Anne Beatts

Writer


The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Foundation Presents

02:26

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About
About this interview

Anne Beatts says of getting her break in comedy writing: "I always say very freely when people ask, 'how did you get into comedy?' I say 'the same way that Catherine the Great got into politics.' It wasn't like some Machiavellian scheme on my part, it was just that I was attracted to people who were doing things that I wanted to do." Anne Beatts was among the original writers of Saturday Night Live and created and executive-produced the influential comedy series Square Pegs

In her two-hour Archive interview, Beatts talks about working on the National Lampoon magazine with then-boyfriend Michael O'Donoghue. She describes how the two of them were hired by producer Lorne Michaels for Saturday Night (Live). For Saturday Night Live, she looks back on working with the original cast members, and describes sketches she wrote, several of which were problematic for the network's Standards and Practices. She recounts how she left Saturday Night Live and came to create and pitch Square Pegs to CBS. 

On Square Pegs, she describes the casting of the leads and gives insight into serving as the series' executive producer, including hiring an all-female writing staff. On being one of television's first female show runners, she admits that she was treated "with some degree of disbelief and disrespect. I don't think it was easy."

She comments on her difficultly in producing the first season of A Different World, and her satisfying experience as executive producer/writer of The Stephanie Miller Show. Additionally, she relates how she came to write an episode of Murphy Brown and serve as one of the writers for the reunion special Saturday Night Live 25.

Jim McKairnes conducted the interview on May 7, 2009 in North Hollywood, CA.  

"I remember once at 'Saturday Night Live' having spent the night in my office. There was a heavy snowfall overnight, and I looked out the window onto 5th Avenue and I saw that the entire street was covered with pristine fresh snow. I just felt very joyful and I thought the eight-year-old me always wanted to stay in the city— when you would be going to FAO Schwarz and the Museum of Natural History— and I was always like, 'someday I'm not going to leave.' I thought if someone had said to that eight-year-old, 'well, yes you will do this, you will have this moment,' I would have been just thrilled."

Highlights
Anne Beatts on how she got into comedy writing
01:49
Anne Beatts on hiring an all-female writing staff for Square Pegs (with "token" male Andy Borowitz)
00:56
Anne Beatts on a favorite career moment for her, while working on Saturday Night Live
01:30
Anne Beatts on her complex relationship with original Saturday Night Live cast member John Belushi (who was a friend but also wanted to see the female staff writers fired)
01:15
Anne Beatts on her writing sensibilities
01:47
Full Interview

Chapter 1

On her early years and reading at an early age; on her parents; on how TV wasn't a significant part of her formative years; on her interests in high school and college (McGill University in Canada); on her early writing jobs, writing brochures and ad copy; on an experience she had writing a Jell-O commercial identical to the one already airing (since she was not a TV watcher); briefly, on other jobs including writing TV commercials in England
On working on the National Lampoon and gaining acceptance (despite being an outsider as a woman and a neophyte); on her relationship with Michael O'Donoghue; on how she and O'Donoghue quit the "National Lampoon Hour" resulting in a lean year financially; on publishing a book; on her initial disinterest in writing for TV, having been offered a job with O'Donoghue from producer Lorne Michaels (who eventually convinced her) for Saturday Night (Live)
On her "combative" interview with Lorne Michaels, in which she resisted the idea of being hired for Saturday Night Live; on the development of Saturday Night (Live) by Lorne Michaels and NBC executive Dick Ebersol's role in it; on how she and Michael O'Donoghue worked to get John Belushi in the original cast of SNL; on how she and Michael O'Donoghue wanted Bill Murray and Mimi Kennedy for the initial cast on Saturday Night Live
On a typical workweek of Saturday Night Live, during her tenure in the 1970s-early 80s; on original Saturday Night Live cast member Chevy Chase's talent; on her complex relationship with original Saturday Night Live cast member John Belushi (who was a friend, but who also wanted to see the female staff writers fired); on original (and sole African-American) Saturday Night Live cast member Garrett Morris and how he was used on the show; on original Saturday Night Live cast member Gilda Radner and her stage presence; on original Saturday Night Live cast member Laraine Newman and her comedic talent; on Bill Murray's addition to the Saturday Night Live cast and the breakout "Nerds' sketch

Chapter 2

On Saturday Night Live producer Lorne Michaels; on the popularity of Saturday Night Live in the early years, that was made clear during the show's New Orleans remote; on Standards and Practices' concerns on Saturday Night Live
On creating and pitching Square Pegs, departing Saturday Night Live; on using her producing experience on Saturday Night Live to her advantage on Square Pegs; on where Square Pegs was shot; on the casting of Sarah Jessica Parker and Amy Linker on Square Pegs (and how the two needed to be dressed down to play their parts); on Square Pegs actor Merritt Butrick and his portrayal of "Johnny Slash"
On hiring an all-female writing staff for Square Pegs (with "token" male Andy Borowitz); on Square Pegs actor John Femia and his portrayal of "Marshall Blechtman";  on the classification of Square Pegs by the network; on favorite episodes of Square Pegs, including one done to appease the network's request to appeal to a male audience; on the legacy of Square Pegs, and how revolutionary the use of music was for TV of the day
On the difficulties she had as a producer of A Different World, and the series concept change; on casting and working with Kadeem Hardison and Jasmine Guy on A Different World; on writing an episode of Murphy Brown; on the pilots The Julie Brown Show and The Belles of Bleeker Street
On her experience as executive producer/writer of The Stephanie Miller Show on the TV special Saturday Night Live 25, and a joke she wrote for Chevy Chase; on watching Saturday Night Live in later years; on her writing sensibilities

Chapter 3

On how women writers are not yet accepted in late night TV; on her acceptance as a female show runner
On a favorite career moment while a writer on Saturday Night Live; on advice to aspiring writers
Shows

Belles of Bleeker Street, The

View Show Page
Anne Beatts on the pilots The Julie Brown Show and The Belles of Bleeker Street
02:30

Different World, A

View Show Page
Anne Beatts on the difficulties she had on A Different World, and the series concept change
02:47
Anne Beatts on casting and working with Kadeem Hardison and Jasmine Guy on A Different World
03:29

Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, The

View Show Page
Anne Beatts on pitching Square Pegs, using The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis as a reference point with then-CBS executive Dwayne Hickman (who played Dobie Gillis) in the meeting
04:23

Murphy Brown

View Show Page
Anne Beatts on writing an episode of Murphy Brown
00:47

Saturday Night Live

View Show Page
Anne Beatts on her first impressions of Saturday Night Live writer Marilyn Suzanne Miller and Michael O'Donoghue's initial "cold feet" at the prospect of working in TV
00:52
Anne Beatts on her initial disinterest in writing for TV, having been offered a job (with O'Donoghue) from producer Lorne Michaels (who eventually convinced her) for Saturday Night (Live)
02:04
Anne Beatts on her "combative" interview with Lorne Michaels, in which she resisted the idea of being hired for Saturday Night Live
01:30
Anne Beatts on the development of Saturday Night (Live) by Lorne Michaels and NBC executive Dick Ebersol's role in it
01:39
Anne Beatts on how she and Michael O'Donoghue worked to get John Belushi (who'd done the "National Lampoon Radio Hour") in the original cast of Saturday Night Live, despite producer Lorne Michael's reservations
01:49
Anne Beatts on how she and Michael O'Donoghue wanted Bill Murray and Mimi Kennedy for the initial cast on Saturday Night Live— but those slots went to Dan Aykroyd and Jane Curtin
00:51
Anne Beatts on a typical workweek on Saturday Night Live during her tenure in the 1970s to early 80s
04:16
Anne Beatts on the female writers that worked on Saturday Night Live during her tenure from the 1970s to early 80s
00:59
Anne Beatts on original Saturday Night Live cast member Chevy Chase's talent
00:43
Anne Beatts on her complex relationship with original Saturday Night Live cast member John Belushi (who was a friend but also wanted to see the female staff writers fired)
01:15
Anne Beatts on original (and sole African-American) Saturday Night Live cast member Garrett Morris and how he was used on the show
02:10
Anne Beatts on original Saturday Night Live cast member Gilda Radner and her stage presence
02:11
Writer Anne Beatts on original Saturday Night Live cast member Laraine Newman and her comedic talent
01:39
Anne Beatts on Bill Murray's addition to the Saturday Night Live cast, the breakout "Nerds sketch," and how she feels he was thanking her for the sketch when he guest-starred later on Square Pegs
00:56
Anne Beatts on the difficulty in getting praise from Saturday Night Live producer Lorne Michaels
01:37
Anne Beatts on the popularity of Saturday Night Live in the early years, that was made clear during the show's New Orleans remote
01:50
Anne Beatts on Saturday Night Live guest host Lily Tomlin (and John Belushi's refusal to perform in one particular sketch)
01:46
Anne Beatts on a Saturday Night Live sketch about Patty Hearst (with guest host Lily Tomlin) that was objected to by Standards and Practices
00:40
Anne Beatts on Standards and Practices' concerns over slang expressions on Saturday Night Live
00:40
Anne Beatts on two Saturday Night Live sketches that had Standards and Practices issues— a Jesus sketch and a "Nerds" Christmas pageant sketch
03:24
Anne Beatts on using her producing experience on Saturday Night Live to her advantage on Square Pegs
02:29
Anne Beatts on the special Saturday Night Live 25, and a joke she wrote for Chevy Chase
02:22
Anne Beatts on watching Saturday Night Live in later years
00:26
Anne Beatts on her writing sensibilities
01:47
Anne Beatts on a favorite career moment for her, while working on Saturday Night Live
01:30

Square Pegs

View Show Page
Anne Beatts on Bill Murray's addition to the Saturday Night Live cast, the breakout "Nerds sketch," and how she feels he was thanking her for the sketch when he guest-starred later on Square Pegs
00:56
Anne Beatts on creating and pitching Square Pegs, departing Saturday Night Live.
04:23
Anne Beatts on using her producing experience on Saturday Night Live to her advantage on Square Pegs
02:29
Anne Beatts on not seeing eye to eye with Embassy Television executive Michael Grade on Square Pegs
01:35
Anne Beatts on where Square Pegs was shot
00:27
Anne Beatts on how John Belushi's death postponed the shooting of the Square Pegs pilot
01:08
Anne Beatts on the casting of Sarah Jessica Parker and Amy Linker on Square Pegs (and how the two needed to be dressed down to play the parts)
01:53
Anne Beatts on Square Pegs actress Tracy Nelson and her portrayal of "Jennifer DiNuccio"
01:00
Anne Beatts on Square Pegs actor Merritt Butrick and his portrayal of "Johnny Slash"
00:37
Anne Beatts on hiring an all-female writing staff for Square Pegs (with "token" male Andy Borowitz)
00:56
Anne Beatts on Square Pegs actor John Femia and his portrayal of "Marshall Blechtman"
00:39
Anne Beatts on the classification of Square Pegs by the network
01:34
Anne Beatts on favorite episodes of Square Pegs, including one done to appease the network's request to appeal to a male audience
01:40
Anne Beatts on how she found out that Square Pegs was cancelled
00:13
Anne Beatts on the legacy of Square Pegs, and how revolutionary the use of music was for TV of the day
01:17
Anne Beatts on her writing sensibilities
01:47

Stephanie Miller Show, The

View Show Page
Anne Beatts on her experience as executive producer/writer of The Stephanie Miller Show
02:19
Topics

Censorship / Standards & Practices

View Topic
Anne Beatts on a Saturday Night Live sketch about Patty Hearst (with guest host Lily Tomlin) that was objected to by Standards and Practices
00:40
Anne Beatts on two Saturday Night Live sketches that had Standards and Practices issues— a Jesus sketch and a "Nerds" Christmas pageant sketch
03:24
Anne Beatts on Standards and Practices' concerns over slang expressions on Saturday Night Live
00:40

Minorities

View Topic
Anne Beatts on original (and sole African-American) Saturday Night Live cast member Garrett Morris and how he was used on the show
02:10

Women

View Topic
Anne Beatts on late night television as an area that still hasn't fully accepted female writers
01:33
Professions

Music Professionals

View Profession
Anne Beatts on the legacy of Square Pegs, and how revolutionary the use of music was for TV of the day
01:17
People

John Belushi

View Person Page
Anne Beatts on how she and Michael O'Donoghue worked to get John Belushi (who'd done the "National Lampoon Radio Hour") in the original cast of Saturday Night Live, despite producer Lorne Michael's reservations
01:49
Anne Beatts on Saturday Night Live guest host Lily Tomlin (and John Belushi's refusal to perform in one particular sketch)
01:46
Anne Beatts on how John Belushi's death postponed the shooting of the Square Pegs pilot
01:08

Lisa Bonet

View Person Page
Anne Beatts on the difficulties she had on A Different World
02:47

Andy Borowitz

View Person Page
Anne Beatts on hiring an all-female writing staff for Square Pegs (with "token" male Andy Borowitz)
00:56

Bill Cosby

View Person Page
Anne Beatts on the difficulties she had on A Different World, and the series concept change
02:47

Dick Ebersol

View Interview Page
Anne Beatts on the development of Saturday Night (Live) by Lorne Michaels and NBC executive Dick Ebersol's role in it
01:39

John Femia

View Person Page
Anne Beatts on Square Pegs actor John Femia and his portrayal of "Marshall Blechtman"
00:39

Michael Grade

View Person Page
Anne Beatts on not seeing eye to eye with Embassy Television executive Michael Grade on Square Pegs
01:35

Jasmine Guy

View Person Page
Anne Beatts on casting and working with Kadeem Hardison and Jasmine Guy on A Different World
03:29

Kadeem Hardison

View Person Page
Producer Anne Beatts on casting and working with Kadeem Hardison and Jasmine Guy on A Different World
03:29

Dwayne Hickman

View Person Page
Anne Beatts on pitching Square Pegs, using The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis as a reference point with then-CBS executive Dwayne Hickman (who played Dobie Gillis) in the meeting
04:23

Andy Kaufman

View Person Page
Anne Beatts on her "combative" interview with producer Lorne Michaels, in which she resisted the idea of being hired for Saturday Night Live (and her first impressions of Andy Kaufman)
01:30

Mimi Kennedy

View Person Page
Anne Beatts on how she and Michael O'Donoghue wanted Bill Murray and Mimi Kennedy for the initial cast on Saturday Night Live— but those slots went to Dan Aykroyd and Jane Curtin
00:51

Amy Linker

View Person Page
Anne Beatts on the casting of Sarah Jessica Parker and Amy Linker on Square Pegs (and how the two needed to be dressed down to play the parts)
01:53

Lorne Michaels

View Person Page
Anne Beatts on the development of Saturday Night (Live) by Lorne Michaels and NBC executive Dick Ebersol's role in it
01:39
Anne Beatts on the difficulty in getting praise from Saturday Night Live producer Lorne Michaels
01:37

Marilyn Suzanne Miller

View Person Page
Anne Beatts on her first impressions of Saturday Night Live writer Marilyn Suzanne Miller and Michael O'Donoghue's initial "cold feet" at the prospect of working in TV
00:52

Bill Murray

View Person Page
Anne Beatts on how she and Michael O'Donoghue wanted Bill Murray and Mimi Kennedy for the initial cast on Saturday Night Live— but those slots went to Dan Aykroyd and Jane Curtin
00:51

Tracy Nelson

View Person Page
Anne Beatts on Square Pegs actress Tracy Nelson and her portrayal of "Jennifer DiNuccio"
01:00

Michael O'Donoghue

View Person Page
Anne Beatts on her first impressions of Saturday Night Live writer Marilyn Suzanne Miller and Michael O'Donoghue's initial "cold feet" at the prospect of working in TV
00:52

Sarah Jessica Parker

View Person Page
Anne Beatts on the casting of Sarah Jessica Parker and Amy Linker on Square Pegs (and how the two needed to be dressed down to play the parts)
01:53

Lily Tomlin

View Person Page
Anne Beatts on Saturday Night Live guest host Lily Tomlin (and John Belushi's refusal to perform in one particular sketch)
01:46
Anne Beatts on a Saturday Night Live sketch about Patty Hearst (with guest host Lily Tomlin) that was objected to by Standards and Practices
00:40

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