The Five Spot: Dave Boone

On the morning of the recent Tony Awards ceremony, news started seeping in of the tragic shootings in Orlando, Fla., that left 49 dead. That created an important task for Dave Boone, a two-time Emmy winner and one of the most sought-after head writers of awards shows on U.S. television. Boone crafted some thoughts that, in collaboration with the writers for Tonys host James Corden, was delivered by Corden at the start of the show. Thankfully, Boone is normally tasked with much lighter—but still memorable—responsibilities. After being hired by Billy Crystal to help write the 1998 Oscars show, he has built a career that now encompasses writing material for 150 hours of live TV every year. Boone, who began his career as a joke writer for the likes of Jay Leno and Kevin Nealon (when Nealon was doing “Weekend Update” on Saturday Night Live), is also a director, producer and political speech and Hollywood script doctor. An edited transcript of his conversation with B&C contributing editor Robert Edelstein follows.

Is there a best awards show joke you have written?

One was a sight gag with Whoopi Goldberg hosting the [1999] Oscars, coming out onstage as Queen Elizabeth. Whoopi had come up with the costume; there were a couple of Elizabeth movies that year. I remember telling [awards show writer Bruce Vilanch] I had an idea for the opening line: ‘Good evening royal subjects, I am the African Queen.’ That was a joke only Whoopi could do. Then the year Fifty Shades of Grey came out, Tonys host Neil Patrick Harris said we need to think about an opening line, and I came up with, ‘Welcome to the Tonys, or as I call it, ‘Fifty Shades of Gay.’

Writing the Oscars with Billy Crystal has to be enormous fun.

There’s nothing more fun than sitting in a conference room with Billy Crystal, listening to jokes being read out loud with Billy circling the ones that work, saying, ‘That’s a beauty, that’s a keeper,’ or giving you a hard time with a joke that doesn’t work.

You were also close to Robin Williams.

You could put him at a table full of props or hats, turn on the camera and let him go—watch him pick things up and then change character, put on hats. He was one of a kind, really. He was also thoughtful and quiet. He read two or three books a week and would rather talk about what was going on in the world than himself or show business. His death is still hard to grasp.

For a long time it seemed Bruce Vilanch was known as the quintessential awards show writer.

Bruce and I are really good friends. When Billy hired me for the Oscars in ’98, I saw Bruce at Billy’s house after working with him a few days, and he said, ‘Whoopi’s bringing back Hollywood Squares and I think you’d be really good on the show.’ Billy also told the producer of Comic Relief he wanted me on that show. I went right from that Oscars show into Comic Relief, then four really happy years with Bruce on Hollywood Squares and another two years as head writer after Bruce and Whoopi left.

And you’ve been the writer for all 22 seasons of Dancing With the Stars.

For me it’s the closest thing to the 1970s variety shows I grew up watching. I had done a lot of live shows for ABC and they had a lot of faith in me.…[When the show started], someone said, ‘What do you think about Tom Bergeron?’ I had come off six happy years working with Tom [on Hollywood Squares], and I said I think he’d be fantastic. He’s just so likable, and there’s no quicker ad-libber, other than maybe Billy Crystal, who I’ve ever worked with.

Robert Edelstein

Rob has written for Broadcasting+Cable since 2006, starting with his work on the magazine’s award-winning 75th-anniversary issue. He was born a few blocks away from Yankee Stadium … so of course he’s published three books on NASCAR, most notably, Full Throttle: The Life and Fast Times of NASCAR Legend Curtis Turner. He’s currently the special projects editor at TV Guide Magazine. His writing has appeared in The Washington Post and his origami art has been in The Wall Street Journal. He lives with his family in New Jersey and is writing a novel about the Wild West.