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11 Famous People Who Started as Lowly TV Writers

Becoming a comedic icon doesn't happen overnight. It takes years and years of hard work. In some cases, this means paying your dues as the low-level member of a sitcom writing staff - a rite of passage for many successful comics, actors and directors. Here are 11 notable examples.

1. Norm Macdonald: Roseanne
The deadpan comic best known for Dirty Work and a controversial stint behind the SNL Weekend Update anchor desk only stayed on staff of the blue collar comedy long enough to write two episodes – including one about DJ turning into a pee-wee hockey thug.

2. Larry David: Saturday Night Live
The hilariously abrasive co-creator of Seinfeld and creator of Curb Your Enthusiasm previously worked as a writer for SNL. Frustrated his sketches weren't making it onto the show, he quit and walked out on the gig one day, only to return shortly afterward pretending that it never happened. If that sounds familiar to you, it’s probably because the character George did the very same thing years later on an episode of Seinfeld.

3. Judd Apatow: The Critic
Before creating Freaks and Geeks, The 40-Year Old Virgin or Knocked Up, Apatow penned a handful of episodes of the the Jon Lovitz show The Critic – and even stepped in when the show needed a good impression of Jay Leno.

4. Richard Pryor: Sanford & Son
You know Pryor as one of the most influential stand-up comedians of all-time — and for his roles in films like Stir Crazy, Brewster’s Millions, and Superman III. But earlier in his career, Pryor co-wrote two episodes of Redd Foxx’s sitcom Sanford & Son along with longtime partner (and Chappelle Show mainstay) Paul Mooney.

5. Garry Shandling: Welcome Back, Kotter
The star of The Larry Sanders Show cut his comedic teeth writing one episode of Welcome Back, Kotter called "Horshack vs. Carvelli." And, like Pryor, he also wrote for a short time for Sanford & Son.

6 & 7. The Farrelly Brothers: Seinfeld
Two years before they released their feature film directorial debut – a little American masterpiece called Dumb & Dumber – Peter and Bobby Farrelly made their mark on TV history by penning one episode of Seinfeld. In the episode, entitled The Virgin, George and Jerry first devise their awful sitcom premise where a man without insurance is court-ordered to butler for another man after a car accident.

8. Seth Rogen: Da Ali G Show
The actor and frequent Judd Apatow collaborator had a hand in six episodes of the short-lived HBO series that starred Sacha Baron Cohen as the woefully misinformed titular host. Rogen received an Emmy nomination for his work on the show.

9. Billy Crystal: The Love Boat
Before he was known as the star of SNL, When Harry Met Sally or Analyze This (or for his ever-growing number of Academy Awards hosting gigs), Crystal was briefly a writer mapping out adventures for Captain Stubing, Gopher and the rest of the crew aboard The Love Boat.

10. Paul Lieberstein: Various
While not the most recognizable of names, fans of The Office (U.S.) know Lieberstein as the hangdog HR rep Toby Flenderson. However, Lieberstein has spent the majority of his career behind the scenes – working as a writer on King of the Hill, The Drew Carey Show, The Bernie Mac Show and others.

11. Mitchell Hurwitz: The Golden Girls
Long before giving the world the dysfunctional antics of the Bluth clan, the Arrested Development creator was crafting sarcastic repartee for Dorothy, Blanche, Rose and Sophia Petrillo on The Golden Girls. Hurwitz wrote nine episodes in all, including the series finale with this bittersweet ending:

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10 Filling Facts About A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving
Warner Home Video
Warner Home Video

Though it may not be as widely known as It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown or A Charlie Brown Christmas, A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving has been a beloved holiday tradition for many families for more than 40 years now. Even if you've seen it 100 times, there’s still probably a lot you don’t know about this Turkey Day special.

1. IT’S THE FIRST PEANUTS SPECIAL TO FEATURE AN ADULT VOICE.

We all know the trombone “wah wah wah” sound that Charlie Brown’s teacher makes when speaking in a Peanuts special. But A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving, which was released in 1973, made history as the first Peanuts special to feature a real, live, human adult voice. But it’s not a speaking voice—it’s heard in the song “Little Birdie.”

2. IT WASN’T JUST ANY ADULT WHO LENT HIS VOICE TO THE SPECIAL.

Being the first adult to lend his or her voice to a Peanuts special was kind of a big deal, so it makes sense that the honor wasn’t bestowed on just any old singer or voice actor. The song was performed by composer Vince Guardaldi, whose memorable compositions have become synonymous with Charlie Brown and the rest of the gang.

“Guaraldi was one of the main reasons our shows got off to such a great start,” Lee Mendelson, the Emmy-winning producer who worked on many of the Peanuts specials—including A Charlie Brown Thanksgivingwrote for The Huffington Post in 2013. “His ‘Linus and Lucy,’ introduced in A Charlie Brown Christmas, set the bar for the first 16 shows for which he created all the music. For our Thanksgiving show, he told me he wanted to sing a new song he had written for Woodstock. I agreed with much trepidation as I had never heard him sing a note. His singing of ‘Little Birdie’ became a hit."

3. DESPITE THE VOICE, THERE ARE NO ADULTS FEATURED IN THE SPECIAL.

While Peanuts specials are largely populated by children, there’s usually at least an adult or two seen or heard somewhere. That’s not the case with A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving. “Charlie Brown Thanksgiving may be the only Thanksgiving special (live or animated) that does not include adults,” Mendelson wrote for HuffPo. “Our first 25 specials honored the convention of the comic strip where no adults ever appeared. (Ironically, our Mayflower special does include adults for the first time.)”

4. LUCY IS MOSTLY M.I.A., TOO.

Though early on in the special, viewers get that staple scene of Lucy pulling a football away from Charlie Brown at the last minute, that’s all we see of Chuck’s nemesis in A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving. (Lucy's brother, Linus, however, is still a main character.)

5. CHARLIE BROWN AND LUCY STILL KEEP IN TOUCH.

Though they only had a single scene together, Todd Barbee, who voiced Charlie Brown, told Noblemania that he and Robin Kohn, who voiced Lucy in the Thanksgiving special, still keep in touch. “We actually went to high school together,” Barbee said. “We still live in Marin County, are Facebook friends, and occasionally see each other.”

6. CHARLIE BROWN HAD SOME TROUBLE WITH HIS SIGNATURE “AAARRRGG.”

One unique aspect of the Peanuts specials is that the bulk of the characters are voiced by real kids. In the case of A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving, 10-year-old newcomer Todd Barbee was tasked with giving a voice to Charlie Brown—and it wasn’t always easy.

“One time they wanted me to voice that ‘AAAAAAARRRRRGGGGG’ when Charlie Brown goes to kick the football and Lucy yanks it away,” Barbee recalled to Noblemania in 2014. “Try as I might, I just couldn’t generate [it as] long [as] they were looking for … so after something like 25 takes, we moved on. I was sweating the whole time. I think they eventually got an adult or a kid with an older voice to do that one take."

7. LINUS STILL GETS AN ENTHUSIASTIC RESPONSE.

While Barbee got a crash course in the downside of celebrity at a very early age—“seeing my name printed in TV Guide made everyone around me go bananas … everybody … just thought I was some big movie star or something,” he told Noblemania—Stephen Shea, who voiced Linus, still gets a pretty big reaction.

"I don't walk around saying 'I'm the voice of Linus,'" Shea told the Los Angeles Times in 2013. "But when people find out one way or another, they scream 'I love Linus. That is my favorite character!'"

8. THANKS TO LINUS, THE THANKSGIVING SPECIAL GOT A SPINOFF.

As is often the case in a Peanuts special, Linus gets to play the role of philosopher in A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving and remind his friends (and the viewers) about the history and true meaning of whatever holiday they’re celebrating. His speech about the Pilgrims’ first Thanksgiving eventually led to This is America, Charlie Brown: The Mayflower Voyagers, a kind of spinoff adapted from that Thanksgiving Day prayer, which sees the Peanuts gang becoming a part of history.

9. LEE MENDELSON HAD AN ISSUE WITH BIRD CANNIBALISM.

In writing for HuffPo for A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving’s 40th anniversary, Mendelson admitted that one particular scene in the special led to “a rare, minor dispute during the creation of the show. Mr. Schulz insisted that Woodstock join Snoopy in carving and eating a turkey. For some reason I was bothered that Woodstock would eat a turkey. I voiced my concern, which was immediately overruled.”

10. MENDELSON EVENTUALLY GOT HIS WAY ... THOUGH NOT FOR LONG.

Though Mendelson lost his original argument against seeing Woodstock eating another bird, he was eventually able to right that wrong. “Years later, when CBS cut the show from its original 25 minutes to 22 minutes, I sneakily edited out the scene of Woodstock eating,” he wrote. “But when we moved to ABC in 2001, the network (happily) elected to restore all the holiday shows to the original 25 minutes, so I finally have given up.”

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The Mystery Science Theater 3000 Turkey Day Marathon Is Back
Shout! Factory
Shout! Factory

For many fans, Mystery Science Theater 3000 is as beloved a Thanksgiving tradition as mashed potatoes and gravy (except funnier). It seems appropriate, given that the show celebrates the turkeys of the movie world. And that it made its debut on Thanksgiving Day in 1988 (on KTMA, a local station in Minneapolis). In 1991, to celebrate its third anniversary, Comedy Central hosted a Thanksgiving Day marathon of the series—and in the more than 25 years since, that tradition has continued.

Beginning at 12 p.m. ET on Thursday, Shout! Factory will host yet another Mystery Science Theater 3000 Turkey Day marathon, hosted by series creator Joel Hodgson and stars Jonah Ray and Felicia Day. Taking place online at ShoutFactoryTV.com, or via the Shout! Factory TV app on Apple TV, Roku, Amazon Fire and select smart TVs, the trio will share six classic MST3K episodes that have never been screened as part of a Shout! Factory Turkey Day Marathon. Here’s hoping your favorite episode makes it (cough, Hobgoblins, cough.)

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