GREENSBORO — When Emily Spivey offers tips on writing sitcoms, UNCG media studies students listen.
Spivey, who grew up in High Point and graduated from the same program in 1993, created “Bless the Harts,” the new animated comedy that premiered Sunday on the Fox network.
On Tuesday, the Emmy Award-winning television and film writer returned to her alma mater to speak to Frank Donaldson’s sitcom writing class.
She heard 12 students pitch sitcom ideas, then offered compliments and advice.
“Never let anyone tell you that you can’t do it,” Spivey told them. “You can do it.”
Another tip: If you pitch a show to producers, “Write about what you know... It’s always obvious if someone is writing something they don’t fully know about. It’s always going to feel not quite as authentic.”
To write “Bless the Harts,” Spivey drew on her roots in North Carolina. She was born in Statesville and has a home with her husband and son in Jamestown.
The Harts’ fictional hometown is named Greenpoint, a combination of Greensboro and High Point.
On Tuesday, Spivey described to UNCG students her path to “Bless the Harts.”
That included moving to Los Angeles, earning a master’s degree from Loyola Marymount University there and joining The Groundlings, an improvisational and sketch comedy troupe.
Among other shows and the film, “Wine Country,” she wrote comedy for Fox’s “King of the Hill” and “Saturday Night Live,” where she won an Emmy.
“That’s something that I’m nervous about, after graduation, not being able to find work or be successful,” said Madison Setzer of Lenoir, who will graduate in May. “She is living proof that you can do it.”
“Bless the Harts” follows a down-on-their-luck family of three generations of Southern women.
It features the voice of Kristen Wiig as Jenny, single mom to Violet (Jillian Bell). Maya Rudolph voices grandmother Betty. Ike Barinholtz is Wayne, Jenny’s caring boyfriend.
In an interview, Spivey revealed a tidbit about the next episode: Jenny — who works in The Last Supper restaurant — might have to take a night job at a strip club. “But she ends up, well, you’ll see,” Spivey teased.
“I think that you can really feel that it’s the Triad in this particular episode,” she said.
Spivey listened as four teams of students practiced pitching their own sitcom ideas. Students later will choose one for the class to develop.
Isaiah Smith, Adrianna Hyler, Destini Tyson and Jennifer Salazar proposed a show titled “Temporary Housing,” about college students forced to become friends. Three are females, two are males.
“I love how thoughtful you were about each character,” Spivey said.
She suggested it become a mockumentary for Netflix. “I want you guys to be in it,” Spivey said, prompting laughter.
Madison Setzer, Ernest Hansley and Nick Dominguez proposed a show with a working title of “Gone Vegin,’” a play on the phrase “Gone Fishin’” and the word “vegan.”
In their show, father and son move back to small-town Louisiana from California, bringing along progressive ideas and a vegan business.
They were pleased with Spivey’s reaction.
“For her to say that it was a great idea, that it was funny and that it seems like it could actually be pitched to ABC and it work, that is a bit of a confidence booster,” Setzer said.
Hansley, a student from Greensboro, agreed.
“When you see somebody who came from your school, your hometown, it reaffirms that you can do this,” he said. “This is a very competitive field. Just to get a little bit of recognition that we’re on the right path is pretty cool.”