In the TV Writers Room: An Interview With Heather Flanders
My friend Darren Belitsky is a funny dude. He’s the head writer at the hilarious Comedy Central show @midnight, which if you haven’t seen, you need to right now. But really, I’ve been impressed with his fiancée Heather Flanders, a talented writer herself, who wrote on the new sitcom, Undateable. I’ll be honest. I’m very picky about who my friends date, let alone marry, and Heather is not only talented, funny, and nice—she’s the only lady I think is worthy of Darren. I asked Heather about her work in TV and she shared her invaluable advice and expertise. Thanks Heather!
1. You’re a writer on the new NBC show, Undateable. What do you love about working on the show? What can we look forward to on the show?
What I love most about writing on Undateable is working with the other writers. We have such an eclectic, hysterical room. Good people and good laughs make the work really fun. Our cast is also insanely talented and energetic. There’s nothing more encouraging than watching actors crush a joke that we maybe didn’t even know WAS a joke. They discover the funny and that is so rewarding and makes my job easier. I also love that Undateable is a traditional sitcom. In the best way, these characters begin to feel like a real group of friends that you want to laugh with each week.
2. How did you get started in TV writing?
I studied writing in college. Playwriting, poetry, short stories—pretty much anything but TV and film writing. I didn’t know “TV writer” was an actual job. I thought the Seinfeld cast showed up on a sound stage and just blindly went for it. My big plan was to move to LA and goof around for a year, then move to New York and become the first billionaire Off-Off-Broadway playwright. Somewhere in there I stumbled into a job working for a TV and Film producer/director and read every script that passed through his office. I discovered “TV Writer” was an actual job, and one that I wanted. Although I don’t consider myself a comedian at all, the stuff I found myself writing was comedic-ish… and one of those writing samples was comedic-ish enough to land me my first staff job on a comedy.
3. What advice would you give fellow lady comedy writers for breaking into the industry? (Want more? Heather shares 4 tips for breaking in.)
I don’t have any particular advice for lady writers that isn’t the same for gent writers. For any aspiring writer, I think it’s important to pick a show you like and write a sample in a similar tone. There is so much content out there and knowing exactly what you want to do can be very helpful. People are quick to brand you. After writing on Blue Mountain State, executives assumed I was a raunchy female writer who knew a lot about sports. While my out-of-office language is quite colorful, my writing isn’t that raunchy and the only thing I know about sports is my fiancé likes them. A lot. Obviously, starting out you’ll take whatever writing job you can. But coming off Blue Mountain State, and taking all of those meetings, I realized I needed a sample to show a little more of “me” as a writer. So I wrote a dark dysfunctional family comedy and used that as my next calling card. Another thing is keep writing. I’m so much better than I was a few years ago and it’s not just because of working in a room—it’s because I’m always working on my own stuff as well. I read everything I can, too. New pilots, old pilots, features, comedy, drama… all of it. Good writing is good writing. Plus every time I read something awesome I want to run to my computer and start writing. It’s fuel for the writing fire.
4. What’s your favorite TV show currently on the air and why?
Orphan Black. Major girl crush on the lead. She’s like the Meryl Streep of soapy sci-fi.
5. You and my friend Darren (head writer on Comedy Central’s @midnight) are engaged. Congrats! What do you like about dating a fellow TV writer?
Thanks! Darren is awesome. I have a boy crush on him. He’s like the Paul Reiser/Stanley Tucci of late night game shows. I like that he is a better joke writer than I am. I also like that we have the same philosophy about work and life. Work is work, life is life. Work is not our life, and that’s some times a rarity in this business. Also he helps me beat out story when we hike sometimes. But I verrrrry casually work that into conversation so it doesn’t feel like we’re working on the weekends. Don’t tell him.