Dave Malkoff is the inspiration of the cult classic student film, Being Dave Malkoff. He started in TV working as a production assistant on Will & Grace and has recently moved up as a segment producer on the reality program, Big Brother. He is a talented comedy writer and I look forward to seeing a sitcom of his in the near future.
CCB: How did you start your career in TV?
DM: My first experience in television was when I interned the summer going into my junior year (of college) at Letterman. The following summer I interned at Carsey-Werner in LA. When I graduated, I knew I wanted to work in sitcom. I tried to get a PA job at That ‘70s Show (a Carsey-Werner production), but they were overstaffed. Just trial and error, I narrowed it down to sitcoms, but that was it. It took a lot of calling and following up. I applied to every damn sitcom there was.Will & Grace was my second interview and they hired me the day I went in. I didn’t know anyone there and had never seen the show before.
CCB: Can you talk about what you learned from your internships.
DM: When I was at Letterman, they liked me enough that I had my choice of departments to intern for. I chose the production department which meant I hung out in the edit room and control room. By the end of the internship, I knew I wanted to be a writer. When they came into the edit room to cut the pieces they wrote, I knew that's what I wanted to do.
When I interned at Carsey-Werner the following summer, That '70s Show had just started. I went to a table read and knew I wanted to be a sitcom writer. Doing these internships narrowed down what I wanted to do so I didn't have to spend post college time figuring it out.
CCB: Please give a brief overview of your career so far.
DM: A lot of being an assistant (four seasons) until this reality gig. I managed to sell a sketch to the Cedric The Entertainer Presents show on FOX. I’ve written and directed Tivotion, a short film about my love for Tivo. Recently wrote and produced a wonderful short film called Golf Cart Driving School. I was represented as a writer, but stopped talking to my guys. I’m currently seeking additional representation.
CCB: Have you had mentors along the way?
DM: A few of the W&G writers really encouraged me. When I first started I was extremely nervous around them because they were gods to me. Eventually I got to know some of them and they were generous with their time and happy to read my work.
CCB: What does a segment producer do?
DM: I am a segment producer in the competition department. I pitch ideas for competitions to a team of four other guys. We talk about what ideas will work and my boss will assign me games to produce. Sometimes it’s my idea, sometimes someone else’s. When you produce a game, you are responsible for every aspect of that five minutes of television: the rules, wardrobe, set construction, props, writing questions, etc. You work close with the art department to get them to build exactly what you need. When my boss walks into the yard, he knows what he expects to see and if everything doesn’t look perfect, I get talked to.
CCB: What is a typical day of work like on the show?
DM: At the beginning of the season, it was all about coming up with ideas for games. Everyday we’d be expected to pitch five new games. As time goes on, it becomes harder and harder. When we got into production, each week I produce a different game so all my energy is directed in making it happen. In addition, we’d still have to pitch though.
CCB: Are you able to use skills acquired at Syracuse University in your job?
DM: More critical thinking than anything specifically learned in a class. I think there are classes about reality shows now. It probably wouldn’t help though.
CCB: Why do people put up with so much grunt work to try and make a career in Hollywood?
DM: For me it's because my drive to succeed at what I’m passionate about is worth doing any amount of grunt work. I never think about it as living a dream as being a Hollywood big shot, but rather get paid for something I love to do. And it’s so competitive, being talented is not enough. You’ve got to get in there and get your hands dirty and prove yourself to people before they’ll take you seriously.
CCB: Has your dream changed since you’ve been in Hollywood or do you still wish to be a comedy writer?
DM: Yes, I am still focused on writing sitcoms. Reality does pay well though. I might do it some more to cash in.
CCB: Why do you love sitcoms?
DM: I grew up watching way too much television, all comedy. They were a huge part of my childhood. I knew every comedy on the air. I could quote you the program schedule. Good sitcoms, unlike anything else on television, are celebrated forever. I Love Lucy, Cheers, Seinfeld, The Simpsons, Brady Bunch, will be watched forever. Dramas don't do that. That's appealing to me. So after seeing the '70 Show table read and seeing what sitcom writers do, I knew I wanted to make the switch from consuming sitcom to producing.
CCB: Can you compare your production assistant days to your current position?
DM: Incomparable. I look at the PA’s on Big Brother and wonder how anyone could ever do that job. I have a creative voice on Big Brother. You have nothing when you’re a PA. That makes all the difference. My first season as a PA, I was an excited wide eyed kid from Pennsylvania. I read every draft of the show, thrilled to be on a hit show. The second year, was rough. I was doing the exact same thing and wanted to keep moving up. The third and fourth season, I had the kooshiest PA job in Hollywood working on the stage, so I could deal no problem.
But the mentality of the PA is to stand back and wait for the people with power to boss you around. You have no creative input on anything. The only time people notice you, is if you mess up. You see other people who have moved up and you are jealous because you're better than them. You spent four years in college and now you drive around all night delivering scripts. It can get ugly. There was a period I came home and drank every night for a week. I got over it.
CCB: Working on Big Brother, does it feel as though the term reality show is a misnomer? How real is it?
DM: It's hard to say since this is my first reality show. I’m told Big Brother is more real than most. It’s a contrived premise and contrived cast created to produce as much conflict as possible. But once you set up all the variables, these people act and say what they want. It’s important to remember this isn’t a documentary. It’s a reality show with the emphasis on show.
CCB: Why is this type of reality appealing to viewers? Is it simply the voyeur in us?
DM: I don't understand it myself. I think it’s a combination of the current script fare being unwatchable (especially sitcoms) and some compelling reality shows like The Apprentice and Survivor. People are tired of laugh tracks and stories they’ve seen before.
CCB: Do you have any advice for people trying to get into television on the production side?
DM: Try to figure out what you are interested in before coming to LA. You’re going to work your ass off, so you don’t want to work eighty hours on the set of a film if you know you want to work in television.You can't sit back with a short film or script and expect to hit the big time. You have to bust your ass or no one is going to take you seriously. There are exceptions of course.
CCB: What did you learn about the TV business as a Production Assistant on Will & Grace?
DM: How the world works. Who has the power, who gets ideas on television, the role of the network, office politics, everything from the bottom up.
CCB: Do you think the reality show phase will pass? They have been saying that it will, but it seems to be growing and growing.
DM: I think a good show is a good show. Scripted or reality. I think it will die down as the costs of producing scripted shows come down. It’s going to be here forever.
CCB: What are your career aspirations in television?
DM: Create a sitcom and be the show-runner. I already have my Emmy speech written.
CCB: Explain show-runner for the public.
DM: The show-runner of a sitcom is like the CEO. He has the final say in all creative decisions. He is also the head writer and runs the writing room. If he doesn't like a joke, it’s not going to get into the script.
CCB: Can we have a little taste of your Emmy speech?
DM: No dice, Maniaci.
CCB: What has been the coolest thing you’ve experienced so far on the job as a production assistant or segment producer?
DM: Getting ideas of mine on television. Much more as a segment producer. Once or twice as a PA. But sharing your ideas with millions of people is amazing.
CCB: When will I see a Dave Malkoff production?
DM: Something that is completely mine on television is going to take awhile unless I get really lucky. I shall try to do my best to expedite my success.
*See Dave Malkoff's Golf Cart Driving School at golfcartdrivingschool.com *