TVWriter™ Talks to WALKING DEAD Writer-Producer Curtis Gwinn

Curtis-Gwinn30-something “child” that he is, Curtis Gwinn has an IMDB page that many of us would, um, kill for. He writes and produces both comedy and drama and has extensive experience with broadcast, cable, and interweb TV. He even acts too, but we forgive him.

Oh, right, he’s also an alumnus of TVWriter™ ‘s Online Workshop and a former People’s Pilot Contest competitor. We forgive him for that as well. (But will he forgive us?)

Curtis’s biggies include THE WALKING DEAD, where he is Supervising Producer, NTSF:SD:SUV, ANIMAL PRACTICE (aka “The Monkey Show”), THE ONION NEWS NETWORK, and THE MAN SHOW.

Last week, TVWriter™ Reporter-At-Large Justin Cloyd talked to Curtis about his life, career, and, yes, relationship with this very site. We’ll be carrying it in two parts.

Here’s the first:

I have a warm up question: Every entertainer has influences that inspire them and help guide their creative pursuits. What are yours?

This is always a tough one because, and I’m not trying to sound snooty or pretentious, I’m influenced in some way by everything I come in contact with. And what I mean by that is, I take lessons and inspiration as much from the things that repulse me as I do from the things that I love. Often times, for me, learning what I’m NOT is tremendously elevating and exhilarating.

But to answer your question more in the spirit in which I think it was asked, when it comes to TV I would say that I was most influenced by British comedy as a youngster. The Young Ones, Monty Python, Red Dwarf, Black Adder and Fawlty Towers being the most impactful on me. Though, the rash of early 2000’s alternative Brit comedy was also a massive revelation for me… Spaced, The Mighty Boosh, Look Around You, Jam, and Garth Marenghi’s Dark Place. All of it genius.

On the drama side, I grew up loving the more fantastical and/or seedy, so Kolchak: The Night Stalker, The Twilight Zone, Dr. Who (primarily the Tom Baker years), Tales From the Darkside, Friday the 13th: The Series, Quantum Leap, Amazing Stories, The X Files… Anything supernatural or mysterious, I was in.
Don’t get me started on movies and comic books. I won’t stop.As an adult, I still love horror, fantasy and sci-fi (Game of Thrones! The Walking Dead!), but I think I’m most influenced by the more gritty, human stuff… The Wire, Mad Men, Breaking Bad, Boardwalk Empire (though I know for some of my friends, it’s “bored-walk”, but whatever, it’s great), and my two most favorite dramas of the modern era – Deadwood and The Sopranos. The latter of which I think is the best TV show of all time.

You’re an…uhm, older adult now, and are an entertainment industry success story. There were a few years in the middle when you were an adult before you were a professional entertainer. During those years, did you have the constant drive compelling you to be in entertainment? Or did you just stumble upon the path?

Older adult?! What the fuck?! “Older adults” are in their 70’s. How old are you, you little punk?

some_walking_dead

To answer your question, yes, from an early age I knew I wanted to be in entertainment. It was a constant drive. There was a running joke in my family because when I was 3 years old, my mother asked me what I thought I’d be when I grew up and I told her, “a writer.” I even told her I had a typewriter with me in her belly. They all thought that was hilarious, but obviously it was formative in some way, right?

Between then and now, I also pursued a career in rock music and acting. Both of which were clearly towering successes…

Now get off my god damned lawn!

You’ve had a long career filled with many splendors. It’s had ups and downs, trials and tribulations, successes and failures and all the rest. At what point on this long, winding road did you feel legitimized in your choice of career?

I still don’t feel legitimized. I’m not sure I ever will. I think for my sick, neurotic mind it’s important to feel the need to SOMEDAY be legit. I feel like I have to constantly earn my place…otherwise I might get complacent. I never want to be the bloated writer/producer, living off of royalties, sitting on a golden toilet, firing one assistant for buying my 3rd wife the wrong anniversary gift while simultaneously screaming at another assistant to, “Tell Michael Bay I’m in for Cabo!”

Notice I have two assistants in that scenario. Pretty cool.

As far as feeling, “a part of something,” or that I was making headway… There were three times; 1) When I got my first series as a creator with, “Fat Guy Stuck in Internet,” on Adult Swim, 2) Being asked by Paul Scheer and Jon Stern to executive produce, write and direct for, “NTSF:SD:SUV:: (also on Adult Swim) and most recently 3) When I was hired to write and produce for one of my favorite programs (and comic books), “The Walking Dead.”

All three of those experiences were accompanied by giddy, “am I dreaming?” moments of surreal joy.

You started out as a comedian, and up until just recently, most of your employment has been in comedy shows. A lot of comedians get their funny through coping with their past. There’s a show that you’re in at the UCB Theatre called Death By Roo Roo: Your F’ed Up Family. In Roo-Roo’s description it invites for people to come and let “Roo-Roo West take what caused your family pain and turn it into a night of hilarious improv comedy.” With this in mind, on a scale of one-to-Batman, how traumatic was your life?

Hmm… It definitely wasn’t Batman traumatic… Maybe more like one of the lesser X-Men, or if I’m being honest, one of the New Mutants (post Fall of the Mutants, just getting into Inferno). But if I’m being HONEST-honest… More like one of the Morlocks – just sort of a homeless, jackass teen in bad clothes and a shitty haircut living under the city, pretending he was totally cool with being a B-class mutant, but secretly really wishing he could be an X-man… If only to sneak a peek of Kitty Pryde in the Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters’ locker room.

I didn’t have the best childhood, but it was a lot easier/luckier than 99% of the human race. Not to mention, all of the bumps in my personal road have completely informed who I am… My worldview, my personality and my most prized possession, my imagination. Wouldn’t change a thing.

As anyone who reads TV Writer regularly knows, Larry advocates that to be a TV writer you have to live in LA. During the course of your career you made the move from New York to LA. Was this hard for you? Was this the only time you had to make a move like that? Any advice for those planning on a similar relocation?

NTSF_etcI think Larry is right… for now. Things are changing so rapidly that really, if you have the skills, the drive and the access to quality cameras and editing, you can make your TV or Internet based show anywhere. However, if you want to work for the networks, or break into traditional cable narratives, with staffs and free lunch on the lot… Well, then yeah. You have to be in Los Angeles. Stop pretending you don’t. It hurts me to listen to it (because I was that guy in NYC for 12 years without a consistent job who, since moving to LA, has done nothing but work).

Obviously, that’s not everyone’s experience. I was lucky in the sense that I’ve been a part of the UCB Theater in NYC since 1999. So, by the time I moved to LA in 2010, there were already a ton of friends out here and a huge network of people to vouch for me, and plug me right into the scene.

To put it simply, if you’re an auteur and have the resources, you can make it from almost anywhere…. But you’re still severely handicapping your chances.

In a note to TV Writer you expressed the difficulty of breaking into drama when your last credit was “’the monkey show’ on NBC”. Even though you’ve worked on several shows that have found an audience, was it difficult for you to be taken seriously in the business as a writer when you only wrote comedy?

It wasn’t hard to be taken seriously in the “business,” it was just hard to convince drama folks that I was serious about working for THEM. I think for a lot of showrunners and producers, it may have seemed like I was trying to get a job, any job, rather than being truly passionate about drama writing. I mean, I just didn’t have the track record. Where was the proof that I was a “drama guy?”

I had to do a lot of selling in person to assure people that I was determined to make the switch from comedy to drama. I also had to prove it to myself. I turned down several very lucrative comedy offers because I felt that I had to walk the walk, draw the line in the sand and say, “no. I do drama now.”

That’s not to say I would never do comedy again. Of course I would. I mean, a lot of great writing blurs the lines between comedy and drama anyway… Is Louis not dramatic? Is The Sopranos not hilarious? When I saw August: Osage County on Broadway, it had me crying and laughing at the same lines. That’s good shit!

On a side note, “the monkey show” was an amazing experience. It got knocked very hard, but for me personally, it was one of the best learning experiences I’ve ever had in TV. I’m thankful to the creators and producers for hiring me.

There’s more. Come back tomorrow for PART TWO!

Whatie and Her Mother Watch Animal Practice

I have to admit, I’m a sucker for animals. I’ve been looking forward to Animal Practice since I first heard it was coming. I didn’t need to know much: it’s set in a veterinary office, and one of the main characters is a monkey. As far as I was concerned, you could put a big “SOLD” sign on it before I even watched it.

Well, I suppose I could have been jealous. This is an idea that I should have come up with and written. Why didn’t I? I really don’t know. In retrospect, the idea of a show set in a vet’s office is so obvious. A vet could easily house a comedy, or a serious medical drama, or even a dramedy. Maybe that’s why I’m not jealous. I may not have thought of it first, but there are at least a hundred different possible spins to the setting, so I can do my own another day.

But, for now, I just want to watch the monkey.

Animal Practice the series hasn’t premiered yet, but you can already watch the pilot episode. Overjoyed, I watched it. Then, I told my mom about it, and she watched it, too.

Personally, I was totally thrilled with it. The monkey did it for me. Yeah, I’m easy. Just dangle a monkey and I’m yours for life.

The cameo of the peacock helped, too. I also adored the hamsters riding turtles.

As for things like characterization, plot, and humor, well, I was satisfied. I thought the way (some of) the characters fought to get that dog his surgery was both heartwarming and inspiring. I felt that the story was really fresh, too – as in, I can’t recall another show using that plot or anything reasonably similar. Sure, most of the human characters didn’t really grab me right off, but I didn’t have any particular major objections. I figured they would grow on me as I learned more about them.

My mom, on the other hand, was disappointed. She also liked the monkey, but that’s about all she liked. She hated all but one of the human characters. She thought the vet guy was both unbelievable and shallow. She thought the assistant guy was crass and shallow. She was put off by the short female assistant’s, ah, blunt way of expressing herself. I told her she might warm up to them as the show progressed and the characters developed, and she agreed that might be true. However, more damagingly, she felt that the show relied entirely too heavily on sex for any semblance of humor. She did not enjoy the sideline about the assistant male’s girlfriend problems. She really hated the way the vet guy talked about getting laid. She wasn’t particularly impressed by the romantic issues between the lead characters, either. In short, this show was not the show she wanted.

She generally feels that most modern sitcoms aren’t funny any more. She does have a solid point: the best comedy comes from characters acting true to their natures in ways that happen to be funny given the circumstances. Many modern sitcoms don’t really measure up to that simple standard.

Well, she feels that Animal Practice didn’t meet that criteria, and for that reason, she was not impressed with the pilot episode. She will give it a second shot, mostly on account of the monkey. But she’s not expecting much.

It’s strange how we saw the same show and got such completely different things out of it.

Best television monkey picture ever

ANIMAL PRACTICE Has a New Showrunner

Uh-oh…

Showrunner Change On NBC’s ‘Animal Practice’ – Marco Pennette To Take Over – by Nellie Andreeva

There is a change at the helm of NBC‘s upcoming comedy series Animal Practice(formerly Animal Kingdom). Gail Lerner, who joined the show after the pilot as executive producer/showrunner, is departing, with Marco Pennette coming in as new showrunner. I hear the gig may be tied to a development/overall deal for Pennette at Universal TV. To accommodate the change and give Pennette time to get up to speed, I hear that the series’ planned hiatus has been pushed up by a week. Animal Practice, which just wrapped Episode 3, was supposed to start Episode 4 right away and take a hiatus next week. It will take the week-long break now instead.

Pennette is a sought-after showrunner who is credited with helping get ABC’s Ugly Betty off the ground and was a key writer-producer on Desperate Housewives. This past season, he created the ABC comedy pilotThe Manzanis starring Kirstie Alley and has another comedy with the Cheersalumna in consideration at TV Land.

Read it all

Making this kind of change after shooting only 3 episodes usually doesn’t bode well for a show’s future. Wonder what was bugging NBC.

Unless – you don’t suppose the monkey demanded it, do you? Hmm…

NTSF:SD:SUV Returns to Adult Swim August 9th…

…Which is a big deal to us because one of its creator/writer/showrunner/stars, a certain Curtis J. Gwinn, is a buddy of the boss’s. So, hey, how about we all watch?

Premiere party, anybody? We’re definitely up for it.

Speaking of that, when’s the ANIMAL PRACTICE party? ‘Cuz Curtis is on that show too, and that’s one hot, little monkey. (Not Curtis. This:)

LB Got This Tweet

by Larry Brody

Not the denizens of the ANIMAL PRACTICE writers room

Fall TV Pilot Preview: NBC’s ‘Animal Practice’
by Diane Gordon

What happens when a vet cares far more for the animals he treats than the humans who own them? That’s the premise of Animal Practice, a new NBC sitcom with Justin Kirk at the center as George Coleman, one of the best vets working but he has no tolerance or empathy for people. When he’s forced to work with his former flame, Dorothy Rutledge (Joanna Garcia Swisher) after she inherits the facility, they butt heads about how best to run the hospital, especially when it comes to treating the pet owners better.  

The Hollywood Reporter screened the pilot of Animal Practice and found the workplace comedy surprising and funny. Here’s what you need to know about it.  

Read it all

Is it the brownie I just ate (the one left over from the Kiwanis Club booth at the local 4th of July celebration), or is that clip above really funny?

Oh yeah, the tweet, from Curtis Gwinn, ANIMAL PRACTICE writer-producer and TVWriter™ buddy:

every time you DON’T follow the writers of NBC’s new series Animal Practice, a puppy cries itself to death. don’t fuck up.@AniPractWriters

 I’m thinking we should listen to the man. You know, just in case.