Buck Henry

Writer / Show Creator


The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Foundation Presents

02:26

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About
About this interview

In his two-and-a-half-hour Archive interview, Buck Henry talks about gaining performing and writing experience in the improvisational troupe The Premise. He also discusses writing for such television series as The Steve Allen Show, That Was the Week That Was and Get Smart. He then recalls his many appearances guest-hosting Saturday Night Live. Jenni Matz conducted the interview in North Hollywood, CA on February 26, 2009.

"I wish I could do what writers of my generation do which is just - open the gate and let it come out. I envy them. It's hard for me to do. That's why I liked writing for television because I had to do something every day... So the best secret is and it's not a secret is just-- when (you) get stuck in a scene, write nonsense. But do something to keep your hand moving, doing something on the page. That's all. There are no great insights."

Highlights
"Nobody seems to remember it but me.. I go to (Danny Melnick's office) and he says I want to give you guys an idea: 'What are the two biggest movies in the world today? James Bond and Inspector Clouseau. Get my point?'.. It's parody AND satire"
01:05
Buck Henry on satire and the history of the satyr play "At its best, political comedy is still the most powerful stuff written...nothing is sacred until somebody hurts you"
02:50
Buck Henry on founding the prank organization "S.I.N.A" - the Society for Indecency to Naked Animals
02:10
Buck Henry sings the title song to a musical comedy he wrote while in the Army, "Beyond the Moon"
00:23
Buck Henry on his advice to aspiring writers
06:41
Full Interview

Chapter 1

On his family; on his childhood as Henry Zuckerman; on how he gained the nickname "Buck"; on wanting to be an actor; on early acting jobs including Studio One as a teenager; on his education at Dartmouth; on being drafted into the Army; on a theater company he put together in Germany during WWII
On a theater company he put together in Stuttgart, Germany during WWII and the musical comedy he wrote "Beyond the Moon"; on struggling as an actor; on taking a job in a play in North Carolina;
On moving back to New York and joining the improvisational troupe The Premise in 1960; on S.I.N.A and the pranks he used to plan with Alan Abel
On getting a job writing for The Steve Allen Show; getting hired by Bill Dana and getting Stan Burns as a partner
On becoming a writer on The Garry Moore Show

Chapter 2

On writing for The Garry Moore Show; on the skill of writing in the voice of another character
On writing for That Was the Week That Was ; how the American version differed from the British version; on how the show was structured
On the challenge of writing comedy about dark or difficult subject matter; "At its best, political comedy is still the most powerful stuff written...nothing is sacred until somebody hurts you"
On the genesis of Get Smart ; on the main characters played by Don Adams and Barbara Feldon; on what he liked and disliked about the show; on his favorite episodes and what the show was able to do unique to its time in history
On how he came to host Saturday Night Live so many times; his character "Uncle Roy"; on popular skits like "Stunt Baby" and "Samurai Stock Broker" with John Belushi

Chapter 3

On the production and creative process of Saturday Night Live and how he interacted with the cast and crew
On what he liked and disliked about the process on SNL; on writing the President Ford sketches with Chevy Chase on SNL; on why he didn't like writing the monologues
On the new version of Saturday Night Live he helped Lorne Michaels create after his hiatus; on Captain Nice
On writing the screenplay for The Graduate with Dustin Hoffman and Mike Nichols; on the reaction to the film; on his cameo in The Player; on the art of the pitch
On his first love: the theater; on appearances on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart; on the growing freedoms in television today
On his proudest moment: finishing a script; on the sense of accomplishment he feels watching someone perform what he has written; on advice to aspiring writers
09:18
Shows

CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite

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Buck Henry on appearing on The CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite, explaining his prank-organization S.I.N.A (the Society for Indecency to Naked Animals) which was treated as a real-news piece and caused a rift between him and Cronkite ever since

Captain Nice

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Buck Henry on his parody show Captain Nice with Bill Daniels and Alice Ghostley and why he feels it failed

Daily Show with Jon Stewart, The

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Buck Henry on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and the freedoms available to writers on television today

Emmy Awards, The (Primetime and Daytime)

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Buck Henry on winning an Emmy for writing That Was the Week That Was in 1965 and also for Get Smart in 1966

Garry Moore Show, The

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Buck Henry on becoming a writer on The Garry Moore Show; on being the "parody" specialist on that show
Buck Henry on making Vinny Bogart, the head writer on The Garry Moore show, laugh
Buck Henry on the challenges of writing for The Garry Moore Show; on writing for someone else's voice
Buck Henry on why he enjoyed writing for The Garry Moore Show; because of all the interesting guest stars

Get Smart

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Buck Henry on dealing with offensive or sensitive subject matter on Get Smart
Buck Henry on the genesis of Get Smart which he co-wrote with Mel Brooks; on the title
Buck Henry on why "Agent 99" did not have a name on Get Smart; on the casting of the show
Buck Henry on how Don Adams came to Get Smart as "Maxwell Smart"; on other candidates for the role
Buck Henry on Leonard Stern's contribution to Get Smart; the opening which he calls "the best opening and closer in television history"
Buck Henry on writing "the cone of silence" on Get Smart; on the other gadgets used on the show
Buck Henry on his day-to-day writing duties on Get Smart; on his favorite episodes
Buck Henry on the romantic plotline on Get Smart between Maxwell Smart and Agent 99; how he disagreed with it going too far; on why he didn't want to reveal the characters' real name
02:13
Buck Henry on the legacy of Get Smart and its place in history

Saturday Night Live

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Buck Henry on how he was asked to host Saturday Night Live by Lorne Michaels
Buck Henry on his Saturday Night Live character "Uncle Roy"
Buck Henry on the Saturday Night Live skit "Stunt Baby"
Buck Henry on the Saturday Night Live skits with John Belushi and the "Samurai Stock Broker" episode when he was seriously injured
Buck Henry on the creative process on Saturday Night Live ; being a frequent guest-host on SNL
Buck Henry on some of his favorite SNL sketches, "Lord and Lady Douchebag"
Buck Henry on the SNL live remote broadcast from Mardi Gras in 1977
01:43
Buck Henry on the last time he hosted SNL in 1989 and on the new version of the show he helped Lorne Michaels create after his hiatus
04:14

Steve Allen Show, The (1956-61)

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Buck Henry on being assigned Stan Burns as a writing partner when working on the new Steve Allen Show
Buck Henry on the use of double-talk on The Steve Allen Show and the desire to make the band laugh

Studio One

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Buck Henry on being cast as an extra on Studio One as a teenager

That Was the Week that Was

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Buck Henry on writing for That Was the Week That Was ; how the American version differed from the British version
Buck Henry on comparing That Was The Week That Was to The Daily Show with Jon Stewart; on political satire generally
Buck Henry on the premise of That Was the Week That Was : encapsulating the week in news
Topics

Characters & Catchphrases

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Buck Henry on his Saturday Night Live character "Uncle Roy"
02:42
Professions

Actor

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Buck Henry on knowing he wanted to become an actor, a writer, and a performer.

Writers

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Buck Henry on the challenges of writing for The Garry Moore Show; on writing for someone else's voice
Buck Henry on the challenge of writing comedy about dark or difficult subject matter
Buck Henry on satire and the history of the satyr play - "nothing is sacred until somebody hurts you"; on what is off-limits to him
Buck Henry on why he enjoyed writing on Get Smart; on the different "voices" of comedy teams
02:07
Buck Henry on the myth of "pitching"; on identifying primarily as a writer but loving acting
Buck Henry on his advice to aspiring writers
Genres

Comedy Series

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Buck Henry on the challenge of writing comedy about dark or difficult subject matter
Buck Henry on the use of double-talk on The Steve Allen Show and the "band laugh"
02:51

Late Night

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Buck Henry on how working with The Premise theater group helped influence his writing later on SNL and That was the Week That Was
People

Don Adams

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Buck Henry on Don Adam's voice and character on Get Smart; on "Would You Believe" and other lines he contributed from his act (with writer Bill Dana)
01:43

Alan Alda

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Buck Henry on Alan Alda's appearances on That Was the Week That Was; on his improvisational skills
01:01

Dayton Allen

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Buck Henry on working with Dayton Allen on The Steve Allen Show when he was a writer

John Belushi

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Buck Henry on the Saturday Night Live skits with John Belushi and the "Samurai Stock Broker" episode when he was seriously injured

Stan Burns

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Buck Henry on being assigned Stan Burns as a writing partner when working on the new Steve Allen Show

Walter Cronkite

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Buck Henry on appearing on The CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite, explaining his prank-organization S.I.N.A (the Society for Indecency to Naked Animals) which was treated as a real-news piece and caused a rift between him and Cronkite ever since

Barbara Feldon

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Buck Henry on how he knew Barbara Feldon before her Get Smart role as Agent 99
02:01

Lorne Michaels

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Buck Henry on how he was asked to host Saturday Night Live by Lorne Michaels

Aaron Sorkin

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Buck Henry on Live on the Sunset Strip's creator Aaron Sorkin and how accurate he felt that show was

Leonard Stern

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Buck Henry on Leonard Stern's contribution to Get Smart; the opening which he calls "the best one in television history"

Barbara Walters

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Buck Henry on appearing on the Dave Garroway Show explaining his prank-organization S.I.N.A (the Society for Indecency to Naked Animals) and a near-obscene comment from Barbara Walters
02:01

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