Diane Haithman contributes to Deadline’s TV coverage.

When a comedy writer moderates a WGA panel of his peers, the audience is bound to get more jokes than straight answers. That’s what happened tonight at this year’s ‘Primetime Sublime’ panel featuring Emmy-nominated writers moderated by The Simpsons’ Mike Scully. Joking “Let’s start on a light note – The Killing!”, Scully turned to the AMC mystery’s showrunner, Veena Sud, who was nominated for the pilot. “So you were looking for something dark, coming off Cold Case? I like that [your] scenes don’t end with David Caruso tipping his sunglasses and saying: ‘This seems like a case of sour rapes.’”

Next, Scully moved on to Peter Gould, writer of the HBO movie Too Big to Fail, based on the non-fiction book of the same title by Andrew Ross Sorkin which dissects that 2008 financial meltdown. “It’s about banks closing, businesses going under: how do you make that shit up, man?” Scully asked Gould. As Gould attempted to explain the difficulties of writing about controversial real-life characters, Scully jumped in to inform the audience that as a writer Gould also had to contend with HBO pressuring him to “add a vampire … or have Turtle from Entourage drop by with some crazy financial scheme.” Scully also cracked wise that if the script had been based on a book by Aaron Sorkin, and not Andrew Ross Sorkin, the film “would have won an Academy Award, not an Emmy.”

Scully asked Greg Daniels, showrunner of The Office, “what’s it like to be the greatest writer in the world?” Daniels deadpanned back: “Thanks for not pulling any punches; I’m going to try to answer that.” The discussion quickly moved to the Emmy-nominated Office farewell episode which Daniels penned for star Steve Carell, which was supersized to 50 minutes. “That seems like cheating, for the Emmys,” Modern Family co-creator Steve Levitan interjected. “We did ours in 21 [minutes].”

Levitan – whom Scully introduced as “the dreamiest writer on television” – talked about the Emmy-nominated episode he co-wrote with Jeffrey Richman, in which the Dunphy kids walk in on their parents having sex. “I’m horrified to say I’ve been on both sides of that door,” Levitan said. “I did walk in on my parents, and I’m partly grateful because it led to this. I suppose it traumatized me enough to be a comedy writer.” The other side of the story:  “I heard a door open, and a door quickly close.  We thought we knew which kid. What do we do? We, by the way, did nothing. the rug. Three years later we were talking at dinner. My daughter just goes: ‘That was horrible.’ That’s what my wife said, too.”

Friday Night Lights executive producer Jason Katims, nominated for the series finale, received a round of applause. Even Scully was quick to offer praise for the show, but he couldn’t resist joking about Emmy-nominated Kyle Chandler as the no-nonsense football coach, saying he could imagine how terrified the young men must be who went to his home to date his daughter. “That hasn’t been my experience in real life,” Scully, also a father, noted. “They ask me for motel recommendations.”

The panel did end on a somewhat serious note when Sud was asked by an audience member about women writers. The suggestion was that the mostly-male panel reflected the reality that more men than women are in writers rooms. Sud said that on her show the writing staff is half male, and Katims said the same is true on his shows (including Parenthood). So did Daniels. Added Levitan, whose writing staff on Modern Family is predominantly male, “And I’m half-woman.”
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