BURBANK, Calif. – A framed poster in Nick Bakay's office at the Warner Brothers studio here makes a visitor laugh as loud as one of the better lines in his CBS series "Mom."
The "Talkin' Proud" poster was a Secret Santa gift from a "Mom" writer who heard about the famous jingle and Chamber of Commerce campaign that was popularized a few years after Bakay graduated from Nichols School.
Bakay has a lot to be proud of in an eclectic career as an actor, TV and film writer, producer, sports commentator and the ultimate survivor at age 59 in a business that can be unkind to talent as it ages. Of all the talented, veteran TV writers from Buffalo, Bakay is the only one running the show on a hit network series.
The well-known Buffalo Bills and Sabres fan runs the writers room and Eddie Gorodetsky runs production on "Mom." The comedy from Chuck Lorre's hit factory stars Anna Faris as the mother of two trying to stay sober while dealing with criticism from a recovering alcoholic mother played by Allison Janney. It is a Top 10 show in Western New York and to give local viewers more of a reason to watch, Janney's character is dating a character played by Western New York's William Fichtner.
Bakay has a full plate. He also is a consulting producer on an upcoming new Lorre series for Netflix, "The Kominsky Method," starring Michael Douglas and Alan Arkin.
His initial plan after graduating from Kenyon College was to concentrate on acting before he realized writing was a better idea.
"I always say if you can write comedy, it is a little like being a left-handed pitcher," said Bakay. "People need it. People don't need another 25-year-old actor."
His career strategy was to say yes to anything. As an actor, he has been on several episodes of two shows he wrote for, CBS' "King of Queens" and Fox's 'Til Death." He also had memorable guest spots on "Seinfeld," "Coach," "Ellen" and "Murphy Brown."
"I've had a cumulative effect," said Bakay. "The last 20 years I've been on a lot of big shows for a guest spot here and there."
He is occasionally recognized by fans.
"They think I went to high school with them," said Bakay. "It is a familiar thing and they are not sure why."
He knows why his voice work as the cat on "Sabrina the Teenage Witch" gets a bigger reaction than his face.
"That's the one that owned a generation of America girls," said Bakay, who was recently part of a "Sabrina" reunion at Comic Con.
His movie writing career was outwardly a success, but he learned some painful lessons. He and Kevin James, who he met while writing for "King of Queens," co-wrote the box office hit, "Paul Blatt: Mall Cop" and its sequel.
"It was a really interesting creative phase but it was really tough," said Bakay, who lives in the Hollywood Hills with his wife of 24 years and their two boys, age 5 and 10. "Having a family and having to be on location at this age, is really unpleasant and not healthy. I also found economically the movie business is very hard on writers."
He made a "Goodfellas" reference in explaining that.
"To get them to pay me my steps on deals was like trying to get DeNiro to give you your share of the Lufthansa heist," said Bakay.
Bakay doesn't compare himself to workers living paycheck to paycheck, but people might be surprised by the anxiety level successful Hollywood writers experience to keep up their lifestyles.
"I kind of ran dry while writing movies that were making a lot of money," said Bakay. "It got scary."
He shared his anxiety on a private Nichols blog with classmates that they view as a clearing house for middle-aged angst before being rescued by Lorre, the creator, writer and producer of "Two and a Half Men," "The Big Bang Theory" and "Young Sheldon."
Bakay was happy to get a regular paycheck when Lorre hired him to work on "Two and a Half Men" six years ago.
"You can actually plan your life," said Bakay. "I don't know anybody my age who is a writer in this town who hasn't been humbled a minimum of three times."
Lorre brought Bakay in to help on the pilot of "Mom" and asked him to switch from "Two and a Half Men" to the new show as the executive producer with Gorodetsky after CBS ordered it as a series.
Bakay explains the title showrunner with a cooking metaphor.
"This job reminds me when I expedited a New York restaurant kitchen," explained Bakay. "All the cooks have to keep cooking or you will hit the wall. It was an insane job. If you screw up for five minutes, within a half hour everything goes off the rails.
"While we are shooting, we are rehearsing and rewriting and getting ready to shoot, we are rewriting future ones, we are breaking future stories. It has to keep moving. Otherwise, if the shelf gets empty with scripts, you are writing to table every week. It just gets crazy."
The show has survived some potential distractions. Faris is going through a well-publicized divorce from Chris Pratt and Janney was nominated for an Oscar for her role in "I, Tonya."
"I've been in situations where that stuff has been like a tornado and the best laid plans for production and writing can just get knocked over," said Bakay. "I have never had a better experience … Allison and Anna have been phenomenal… Whatever is going on in their lives, they come here and deliver. They've been a joy."
He believes "Mom" – which is in its fifth season and in syndication -- has been successful for the same reason than many mainstream TV shows are.
"I think it struck a relatable chord," said Bakay. "The recovery angle of the show could have been completely alienating and it hasn't been because I think we still do a funny show. The economic place these women are in the world is just totally relatable. The struggle to make your day, your rent, your week. That's the thing that I think is the best part of the show. And to have Anna and Allison, we came out of the gate with a massive advantage there."
"I love doing it," he said. "I never set out to write half hour comedies. I had bigger, different plans. But this turns out to be what I am. It is like they say in sports -- you are what your record is. This is what I do."
As a TV survivor, he has the right to be Talkin' Proud.