Bruce Vilanch

Writer


The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Foundation Presents

02:26

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About
About this interview

In his three-hour interview, Bruce Vilanch talks about growing up in New Jersey and realizing early on in life that he could make people laugh. He discusses attending Ohio State University and majoring in journalism and theater. He details his long-term professional relationship with Bette Midler, who helped him start his writing career, and speaks of the many people and shows for which he's written over the years: Sonny and Cher, Paul Lynde, The Brady Bunch Variety Hour, Donny & Marie, The Star Wars Holiday Special, The Barry Manilow Special, Dolly, the Miss U.S.A. Pageant, Burt Reynolds: Conversations With, A Gala for the President (for Presidents Bush and Clinton), The Sesame Street All Star 25, Comic Relief, and his many appearances on Hollywood Squares. He describes his long tenure as head writer of the Academy Awards and outlines the particulars of writing for a live show, the challenges of remaining topical, and the art of selecting hosts. Vilanch explains the different kinds of writing needed for various awards shows and recounts how he helped set up the Screen Actors Guild Awards. He talks about the difference between writing for variety shows and for awards shows, and describes how he tailors his writing for various show formats. He also speaks about being openly gay and how that has affected his career. Steven Wishnoff conducted the interview on June 22, 2011 in North Hollywood, CA. 

All views expressed by interviewees are theirs alone and not necessarily those of the Television Academy.

"When you perform, you get a real, physical adrenaline rush that's quite fabulous. You don't get that when you're writing. You can get into what I call the 'alpha state' which is so involving that you forget about everything else. But it's a very private thing. I suppose if I had to make a choice I'd rather be performing because it's more immediate. It's lonely being a writer. Even when you're in a room full of writers. You know at some point you actually have to sit down and come up with the stuff yourself."

People Talking About ...
Highlights
Bruce Vilanch on when he realized he was funny
01:39
Bruce Vilanch on working with Florence Henderson on The Brady Bunch Hour
10:09
Bruce Vilanch on writing for Cher and The Sonny Comedy Review
03:19
Bruce Vilanch on writing for Donny & Marie
07:14
Bruce Vilanch on writing for The Star Wars Holiday Special which featured Beatrice Arthur
03:53
Bruce Vilanch on helping Bette Midler with her farewell appearance on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson
00:57
Full Interview

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Chapter 1

On his early childhood, family, and education; on television he watched growing up; on when he realized he was funny and on his first professional writing jobs
On writing jokes for Bette Midler's act; on coming to Los Angeles and on early television writing jobs; on appearing in the feature film "Mahogany"
On writing for The Paul Lynde Show; on working with Florence Henderson on The Brady Bunch Hour; on working for Sid and Marty Krofft on The Brady Bunch Hour
On writing for Donny & Marie; on writing for The Star Wars Holiday Special

Chapter 2

On writing for The Star Wars Holiday Special; on writing for the special Bette Midler: Ol' Red Hair Is Back in which Dustin Hoffman appeared
On writing for Dolly; on writing for Cher and The Sonny Comedy Review; on writing for An Evening with Friends of the Environment, Miss USA, and Burt Reynolds' Conversation With
On writing for the Academy Awards in 1989, produced by Alan Carr, with Snow White and Rob Lowe; on the challenges of writing for the Academy Awards; on writing jokes for the Academy Awards on the fly, and on Billy Crystal's Jack Palance jokes -- for which they won an Emmy award
On writing for the very first Academy Awards show in 1989; on where he is physically during the Academy Awards telecast; on the various Academy Awards hosts during his time as a writer, and on what the hosts hope to accomplish

Chapter 3

On writing for actors on the Academy Awards; on James Franco and Anne Hathaway hosting the Academy Awards and on writing for the presenters; on his writing process for the Academy Awards show
On how the events of 9/11 affected the Emmy Awards in 2001 and the Academy Awards in 2002; on the challenges of keeping the Academy Awards telecast interesting each year; on becoming head writer for the Academy Awards and on divvying up the writing
On the involvement of the Academy in the Academy Awards telecast and on serving the producers; on staying topical with his writing for the Academy Awards shows; on the difference between writing for the Emmy Awards and the Academy Awards
On helping to create the SAG Awards; on doing charity work; on how things have changed for gay people on television since he started; on helping Bette Midler with her farewell appearance on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson
On appearing on Hollywood Squares; on the documentary "Get Bruce"; on appearing on Celebrity Fit Club
On enjoying writing and acting; on his signature T-shirt look; on the fan mail he gets
On writing jokes; on advice to aspiring writers
Shows

Academy Awards, The

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Bruce Vilanch on writing for the Academy Awards in 1989 produced by Alan Carr with Snow White and Rob Lowe
07:08
Bruce Vilanch on the challenges of writing for the Academy Awards
02:25
Bruce Vilanch on writing jokes for the Academy Awards on the fly, and on Billy Crystal's Jack Palance jokes -- for which they won an Emmy
03:24
Bruce Vilanch on bringing politics and current events into the Academy Awards
02:56
Bruce Vilanch on where he is physically during the Academy Awards telecast
01:07
Bruce Vilanch on the various Academy Awards hosts during his time as a writer, and on what the hosts hope to accomplish
03:52
Bruce Vilanch on his writing process for the Academy Awards show
01:08
Bruce Vilanch on the challenges of keeping the Academy Awards telecast interesting each year
02:29
Bruce Vilanch on staying topical with his writing for Academy Awards shows
01:45
Bruce Vilanch on the difference between writing for the Emmy Awards and the Academy Awards
01:42
Bruce Vilanch on writing for actors on the Academy Awards
02:48
Bruce Vilanch on James Franco and Anne Hathaway hosting the Academy Awards and on writing for the presenters
05:17
Bruce Vilanch on becoming head writer for the Academy Awards and on divvying up the writing
01:54
Bruce Vilanch on the involvement of the Academy in the Academy Awards telecast and on serving the producers
09:56

Barry Manilow Specials

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Bruce Vilanch on writing for The Barry Manilow Special, and on Manilow's initial reluctance to be out in front
05:44

Bette Midler: Ol' Red Hair Is Back

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Bruce Vilanch on writing for the special Bette Midler: Ol' Red Hair Is Back in which Dustin Hoffman appeared
05:11

Brady Bunch Hour, The

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Bruce Vilanch on working with Florence Henderson on The Brady Bunch Hour
10:09
Bruce Vilanch on "fake Jan" on The Brady Bunch Hour
02:43
Bruce Vilanch on working for Sid and Marty Krofft on The Brady Bunch Hour
01:15

Burt Reynolds' Conversation With

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Bruce Vilanch on writing for Burt Reynolds' Conversation With
02:27

Celebrity Fit Club

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Bruce Vilanch on appearing on Celebrity Fit Club
02:42

Cher

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Bruce Vilanch on writing for Cher and The Sonny Comedy Review
03:19

Dolly

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Bruce Vilanch on writing for Dolly
05:44

Donny & Marie

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Bruce Vilanch on writing for Donny & Marie
07:14

Emmy Awards, The (Primetime and Daytime)

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Bruce Vilanch on writing jokes for the Academy Awards on the fly, and on Billy Crystal's Jack Palance jokes, for which they won an Emmy
03:24
Bruce Vilanch on how the events of 9/11 impacted the Emmy Awards in 2001 and the Academy Awards in 2002
01:39
Bruce Vilanch on the difference between writing for the Emmy Awards and the Academy Awards
01:45

Evening with Friends of the Environment, An

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Bruce Vilanch on writing for An Evening with Friends of the Environment
03:02

Hollywood Squares, The

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Bruce Vilanch on appearing on Hollywood Squares
04:05

Miss USA

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Bruce Vilanch on writing for Miss USA
01:42

Paul Lynde Show, The

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Bruce Vilanch on writing for The Paul Lynde Show
06:07

Screen Actors Guild Awards

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Bruce Vilanch on helping to create the Screen Actors Guild Awards
02:30

Sesame Street

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Bruce Vilanch on writing for Sesame Street specials and the Muppets
01:34

Sonny Comedy Review, The

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Bruce Vilanch on writing for Cher and The Sonny Comedy Review
03:19

Star Wars Holiday Special, The

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Bruce Vilanch on writing for The Star Wars Holiday Special, executive produced by George Lucas
05:53
Bruce Vilanch on writing for The Star Wars Holiday Special which featured Beatrice Arthur
03:53
Bruce Vilanch on public reaction to The Star Wars Holiday Special and on George Lucas' attempt to suppress it after it aired
02:35

Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, The

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Bruce Vilanch on helping Bette Midler with her farewell appearance on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson
00:57
Topics

9/11

View Topic
Bruce Vilanch on how the events of 9/11 affected the Emmy Awards in 2001 and the Academy Awards in 2002
01:39

Emmy Awards

View Topic
Bruce Vilanch on writing jokes for the Academy Awards on the fly, and on Billy Crystal's Jack Palance jokes -- for which they won an Emmy
03:24
Bruce Vilanch on how the events of 9/11 affected the Emmy Awards in 2001 and the Academy Awards in 2002
01:39
Bruce Vilanch on the difference between writing for the Emmy Awards and the Academy Awards
01:45

Fame and Celebrity

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Bruce Vilanch on the fan mail he gets
02:19

First Big Break

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Bruce Vilanch on his first job, writing for Bette Midler
08:22

George H.W. Bush

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Bruce Vilanch on writing for A Gala for the President when George H.W. Bush was president, and on writing differently for different kinds of shows
03:32

Historic Events and Social Change

View Topic
Bruce Vilanch on his experiences as an openly gay man in Hollywood and how he approached being open about his identity throughout his career
03:51
Bruce Vilanch on how the events of 9/11 affected the Emmy Awards in 2001 and the Academy Awards in 2002
01:39

LGBTQ

View Topic
Bruce Vilanch on his experiences as an openly gay man in Hollywood and how he approached being open about his identity throughout his career
03:51

Memorable Moments on Television

View Topic
Bruce Vilanch on writing jokes for the Academy Awards on the fly, and on Billy Crystal's Jack Palance jokes f-- or which they won an Emmy
03:24

Pivotal Career Moments

View Topic
Bruce Vilanch on his first job, writing for Bette Midler
08:22

Pop Culture

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Bruce Vilanch on the fan mail he gets
02:19

Representation on Television

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Bruce Vilanch on his experiences as an openly gay man in Hollywood and how he approached being open about his identity throughout his career
03:51

Television and the Presidency

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Bruce Vilanch on writing for A Gala for the President when George H.W. Bush was president, and on writing differently for different kinds of shows
03:32

We Laughed

View Topic
Bruce Vilanch on writing jokes for the Academy Awards on the fly, and on Billy Crystal's Jack Palance jokes f-- or which they won an Emmy
03:24
Professions

Writers

View Profession
Bruce Vilanch on enjoying writing and acting
01:21
Bruce Vilanch on writing jokes
02:30
Bruce Vilanch on advice to aspiring writers
05:01
Genres

Awards Shows

View Genre
Bruce Vilanch on writing for the Academy Awards
20:52
Bruce Vilanch on writing for the Academy Awards
23:06

Children's Programming

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Bruce Vilanch on writing for Sesame Street specials and the Muppets
01:34

Music Shows & Variety Shows/Specials

View Genre
Bruce Vilanch on working with Florence Henderson on The Brady Bunch Hour
14:07
Bruce Vilanch on writing for Donny & Marie
07:14
Bruce Vilanch on writing for The Paul Lynde Show
06:07
Bruce Vilanch on writing for The Star Wars Holiday Special
05:53
Bruce Vilanch on writing for The Star Wars Holiday Special which featured Beatrice Arthur and Harvey Korman
06:28
Bruce Vilanch on writing for The Barry Manilow Special and for Bette Midler: Ol' Red Hair Is Back
10:55
Bruce Vilanch on writing for Dolly
05:44
Bruce Vilanch on writing for Cher and The Sonny Comedy Review
03:19

Reality TV

View Genre
Bruce Vilanch on appearing on Celebrity Fit Club
02:42

Talk Shows

View Genre
Bruce Vilanch on writing for Burt Reynolds' Conversation With
02:27
Bruce Vilanch on helping Bette Midler with her farewell appearance on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson
00:57
People

Beatrice Arthur

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Bruce Vilanch on writing for The Star Wars Holiday Special which featured Beatrice Arthur
03:53

Sonny Bono

View Person Page
Bruce Vilanch on writing for Cher and The Sonny Comedy Review
03:19

Johnny Carson

View Person Page
Bruce Vilanch on helping Bette Midler with her farewell appearance on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson
00:57

Cher

View Person Page
Bruce Vilanch on writing for Cher and The Sonny Comedy Review
03:19

Billy Crystal

View Interview Page
Bruce Vilanch on writing jokes for the Academy Awards on the fly, and on Billy Crystal's Jack Palance jokes -- for which they won an Emmy
03:24

Florence Henderson

View Interview Page
Bruce Vilanch on working with Florence Henderson on The Brady Bunch Hour
10:09

Dustin Hoffman

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Bruce Vilanch on writing for the special Bette Midler: Ol' Red Hair Is Back in which Dustin Hoffman appeared
05:11

Sid Krofft

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Bruce Vilanch on working for Sid and Marty Krofft on The Brady Bunch Hour
01:15

Marty Krofft

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Bruce Vilanch on working for Sid and Marty Krofft on The Brady Bunch Hour
01:15

Rob Lowe

View Person Page
Bruce Vilanch on writing for the Academy Awards in 1989, produced by Alan Carr, with Snow White and Rob Lowe
07:08

George Lucas

View Person Page
Bruce Vilanch on writing for The Star Wars Holiday Special executive produced by George Lucas
05:53
Bruce Vilanch on public reaction to The Star Wars Holiday Special and on George Lucas' attempt to suppress it after it aired
02:35

Paul Lynde

View Person Page
Bruce Vilanch on writing for The Paul Lynde Show
06:07

Barry Manilow

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Bruce Vilanch on writing for The Barry Manilow Special, and on Manilow's initial reluctance to be out in front
05:44

Bette Midler

View Person Page
Bruce Vilanch on his first job, writing for Bette Midler
07:37
Bruce Vilanch on his collaborative process working with Bette Midler
00:45
Bruce Vilanch on writing for the special Bette Midler: Ol' Red Hair Is Back in which Dustin Hoffman appeared
05:11
Bruce Vilanch on helping Bette Midler with her farewell appearance on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson
00:57

Marie Osmond

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Bruce Vilanch on writing for Donny & Marie (Donny Osmond, Marie Osmond)
07:14

Donny Osmond

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Bruce Vilanch on writing for Donny & Marie (Donny Osmond, Marie Osmond)
07:14

Jack Palance

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Bruce Vilanch on writing jokes for the Academy Awards on the fly, and on Billy Crystal's Jack Palance jokes -- for which they won an Emmy
03:24

Dolly Parton

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Bruce Vilanch on writing for Dolly (Dolly Parton)
05:44

Burt Reynolds

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Bruce Vilanch on writing for Burt Reynolds' Conversation With
02:27

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