Authors In The Media With Tom Johnstone

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Authors In The Media Q&A With Tom Johnstone 

Recently I did a Q&A with author Tom Johnstone discussing his debut, How To Succeed In Business Without Really Crying. Now in this edition of Authors In The Media, Tom & I will discuss his Hollywood career that he briefly mentioned he did before writing his book! 

Q: In our Q&A a few weeks ago, you mentioned that before becoming an author you worked in Hollywood for a couple of decades writing sitcoms, cartoons, sitcoms & game shows! I find that very impressive & exciting! Which sitcoms, cartoons & game shows did you write? 

A:  My first professional writing position was with Mark Goodson Productions writing for the game show Card Sharks hosted by Bob Eubanks (Day Version) and Bill Rafferty (Night Version).  While it was a great experience, I was anxious to test my writer’s chops beyond the game show spotlight. 

My writing partner, John Antoniou, and I were just starting out and signed with a writer’s agency that focused on animation.  With them, we wrote a couple of episodes of the Beetlejuice animated series, which lead to us writing an episode of Matthew Perry’s first sitcom in the U.S., Boys Will Be Boys.  The day they taped our episode, should have been the first day of our sitcom writing career – but instead it was the first day of the Writer’s Strike of 88.  Like most Writers Guild of America writers, we joined the picket line and wrote our movie specs at night.  

When the strike finally ended, we worked with Stephaine Austin (True lies, The Long Kiss Goodnight, Terminator 2: Judgement Day) on our original movie, Hard Labor, which unfortunately, never made it to the screen.  

We also partnered with David Rotman (Cliffhanger, DragonHeart, For Better or Worse) on our spec script, A Touch of Gray, which fell to the same fate as Hard Labor.

Q: What were your favorite and least favorite parts about writing sitcoms, cartoons, sitcoms & game shows?

A:  For me, my favorite, and least favorite parts of writing for TV were the same – the Writers Room.  Being surrounded by a high-energy, quick-witted, anything-for-a-laugh group of writers is both energizing and frightening.  I loved the caffeinated moments with these peers, but disdained the late hours that typically drained most of us.

Writing for game shows was so straightforward and far-less rewarding (spiritually).  It was, by far, the easiest of all writing experiences – converting topical tidbits into entertaining questions – but it was also the most fickle (being completely adjudicated by the producer’s moods and whimsies).

It was an absolute pleasure to work with so many talented industry leaders, but the feast or famine world of Hollywood writing eventually took its toll, and I transitioned into corporate America.

Q: What advice would you give to anyone wanting to write sitcoms, cartoons, sitcoms & game shows like you did?

A:  I would say there are three basic rules to writing in Hollywood:

  1. Know your material

  2. Know your audience

  3. Never give up

Having talent and a few lucky breaks should also be thrown into the mix for a successful career.

Q: Would you ever return to Hollywood and create sitcoms, cartoons, sitcoms & game shows? Why or why not? I do think if you still have ideas in your head, I suggest returning to Hollywood and giving them new material. Most of us are tired of remakes, reboots, sequels, prequels & sequels. 

A:  I used to ruminate about returning to Hollywood and taking another pass at the brass ring, but to be honest, I don’t think I have the drive or am willing to make the compromises it would take to make it in that world today.  I get great pleasure from the writings I do without the pressure of competing voices – and I get a LOT more sleep.