This Is A Must-Read For Anyone Who Wants To Work In TV

Photo: Courtesy of Jaydi Samuels.
Many people are quick to dismiss Family Guy as a cartoon with too many cutaway jokes that only appeals to bros in the 18-35 demographic, but fans know that's not the case. Against all odds, Family Guy's 250th episode is airing this Sunday, and it was written by a kick-ass female. 

Jaydi Samuels always knew that she wanted to write comedy, and even the writer's strike in 2007 didn't deter her. She just went down and joined the picket line. When it came time to get a job after graduation in 2008, Samuels didn't just send in writing samples and wait to hear back. The road to her penning Family Guy's 250th episode involved plenty of dues-paying, but reading about it will definitely light a fire under you. Even if writing for a TV show isn't your specific dream, Samuels' tips for landing the job you want are a must-read. 

How did you start working on Family Guy?
"I was a production assistant. When I was graduating [from USC's creative writing program], I cross-referenced names of every person working on every scripted show in production, and I tried to find as many crew members, writers, and producers on Facebook as I could find. I messaged all kinds of people, saying, 'If you have a job open, here are my qualifications. I'll do anything on your show.' And, I got interviews that way. Family Guy was actually one of them and that’s how I got the job initially. I've always tried to find nontraditional ways if I feel like one door is closed."

What does a production assistant do on a show like Family Guy?
"A PA assists everyone on the show...including the writers, producers, and all of these artists in-house. It does get animated in Korea, but there are about 150 people in Los Angeles working on the show at all times. I remember building the animator desks for them, making coffee, stocking the fridge, going on runs to FOX...it's just gopher work, basically, but for 150 people."

How did you transition from PA to Seth MacFarlane's assistant?
"I knew that going into the show I was either going to want to work directly for Seth or be in the room with the writers as a writer's assistant. The writer's assistant position hadn't opened for a little bit and Seth's assistant desk did. I turned down several promotions [at Family Guy] because I was worried if I took one and then suddenly the desk opened, I wouldn’t be available because it wouldn’t look good to take a job and then quit two weeks later. I heard that the assistant job was actually gonna go to someone else, though."

So, what did you do?
"I wrote Seth a letter detailing all the reasons why I thought I was the best assistant for him. I had never really spoken to him much before, and I just kind of waited until he was alone in the kitchen, I don’t know, getting a glass of water or making himself coffee. I said, 'Hi, Seth. I'd really love to work for you. I'd really appreciate it if you could read this letter. It explains why.' He read it, and I got an interview the next day. I've worked for him ever since."

How did you let them know you wanted to write?
"Rich Appel, one of the showrunners, had actually read a script of mine [for a pilot] a few months before that he felt was strong enough. I remember him saying to me, 'You have to be able to sell this. This is so good.' And, I was sort of still showing it around to people, asking them what they thought. In my case, working for Seth helped a lot. He was very supportive, and his agent took an active interest in my material. They kept saying to me, 'We know you write. Whenever you have something ready we'd love to see it.'"

Would you recommend working on a show as a way for aspiring writers to get a foot in the door?
"With TV there is, at least as far as writing material on other peoples' shows, there is something of a hierarchy where if you're talented enough and you put yourself in the right position, you at least have a shot. You're gonna have the right people take a look at your material. The first step is putting yourself in that situation. I think whatever anyone can do to try to get an entry-level job on a TV show, I think that is certainly a first step. Once you're in that environment, you want to make it known at the appropriate time that you are a writer, and would people care to read your material? I did that very early on in the show. And, so after I was there a year or more, everyone there knew what my goal was."

How did they tell you that you'd be writing an episode?
"Seth actually called me up from the set of A Million Ways to Die in the West in Sante Fe. I remember I was sitting at my desk at work. A lot of the assistants on the show are the same way I was before I was working directly for him — they want that opportunity. So when he called me, I couldn’t really react because there were people sitting around me. Seth said, 'I'd really love for you to write one of the freelance episodes this season.' And, I was just like, 'All right.' I hung up and immediately texted him 'I'm so sorry. There are people sitting around me, but I'm so excited and I'm screaming on the inside.'"

Did you know it was the show's 250th? That's a pretty big deal.
"When I wrote it, I don’t think anyone really knew that episode that was going to be the 250th. It's very collaborative. I wrote the draft of it, but as with all of the scripts, you have fresh, talented people in the room breaking the story with you and punching it up."
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You got to put words into Liam Neeson's mouth. 
"Every time Peter gets drunk he says that he can beat up Liam Neeson. So the episode is about them tracking Liam Neeson down, and Peter actually going for it." 

A lot of people think of Family Guy as being such a male-centric show. What's it like as a woman in the writer's room?
"I didn’t feel like I was treated any differently being a woman. If I had a good idea, it was a good idea. I think that’s another thing that would surprise people about the show. They figure everyone [in the writer's room] is just like shouting out inappropriate material, and it's all making it into the episode. People think Family Guy is just a bunch of cutaways and random jokes, but there's a lot of care put into breaking the stories, making sure that they're actually strong and that they make sense for the characters. Seth is always very involved in that."

Do you have other projects in the works?
"I'm always working on projects on the side. I'm finishing up a pilot right now. I have an animated show that I actually co-wrote with my brother, who just moved out to L.A. I'm also actively trying to get staffed on a TV show. There are so many writers on Family Guy that I don’t know if they're going to be bringing on any new writers this season. Just to be proactive, I'm taking meetings on all different TV shows with studios, production companies. So, if there are openings on other shows, I'm also considered for those, too."

Are you up front with Seth and everyone at Family Guy about your goals?
"Oh, absolutely. Seth has flat-out told the producers on the show, 'Whenever Jaydi needs to leave for a meeting, let her leave for a meeting.' That’s tremendously helpful, because it would be a lot harder if I had to pretend to be sick every other day."

How do you stay so motivated?
"One of the writers on the show, Chris Sheridan, encouraged me to write a page a day. It could be a good page, it could be a bad page. But if you write a page a day, I mean, in one month you'll have a rough draft of a TV show, you know, a pilot. I think a lot of people underestimate how far doing just a little bit every day can get you. That was one of the best pieces of advice I'd ever gotten. If you're stuck and you don’t know what to do, write one page a day. You'd be shocked how quickly you have material that you can actually work."

The 250th episode of Family Guy (written by Jaydi Samuels)airs Sunday night at 9 p.m. EDT on FOX. See a clip below.
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