Dan Goor knew he was taking a risk.
It was spring, 2008 … and Goor was about to take a leap few TV writers ever dare (or get the chance to): leave a successful show to take a chance on something untested.
“It was a difficult decision,” says Goor, who was departing “Late Night With Conan O’Brien” after five years to write for NBC’s new sitcom “Parks and Recreation.”
The switch not only meant transferring from New York to Los Angeles, it meant diving into a genre he wasn’t used to.
“On shows like ‘Conan,’ people don’t leave and come back. So if I left to do ‘Parks and Rec’ … and then wasn’t good, or the show got canceled, I would’ve moved cities and my wife would’ve quit her job (for nothing). It was a real gamble.”
Fortunately, the gamble paid off — “Parks” is heading into its fourth season, and Goor is supervising producer. But most writers aren’t so lucky. Over this last season, broadcasters premiered nearly 40 scripted series, and about 80% were canceled, leaving casts, crews and writers unemployed.
So with that kind of failure rate, why would anyone leave a long-running show for something untried? That’s how eager Goor says he was “to do longer-form, story-based comedy … telling stories and creating characters.”
Indeed, many writers enjoy stretching creatively, especially as primetime series mine innovative talk, sketch and “alternative” shows for fresh talent. Also, while long-running strips like “Late Night” or “The Daily Show” provide job security, primetime programming often offers larger paychecks. Scripted shows rerun more, paying better residuals and put writers closer to TV’s jackpot: creating a show that could sell for millions into syndication.
Some writers leave shows for strategic reasons. After two seasons on Syfy’s “Eureka,” supervising producer Curtis Kheel joined the CW’s 2010 cheerleading drama, “Hellcats.”
“I had done a lot of sci-fi and magic shows … and once you have a bunch of credits in the same genre, it’s hard to break out,” says Kheel, who had previously written on the WB’s “Charmed” and ABC Family’s “Kyle XY.” “There are a lot of versatile writers out there … (but) the town wants to put you in a box and say, ‘This writer can only do this type of show.’ I wanted to expand the possibilities of my career.”
Although “Hellcats” wasn’t renewed, Kheel has no regrets. “Going to ‘Hellcats’ … expanded my resume,” he says, “and made me open to working on other kinds of shows.”
Other writers leave for personal reasons. In 2004, after seven years on “Saturday Night Live,” Michael Schur needed a change, mainly because he wanted to join his girlfriend in Los Angeles. But Schur didn’t have a job until he met Greg Daniels, then gearing up NBC’s American adaptation of “The Office.”
“I’d gone into the meeting thinking … ‘I hope he doesn’t screw this up,’ ” Schur recalls. But “as soon as I met him and … realized how carefully he’d thought about the show, I realized, ‘If this fails, it’s not because of that guy. That guy’s amazing.’ If I had to make the jump, making the jump for Greg Daniels was as safe a bet as you could make.”
Schur moved to L.A., married his girlfriend (writer J.J. Philbin), and spent three years on “The Office” before co-creating “Parks and Recreation” with Daniels.
Of course, most stories don’t end as happily as Schur’s, and “it’s important to be selective in what you take a risk for,” says Goor.
Kheel agrees. “You have to believe in your next opportunity. I hope each move advances my career, whether through different types of storytelling, making connections or working with people who have knowledge they’ll share with me.”
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