Former WGAW President David A. Goodman discusses his TV writing career. This includes The Golden Girls, Star Trek: Enterprise, Futurama, Family Guy and The Orville.
In his 3-decade TV writing career, David A. Goodman has penned scripts for several beloved series. His first writing job was on NBC’s The Golden Girls. However, Goodman has moved between genres since then.
He has worked with animation heavyweights Matt Groening (Futurama) and Seth MacFarlane (Family Guy, American Dad). In fact, Goodman’s Futurama episode, “Where No Fan Has Gone Before” – a Star Trek parody – landed him a job on Star Trek: Enterprise. David A. Goodman also wrote the script for Fred: The Movie and Fred 2: Night of The Living Fred.
From 2017-2021, Goodman served as the Writer’s Guild of America West (WGAW) President. He currently works alongside MacFarlane as an executive producer on The Orville, currently streaming Season 3 on Hulu.
In this Courageous Nerd interview, we cover all aspects of David A. Goodman’s writing and producing career. As well as this article, you can also view our conversation on the Courageous Nerd YouTube channel, linked below.
You began your writing career on The Golden Girls and have worked on many iconic projects since then. Going back in time, what sparked your interest in pursuing writing as a career?
David A. Goodman: Back then, in the 1980s when I was in college, I didn’t know anybody who worked as a writer in television. I was from New York, my mother was a social worker, my father was a Professor of Psychology.
There was no Internet. Nowadays, you can connect with people who are doing what you’re doing. Back then, it was reading books and I was a big film and television fan. I always thought in the back of mind that I wanted to write for television. I wasn’t sure how to go about it.
Then, a guy my age had worked for David Letterman. This was at the beginning of David Letterman’s career, mid-80s. That opened my mind to the fact that it was a possibility. I started looking for jobs that might give me connections to the business.
I ended up getting a job as an assistant to a woman named Gloria Banta. She submitted my work that I did with a partner to The Golden Girls.
Animation has been a large part of your career – you’ve worked on Futurama, Family Guy and American Dad. How different is breaking a story for animation compared to a live-action series, especially Star Trek: Enterprise or The Orville?
David A Goodman: I think the secret to any good television writing, whether animated or live action, is that the writer makes you feel for the characters. Laughing with them or at them. Whatever they’re undergoing, even on an animated show, you want it to feel compelling.
You’re always starting from that place. Each type of show has its own style. An animated show, you can really go to crazy places that you can’t in live-action. I maintain that even when you go to those crazy places, the audience still has to come back and feel like they’re engaged with your characters.
In terms of breaking a story, there’s just a lot of similarities. In the context of whatever the show is, it’s going to be different. The sitcoms I wrote for are different from the dramas I wrote for. Even the animated shows I wrote for are different from each other.
I do think a lot more happens in an animated show than live-action. Animated characters are not as interesting to look at as people. So, you’ve got to really pack it in there. Still, hopefully the story is something that the audience cares about.
You’ve written for some of TV’s most iconic characters – whether Peter Griffin, Philip J. Fry or the four leads of The Golden Girls. Do any characters stand out as favourites in your mind?
David A. Goodman: I really enjoyed my time at Family Guy. Stewie, Brian, Peter and Lois. All the characters on that show are really fun, but hard, to write for. It’s hard to be funny.
I also really enjoyed my time on Futurama. Actually, it’s coming back [on Hulu] and I’m currently writing a script for that. After 20 years, I’m back to writing that show. I love the whole situation and all the characters.
For me, the reason I had a good time is the other writers. Getting to work with those other writers was always fun.
Even after a TV writer has years of experience, is it daunting to write for characters created by someone else or do you adapt as you go along?
David A. Goodman: That’s a very good question. I have confidence that I can work on a lot of different shows. So, I’m always trying to get hired by other writers to work on their shows. When it comes to writing the script, what hasn’t changed is that I want it to be good. I still have that insecurity that helps drive me to work really hard on it.
Hopefully, write a good script. The person who hired me feels it’s in the voice of their show. I have confidence based on experience, but I also still very much care what the person who hired me wants. That really hasn’t changed.
As part of the premise, The Orville has both humanoid and alien characters in the main cast. At least early on, did you and the staff approach characters differently or view them equally?
David A. Goodman: Well, The Orville is a drama. So, there’s less comedy involved in the portrayal of those characters. You have to try and find the reality a little more. Whereas Bender or Dr. Zoidberg are comedic characters. You want to care about them but won’t have the same attention to their internal reality.
In addition to being a writer, you’ve also been an Executive Producer on many projects. How does being a producer influence writing and vice-versa?
David A. Goodman: My role as a writer is paramount. That’s why I’m an Executive Producer; it’s more a reflection of my seniority. My role as Executive Producer varies in the duties I carry out.
In some cases, I’m heavily involved in casting. In other cases, I’m just a senior writer with that title. The Orville, I have an old relationship with Seth. We’ve been friends and collaborators for a long time. So, my job there is to is to help him do his job.
That’s writing the script, but also ideas for all the stories. The arc of the season, character moments; he’ll even ask me sometimes for input on his acting. He might ask my input on casting. I’m there to help him do his job.
Let’s focus on Family Guy, American Dad and The Orville in particular, where you’ve worked closely with Seth MacFarlane for 20 years. What do you think helps the two of you work so well together across these different formats?
David A. Goodman: We met when he hired me on Family Guy; that was in I think 2000. From the beginning, we had a really good working relationship. I have an enormous amount of respect for him and am in awe of his talent. He has shown me a lot of respect and I really enjoy working with him.
On Futurama, you wrote the memorable “Where No Fan Has Gone Before” episode, featuring most of the original Star Trek cast. As a known “Trekkie”, was that a ‘pinch me’ moment for you?
David A. Goodman: Yeah, that was a very exciting experience. I got hired on Futurama and at that moment in time, they were talking about doing a full-on Star Trek homage. A couple of weeks later, head writer David X. Cohen said he wanted me to write the script. I was the biggest Star Trek fan on the staff.
It was very exciting and I filled that script with Star Trek references, from the Original Series. Getting to record William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy together. Very, very fun and very exciting. The show was nominated for a Nebula Award – a science-fiction award – and lost to Fellowship of The Ring. It’s crazy that the episode was nominated in the same category as Lord of The Rings.
In a 2017 interview with The Hollywood Reporter, your Enterprise/Orville colleague Brannon Braga described you as “the perfect writer” for The Orville. Considering your past work on Enterprise, what have you found satisfying about writing for The Orville?
David A. Goodman: It was a really great experience to work on that show with Seth. We were both such big Star Trek fans. In my first years on Family Guy before I worked on Star Trek, Seth would do quotes and I’d have to identify the episode.
On the set of The Orville, this boggled everyone’s minds. He would play a music cue from Star Trek and I’d identify the episode. To create our own universe that is both similar to Star Trek and also different. It’s wild, very fortunate that I’ve had that experience.
You wrote “Krill” – episode 1×06 and the wider introduction into the titular species. Seth MacFarlane had written the first 5 episodes. Did you find it daunting to take the reins or just have fun with it?
David A Goodman: Seth and I had talked a lot about the Krill before the series was picked up. We had the idea of this religious, reactionary, space-faring race. We’d already come up with that idea.
In the breaking of the season, Seth just doesn’t have time to write anything. Although, his hand is in everything. Even though I wrote the script, I worked out the story with Seth and the other writers. He’s still very much involved, he just doesn’t need to explicitly put his name on a script.
In that way, he’s a good collaborator. It was my idea to do a Krill episode and introduce them. I’m very proud of that episode.
You were also President of the Writer’s Guild for America West for 4 years. Could you discuss that experience and what the role entailed?
David A. Goodman: Writers have a union, that union’s job is to protect writers’ salaries. Make sure that writers are paid a minimum, that they share in the profit of their work. If something a writer writes is successful, a studio can’t keep all the money to themselves. They have to share it with that writer; the writer gets credit.
These are all things that our union does. It provides a health plan and pension for writers so that they can maintain their career. There are always going to be ups and downs in a creative career. The union helps writers stay in their careers and ride those ups and downs.
As President, it was my job to help the union stay vital and connected to its members. Also, letting the companies that hire us know the fight for writers’ salaries.
Other than The Orville – currently streaming Season 3 on Hulu – you also have the film Honor Society coming up. How would you describe that?
David A. Goodman: Thank you for bringing that up. Starting [July 29th], it will be streaming on Paramount+. It’s a bit of a departure from a lot of the work I’ve done, it takes place in high school.
It follows a young woman, Honor Rose who is determined to get out of her small town and off to Harvard. She’s fighting for the recommendation from this guidance counsellor and meets the people she’s competing with.
Things take a turn for her that she doesn’t expect.
I’m very proud of the movie; it stars Angourie Rice, who recently appeared in Mare of Easttown. Very talented Australian actress. Gaten Matarazzo, who’s one of the kids in Stranger Things, very talented. Chris Mintz-Plasse, who played “McLovin” in Superbad.
The director, Oran Zegman, did an amazing job. I think it’s a great film and people will really enjoy it.
In a wider sense, what would you like to accomplish with the rest of 2022?
David A. Goodman: I’m pursuing a lot of things. I’m developing a bunch of television shows, don’t know if they’ll sell. If any of them sell, I’m very excited about all of them. I’ve been doing a lot of other kinds of writing.
I hope they’re going to keep paying me. I have all these ideas and things I like to do. I’m fortunate that I get paid as a writer and hope that continues.