‘Spike’ lines up comedy writers

Talker has new scribe staff for second season

Fox’s “Talkshow With Spike Feresten” is getting an infusion of comedy writers for its sophomore year.

The offbeat but modestly-rated Saturday night chatfest, which narrowly pulled off a renewal, has a virtually all-new writing staff for its second season, having attracted a stable of scribes hailing from top skeins including “Saturday Night Live” and “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart.”

Exec producer Mike Gibbons said “Talkshow,” which added two new positions this year, lost the majority of its season-one scribes to other programs, such as “The Colbert Report,” during its long hiatus.

But given the state of network comedy — with too many writers competing for too few jobs — Gibbons said he was able to cherrypick the show’s staff from an avalanche of contenders.

“We got over 100 packets, some from very experienced sitcom writers,” Gibbons said.

Joining Gibbons and Feresten in the room is new head writer Tom Johnson, who earned an Emmy and Peabody for “The Daily Show.” Also on the team: Chris Regan, who co-wrote the “Daily Show” companion, “America: The Book”; “Saturday Night Live” and “Daily Show” alum Ray James (who also wrote for Robert Smigel’s Triumph the Insult Comic Dog); and Air America Radio performer Jim Earl, who also spent time on “Daily Show.”

Rounding out the staff: Chadd Gindin, who has written for the “Weekend Update” segment on “Saturday Night Live” and for the 2007 MTV Movie Awards; and New York alternative comedy vet Andres du Bouchet. Matt O’Brien, whose credits include Smigel’s “TV Funhouse” cartoons for “SNL,” is the one “Talkshow” staffer returning for season two.

“One of the things we really concentrated on was the writing staff,” Fox latenight topper Todd Yusui said. “A lot of people came to us wanting to be a part of the show. We were fortunate that a lot of high-quality writers came seeking us out, rather than trying to shake the trees to find the perfect fit.”

Gibbons said “Talkshow,” which comes from Fox TV Studios, has benefited from its reputation as a writer-friendly program — starting with Feresten, best known as an Emmy-nominated “Seinfeld” scribe.

“It’s a show where you really get the feeling like you’re seeing the writers’ room,” Gibbons said.

“Talkshow” returns to Fox on Sept. 15. Jerry Seinfeld, whom Feresten worked closely with on the acclaimed sitcom, is expected to be “Talkshow’s” first guest.

“Talkshow” has been on a rollercoaster since first being developed at Fox. Feresten himself stumbled at the net’s May 2006 upfronts presentation, and the first few shows were considered rocky at best. But toward the end of season one, Gibbons (who joined after the fourth show) and Feresten felt they had made strides.

“I feel more comfortable behind the desk, and this year it feels like we don’t have as much supervision from the network and studio,” Feresten said. “It’s not as frightening as it was a year ago.”

Added Yusui: “At the network, we’re so encouraged by Spike’s progress. One of the things that we’re looking to do is allow Spike to relax a little more and be himself. … I knew he had it in him.”

Nonetheless, “Talkshow” is still finding its way with the network. At one point, Fox considered picking up 40 weeks of “Talkshow”; the net also mulled expanding the show to three nights a week over the weekend (Friday, Saturday and Sunday).

Last year, none of the shows aired the same week they taped, undercutting its timeliness. This year, at least, Feresten and company will tape two shows per week — one to air the same week, and one to be banked for air in the winter or spring.

Overall, that comes to 22 shows over 14 weeks, with “Talkshow” still going dark by the end of fall (even as new shows continue to air). That poses an unusual challenge to the show’s scribes: Some episodes can address current events, while others must be evergreen.

“Unfortunately, the reality of doing a show like this is that it’s much more efficient to gang-shoot them,” Yusui said. “We’re spreading it out a little bit more, so that the tape date and the air date are much closer together in the first half of the season.”

Meanwhile, as they enter season two, Gibbons and Feresten said they have their sights set on 2009. That’s when the latenight landscape takes a dramatic shift (with the departure of Jay Leno from “The Tonight Show”), and Feresten and company hope to be a part of Fox’s potential return to the late weeknight arena.

“From the beginning, when we chose Spike, we had in the back of our minds someone who could be a Monday-through-Friday player down the road,” Yusui said. “The goal right now is to build a funny, subversive show and build a fan base from there. Then, always in the back of our mind is doing more episodes per week.”

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