The End of the Story of a Writer

Earl Pomerantz recently finished his series of “The Story of a Writer” posts, covering his entire career in television from his boyhood in Canada to Hollywood, the many shows he wrote for — including The Cosby Show, where he was showrunner for the earliest episodes — all the way up to the early ’00s, when the work dried up (as it did for many situation comedy writers, but especially veteran writers). It would be great if he would turn the series into a book, but for now it’s worth going through the archives for those posts; there’s all kinds of interesting stuff about the nuts-and-bolts of comedy writing, and unlike many writers, he has a very clear-eyed, nostalgia-free view of television history. In fact, sometimes I think he underrates himself and the shows he worked on.

The two final chapters were a sort of sustained look at the sitcom collapse of the early ’00s. Chapter Thirty — in five parts, part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5, — was about the last show he produced, Kristin Chenoweth’s flop comedy Kristin, and why a show that seemed fine to everyone involved (though with a key casting problem that kept it from being what it should have been) became a critically-reviled bomb. It ends with him analyzing the show with the benefit of hindsight and realizing that the sensibility of the show (and the writers, perhaps, he thinks) was behind the times, and that even the things that used to be advantages in TV — actors with theatre training, for example — were actually disadvantages due to over-familiarity. It’s a poignant ending to the chapter because, again, it’s not just a nostalgic wallow and not just a complaint about ageism; he’s genuinely trying to figure out what a veteran’s place is, or should be, in a show business world that by definition needs to be up-to-date.

And the last chapter, Thirty-One, was in two parts — part 1, part 2 — and dealt mostly with his final consulting job, on According to Jim, where he meets a younger generation of improv-trained writers, the more aggressive modern rewriting process, and the generally depressing atmosphere for comedy writers at a time when jobs were scarce. It’s also a reminder of how much hard work goes into even a bad show; this was According To Jim we’re talking about, yet there’s no indication that the writers weren’t trying to make it good. If anything they were trying too hard; as Pomerantz exclaims at one rewrite session, “We’re not making it better, we’re just making it different.”