig.
“Last Man Standing” isn’t typically on the Emmy radar, but it is likely headed to profitability in syndication and could run for years to come — no small feat in today’s climate for network comedy. The show features a more cantankerous spin on Mr. Allen’s persona. This sitcom dad, Mike Baxter, is the marketing chief of a sporting goods company whose traditional attitudes are held in check by the women who rule his household as well as a liberal son-in-law. As part of his duties at the company, Outdoor Man, Mike has a video blog on which he not only mocks climate change fears but also extemporizes on a patriarchal America that has lost its way.
While dismissed as ho-hum by critics, “Last Man Standing” has earned praise from conservative blogs as refreshing, and its ratings, which creep up to eight million viewers when DVR numbers are factored in, are considered solid. But perhaps the most unusual aspect of “Last Man Standing” is the composition of its writing staff of 15, a number of whom are closing in on 60. Given various revolutions in the TV business, these writers feel fortunate — if not surprised — to have landed jobs actually writing for a multicamera sitcom on a broadcast network.
Take away the multicamera kingpin Chuck Lorre’s four CBS sitcoms, led by “The Big Bang Theory,” and network schedules are noticeably bereft of a form that has kept the “Last Man Standing” writers employed — and well-paid — for decades.
“I would say as a young writer, there’s definitely sort of this fin de siècle feel about everything,” Ms. Charters said. “People have this attitude that TV is going to be over. And it’s kind of depressing.”
Joey Gutierrez, 51, whose credits include “The Drew Carey Show,” said he felt “lucky that I’m still doing it after all this time.” He did note that there seemed to be more older writers now than when he started, which he attributed to the need for multicamera veterans on family sitcoms produced for cable channels like Disney, TV Land and Nick.
“But it also gets harder and harder to get jobs, too, in that not only has TV comedy been shrinking, but you get more expensive,” added Mike Shipley, 50, who has written for “My Name Is Earl.” “People have to really want you in particular.”