Well, he breaks it by fixing it, of course. Isn’t that what story-breaking is all about? Making the story work?
by Joe Berkowitz
The opening credits on most TV shows often come with a side order of lies. The main offender is the “written-by” credit. It’s a suspiciously narrow designation that suggests one or possibly two story-artisans painstakingly handcrafted every plot-point, every turn, and every string of sparkling banter that make up the episode all on their own. Barring some exceptions, what actually happens is an entire writers room full of interlocking personality types forms like a comedy Voltron to pitch and polish ideas until one or two writers have enough material to go off and write up a draft. It’s a process that’s known as breaking a story, and it is incredibly difficult to do.
One person who knows more about it than most, though, is Alan Yang.
As an early hire on Parks and Recreation, who stayed on all the way through to the triumphant series finale seven years later, Yang cut his teeth working with smart sitcom svengali Mike Schur. Before that, he’d spent a season writing onSouth Park, but it’s Yang’s most recent project that’s sparked the most conversation this winter. Ever since Netflix released the entire season of Master of None, the deeply personal half-hour comedy Yang co-created with star Aziz Ansari, fans have been retiring to their couches for hours on end, pausing only to recommend the show to friends. Master of None is a funny, sincere series about identity, modern romance, and more, that’s so of the moment, you can practically hear someone yell “cut” right in your apartment.
Since it’s not on a traditional network, the show’s episodes are allowed to unfold at a more leisurely pace—but that doesn’t mean Yang abandoned what he learned about storytelling at Parks and Rec. Although the “written by” credit on almost every episode is attributed to creators Yang and Ansari, the two used a writers room of funny, trusted friends and colleagues like Joe Mande and Andy Blitz to help with breaking stories.
“I’m a huge believer in story being this invisible scaffolding that no one ever recognizes or realizes is actually making the audience engaged in what’s going on,” Yang says. “There is no formula for it. Sometimes a story will break in a day and you’ll have the episode, and then other episodes it’ll take weeks and weeks. It’s just a thing that I think you learn over time, and being in writer’s rooms really helps, but there’s just no magic bullet.”…