‘Jane the Virgin,’ ‘Transparent’ Creators Talk State of Comedy at Variety Writers’ Room Event

Variety's Night in the Writers' Room
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Comedy scribes Adam F. Goldberg, Mike O’Malley, Jennie Snyder Urman and Jill Soloway gathered for a panel at Variety‘s A Night in the Writers’ Room event Tuesday evening at the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills Calif.

With so many examples of television comedy represented — “The Goldbergs,” “Survivor’s Remorse,” “Jane the Virgin” and “Transparent” — moderator Cynthia Littleton, Variety‘s managing editor of TV, asked what makes up the varied genre nowadays.

“I feel like the 30 minutes thing seems to be the main delineater now,” Soloway said, referencing the new Emmy rules, and then quickly correcting herself as she looked at Urman, creator of the hourlong “Jane the Virgin.” (The CW series successfully appealed its drama categorization so the show will be considered a comedy for this year’s awards.)

Emphasizing the importance of storytelling, Soloway continued, “I’ve always sort of considered myself both a comedy and a drama writer. For me, I’m always just going for the real moments. I try to cast people who make me laugh. And then when I’m directing and writing, I try to make it feel real.”

Urman, who also focused on character-driven storylines, never even considered “Jane” being an half-hour series. “It was always an hour because of the amount of storytelling we wanted to do. I always wanted it to be a really sort of meaty, emotional journey that the character would take on, and the whole area would be wacky and whimsical.”

The panelists who represent all TV platforms — broadcast, cable and streaming — spoke to network notes. Each has had very different experiences.

“I set out to do a network family comedy,” Goldberg said. “As far as constraints, I’m on ABC. They have a Disney-friendly brand. I’m not looking to reinvent anything. I want to be family-friendly, but also push it a little bit.”

“The Goldbergs” was originally written for Fox, and when ABC picked up the laffer, Goldberg said he made some tweaks, like less sex, to make the show more universal like “The Wonder Years” — a change to which he credits the series still being on the air. “I think it was kind of freeing in a way that I realized I didn’t have to be edgy or anything like that.”

To a laughing audience, he added, “Most of our notes are about Jeff Garlin’s balls.”

O’Malley has had the opposite experience with Starz, which is okay with a flurry of curse words making it onto the screen. “We’re on a pay-cable network and they let us say what we want and that’s great — and sometimes, you have to be your own governor.”

Back to broadcast, Urman shared one bit she couldn’t include in “Jane,” which sparked much interest in the room.

“We feel like we can do anything, which is really freeing. There was one small thing I wasn’t allowed to do this year — a whimsical sort of incest story. Other than that, we can kind of go for anything.”

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