April 7, 2008 Jill

Last week nearly 60 writers crammed into a room intended for 40, to watch episodes of pre-teen sitcom The Latest Buzz and hear what creator/showrunner Brent Piaskoski had to say about making it. Brent is tall, good-looking and low key but very funny. He is also very certain about his vision for the show and about the process of writing it.

The series is funny; it repeatedly broke up the room despite the fact that the audience was nowhere near the target demographic. Not funny enough for Piaskoski however, who seemed disappointed that it isn’t as good as Friends. This is a guy with some seriously high standards.

The Latest Buzz runs on Family Channel and was their highest rated pilot ever. There were already 39 episodes in the can when it went to air this March. Piaskoski is currently gearing up for a new round of production and is just waiting to hear how big the order will be.

The show is a half-hour, three camera sitcom. It’s written in a tease, two acts and a tag. Every episode features three storylines: A, B & C.

The series uses a fair number of outside writers. They commission about four freelance scripts for every 13. But then the department’s only 4 strong including showrunner and coordinator so they need the extra pens. When auditioning writers, Brent prefers specs of American series.

Brent likes to see the storylines pitched simply. There are three stories in every episode and he wants all three laid out on a single page. An example of a Buzz story: Michael thinks he’s going bald and tries everything to prevent it.

Once a story had been approved, Brent breaks it with the story department. He says it takes about a day to break each episode. He likes to stick closely to a formula: A-story= 4 scenes/act, B-story=3 scenes/act and C-story=2 scenes/act. That adds up to 18 scenes plus tease and tag.

The tease philosophy is funny and short. If the tease can help set up the A-story so much the better.

After the story is broken, the writer has some time to look it over and make sure it’s the story he wants to tell, then it’s outline time. Brent has found that 9 pages serves his series perfectly and that if he goes much shorter or longer he’s overwhelmed with notes. He like to throw some dialogue, mostly jokes, into the outlines — off-set so that the dialogue stands out on the page.

Brent does not feel first draft scripts are ready for the network. He and the story department give notes and the writer gets a second shot before the script goes to the broadcaster. After that, freelance scripts stays inside the story department and whoever is free at the moment takes the next pass.

The scripts are also sent out for a comedy or punch up pass. Three comedians read and add jokes to each script. They work separately and don’t see each other’s gags. Then the script is handed back to the writer to choose the best material. They are aiming for three jokes per page.

The Buzz has two read-thrus. The first is the story department read-thru with each of the story editors taking on different roles and reading it aloud. Later there will be a cast read thru which Brent takes very seriously. There’s no eating or goofing around; everyone is expected to come ready to work.

It’s a process that works. The show doesn’t have a huge budget, but it looks great. The performances from the teen stars are very strong and there are plenty of reasons to laugh in every episode. And it’s a huge hit with 8-12 year olds.

Comments (5)

  1. Maryanne Haynes

    Brent and his writers have created a great show which is well-received by both teens and their parents.
    The actors appear to be comfortable in their roles, contributing their own brand of humour and expertise in each scene.
    Brent’s tight outline for each script results in an effective, fast-moving, colourful, and humorous episode for each week.
    Congratulations to all those involved in such an excellent production. 🙂

  2. Jason Sanders

    Thanks for the insight Jill! My cousins seem to really enjoy the show, so it’s great to hear about the hard work that goes into it.

    39 episodes sounds like a lot for a show that hasn’t aired before. Is that considered 3 “Canadian” seasons or does this series run differently than other shows because it’s on the Family Channel?

    I should echo Maryanne’s congratulations, everyone’s doing a great job.

  3. anjali kosamia

    First time i get to know about all these details, how story writers work, how its finalized and how its fitted in the episodes. glad to know that after all these cares taken after story & its narration, episodes really goes well.
    this show is really looking good.
    and yes, its also for parents, not only for teens.

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