Mixing It Up at Studios, Networks

By Friedlander, Whitney | Variety, November 13, 2018 | Go to article overview

Mixing It Up at Studios, Networks


Friedlander, Whitney, Variety


HOLLYWOOD IS WELL aware that diversity and representation are essential parts of putting together a television writers' room when it comes to both well-rounded story-telling and good, old-fashioned optics. Recent years have shown that one of the most popular ways to do this is start 'em early: most every network and studio has a workshop, lab or fellowship expressly aimed at honing the talents of budding TV writers.

So just how successful are they? While none can promise immediate employment to entry-level writers who complete their programs, the odds of landing that first staff job after graduation or during the course of these workshops seem quite good compared to those who don't enroll in such a program.

Raamla Mohamed says she started her fellowship with the Disney | ABC Writing Program - the only studio or network program that pays - with $6 in her bank account. She now has an overall deal with ABC Studios.

Keto Shimizu says NBC's Writers on the Verge program "was absolutely my big break." Karen Horne, the senior VP of programming talent development & inclusion for NBC Entertainment and Universal Television Studios, knew she was a die-hard superhero fan and became what Shimizu describes as "relentless" about getting her a meeting on then-NBC Batman series "The Cape." Shimizu's now an exec producer on the CW's "DC's Legends of Tomorrow." (Not everyone is so fortunate, Horne references writer Britt Matt, who was three years out of Writers on the Verge before she got staffed at both NBC's "Marlon" and "A.P Bio").

And while not all of these programs specifically pick candidates from underrepresented communities, they do tend to fill the majority of the spots - a game-changer for those normally on the other side of things.

"I was the only white male in [my] program, which was a fantastically enlightening experience," says Chris Masi, a graduate of NBC's Writers on the Verge. He's continued to encounter similar situations with his staff jobs on BET's "Being Mary Jane" and Fox's "Star" - where he's worked with writers, and created characters, who don't come with his background and serve as reminders to him that "my references aren't like this monolithic decision on what's good and what's bad."

Masi, like most, applied several times to several different writers programs. Entrance to all of them is, not surprisingly, extremely competitive and requires a good deal of patience and an inner belief that there's always next time. Although the programs are not uniform in instruction, they do come with the expectation that applicants already possess the gift of prose.

"The original intent was to change the landscape of what staffs look like [and] in the past three or four years, it's really about teaching our writers the business of television," says Jeanne Mau, CBS' vice president of entertainment diversity and inclusion who oversees its Writers Mentoring Program.

They also require some brand awareness. Or, as Kelly Edwards, HBO VP of talent development who oversees the HBOAccess Writing & Directing Fellowships, puts it: "If they want to write for kids' programs, then we can't necessarily help them. …

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