You might be familiar with the 'Dialogue' DVD series, in which movie screenwriters are interviewed about their career and their craft. Well, you may be interested to know that there is now a complementary series available, namely The Write Environment, which does the same for television writing. Each DVD features a show runner being interviewed in his writing environment by Jeffrey Berman, who's also the executive producer for the series. I'll be reviewing every installment as I watch them, so you can decide whether the disk should be in your collection of screenwriting resources or not.
The first disc I watched features Phil Rosenthal, the showrunner of Everybody Loves Raymond. The interview takes place in his guest house, which gives the entire proceedings a relaxed atmosphere. However, there's plenty of excellent advice on sitcom writing to be found here.
Rosenthal is (naturally) a funny man, with a fine line in self-deprecating humour. He also comes across as a genuinely nice person - in fact, some colleagues at work have visited the Raymond writer's room when the show was still being aired and told me that Rosenthal actually sent his writers home at a normal time, so they could interact with their families and have the necessary experiences to fuel their writing.
This relates to one of Rosenthal's main points: for him, 'write what you know' is essential. Since you are unique as a writer and a person, tell stories about your experiences, as they are what sets you apart from your colleagues (and rivals).
Another very important element of the success of Raymond is the relatability of the characters. This is NOT the same as likeability - the characters may be mean or selfish, but the audience can understand their attitude, or recognize it in themselves or the people around them. Rosenthal says he's even received letters from people from Sri Lanka telling him their parents are just like Ray's...
All in all, a very good interview and a very interesting disc for anyone interested in learning more about classic American-style sitcom.
And you can get this DVD and the others from the series right here:
The Screenwriter's Store