Brothers John and Dave Chernin started their television careers as writers for the hit comedy IT’S ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA (FXX). The duo co-wrote 10 episodes while on the ALWAYS SUNNY writing staff, and departed after six seasons with the show in order to spearhead their own creative project, THE MICK (FOX).
THE MICK, which was recently renewed for a second season, chronicles the life of habitually irresponsible and perpetually down-on-her luck Mackenzie “Mickey” Murphy (Kaitlin Olson), who is saddled with full guardianship of her spoiled niece (Sofia Black-D’Elia) and nephews (Thomas Barbusca and Jack Stanton) after her sister and brother-in-law flee the country to avoid federal fraud charges. With the help of housekeeper Alba (Carla Jiminez) and pseudo-boyfriend Jimmy (Scott MacArthur), Mickey must navigate the ins and outs of caring for three unruly children and their luxurious mansion, all while getting her own crash course in responsibility and functional adulthood.
OnWriting spoke with Dave and John about the transition from Staff Writers to running their own writers room, writing dark humor for wide audiences and the current state of the family sitcom.
Advice on writing from the gallows
- Know the rules before you break them
- Write the shows you’d want to see
- Keep doing whatever makes you laugh
An interview with John and Dave Chernin
How did you get your start as writers?
Dave: John and I were living together after we graduated college. We decided to write a movie together. At the time, John was working as an assistant to the Farrelly brothers and then with Ridley Scott’s commercial production company.
I knew an agent. I wasn’t comfortable giving him any of the feature stuff I’d written, because I didn’t think it was good enough. He asked me to write an episode of my favorite TV show. IT’S ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA was just starting up at the time, so I wrote a spec for SUNNY. A few months later, I got a call from [SUNNY creator] Rob McElhenney, and I started working for him as a Writer’s Assistant.
John and I continued to write together on the side and then McElhenney promoted us both to writers on the show.
What was your experience like as a Writer’s Assistant on IT’S ALWAYS SUNNY?
Dave: I was such a fan of the show and I felt like I knew it front to back, but the moment I got in the room with these guys, I learned that they were on a different level. I kept my mouth shut and my ears open. It’s a great place to learn the ropes because Rob, Charlie [Day] and Glenn [Howerton] are so talented. They were great about shepherding young, inexperienced writers into the business and teaching us the do’s and don’ts of sitcom writing. That was our film school.
John: We spent a lot of our first season waiting to get fired because we thought everyone there was so much better than us. I remember when we went in on our first day as staff writers. We were both really excited and feeling confident because we were doing better than most of our peers, and we had a great writing gig. Then, two minutes into our first day, we realized “Oh my god. You guys are unbelievable and we’re not ready for this.”
What was the first episode you worked on as writing partners?
Dave: When I was still a Writer’s Assistant on the show they gave me a script called “The Gang Reignites the Rivalry.” John and I were living together, so I would go home every day after work and talk it out with him. John’s not credited, but that was probably the first SUNNY episode that we worked on together. That ended up becoming a real hit over there. The first episode where they did actually credit John was called “Dennis Gets Divorced.” I feel like we did not do a great job on that. I don’t know what it was, but it wasn’t our best work.
John: When we worked on that first episode, we were so excited that people were willing to give us the opportunity. When we did “Dennis Gets Divorced” we were actually on staff, and we were so nervous and so afraid of messing up that I don’t think we had as much fun with it. They were kind enough to stick with us and help us get the script into a good place. From then on, we were more confident in our own abilities and we started having more fun with it.
I’ve always seen IT’S ALWAYS SUNNY as an alternative, depraved version of Seinfeld. THE MICK is more in the vein of ROSEANNE or MARRIED WITH CHILDREN. Can you tell me about the creation of THE MICK and how you transitioned to this sort of show from IT’S ALWAYS SUNNY?
John: All those shows that you just mentioned actually came up in our pitch. THE MICK was an idea we had for a while and we had pitched it to some other people. To us, it always felt like it was a little too soft for cable and a little hard for network and we weren’t sure what to do with it. We ultimately thought, “Since we’re coming off a pretty dark, twisted show like ALWAYS SUNNY, let’s see if we can’t translate that to network TV and try to do one of the dysfunctional family sitcoms that we loved growing up.” We didn’t feel like we were reinventing the wheel in any way. We felt like these shows that had this ballsy kind of edge to them had just disappeared from network TV for a while, and we really wanted to do a show within that vein.
Dave: The idea behind THE MICK was to start with this really familiar sitcom concept which on its own is so traditional and digestible to an audience. We used that concept as our foundation, but then we wrote Mickey in a way that was very tonally separated from it. That kind of deconstruction of the more traditional sitcom concept is definitely something that we took from SUNNY.