Web Exclusives: Alumni Spotlight
March 26, 2003:
Jamin '92 at home on King of the Hill
Caption: Jamin and his wife, comic actress Cynthia Mann Jamin,
who he met on the set of Just Shoot Me.
For Michael Jamin '92, the low point on his quest to make a name
for himself as a TV writer came when he was working as counter-man
in a Los Angeles-area frozen-yogurt store. He took the job to make
ends meet while he waited for his big break.
One day, Jamin recalls, he happened to wear a ratty old Princeton
T-shirt to work. When the high-school kid who shared his shift saw
the shirt, he asked, "Dude, you went to Princeton? What are
you doing here?"
Jamin could offer no good answer. But eventually after
four years on the fringes of the entertainment business the
breaks started going Jamin's way.
In 1996, three years after serving frozen yogurt, the producers
of a new NBC sit-com hired Jamin to be a writer. The show was Just
Shoot Me, which eventually became a staple of the network's
"Must-See TV" Thursday lineup. He worked there until 2000,
when he made the leap to writing for Fox's animated series King
of the Hill, which by the time he joined was a well established
hit about a group of quirky suburban neighbors in Texas. Today,
Jamin serves as a co-executive producer of the show.
"It's weird," Jamin says. "It's such a crapshoot.
You can struggle and you still may never get a break."
Jamin knew he wanted to be a television writer "from the
moment I began watching Cheers," the celebrated '80s
sit-com on NBC. And he was willing to start at the bottom and pay
At Princeton, Jamin dabbled in standup comedy, performing at various
eating clubs, at residential-college dining halls, and at campus
open-mike nights. During breaks, he would sometimes perform in small
clubs near his home in Edgemont, New York.
Jamin wrote his senior thesis on the evolution of the network
sit-com. In retrospect, he kicks himself for not using the exercise
to make contacts out in Hollywood.
Instead, Jamin got his wisdom teeth extracted right after graduation
while he still had health coverage and hit the road
for L.A. The only person he knew there was a former high-school
classmate who generously offered Jamin a place to stay. They wound
up rooming for the next year and a half.
Jamin's first job was to be an assistant at the William Morris
Agency, one of the major firms for Hollywood agents. The job was
low-level, but hard to get. Right before Jamin started work, his
father sent him a fancy briefcase to celebrate the occasion.
On his second day of work, however, Jamin mistakenly put through
a phone call that his boss wanted to duck. The boss, he recalled,
said, "Michael, does everybody in the world think you're the
biggest f---ing idiot?" The next day, Jamin quit, seconds before
Jamin took low-level jobs in the Burt Reynolds sit-com Evening
Shade as an errand boy and the Tina Turner movie
What's Love Got to Do With It as a writer's assistant
and wrote infomercials for Dionne Warwick's Psychic Friends
Network. "The reason they hired me, I think, was that the
guys running the operation didn't wanted anyone on staff who knew
more than they did," he says. "And the only person who
would have known less was me."
Later, Jamin moved up to a job on ABC's The Mike 'n Maty Show,
a morning talkfest that was a poor man's Regis and Kathie Lee.
"The show was doomed from the beginning, but my job was to
write jokes and sketches, so it was a dream come true. I was finally
writing a real show," Jamin says. "I did that for half
a year, and then they realized that they didn't actually need comedy
writers on what was basically a cooking show. So they fired me."
Around then, Jamin went to see an agent. She was ecstatic about
him, telling him, "You're going to be a star!" Jamin drove
home that day "on cloud nine." But later he asked for
the phone number of someone else who had become a star under the
agent's tutelage. The writer Jamin was referred to laughed when
he called." And he said, 'Dude, I work at a record store.'"
The upside of the episode was that the record store guy, Sivert
Glarum, and Jamin quickly hit it off. They became and remain
writing partners. They landed their big break with Just
Shoot Me, after sending a script to the assistant to the show's
producer. The bigwigs liked it and hired the duo as staff writers
for the first six episodes. "They expect you to be good already
so they don't have to train you," Jamin says. "But we
weren't good yet. We really didn't know what we were doing."
In short order, though, they got the hang of it, and they wound
up staying for four seasons, writing four shows a year and handling
other duties on an additional 18 to 20 episodes. "It's unusual
to stay with a show for four seasons," Jamin says. "You
usually run out of ideas after two. Four is really pushing it."
The world of comedy can be high-stress, Jamin says. "On Just
Shoot Me, if a joke bombed in front of the studio audience,
the director would yell, 'Cut,'" he says. "Then the writers
would all have to pitch in to come up with an alternate joke. That's
when you're really on the spot."
Writing for TV is considered a young person's game. "At Just
Shoot Me, which was a well-run show, we could easily work until
10 or 12 every night," Jamin says. King of the Hill
is a little less strenuous because the show doesn't have a weekly
grind of rehearsing and performing with live actors. Jamin and Glarum
recently finished a movie script and might some day make the switch
Still, writing for TV remains the thing Jamin most wants to do
for now. "In movies, the director is in charge," he says.
"In TV, the writer is in charge. So if you want to see your
work get made, you have to be in TV."
By Louis Jacobson '92
Louis Jacobson is a staff correspondent at National Journal magazine
in Washington, D.C.