Love comedy? So do Bradford Evans and Josh Kurp, who wrote this article back in the summer of 2011. Even though almost 5 full years have passed, we think this still could be the definitive list of TV comedy writing staffs? What say you?
by Bradford Evans and Josh Kurp
A sharp and clever writing staff is the key to a great comedy series, but some shows in television’s past have gone above and beyond, recruiting a murderer’s row of comedy minds to fill the writers’ room, with each member later creating an impressive body of work on their own. Either by design or by luck, some of the best comedy shows ever have featured an eclectic, unusual mix of personalities behind the scenes. This is a list of some of the most remarkable groups of writers in the history of TV comedy, not the best-written shows. TakeThe Dana Carvey Show, for example; it’s a cult hit but never lasted long enough to be considered a classic. Nevertheless, the combination of comedy writers on staff was the most noteworthy thing about it, with everyone from renowned stand-up Louis C.K. to quirky cinephile darling Charlie Kaufman to late night satirist Stephen Colbert typing up scripts.
Without further ado, let’s take a look at some of TV’s most extraordinary collections of comedy writers. We’ve left out most current series because it’s too soon to evaluate their staffs, as their impact and future endeavors remain to be seen.
Your Show of Shows (NBC, 1950-1954)
Staff: Mel Brooks (Blazing Saddles); Carl Reiner (The 2000 Year Old Man); Neil Simon (The Odd Couple); Danny Simon (Caesar’s Hour); and Mel Tolkin (All In the Family)
Head writer Mel Tolkin presided over the most prestigious comedy writing staff in TV history, and one that the show’s members couldn’t stop writing about for years to come. Playwright Neil Simon wrote Laughter on the 23rd Floor about his experiences here, Carl Reiner used his time on Your Show of Shows as the basis for The Dick Van Dyke Show, and Mel Brooks produced My Favorite Year, which was inspired by his stints on this show and its successor, Caesar’s Hour. The staff also included Danny Simon, who inspired The Odd Couple and is also credited with teaching brother Neil Simon and Woody Allen how to write comedy. It’s a common misconception that Woody Allen and M*A*S*H* creator Larry Gelbart were also on staff at Your Show of Shows. Gelbart joined up with the group later for Caesar’s Hour, while Woody Allen came onboard later to write on Sid Caesar’s TV specials that followed that series.
The Dick Van Dyke Show (CBS, 1961-1966)
Staff: Jerry Belson (Gomer Pyle U.S.M.C.); Sam Denoff (That Girl); Sheldon Keller (Caesar’s Hour); Carl Kleinschmitt (The Odd Couple); Garry Marshall (Happy Days); Dale McRaven (Perfect Strangers); Howard Merrill (F Troop); Bill Persky (That Girl); Carl Reiner (The 2000 Year Old Man); and John Whedon (The Donna Reed Show)….