Inspired by Simon's early career experience as a junior jokesmith (along with his brother Danny, Larry Gelbart, Mel Brooks, and Carl Reiner) for Your Show of Shows, the play focuses on Sid Caesar/Jackie Gleason-like Max Prince, the star of a weekly comedy-variety show circa 1953, and his staff, including Simon's alter-ego Lucas Brickman, who maintains a running commentary on the writing, fighting, and wacky antics which take place in the writers' room. At the plot's core is Max's ongoing battles with NBC executives who fear his humor is too sophisticated for Middle America.
After twenty-four previews, the Broadway production, directed by Jerry Zaks, opened on November 22, 1993 at the Richard Rodgers Theatre, where it ran for 320 performances. The opening night cast included Nathan Lane, Randy Graff, Mark Linn-Baker, Bitty Schram, J. K. Simmons, and Lewis J. Stadlen.
Lane repeated his role for the 2001 television movie written by Simon and directed by Richard Benjamin. The cast included several faces familiar to TV audiences, among them Victor Garber, Peri Gilpin, and Dan Castellaneta.