Written by Charlie Brown Hon. 1689
Anyone who watches The Goldbergs, the popular ABC sitcom created by Adam Goldberg OPC ’94, knows that real people from Adam’s life become small characters in the show. Last February, I wrote to Adam asking when it was my turn. When would Charlie Brown, who taught Adam both math and English in PC’s Middle School, make it into an episode? What he wrote back was even better: His upcoming Goldbergs spinoff, Schooled, about teachers in the ’90s at the fictional William Penn Academy, would include a character based on me. Not only that, Adam wrote, but could I come out to California and help with the show? They needed a teacher in the writers’ room to keep it real.
At first, I didn’t even consider going. I’ve been a swim coach in the summer for years, and I love that job. Then my wife said, “Let me get this straight. You’re not going to Hollywood … to write a sitcom … with one of your favorite former students?”
I packed my bags that night. Here’s an abbreviated version of the diary I kept for 15 days in August.
Day One: Beanie Babies and Other ’90s Memories
I got to Sony Pictures Studios, in Culver City, Calif., an hour early because I was nervous about getting lost. I sat outside the commissary, looking through old Penn Charter yearbooks to jog my memory about life in the ’90s.
My first meeting in the writers’ room was amazing. Sixteen people sat around a big table as Adam and Marc Firek, head writer of the show, explained the concept and the characters involved. Each episode should show teachers doing what they do best: helping kids manage their way through the difficult world of high school. Every episode has to connect to the ’90s, so we were throwing out ’90s songs or movies or toys: Beanie Babies, the Macarena, Spice Girls, Titanic—anything that was big in the ’90s could be the kernel of a show.
The impressive talent in the room included a writer for King of Queens, an improv performer, a writer who reminds me of Rose Marie from The Dick Van Dyke Show, and, of course, Adam. He has such a clear idea for his new show and how it should be written. He is still working on The Goldbergs, so he will have to trust the other writers in this room to create something that he might write himself. I can’t wait to see how that unfolds.
Day Four: Should You Tip Your Jiffy Lube Guy?
Every day starts the same: I go down to the swanky lobby of the Culver Hotel, where the Munchkins stayed during the filming of The Wizard of Oz, grab the paper and some breakfast, and I sit out in the garden doing the crossword puzzle. If only school could start at 10 a.m. I could do this every day! Then I walk the half a mile or so down the street to Sony Studios to go to “work.”
Working means sitting in a room, brainstorming ideas for shows or how to make the situations funnier. The day is mostly laughing at side jokes or jokes about jokes.
Friday was a crazy day because we worked so little. We got in at 10:00 and made small talk as we avoided reworking yesterday’s script. When anyone walked by the room, we would invite them in so we didn’t have to think about the jokes we are supposed to be writing. We managed to avoid working until about noon, then had the usual two-hour lunch break. When we got back at 2:00, we procrastinated some more. Long, bizarre conversations included “Should you tip your Jiffy Lube guy?” and “How much should you pay for a men’s haircut?” One writer is expecting a baby, and someone asked if he and his wife had chosen a name yet. Ten minutes of ridiculous baby names followed. When we finally stopped laughing, someone said, “That’s a good day’s work.” It was 2:30 and we hadn’t done a thing yet.
Then several of the writers went to a different room to tackle a rewrite of an earlier script. Marc tasked the remaining five of us to think about a teacher who had been pursuing her dream as a singer in a rock band. We needed to follow the line, “She started out doing small gigs, and then they got smaller.” We were supposed to imagine the worst possible gigs a singer could have. We spent an hour on that one small idea, and it was great. She’s the entertainment at a bookstore and people shush her; she sings at a county fair and cows moo her; she’s a singing telegram worker, etc. We thought up 10 or 12, knowing that they might use two or three or none. We were done at 3:30 and were sent home for the weekend. And yet, my brain was fried from overuse. Being a writer is exhausting.
Instead of going straight home, I thought it would be a smart idea to walk several miles in the late afternoon sun in my jeans and sandals to a music store that would rent me a guitar. Not such a smart idea. But I got a guitar, and it helps me pass the time. Traveling is fun, but I miss Marie (my favorite traveling companion), and I’m a little intimidated by the prospect of 10 more days of this.
Day Seven: An A for CB
Today was the best day yet: a table read of the season opener of The Goldbergs. The cast read through the script in front of an audience of studio executives and other invited guests. The writing is hilarious, and the cast is fantastic. The whole room laughed at virtually every line. It was a thrill to sit right behind George Segal and see all these TV stars up close. It’s also amazing to see Adam in charge of it all.
After the table read, we went back to the office to work on a Schooled episode called “She’s All That,” after a ’90s movie that Adam loves. At lunch, a few of the other writers and I walked around the lot where they shoot several shows, like Shark Tank and The Price
Is Right. I now understand why they call it the industry—there are thousands of people needed to put on a show: construction workers, painters, set builders, forklift drivers. At one point, we turned the corner and saw an enormous billboard for Schooled. It’s really happening!
We went back to work around 2:00, everyone pitching ideas for the show. It was a long afternoon, but a productive one. When it was time to leave, Andy, the writer of episode three, said, “Really good work today, everyone.
You too, CB.” That just made my day.
Day Eleven: Let’s Just Make It Funny
Today we worked on episode two again, and once again it went in a new direction. A writer said, “I don’t know if this will unravel everything, but ...” And the writer of that episode said, “Don’t worry about unraveling; let’s just go with the best version of the story.” I love that. No one here is possessive about his or her own ideas. They just want the final product to be funny.
Another thing I like is the way they pitch new ideas, and often someone else’s riff on that idea is what works best. I rarely contribute, by the way, but the day before, I had an idea that they completely changed into something way better, but I felt like I got that ball rolling—even that is incredibly satisfying. At the end of the day, Marc told us we were going on a walk. We went to the soundstage where they are building the set.
Day Fifteen: My Last Day
It was my last day in the writer’s room, and I had learned a lot from my time in L.A. First of all, you don’t have to be loud and pushy to be heard. Also, you have to let go of your own ideas at times; something that tickles your funny bone doesn’t necessarily work for everyone else. I found it frustrating at times, but the writers valued the process of making an episode as much as they valued the product itself. There were some episodes that we completely finished, only to tear apart and restart the next day. Finally, I learned that good writers don’t care about personal credit; they just want a good story. I hope I can use these lessons at school this year. PC
Schooled premieres at 8:30 p.m. on January 9, 2019, on ABC. More at philly.com.
Charlie Brown Hon. 1689 Endowed Scholarship Fund
Adam Goldberg OPC ‘94 endowed a scholarship fund in honor of his teacher and mentor Charlie Brown Hon. 1689 in recognition for his dedication to teaching and the countless students he has inspired along the way. Just as Charlie Brown fueled a spark in Adam and encouraged him to follow his passions and turn it into a successful career, this scholarship fund will help support a self-motivated middle school student with a creative spirit.
To learn more about establishing a scholarship fund, or about financial aid at Penn Charter, visit campaign.penncharter.com or contact the Development Office at 215-844-3460 ext. 110.