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Episode 62

Sit-Com Writing & Fostering Creativity featuring Cheri Steinkellner

Episode  62
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We welcome writer/producer Cheri Steinkellner whose award gathering body of work includes Cheers, The Jeffersons, Facts of Life, Teacher’s Pet and the book for Broadway's Sister Act. She comes to us with stories, writing advice and loads of life-affirming charm and joy. Plus Fritz and Weezy are recommending The Girl Who Came Home by Hazel Gaynor, Worth on Netflix and brace for the impact of Fritz and Weezy’s first fight over Only Murders in the Building!

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Louise Palanker (00:00:04):

Welcome to Media Path. I am Louise Palanker.

Fritz Coleman (00:00:07):

And I'm Fritz Coleman.

Louise Palanker (00:00:08):

Fritz and I are up in the crow's nest, scanning the horizon for you. Our binoculars are foggy, so we will not be able to spot an iceberg, but we can tell you what we've been watching and reading this week, and we can encourage you to explore the award-winning career of our guest, Cheri Stein Kellner, whose body of work includes cheers, the Jeffersons Facts of Life, and the book for Broadway's Sister Act. She's coming right up. But first, some recommendations and perhaps our first argument, right? Fritz

Fritz Coleman (00:00:36):

<laugh>. I hope so. I hope her relationship is strong enough to withstand this.

Louise Palanker (00:00:40):

So I'm gonna start by encouraging you to watch only murders in the building. Steve Martin. Martin Short and Selena Gomez are three Manhattan et ceteras, living in a schmancy upper West side building who meet while evacuating due to an unexplained grizzly death, only to discover that they are all obsessed with the same murder podcast. Naturally, while attempting to solve the crime, they launched their own podcast. The clues unravel only to reveal that the killer may be among them. Can they uncover the truth before it's too late? Only murders in the building is entirely delightful, and you'll find it on Hulu. Fritz, your views on the show may vary. <laugh>,

Fritz Coleman (00:01:21):

That's probably the best review I was gonna get. I, I think my problem was I was crushed under the weight of my expectations. Okay. For two of my favorite performers, Steve Martin and, and Martin Short. Steve Martin, you know, for the icon that he is. And he also wrote one of the best books about standup comedy ever written. And his eight shows a day at Disneyland and how that helped him. And Martin Short doesn't even have to say anything. He just makes me laugh. I just wanted more jokes. I wanted, at the beginning, they had, you know, some funny lines and I thought, well, that, that that'll carry it through, even if it's a thin plot that will carry it through. And, and, and it just got thinner and thinner and thinner. And then I got to a point like it, the midway through the second episode where I couldn't suspend my disbelief anymore. I was just disappointed. I, I didn't believe the plot. I don't know what Selena Gomez was doing. She was having flashbacks and introducing all these characters that I had. No, I didn't, I didn't know what was going on there.

Louise Palanker (00:02:19):

These are the threads, Fritz.

Fritz Coleman (00:02:21):

I know. Well, the sweater fell apart a long time ago.

Louise Palanker (00:02:24):

No, there's intrigue, there's personal angst, there's layers, there's history. They're, they're informed by their own neurosis. We don't know what's going on. On

Fritz Coleman (00:02:34):

Is this Le Mis or the Steve Martin thing you're talking about? I'm

Louise Palanker (00:02:37):

Talking about only murders in the building. Martin Short is borrowing money from his son, Steve Martin is having an identity crisis and attempting to date an OBO player who lives in the building by serenading her with

Fritz Coleman (00:02:48):

His full disclosure. I, there's three episodes, right? So far.

Louise Palanker (00:02:51):

I, yeah, maybe

Fritz Coleman (00:02:52):

I I didn't see the third one. I saw two and I couldn't do it. It was like having dental surgery without

Louise Palanker (00:02:57):

Anesthesia. No, I think you took a nap during the first episode and you don't even know. No,

Fritz Coleman (00:03:02):


Louise Palanker (00:03:03):

Didn't. Sting Sting is in it. <laugh>.

Fritz Coleman (00:03:05):

I didn't

Louise Palanker (00:03:05):

Get it. What happened, Thomas? No, there's five episodes. Five episodes. Oh,

Fritz Coleman (00:03:10):

Okay. I missed

Louise Palanker (00:03:10):

It. Include Tina Faye and Sting.

Fritz Coleman (00:03:13):

Oh, I knew the, the Sting thing in the elevator to me was the funniest thinging in the whole deal. Yeah, that was funny.

Louise Palanker (00:03:19):

There's a lot going on in this. I think there's a lot, there's a lot of character development and there's a lot of plot development. And the way that they're mirroring the podcasts that they listen to, I think is an intriguing conceit.

Fritz Coleman (00:03:30):

I think Steve Martin needed Cheri's help in the writing process because he wrote every episode, I think, and I think he just, I it when I, I I I wanted to like it so much.

Louise Palanker (00:03:41):

Well, I love it.

Fritz Coleman (00:03:42):

No, no, it's good. I'm,

Louise Palanker (00:03:43):

I'm, so maybe it's just, maybe it's, no,

Fritz Coleman (00:03:45):

It's okay.

Louise Palanker (00:03:46):

We can, all right. So what have you been watching that you think is better than My Pig? Well,

Fritz Coleman (00:03:50):

It, it's, it's not better, but different. Um, uh, and it was beautiful. Uh, this is a, a movie called Worth. It's a Netflix movie. It stars Michael Keaton as Kenneth Feinberg. And Feinberg is a Notre attorney and mediator who was appointed by Congress to oversee the nine 11 victims compensation fund. Cool. Want that job? Right? It's based on Feinberg's memoir. What is life worth? And that is the conundrum of the whole firm. Feinberg and his firm have to come up with a dollar figure for each life lost, which is an impossible task at the beginning. Feinberg is cynical and mathematical, letting similar formulas apply to every single person in the group. Then he runs into a community activist, Charles Wolf. And this is played by Stanley Tucci, who was wonderful. He lost his l uh, lost his wife in the towers, and then the movie becomes a battle between the head and the heart.


And banging Heads with Wolf takes Feinberg from being a cynic generally, and just a mathematician to empathy. Instead of being names on a spreadsheet, which is how Feinberg approached the job in order to stay sane, he gradually allows the victims' families and their stories to wash over him. And this transformation helps him to make his system of dispersing the funds more humane and successful. The real impact of this show for me was watching it a couple days before the nine 11 20th anniversary celebration. It opens a lot of wounds, but while we're mentioning it, and I think you might have seen this one, there were some wonderful, uh, 20th anniversary shows. MSNBC's memory Box was amazing. Very personal testimonies from family members and witnesses to the towers falling and then revisiting their feelings 20 years later. Also, PBS did a frontline special, which not only looked back on the day's events, but it drew an interesting line between the nine 11 attacks through Americans' loss of faith in government, and ending up with the politics that allowed us to elect Donald Trump. That was the best one of the group, I thought. Did you see that one? That was I didn't frontline of pbs?

Louise Palanker (00:06:04):

No, I didn't. These concepts are, are fascinating because I, I just remember, of course, we had a Republican in the White House during this period of time, but it, it would not have occurred to anyone to do anything other than stand outside of your home holding a flag on that designated night. I was standing in front of the Laugh Factory. We had just painted American flag on the, on the gas station wall across the street, and there was no politics. No, we were all Americans.

Fritz Coleman (00:06:31):

That's everybody's reflection. We were, we, we've never been that together as a country and maybe never will be, particularly now.

Louise Palanker (00:06:38):

And my my other memory of that, I think maybe that was a, a Friday evening, and a lot, a lot of the comments I called you when that happened. Yeah. You, you called me like, this is how late I sleep. And it's embarrassing, but when I tell, when I talk about this, you know, people are like, oh, I, you know, it was here. I was there. I'm, I'm fast asleep, and Fritz is calling me. And we had answering machines so you could hear his voice, and he's saying, you need to wake up and turn on your television <laugh>. And I, I thought it was about something else. I thought, hello,

Fritz Coleman (00:07:06):

The world's coming to an Android

Louise Palanker (00:07:08):

<laugh>. Like, yeah. So, so by Friday night, I'm standing with a bunch of comedians and they're talking about jokes that they're gonna need to remove from their act. And we all finally decided like, there is no more comedy. Nothing's ever going to be funny ever again. And then that, that night we went into the club and, and the comics that were on the stage who include included Richard Jenny and, and Bob Marley, who's a comedian friend I know from Maine, and I'm trying to remember who else. But they, they were really just extemporaneously talking, and the laughter was explosive. Yeah. And it occurred to me that no one hadn't laughed for four days.

Fritz Coleman (00:07:50):

Yeah. Um,

Louise Palanker (00:07:51):

And that's why

Fritz Coleman (00:07:52):

We, you know, mark Schiff, who was a friend of Seinfeld's. Yeah. He was working in Las Vegas that night and had a similar circumstance where he was paranoid about going on stage. He said, nobody's gonna laugh. It's gonna be like a funeral. And he went on stage and said it was the best audience he ever had. People just needed that escape valve. And it worked that one particular night. Scary. Anyway. It was,

Louise Palanker (00:08:13):

It was very moving. Right. So I'm gonna talk about another disaster. As long as we're all in this kind of like, somber mode. This is a book called The Girl Who Came Home. It's about the Titanic, which was, um, didn't, doesn't end well. I don't know. Spoiler alert <laugh>. I know you're supposed to say spoiler alert before you give away the ending. All right. Spoiler alert, the Titanic goes down The New York Times bestselling novel. The girl who came home blends true events with fiction as it paints the story of 14 Irish immigrants from one town in county Mayo, who boarded the Titanic in search of a new and better life. The storytelling explores and illustrates the tragedies impact in rippling repercussions on survivors and their descendants. The narrative cuts back and forth Titanic passenger 17 year old Maggie Murphy in 1912, and her great-granddaughter, grace, who begins to pull together details about Maggie's history in 1982, the author Hazel Gainer tells us that the group of fellow towns folk who boarded Titanic together is known locally as the adder. Ghoul 14, when Titanic sank, the loss of 11 passengers from the Ater Ghoul group represented the largest proportional loss of life from one region. For the purposes of the novel, the names of all members of the group have been changed. And although based in fact, this is very much a work of fiction. If you love Titanic lore, this is a fascinating read. The Girl Who Came Home by Hazel Gainer.


Wow. Are you ready to, uh, do you have any questions about that, Fritz?

Fritz Coleman (00:09:38):

No, but I would like to read that. That sounds like something right up my

Louise Palanker (00:09:42):

Alley. Yes. It, it's, if you experience something like that, it's wrenching for the rest of your life. You, it's, it's, there are scars and they made callous over, but you're, you're wounded and impacted, uh, forevermore. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. So let's introduce our guests so that we can uplift our spirit. She is Cheri Stein Kilner. Cheri Steinkellner has won four Emmy Awards, two Golden Globes, the People's Choice, BTA Writer's Guild Award, parents' Choice and tv, land Legend Awards for writing and producing Cheers. Recently named one of the Top 10 best written comedies in TV history and The Jefferson's Facts of Life Family Ties, and Who's the Boss? And for creating the acclaimed Disney Animated Saturday morning TV series and feature film teachers Pet A 2011 Tony Nominee for Sister Act with husband Bill Stein Kilner, Alan Monkin, and Glen Slater. Cheri has also written princesses with Bill David Zippel and Matthew Wilder, and the book and lyrics for Mosaic with Georgia STT and Jailbird on Broadway with Bill and Jeff Rizzo. Cheri currently teaches writing at Stanford and U C S B and directs Youth Theater in Santa Barbara, where she and Bill raised their three favorite children slash writers slash artist Kit. Teddy and Emma, welcome Cheri.

Cheri Steinkellner (00:10:58):

Thank you, Louise. Hi, Fritz.

Fritz Coleman (00:11:00):

Hi, Cheri. How are you?

Louise Palanker (00:11:02):


Cheri Steinkellner (00:11:02):

Was fine? I, I just put, I just want you to know girl, uh, who came home is just went on my library. Borrow our list, so, oh,

Fritz Coleman (00:11:09):


Louise Palanker (00:11:10):

We go. You're our favorite listener.

Cheri Steinkellner (00:11:11):


Louise Palanker (00:11:13):

Uh, so how did you first recognize that you are a writer?

Cheri Steinkellner (00:11:17):

That's a great question. Um, I fell in love with one. I thought I was supposed to be an actress. Um, I met a writer, bill Stein Kellner. We met at the Groundlings where writers and actors meet and crossover and switch careers. Um, <laugh> as, as improv is the nexus of writing and acting. And, um, I kind of realized somewhere in my mid twenties that I liked what he did better than what I did. <laugh> I, or I should say, I was more well suited to it as a, um, kind of an adapted, uh, socially awkward, introverted weirdo who never thought anybody should look at me or listen to me. I did not belong on stage.

Louise Palanker (00:12:01):

Where did you grow up?

Cheri Steinkellner (00:12:03):

Fullerton, California. Mm.

Louise Palanker (00:12:05):

And what type of kid were you?

Cheri Steinkellner (00:12:07):

That, that thing, you know, I was, I was the kid who ate lunch in the library.

Louise Palanker (00:12:14):

Yeah. I was her.

Fritz Coleman (00:12:15):

Talk about the Peewee Herman connection to the Groundlings in your

Cheri Steinkellner (00:12:19):

Introduction of that. Well, that's it. Thank you. Great question. Um, uh, my first job out of college, I went to Occidental College, and my first job was as a page at N B C, um, in Burbank, in beautiful downtown Burbank. And, um, I w I always requested, um, <laugh> any show that Chuck Baris was hosting, I wanted to be there. I was in love with Chuck Baris. And so, uh, I was on Gong Show Duty, and, uh, after the, after the Gong Show audience left, I was cleaning up their trash as pages do when we're not leading tours, <laugh>. And, um, one of the people who had been on the Gong Show that day and not gotten Gonged came out, uh, with his, you know, his clothes, his garment bag over his shoulder, and I was just cleaning up garbage. And I said, Hey, you were really funny.


Is there any place I can see you, um, do more stuff? And he said, oh, well, I work out with the Groundlings. And I, I didn't understand what these words meant, <laugh>. I thought, I thought when he said work out, it was like, oh, like I work out at Holiday Health Spa <laugh>. Is that aerobic size? Or what do you mean? And what is the Groundlings? I don't understand this. And he explained to me about improv, and he explained to me about, um, uh, how the, this group, the Groundlings that did not have a theater, did not have a show, did not, was not the theater for s n L as we know it. Um, but they were having auditions on Saturday, and anybody could come and audition, and pretty much anybody who auditioned could get in, I think I did. So they, it must have been that easy <laugh>. And that became my LA family. Um, and not a lot later, but, um, a short time later, I met this guy again, and he was Paul Rubins. And a longer time later, he started developing this character, which my then boyfriend, now husband Bill started working on with him. And they developed the Peewee Hermann show there as a midnight offering at the Groundlings after the re once the theater was up and all that jazz. Mm-hmm.

Louise Palanker (00:14:30):

<affirmative>. Wow. That's fascinating. So, were there a lot of overlapping romances and intrigue in those early days of groundings?

Cheri Steinkellner (00:14:39):

Oh, God, yes. There were romances, intrigue, um, you know, allies and antagonists, adversaries, <laugh>. People were voted off the island. It was <laugh>. Everything, everything happened at the Groundlings. It was, we were all brothers and sisters and, and sister wives and all kinds

Fritz Coleman (00:14:59):

Of <laugh>. You know, I, I, I, uh, I do standup, which is a different type of, uh, masochism, but, uh, but, uh, I've just, I'm always mystified by how brilliant improv is when it works. And just the people are able, I, I know there's a structure, but people are able to fly by the seat of their pants. But did the improv discipline and the system you learned at the ground leans teach you to be a better writer?

Cheri Steinkellner (00:15:28):

Okay, I'm gonna get a little religious with this thing. Go for it. It taught me to be a better everything Fritz. Wow. I, I credit everything I do. Well, I credit improv <laugh>.

Fritz Coleman (00:15:39):


Cheri Steinkellner (00:15:41):

Um, every time I just screw up, it's because there, I just, I can't say yes,

Fritz Coleman (00:15:47):

Choice <laugh>.

Cheri Steinkellner (00:15:48):

Yeah. It's like, new choice. Um, or I have bad seed partners, <laugh>

Fritz Coleman (00:15:53):


Cheri Steinkellner (00:15:55):

Or they have a bad seed partner. <laugh>.

Louise Palanker (00:15:57):

I, I, I think the yes and, uh, approach or philosophy is just that every kid should take an, you probably, I'm religious about this as well. I think every kid should take an improv class to learn these rules of life. Not just sharing a scene.

Cheri Steinkellner (00:16:14):

I'll, I'll say that and I'll extend that, Louise, and I'll say, every mother of every kid. Aw, every daddy. Cause um, there are some improv games that I, I adapted as a parent that to this day, my children are 35, 31, and 27, and I still use them. For example, the game New Choice. I have a son who likes to say just the, the thing that's gonna stir the stir things up the most.

Louise Palanker (00:16:45):

<laugh>, okay.

Cheri Steinkellner (00:16:45):

He is the straw that stirs the, you know what mm-hmm. <affirmative>. Um, and he just likes to say stuff. And so early on, you know, when he was, when he was a young Shitster, <laugh>, I don't, I told him,

Louise Palanker (00:16:59):

Of course, podcast.

Cheri Steinkellner (00:17:00):

Ok. Um, when he was, you know, like single digits, and he would do that, we would just play the game, new choice. So he'd say something that you just can't say, and instead of me having to be a mother, and, uh, cuz that was my, like, my mantra as as, as a mother was, don't make me be the mom. <laugh> here, <laugh>. I don't wanna have to pull rank here. Um, but I could just say, new choice. And it was a game. And then he would just keep saying, sometimes he would just say worst stuff. But eventually we would get to something that was going to fly.

Louise Palanker (00:17:33):

I think that's really interesting, based on the podcast that I was listening last night as I drove home from Santa Barbara called South Lake, which I'm gonna recommend more elaborately next week. But they're trying to put into place a program in this town in Texas where, where kids be more sensitive to people who are ha maybe are a different race or a different culture, or a different, uh, orientation. And they're, they're talking about microaggressions. And so there's parents that are just very, very upset. And how can you monitor every thought my child has? Or everything that the comment that they may say, and I'm, I was thinking as I was driving, why don't you just call it a teachable moment if somebody says something that's just not cool, which people can inadvertently do, but new choice is even better. Cuz then that challenges their creativity.


So one of the examples of a microaggression was that, I guess a, a white kid said to a, a, a black student who is on a fast track to get into Harvard. She said, you know, you're the whitest black kid. I know that's a microaggression, but the white kid doesn't know. She's saying something ridiculous. But if the, if it, if it were reported and it, they had to have a little talk about it, and if someone just said, new choice, meaning, what would be another way of complimenting your friend without offending her entire culture? You know, there's just way, I think there's ways that people are more prone to learn than being scolded and new choices. Perfect for that.

Fritz Coleman (00:19:02):


Cheri Steinkellner (00:19:03):

You got it. You've gotten

Fritz Coleman (00:19:04):

Some great parenting tips here today, but it's way too late for these to make a difference in my life. Well, you're,

Louise Palanker (00:19:09):

You have grandchildren.

Fritz Coleman (00:19:10):

I know.

Louise Palanker (00:19:10):

So that's, that's fa I mean, improv, I know that you got, you and your husband taught a program at, at Dos Pueblos because I know, uh, I know Josh Doink through standup circles. And I went to watch the group and I guess by then Josh was with a USC group. And anyway, I'm backstage, backstage at a school is the gym. So I'm in the gym. And Josh and his group were, were getting warmed up. And the way that they were doing their improv exercise was so athletic, you know, they were tagging in and out. And then when they would tag out, they would, they would just stand on the sidelines and put their knees on their hands on their knees and pant and wait excitedly for their next turn to jump into the game. And it's like, it's, it's not just thinking, it's not just performing, it's not just behaving. It's also, it's athletics. I mean, it's an, it's

Fritz Coleman (00:19:59):

Every, it sounds like everything I tried to avoid in high school <laugh>, which is, uh, but

Louise Palanker (00:20:03):

You would've been great at improv, honestly, for

Fritz Coleman (00:20:05):

I just, I, I'm, I'm, I'm, I love to watch it work cuz it's magical to me how it works when it's working. Especially the political,

Cheri Steinkellner (00:20:12):

I feel the same way about standup <laugh>. I mean, I could not for the life of me get up alone with a mic and a spotlight and trust myself and the audience to have a good time

Fritz Coleman (00:20:25):

Together. Let me tell you my worst standup experience of my life, which is connected to your career, Jimmy Brogan that used to do the warmup for Cheers, got laryngitis. And he called me one day and said, would you please go fill in for me tomorrow? Friday night was tape night. Cuz I, I ca I have no voice. I said, are you kidding? Warmup Cheers is gonna be unbelievable. So I got all excited and I felt like my whole cachet show business had been bumped up a couple of notches. And I got down there. I've never worked as hard as I did that night for no laughs. It was five hours cuz it was a film show and they had to stop every 10 minutes and change the, the cameras. And nobody's laughing because it's the funniest show on television. You're never gonna be funnier than the show. And the first three rows are family and friends. It was like a, a, a comics nightmare. But I still was proud of myself for doing it.

Cheri Steinkellner (00:21:21):

I'm, I'm so sorry.

Fritz Coleman (00:21:23):

And I

Cheri Steinkellner (00:21:24):

Feel, I, I literally feel that I, you've taken me all the way back <laugh> to 25. Was it during the Shelly years or the Kirsty years?

Fritz Coleman (00:21:33):

Hmm. I can't remember. It was one horrible day in hell. But, but I, but, um, the, the show was very, and I knew James Burrows who directed this particular episode from N B nbc. And so I knew him. He was friendly too, but he was the only guy. And but there's a real skill to that. I'm not saying all warmup guys would have the same experience. There's a real skill to, you know, crowd control and, you know, um, uh, and, and now you don't do your act. I didn't know that. I just did my act. Boy, they're really gonna love my act. They didn't care about my act. Now you have to have a t-shirt, cannon and Candy and all that kind of stuff,

Cheri Steinkellner (00:22:09):

And a dj, which helps a lot. Oh

Louise Palanker (00:22:11):

Yeah. DJ and narcotics. You know, you just

Fritz Coleman (00:22:14):

<laugh>. Anyway, it, it still was an honor.

Louise Palanker (00:22:16):

So I wanna talk about, well see, first of all, I wanna say we have, we have similar patterns in that I was also a page, but I was a page for the shows that you started out your writing career on Facts of Life. Uh, Jefferson's, I was a page on all the Norman leader sitcoms in like 1981 or 82 on the Metro tape lot on Metro Media. Wow. So, I don't know if you were there and if we know each other in passing, I just, uh, I just find it interesting that people that kind of get those entry level positions and then where they wind up, you know, all those threads and how they intersect, it's fascinating to me. But, um, what I wanted to talk to you about is how being a woman impacted some of the challenges that you faced in the writer's room, which was probably mostly all guys except for you. Am I right?

Cheri Steinkellner (00:23:06):

It for the most part, we had a few women come through the Cheers writer's room. Heidi Pearlman was there when I first began. Um, Janet Lehey went on to executive produce, mad Men came, had a cup of coffee or a cup of beer, a glass of beer with us, um, Kathy and Stump. But there were very, very few. And you know, I mean, for me at the time, I was so ignorant. Uh, honestly, I can cop to it now cuz what's anybody gonna do? <laugh>. I just, I didn't know I was a woman. I didn't know that was a thing. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, I thought we were all just kind of there to do the best we could. Right. Um, and so it never occurred to me. I had two male partners when we moved up the food chain at Cheers and became, um, the executive producers and showrunners, uh, I wanna say, God, what season was that?


Like maybe season seven or six or seven, something like that. Um, and we were the first ones who were actually showrunning, uh, after the Charles Brothers left. Because prior to us taking over, they were there. Uh, you know, they were always overseeing everything and they handed the reins to us. And so it was me and Billy and Thief Sutton. And for some reason I was kind of a lightning rod when people got pissed or irritated, it was at me really? Um, whether they were people above or people below, uh, I, I mean, I don't mean above or below, but I mean, um, above the line or below the line. Okay. Say, um, no, Pete and I used to say to Billy, why are they pissed at me? We're all doing this together. And he would say, um, have you noticed <laugh>? We, we used to watch Sesame Street with our kids. And it was like, one of these things is not like another

Fritz Coleman (00:24:58):


Cheri Steinkellner (00:24:59):

One of these things just doesn't belong <laugh>. And that was me. And I kept going, wait a minute, are you kidding me? Are you serious? People are mad because I'm not a guy. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And yeah, I, I would always forget that I was not one of the high profile female showrunners. Um, at the time, Diane English had just released Murphy Brown. Um, we stole her Emmy that first season. <laugh>, uh, I mean, I, we all,

Fritz Coleman (00:25:28):

Marcy Carsi,

Cheri Steinkellner (00:25:30):

Uh, Marcy Carsi was, yes, absolutely. Um, and, um, uh, so it's Diane English, Linda Bloodworth Thomason. There were a lot of women who had very high profiles. I was, you know, I I I I, I was coming in late in the game on Cheers. Um, even though I would say, and I dare say the guys in the room would agree, I was kind of the one who would say, all right, let's turn the page. Let's go on. We're, we're, I was, I liked to think of myself as Wendy Darling <laugh>, um, lost. They would joke and play foosball and have, you know, all kinds of, um, amber drinks. And I would say, let's get outta here. I got kids, you know,

Fritz Coleman (00:26:19):

<laugh>, you know, I'm fascinated by the whole, uh, writer's room mentality. How did that work, I guess when you became an ep, you were the writer, you were running the writer's room. How does it work? I mean, do, do, do you all break, this is cheers I'm talking about now. Uh, do you all break stories together and then go off in your little corners and write for a week? Or how, how, how, what was the, what was the system like at Cheers?

Cheri Steinkellner (00:26:43):

You got it. On the first draft, we would come together at the beginning of the season. I, I'd say first you start with the upper level, you know, producers and above. I, I hate to keep kind of stratifying this, but it's how the game has played. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. So the people who had been there the longest, um, usually, uh, we'll get together and we'll start conceiving how the season is going to be shaped. And then you bring in, um, the rest of the team. Uh, and this is like a few months before the actors come back, maybe two months before we get the actors back in. And we'll start, we'll shape the whole arc of the season first, and then we'll start breaking it into episodes and assigning those episodes out. Um, it doesn't work this way on every show. This is just the way we did it. On some shows you'll see that the showrunner is going to write every episode, and that's what you were talking about earlier with Steve Martin, which by the way, thanks Fritz. I don't think Steve needs my help, but I have some thoughts on that. If we wanna circle back.

Louise Palanker (00:27:47):

Oh, oh, I, I'm, I, I wanna circle back mm-hmm.

Cheri Steinkellner (00:27:50):

<affirmative>. Ok. Um, but, um, but on, on some shows, the showrunner or creator will write everything and it will be their voice and their vision. All that Cheers was much more like what we three are doing right now. It was the coming together of many minds in, ideally in a mind meld and people bringing in their different opinions and experiences and thoughts, and the showrunner usually, or some people reading the room and navigating to curate and find the best of all that so that we can move forward. Um, it is a lot of sidebar on Cheers. We used to call it Bar Talk <laugh>, where we'll just be kibitzing and, and, and, and just talking. But out of that, kibitzing often would come a good idea where it was like, Hey, wait, back up. We can use that. We can take from life. We can steal from life and adapt it for the show.


So Cheers was a smallish staff. We would have, I wanna say at any given time, we'd have like maybe six to eight people, writers and producers of various levels who were there every day of the week. And then I, and I think this was a magic ingredient, we would have somebody like David Lloyd or who is famous for, um, writing the, you know, our beloved Mary Tyler Moore show, a beloved episode, chuckles The Clown <laugh>. Wow. A little song, little Dance, a little Selter Down Your Pants, <laugh>. Um, so we would have David Lloyd one or two days a week who would come in with fresh eyes and fresh opinions. We would have Bob Ellison. Um, there were many people, uh, can I, I Ken Levine and David Isaacs, who would come in and not be with us all week long, but would help us see what's Forest and what's Trees

Fritz Coleman (00:29:54):

Punch up types of stuff.

Louise Palanker (00:29:55):

Would would, would cast members ever approach you and ask for their character to be taken in a certain direction? Or more of this? Less of that,

Cheri Steinkellner (00:30:04):

Yes. And our eyes would roll so hard, we almost couldn't get them back of our faces. <laugh>, we would, it was, I mean, that's the, that's the, the gentle walk that one must do. Um, we often, often we would just have a, um, y you know, that song in Oklahoma, oh, the Farmer and the Cowmen should be friends. Mm-hmm. <laugh>, it's like you're sharing the territory, Uhhuh <affirmative>, but you have different purposes. Sure. You need to learn how to, how to navigate one another. So yeah, we had lots of, lots of experiences like that where somebody would say, oh, my character wouldn't do that. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And in our hearts of hearts, we would go, oh, honey, you haven't been watching your character for the

Louise Palanker (00:30:49):

Past <laugh>. So when, when they say that, I, I guess I feel like they're saying I wouldn't do that

Cheri Steinkellner (00:30:56):

Often. It's exactly true. And I, I could, I could go into examples, but it was, it's always so surprising because there is for sure a blend of the human, uh, in, in the flesh and the character on the paper that, especially in tv, um, that alchemy makes the character that we see on tv. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, Rebecca, how On Ch On Cheers was absolutely informed by Kirsti Ali Energy. Mm-hmm.

Louise Palanker (00:31:29):


Fritz Coleman (00:31:30):

That's a great point. And I, and it it connects me to, uh, something you said a minute ago. So the eps and the higher ups layout, what looks like the arc of the season and then divided into episodes. But what happens, how do you react when you get, say, a Frazier and Lilith combination that turns out to be so wonderful, or a Sam and Diane combination that turns out to be wonderful? Are you, can you react to that later on in the season? Say, wow, we have to flesh that out and make it a longer episode or something like that. It just seems like, can you react to the audience's reaction to your show?

Cheri Steinkellner (00:32:07):

Yes. And if you're really good, like Glennon Les Charles and James Bursar, you see it instantly and you anticipate it. Lith Sternan Crane, uh, is a character that Billy and I created in an episode. Oh God, what was the episode called? It was an episode that was intended to set Frazier up to have a long-term relationship with a character played by, was it Meg Tilley or Jennifer Tilley? I think it was Meg Tilley. And, um, and Li

Fritz Coleman (00:32:43):

Where's just the Chucky one? Jennifer. That's Jennifer. Right. Okay.

Cheri Steinkellner (00:32:47):

<laugh>. It was, I think it was Meg who talks like this in the show. And, um, she, uh, and we were setting up the, there was gonna be this kind of owl in the pussy cat kind of relationship between Frazier, the Intellect, and this beautiful young woman who was the opposite of Frazier. Okay. Okay. Uh, her name on the, on the sh her character's name was Candy. It's spelled with an eye like Kandy. Um, so that gives you an idea of the character that we were hoping to pursue for a long range arc with those two characters to set it up. We had him come in on a bad date at the top of the episode with a woman who was so uptight and so controlling, and so Uber intellectual that Frazier said, I can count the comb marks in your hair. <laugh> was so tight. The, she was just bad height <laugh>. And, um, they brilliantly cast BB new mm-hmm. <affirmative>, who was an incredibly fabulous dancer. She was Broadway singer dancer, uh, very ex not, not like Lilith at all, uh, in her daily demeanor, but when she played that character, it was magic. And we instantly, everybody on the stage that night knew, oh, we have to pivot. Sorry, candy <laugh>, it's gotta be Lilith. And that was just supposed to be a one-off. And then it became a season regular. Wow.


I a serious regular sound.

Louise Palanker (00:34:23):

Really amazing. It's fascinating how, you know, you just watch the, you know, you can put all the ingredients into the stew, but you don't know what's gonna be tasty. And then when it suddenly is, it must be really exciting. And

Fritz Coleman (00:34:34):

What I remember from the one night that I did the warmup and I was, uh, uh, I was, uh, uh, spending most of the evening in my own black hole of emotional despair. But what I did notice was how

Louise Palanker (00:34:44):

Is this different from other

Fritz Coleman (00:34:45):

No, it, it was, it was a slightly less, well, my, but, but, but, uh, I love the fact, and I don't know if this is James Burrows, uh, Liberty that he provides the writers, but there were a bunch of writers around, and they would stop the scene and they would have a confab, and they'd all come up with a better line and then do it, and then it worked. And I thought, wow, that's not only guts, it's just great talent. It was really cool.

Cheri Steinkellner (00:35:08):

Um, it's, thank you. It's, it's interesting. It might, there might be talent and there might be guts involved in it, but I think it's mostly desperation. Yeah.

Fritz Coleman (00:35:18):

<laugh> well, that, that too. But I just was amazed at how fast they did it and how they sort of had this democratic process. And then they threw the line out there and it worked great. And everybody's nodding. And I thought, wow, that's cool.

Louise Palanker (00:35:28):

Now, are you, are you on the set when they're filming to be one of those people that in the huddle up that might have to change a line in that moment?

Cheri Steinkellner (00:35:35):

Oh, yes. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, because it's, you know, even though we have seen the actors through the week play, play it on the stage, you know, we do, of course, as, as writers, we're always laughing at every joke whether or not it's playing. Because, well, for one thing, we want them to feel happy. Um, we want the actors to feel good about it. For another thing, we wanna go home before 4:00 AM <laugh>. Um, and if, and if it doesn't work, then we're gonna be up all night rewriting. Um, and we wanna give them a sense of audience, but we're not the real audience. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And so, and, and when the network and studio come in, they're not the real audience either. It's not until we get the busloads in that we actually know what's coming across and what isn't. So if, if we were doing this as a, uh, as play, um, we'd have previews and we'd get to see it with audiences and make those adjustments as we go through the preview period. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. But you don't have that in tv. You just have to react instantly.

Louise Palanker (00:36:39):

And so what are some memorable, uh, laugh moments that you wa sometimes will catch in reruns and, and it will take you right back to the moment that that happened?

Cheri Steinkellner (00:36:52):

That's a great question. I would say that one of my favorite, well, okay. The Thanksgiving food fight is, um, well, well loved and remembered because it was just so complete. And that was another one Billy and I wrote that was so completely off the wall. It was so out of control. And so, I mean, it was a genuine food war <laugh>, and it was, so that was, and, and it was, and it was out of control. And Jimmy kept yelling cut. And they're, hi, there it is. And, and nobody would cut

Louise Palanker (00:37:29):

<laugh>. It's a Jiff.

Cheri Steinkellner (00:37:31):

It was so funny.

Fritz Coleman (00:37:32):

Even just being able to see the shadows is funny. Here. I can, this

Louise Palanker (00:37:35):

Is when you, when you, you know, when you're a Jiff, that's history right there. That's not going anywhere. That will play on a loop forever. <laugh>.

Fritz Coleman (00:37:44):

Yes. Did you always write with your husband in, in every episode, uh, Cheri

Cheri Steinkellner (00:37:48):

On Shears? Absolutely. Mm-hmm. Yes. Um, we started writing independently, I wanna say about 10 years ago. Um, when I went through menopause and started waking up at three in the morning ready to write <laugh> <laugh>.

Fritz Coleman (00:38:02):

I don't know if you saw the history of the sitcom on cnn, which was really well done, I thought. And they showed many times. They showed, uh, a Jefferson's clip. And the setup to it was that when, um, Norman Lear was doing good times, he took a lot of heat that that's sort of kept, uh, uh, African Americans at a lower middle class level and didn't allow them to accelerate. So he was sort of, they, he had the idea to do the Jeffersons to show an upwardly mobile African American family. But I was, was really taken with how wonderful and edgy the dialogue was. I mean, they dropped the n word in some of these things, and I thought, right now they would never allow that to happen. But it was so wonderful cuz it always made a social point in the Jeffersons, but it was really much edgier than anything I think that would be commonly accepted. Now, do you know what I'm talking about?

Cheri Steinkellner (00:38:56):

Absolutely. Yeah. And, you know, and in a case like that, I would, I would guess now we just came on the Jeffersons in the final season. Uh, so it was pretty, it was, and, and I'm saying this in a good way. It, the show was baked. It was, it was, um, uh, it, it was what it was. And our job was just to fit in and serve what was, um, so you'd have to ask somebody who was there more than I was, how much of that, for example, the actors were involved in, uh, contributing and permitting adlibbing. Um, because it's hard for me to imagine writing some of that stuff, typing it and putting it

Fritz Coleman (00:39:40):

Through. You see what I saw, I'm, I'm serious. They, they, they, they were very, very brazen in, in their, for instance, the relationship across the hall with a guy had the African American wife and they, they were dropping n words and everything in there. It was really interesting. Yeah.

Cheri Steinkellner (00:39:54):


Fritz Coleman (00:39:55):

Different time

Louise Palanker (00:39:55):

Now. I think it, it, it, it would be interesting to watch groundbreaking shows like that now in through the lens of today and how much we've learned and that hopefully that we've learned in the last 30 or 40 years. Watch it now and, and see if our framework hasn't evolved since the first time we watched it. Yeah. Because we all watch

Fritz Coleman (00:40:15):

Those shows. Well, they still talk about those types of social issues like Blackish. They get into some real interesting political stuff. They just have to be more cautious about the words they use than they were on The Jeffersons. I found it very freeing. I thought it was fantastic. It was really funny. And I'm sure it does great on me TV and these rerun channels, cuz they were, it was funny as hell. Oh yeah. They were just more liberal with their dialogue.

Louise Palanker (00:40:38):

What, uh, so you, when you finished with Cheers, you, you and Billy worked on a few more shows and then you decided to, to move to Santa Barbara, but you both wanted to remain creative and, and still live in a town where you could pick up your kids from school and everything. How have you to remained creative while having kind of a, a hometown family experience?

Cheri Steinkellner (00:41:01):

Thanks. That's a, that's, that's a great question. Um, and I think it has, it has many parts because they're, because when we moved to Santa Barbara, our kids were in fifth and second grade and, you know, and, and the baby. And now they're all grown up and out of the house. So, um, Earl in the early Santa Barbara years, we got a call from Disney TV about doing a, um, a Saturday morning series, an animated series, which turned out to be Teacher's pet with Nathan Lane. And, um, and that allowed us to, um, to work from home here in Santa Barbara, come into Disney once a week to oversee things. But because so much of the animation was done far, far, far away, um, we didn't have to be on hand. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. So that was, that was step one, uh, of kind of maintaining or moving into the next phase. Um, that happened, luckily to be a Disney show. And Disney also had, and, and because Nathan Lane starred in it, we just kept throwing songs into it. Ha <laugh>, you know, come on, you're not gonna waste Nathan Lane.

Louise Palanker (00:42:16):


Cheri Steinkellner (00:42:16):

Would you like dog? That's one

Speaker  (00:42:17):

Of the funniest guys ever.

Cheri Steinkellner (00:42:19):

If he's gonna be a dog going to school, he's gonna be a singing dog going to school. <laugh>. I think what happened there is they asked us to write a feature. We made it a musical. Um, it turned out pretty well. And Disney offered us the chance to come in and pitch, look at their catalog of properties and see if there was anything that might make a good stage musical. And the two that we really honed in on that Greg Gunther at Disney presented us with, uh, you know, and, and, and it was Tom Schumacher and Greg Gunther, who originally approached us. Um, and the two that we honed in on were, um, a Disney movie called Hoops about Basketball. Cuz we thought that would be such a neat stage musical to have all of that percussive basketball. Yeah. It would just choreographing. It would be so cool. Yeah. But the one we ended up choosing was a Buena Vista title. So it was under the Disney umbrella, which was Sister Act. And the reason we chose it is because I live musical theater. To me, anyone can sing anytime for any reason. I don't care. <laugh>. But Billy does not speak musicals as a, as a first language. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. Uh, so for him, like breaking into Song is one of those things where it's like, why are they singing <laugh>? But on Sister Act, we know why they are singing, they're

Louise Palanker (00:43:48):

In a choir.

Cheri Steinkellner (00:43:49):

The main character was a wannabe club singer. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And she goes into a, you know, she's hiding out in a, in a, in a, in a convent as

Louise Palanker (00:43:59):

One does,

Cheri Steinkellner (00:44:01):

As one does. Um, and then, um, <laugh> and then, um, she's gets thrown on, you know, the garbage duty of, um, of, of running the choir, of being the choir leader. And so there were reasons they were singing for a reason. And so that was, we picked up on that and thought that seems like it's going to be a more comfortable transition than basketball players singing,

Louise Palanker (00:44:28):

Suddenly singing Okay. And no flying, the nuns never flew. So that it's more plausible when they don't fly, I think.

Fritz Coleman (00:44:36):

And you have the, uh, preexisting momentum of a successful film that helps in selling a Broadway show. Right.

Cheri Steinkellner (00:44:44):

Well, interesting question. It's, you know, it's a curse as well as a blessing. Hmm. Because you are always up against this film, this beloved film. Oh, there

Fritz Coleman (00:44:58):


Cheri Steinkellner (00:44:58):

Go. Mm-hmm. <affirmative> mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And you don't have certain of those elements that you have in film, for example, the closeup. Right. You know, we cannot direct people's eyes Okay. To Whoopi Goldberg's face, Maggie Smith's face, Kathy Jeanie's face. Mm mm-hmm. <affirmative>. So when you're at the London Palladium in the second balcony, which is way, way far back, all you're really seeing is a whole bunch of black and white habits moving around.

Fritz Coleman (00:45:33):

That's really

Louise Palanker (00:45:34):

Interesting. So it has to be funny.

Fritz Coleman (00:45:35):

That's really interesting.

Cheri Steinkellner (00:45:36):

It has to be funny. The dialogue, you and the voices have to instantly and, and it's, it's really hard because if they weren't in habits, we could at least go, oh, the redhead <laugh>. Oh, yeah. You know, oh, the, or the, uh, the old one or whatever. Yeah. But all you've got is their faces. You don't even have arms and legs and bodies. You've just

Fritz Coleman (00:45:54):

Got That's really

Louise Palanker (00:45:55):

Interesting. So are you ca are you casting for distinctive voices?

Cheri Steinkellner (00:45:59):

You're casting for distinctive voices and you're writing for distinctive voices.

Louise Palanker (00:46:02):


Fritz Coleman (00:46:03):

And sizes and ages and anything physical that could differentiate you from the person standing next to you.

Cheri Steinkellner (00:46:11):

Yes. And there, you know, for the person in the way, way, way back in the nosebleed seats mm-hmm. <affirmative>, you're just seeing black and white shadows move. Wow. So we can't put one in a red dress or, you know, or, or, or jeans or whatever is gonna help the audience go, oh, that one. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. So it's, wow. So it's a lot.

Fritz Coleman (00:46:34):

That is so interesting.

Louise Palanker (00:46:35):

So what are you working on now? I, I read about the musical that you created with, with music that's in the public domain for kids to put on. Can you talk about that? I think that's so fascinating.

Cheri Steinkellner (00:46:47):

Oh, that's my, that's my, I feel like I started that about 10 years ago and I still feel this way even though it's never played. Um, it's had some professional productions, but they've been community theater productions. It has never played a commercial theater. And I think it should, it's called Hello My Baby. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, I think it is the best jukebox musical or songbook musical. It's the Great American Songbook and it's Irving Berlin and, and, and the Gershwins and Ubi Blake and Jerome Kern. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, I mean, it's like I cherry picked the best of the Public domain and they were all songs that I remembered from The Million Dollar movie from seeing Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney <laugh> and June Allison sing them on their second bounce in the, in the forties.

Louise Palanker (00:47:38):


Cheri Steinkellner (00:47:39):

We're hearing Doris Day sing them. You know, I mean, there were, so you made me love you. I'm always chasing rainbows. I mean, uh, and we got fun. These are amazing songs.

Fritz Coleman (00:47:48):

So when you do something with, with a man, we, you might know this as well, when you do something, uh, with public domain music, do you pay any rights? Are there any royalties paid? It's you, it's just yours to use. Right.

Louise Palanker (00:47:59):

Not after a hundred years. Yeah.

Cheri Steinkellner (00:48:01):

It's like Shakespeare. It's like, you can not only do it, but you can, you can, um, you can work with it, you

Louise Palanker (00:48:11):

Can rewrite, you can, oh, so she's written rewritten lyrics to suit the situation.

Cheri Steinkellner (00:48:16):

I added lyrics. Okay. Yeah. So that the characters were singing. Uh, so the, so the songs belonged to the musical. We weren't having to wrench things around so that that song would fit. They, it belonged. And, um, I I, it's just my favorite project. I, I adore it. And, um, and it is, it is the joy of my life to every once in a while get a, um, you know, a a a Yahoo or Google Alert that says somebody in someplace I have never <laugh> I didn't even know existed, is doing a production. And I'll write to them and I'll say, Hey, you wanna, you wanna zoom in? And I'll, uh, I'll hang out with the, with the cast and I just adore

Louise Palanker (00:49:01):

It. Oh, that's so cool. Now, um, talk about your teaching, cuz I'm, I'm wondering what your thoughts are in terms of how much can be taught or how much natural talent a person has to have. Um, is it like athletic ability where you come to the planet with a certain amount and you can improve upon that base level

Cheri Steinkellner (00:49:22):

As a writer?

Louise Palanker (00:49:22):


Cheri Steinkellner (00:49:26):

That's so interesting. Let me think on that. Well, I think what you can do, I don't know about, I don't, I don't, I don't know if I wanna put improve on there. Cause one of the things as a, as a teacher, I think I'm more of a facilitator. Okay. And you can

Fritz Coleman (00:49:45):

Teach structure, you can teach the three act structure and all that kind of stuff.

Cheri Steinkellner (00:49:48):

Absolutely. Without question. But, um, but I don't, I don't know that, I don't think you can teach someone to have a natural ear mm-hmm. <affirmative>, but I think you can help them, help anybody, uh, uh, trust their own, their own ear and their own observations and their own kind of unique, um, interaction with the world around them and trusted enough that they can write it down the way it looks or sounds to them. And if they keep doing that, they can get closer and closer to something that is true for them. Mm-hmm. <affirmative> and doesn't feel artificial or, um mm-hmm. <affirmative> effortful. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. It's my, it's, it's my goal to, you know, for it to feel effortless to the writer and to the reader.

Louise Palanker (00:50:43):

So Yeah,

Fritz Coleman (00:50:44):

Go ahead. You get a, being a teacher, uh, you get a sense of the zeitgeist of youth. Where are they now? What, what makes, where are kids in, in, in writing sitcoms and what, what appeals to them? And I don't even know if you can answer this question, but I'm just saying, do you sort of get a sense of, uh, of what drives them, what they would like to accomplish? Maybe not cheers, but something behind, you know, uh, south Park. I mean, what, what, what are people, what are what what are kids shooting for now?

Cheri Steinkellner (00:51:17):

Ooh. There's a big, there's a real range. And I'll just mention a few shows that they have introduced me to and, and, and I've become a fan of, uh, Rick and Morty BoJack Horseman. These are adult. Adult, mm-hmm. <affirmative>, um, animated. Mm-hmm. <affirmative> series. Love those. Um, I was thinking about, I was, cause I was thinking about it when you were talking about, um, only murders in the building if you wanna circle back. Well,

Louise Palanker (00:51:43):

That's definitely, I was planning on it. Anytime you're ready to go there.

Cheri Steinkellner (00:51:46):

Well, I was thinking like, one of the things that I think we baby Boomer writers are up against now is there is just a lot, a much bigger, broader, um, pile of content mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And I think Fritz, to answer your question, the kids are my kids. My writers are so smart and they're so hip and they've watched so much. When I was learning to write for sitcom, we had to go to, um, collector's bookstore on Hollywood Boulevard <laugh> where? Larry Edmonds. Yeah. And find script. Yeah. And buy them and read them or sit on the floor and read them to learn how to write. There was no, there were not classes, there were not masterclass. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, there were not instructions. You had to learn your own way. Also a blessing and a curse. You're learning it your way if you're, you know, if you're smart and, and aware enough to be able to plug into, oh, this is how they're doing that now we can teach that. And there are tons of great books and, and, and teachers. I'm, I'm a huge fan of masterclass, by the way. Um, but, but to answer your question, sorry, I keep like going way off.

Fritz Coleman (00:53:03):

No, this is fascinating.

Cheri Steinkellner (00:53:05):

Um, the kids are so smart and the things that they like are so sharp. The things that make them laugh and make me laugh, like Broad City or Hacks or, um, I was just watching, um, the other two, or Pen 15, these are some of the shows that they have introduced me to mm-hmm. <affirmative> and I've fallen in love because they're finding ways to do the same thing that you were talking about with Norman Lear earlier to, um, to surprise us. And I think that, um, I think that that's what, um, in my opinion, on only murders in the building, I think that that what what is surprising Steve Martin may not be as a writer, may not be surprising. Fritz Coleman Okay. As an audience member.

Louise Palanker (00:54:04):

Yeah. Okay. So let's talk about only murders. You've, you've been watching it and I, I'm sure that you watch everything sort of through the prism of, if I were punching this up, <laugh>. Right. I mean, how could you not

Cheri Steinkellner (00:54:20):

Unless they make me forget. And like, for example, if you watch hacks, when I watched Tax, I forgot to think,

Louise Palanker (00:54:26):


Cheri Steinkellner (00:54:27):

I just reveled in the relationship in the twists and the turns that I did not see coming. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, um, I'm, right now we're watching Breaking Bad and No, not Breaking Bad. We finished that. Um, better Call Saul. Okay. And, and same thing, I, it wouldn't even occur to me to think how would I fix this? Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, because I'm so dazzled by the surprises that they have in store.

Louise Palanker (00:54:49):

Okay. So if I hired you and I said, only Mertis hasn't aired yet, how would you punch up these scripts? What, what do you think it's, it's needing in the, in the, uh, recipe?

Cheri Steinkellner (00:55:02):

Interesting. I, you know, the first thing I would do is ask my kids

Louise Palanker (00:55:06):

<laugh>. Okay.

Cheri Steinkellner (00:55:07):

Hmm. Um, because the one thing that was always our, I think we used to say this in ch on, on Cheers, um, as we, you know, as we became the next generation and then the next generation after that, we wanted to figure out how to stay in touch. You know, who did it? Great. Schitt's Creek.

Louise Palanker (00:55:26):

Hmm mm mm-hmm. <affirmative>. Yeah.

Cheri Steinkellner (00:55:29):

Jean and Dan Levy really brought the best of both baby boomer and the best of millennial and married them together.

Louise Palanker (00:55:37):

Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes. That's so

Fritz Coleman (00:55:39):

That was interesting cuz that show didn't get famous until they had almost wrapped their six season or so, they

Louise Palanker (00:55:44):

Started winning so many awards. Yeah, yeah.

Cheri Steinkellner (00:55:46):

No, I was, I would just say that I think that would be the first thing I would do. I don't know if, you know, I don't know if they have anybody on staff who's saying, yeah, we get that joke. We need to, we need to be a little, a little faster and a little more surprising. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. Um, because we've all done that joke on, we've all seen that joke on, on, you know, on TikTok,

Fritz Coleman (00:56:08):

Just the late seventies

Louise Palanker (00:56:08):

Yeah. On TikTok, they,

Cheri Steinkellner (00:56:10):

They've done so much comedy that in order to have the element of surprise, how, how do we do that?

Louise Palanker (00:56:17):

So you've raised three writers and they grew up maybe not completely native, uh, tech users, but a lot of their childhood was informed by being able to, uh, satisfy their curiosity and I think that makes us exponential learners where you don't, you have a question. You don't have to go to Larry Edmonds and have them order something and then wait six weeks and not remember why you wanted this book in the first place. <laugh>. But you can actually Google anything and then see like, oh, I, you know, I love Steve Martin. Who was he influenced by? And then who was he influenced by? And next thing you know, you're traveling through vaudeville and you're, you're just learning the rich and deep history of anything that fascinates you. And so that makes you, that's changing our brains. Right? Ha ha. What have you noticed with your kids as they grew up?

Cheri Steinkellner (00:57:08):

That's a really good notice. Um, yeah. I, I think, oh God, I don't even know how to answer that. Um, I think they are, I think you're right. They are insatiably curious and the answer is always right here. Hey Siri, you know? Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. I mean, it's just like, you don't have to wonder. You can just find out. Right. Um,

Fritz Coleman (00:57:34):

Do you recognize your comedy sensi sensibilities in any of your children? Have any gotten the same take on things that you have?

Cheri Steinkellner (00:57:43):

They make me laugh so much, but when I read their stuff, it's like, I wish I could write like you <laugh>. I think the, you know, they, people say the apple didn't fall far. I go, no, no. The apple fell up <laugh>.

Fritz Coleman (00:57:53):


Cheri Steinkellner (00:57:55):

So yeah. So I'm always turning to them and saying, check me on this. Oh, I was gonna tell you the thing that we didn't wanna be, that nobody in the, in the Cheers room or in the Groundlings wanted to be, we used to say Bob Hope in a hippie wig <laugh>. We didn't wanna shark

Louise Palanker (00:58:10):

That was jumping the shark before a shark was ever jumped.

Fritz Coleman (00:58:13):

Oh, that's funny.

Cheri Steinkellner (00:58:14):

Just didn't wanna

Louise Palanker (00:58:15):

Open a hip wig

Cheri Steinkellner (00:58:17):

To be of a generation that we weren't native to. And so when I'm writing somebody who, who, I just don't live, I mean, that's, and, and you're right, that's being around students helps, but I still have to have somebody check me on this mm-hmm. <affirmative>. Mm-hmm. <affirmative> or I'll call them up and I'll say, what would you call somebody who is, and I'll, I'll say it like a behavior, cuz I can certainly look up millennial or Gen Z slang mm-hmm. <affirmative>, but I won't be using it natively. Sure.

Louise Palanker (00:58:48):

Mm-hmm. <affirmative>,

Cheri Steinkellner (00:58:48):

I'll be Bob hoping a hippie wig. And I don't wanna,

Fritz Coleman (00:58:52):

Are you jealous with the freedom that writers in new streaming content have both in the subject matter and their ability to use language and go deep and go wide on a lot of things?

Cheri Steinkellner (00:59:04):

You know what I'm more jealous of? Uh, no. I, I, I'm, I'm delighted by it because I can do it too. Not in a TV series mm-hmm. <affirmative>, but in my own, you know, feature writing and things like that. So it's just like, party On is great. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. But, um, but, but they have that we didn't, we had to turn out 26 episodes Yes. Every year. That's really hard to maintain quality control when you're doing 6, 8, 10, 13 episodes. Yeah. They're all good. Come on,

Fritz Coleman (00:59:41):


Cheri Steinkellner (00:59:42):

That's nothing. People try doing 26 and then get back to me. Sure. You know?

Louise Palanker (00:59:48):

Sure. Yeah. I mean, it's funny, right? Cuz we we're, you know, we look forward to these series and these seasons and we're like, you know, how many oh, 14, you know, and, you know, you get to the end and then you have to wait. And it's like, if you've ever watched something like Leave It to Beaver and you're like, when do they go to season two? Like they're on episode 57, <laugh>, you know, and it's like, they just, these seasons just were like the whole year mm-hmm. <affirmative> there was no such thing as not working, I guess it was, you know, in the early days of television, it was like, let's put on a show. And they, there were no rules. And so they were creating them while they created their families and while they created, you know, what the boundaries need to be for us to take a nap and a shower. So <laugh>, it's, it's so interesting. And now it's like yeah. Pace yourselves, you know, there's plenty of content, you know, and, uh, yeah. That, that is, that, that is it's

Fritz Coleman (01:00:36):

Cost too. Right. Okay. I mean it's, it's, you know, it's infinitely more expensive now for the weekly production of these things and some of the salaries, particularly even in the Cheers thing and friends and these astonishing salaries that they can only afford to do three <laugh>.

Cheri Steinkellner (01:00:53):

Right, right. Wow. And also, I'm, I'm just not sure how the business model works anymore. I mean, in the old days you wanted to get a certain number so that you could make your syndication count mm-hmm. <affirmative> and then, and have enough that would keep running and running and running in perpetuity. Now we all do that anyway.

Louise Palanker (01:01:12):

Right, right. So is there anything next for you that you're working on or just even cogitating about?

Cheri Steinkellner (01:01:20):

I'm writing features and which I had never done before and never even thought to do before, but I love it. So I'm really excited about a couple of features that are in various stages of going from script to screen mm-hmm. <affirmative>, um, and, uh, and, and, and particularly the ones that let me disappear into a new world. I spent this past year in 1845 Concord, Massachusetts.

Louise Palanker (01:01:52):


Cheri Steinkellner (01:01:53):

With Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson. And oh, you know,

Louise Palanker (01:01:56):

That's, that's, that's the's what you immersed yourself in.

Cheri Steinkellner (01:01:59):

I loved it. Wow. I was in my garden one day just almost exactly a year ago. I was in my garden going, how long was Henry David Thoreau out in nature, seeing nobody and you know, just having, having only a solitary quarantine ish like life. And I came back in and into my, um, my Google to find the answer. The answer is two years, two months and two days. He was in wa at Walden. And I started reading some articles about him, not all complimentary, some extraordinarily complimentary. And the worse that the articles got, the more interested I got Okay. In exploring him as a, um, as a leading figure in a romantic, romantic comedy. Ooh. Um, and so I had a ton of fun, the

Louise Palanker (01:02:50):

More fun that he became. Yeah.

Fritz Coleman (01:02:52):

What is your writing discipline, Cheri? What, what, what is your writing day? Or do you write every day? Do you write for long periods of time?

Cheri Steinkellner (01:02:59):

I write a thank you for asking. I write every single day in my morning pages, although I don't always do them in the morning. Um, so I will always write or strive to write free, write just like thoughts junk. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, whatever, um, every single day just to keep my, the muse happy. Mm-hmm.

Louise Palanker (01:03:21):

<affirmative>. And can you give us, just for people that are, are, are listening to the show or watching the show, tell us about the morning pages. Cuz I, I took a Zoom class with you over the pandemic, so I know about this and I think it's a great practice and it's great for people who, uh, fear starting, you know, how to, how to get people past that point of like, oh, I'm not a writer. And then all of a sudden you've done the mor your Morning pages. Now you, you are a writer. You just wrote so, so help people get there.

Cheri Steinkellner (01:03:52):

So Julia Cameron wrote a book, many, many, um, printings ago called The Artist's Way. And it has several practices for people who want to develop or hone or just be in touch with their, their own creativity. And probably the, the most famous practice that has emerged is called Morning Pages. And all it is is every single morning upon waking, if you're doing it by the, by the book <laugh>, um, you, before you do anything else right outta your dreams, you write three pages and she says, write them long hand with your dominant hand. And you are writing in kind of the liminal space between sleep and wake and being awake. And you just keep the pen moving, even if you don't know what you're gonna say. Then you write, I don't know what I'm gonna say. I can't think of anything. This is stupid, I'm so dumb, why am I so boring? You know, blah blah, blah. You just write,

Louise Palanker (01:04:54):

Have you read mine? <laugh>

Fritz Coleman (01:04:56):


Cheri Steinkellner (01:04:57):

What happens is you write your weight, but if you do three pages, if you say, all I have to do is hit that finish line, then eventually you're gonna get so bored with being boring <laugh> that you get to the other side of that. And usually you will get, you will, you will write your way into something interesting that will make you, that you're writing for a little while, and then you'll be on page three and go, what? I did that.

Louise Palanker (01:05:22):

Wow, that's so

Cheri Steinkellner (01:05:23):

Good. So it's about getting to the, it's about getting over the part where we tell ourselves we can't do this and, and just keeping going. And it's, and as a practice, there are days when I got nothing. There are days when I've got no time. There are days when I go, oh, I'll just write my, you know, my lecture for my class or whatever in my morning pages mm-hmm. <affirmative> or I'll just try and write a really crappy version of this opening scene or something. And because it's only my morning pages, it doesn't have to be good. It just, it just has to be done. And so it becomes a great scratch pad or, or, you know, for, for doing actual work.

Fritz Coleman (01:06:03):

Can you have cereal and coffee before you do this? I'm just planning my day tomorrow. Can you <laugh>? Oh good. Yeah, no, it's a wonderful idea because I think at that time of the day, uh, before your brain becomes clouded up, you're still tapping into your subconscious a little bit and, uh, probably come up with some pretty cool stuff.

Cheri Steinkellner (01:06:20):

Interesting. Yeah. And, and the dreams Dream. Your dreams will like it, they'll respond by being more available and more memorable. Oh, wow.

Louise Palanker (01:06:28):

That's interesting. Mm-hmm.

Cheri Steinkellner (01:06:29):

<affirmative>. Um, so

Louise Palanker (01:06:31):

It creates a nice circle,

Cheri Steinkellner (01:06:32):

My experience. That's, that's amazing. You know, I don't wanna promise that for anybody, but, but if you commit to that daily practice, it's like Liz Gilbert says in Big Magic, here she is. Um, you know, she says, if you show up for the Muse, the MUEs will show up for you, but you have to show up.

Louise Palanker (01:06:48):

Yeah. It's a meeting.

Cheri Steinkellner (01:06:50):


Louise Palanker (01:06:51):

Yeah. Wow. No, I'd love that. That's really beautiful and al and also extremely helpful. Really, really great stuff. So, is there anything else you want us to tell folks about Cheri before we do our closing credits and our plea for people to subscribe to our podcast?

Cheri Steinkellner (01:07:07):

Um, I'm good if you're good.

Louise Palanker (01:07:09):

Yeah, we're great. This has been wonderful. Go ahead, Fritz.

Fritz Coleman (01:07:13):

I just wanna say thank you for all the amazing entertainment you've put into the cosmos and all the great laughs and all the great lines. And I, I know that you feel that. Anyway, if you've enjoyed this episode of Media Path, it would help us to be more discoverable by potential new listeners. If you leave us a quick review on Apple Podcast and if you're new here and this is your first time with us, please check out our back catalog. You may even find some stuff binge worthy. We've had Gary Puckett and the Cowels and Henry Winkler and Cheri Stein Calender and Keith Morrison and, and, and, and Richard Sturman of the Oak Ridge Boys and the Livingston Brothers from my three sons and Bill Medley and Tony Dow and Diane Warren. Were just Chuck full of great, uh, interesting hours and we, we, we hope you will like them. Please thank you for spending an hour with us and we will be overjoyed if you took a moment to share your thoughts with us or to recommend us to

Louise Palanker (01:08:05):

Frank. This sounds like a, a really good show, Fritz. I'm gonna subscribe right now. Perfect. So we would love for you to join us online on Instagram and Twitter where we are at Media Path Pod and on Facebook where we are. Media Path Podcast. You can find full episodes with all kinds of bonus visual content to compliment your experience on our YouTube channel Media Path podcast. We would love to know what media you've been enjoying. You can contact us at our social media or email us at media path podcast We wanna thank our wonderful guest, Cheri Stein Kellner. Our team includes Dina Friedman, Francesco Desmond, John Maddox, Sharon Beo, bill Fiac, Thomas Hubble, who's our new guy, Mason. What's your last name? Brown. Mason Brown. And you? Our theme music is by me and John Maddox. I am Louise Lanker here with Fritz Coleman and we will see you along the media path.


That was wonderful.



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