The “write-it-yourself” panel consisted of Kevin Shinick (writer/creator/producer of Cartoon Network's Mad and writer/creative director of Robot Chicken), Phoef Sutton (writer/exec producer of Cheers, writer/producer Boston Legal), and Aaron McGruder (writer/creator of Boondocks).
According to the panelists there is no one path to becoming the big cheese on a TV show.
Shinick was acting on Broadway and appearing on Public Radio’s Where in Time is Carmen San Diego. He was auditioning for something else in 2003 when Carmen prompted one of the producers to ask, “Do you know anything about Spiderman?” He did. He wrote a Broadway show and submitted it. “A couple of months later they came to me,” he explained, “and they said ‘Yeah, that’s good, now direct it.” Although it never played Broadway, the show played off-Broadway and toured all over the country.
For Aaron McGruder the trick was to escape success. “I knew six months into my career as a cartoonist, it wasn't me, but i did it for five years. I came out to LA in 1999 and because the strip was in the Los Angeles Times, I was able to get a lawyer and an agent.” McGruder said he never intended to be a Hollywood writer but the offers were overwhelming. “Part of the catch in Hollywood is that you’ve already got to have a thing to get a thing. So my thing was the strip I hated, but it got me into being a show runner.”
Phoef Sutton did it more by the book. “My wife had an agent and he told me to write specs. I wrote spec episodes of tons of shows and none ever saw the light of day,” he said. “But eventually people saw I knew how to get words on paper and I got the invitation to write something. I made mistakes, because I knew so little about the business. I just got lucky.” The harder part, according to Sutton, is staying in the business. “When you hit 40 or 45 in comedy,” he said, ”you have to start over because people think your comedy is dried up and you don’t know what the Internet is.”