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9 of TV's Best Writers on Their Surprising and/or Embarrassing First Jobs

By Dustin Rowles | Lists | April 14, 2015 |

By Dustin Rowles | Lists | April 14, 2015 |

Graham Yost (Justified) — “I got staffed on Full House, which was really not a good fit for me. I did it for nine and a half weeks — and I quit four days before I was gonna be fired. I was on a 10-week probationary period, and I knew I wasn’t gonna make it.”

Matthew Weiner (Mad Men) — “I trash this experience [on Becker] frequently, but it was what drove me to write Mad Men because I was so miserable with the idea that this is what I was going to be doing for the rest of my life … I really hated it, and that’s part of the reason why I wrote Mad Men.

Joss Whedon (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) — “When Roseanne read the first script of mine that got into her hands without being edited by someone else she said, ‘How can you write a middle-aged woman this well?’ I said, ‘If you met my mom you wouldn’t ask’.”

Jason Katims (Friday Night Lights, Parenthood) — My first job was My So-Called Life, which was produced by Ed Zwick and Marshall Herskovitz and written by Winnie Holzman. [Ed and Marshall] created thirtysomething and I remember, before I got into TV, watching thirtysomething and having a similar reaction: getting very emotional, getting really connected to these characters. There were many important things that I learned from My So-Called Life, but one of them was [not to tell] too much story. One of the things we always talked about was, rather than try to do these big, provocative storylines, how little story can we tell?

Bryan Fuller (Hannibal) — Deep Space Nine was my very, very first job in the industry. I was actually not interested in being a screenwriter so much as I wanted to be a Star Trek writer. They had an open submissions policy, and I wrote a script, and they accepted my idea, and then they accepted another idea. And then I got on staff.” (It’s also how Ronald Moore got his start on TV writing).

Shawn Ryan (The Shield, Terriers) — “Carlton Cuse was my first full-time boss in this business on Nash Bridges (with Don Johnson and Cheech Marin), and I learned a lot from him. And Damon Lindelof was the guy Carlton hired to replace me after I left Nash Bridges. So I’ve got to give Carlton credit for having a good eye for talent. “

George R.R. Martin (Game of Thrones) — “I’d spent so many years sitting alone in a room, facing a computer or typewriter … it was almost exhilarating to go into an office where there were other people - and to have a cup of coffee, and to talk about stories or developments in writers’ meetings. But there were constant limitations. It wore me down. There were battles over censorship, how sexual things could be, whether a scene was too “politically charged,” how violent things could be. Don’t want to disturb anyone. We got into that fight on Beauty and the Beast. The Beast killed people. That was the point of the character. He was a beast. But CBS didn’t want blood, or for the beast to kill people. They wanted us to show him picking up someone and throwing them across the room, and then they would get up and run away. Oh, my God, horrible monster! [Laughs] It was ludicrous. The character had to remain likable.”

Steven DeKnight (Daredevil) — “A friend of mine called me up one day and said, “I’m doing production managing on this terrible MTV show called Undressed. I can get your stuff to the executive producer’s people.” That was really my first legitimate paying job … So, this job on Undressed was my first paying gig. I did four seasons of that show. I figured I’ve got a paying job now, now would be the time to advance my career, so I wrote a spec Buffy the Vampire Slayer. “

Terence Winter (Boardwalk Empire, The Sopranos) — (Winter was a partner track lawyer in a large Manhattan law firm who quit because he wanted to write sitcoms. He left, moved to Los Angeles, nearly got a job on Fresh Prince, and wound up on Cosby Mysteries). “It wasn’t a particularly well done show, and it [was] sort of funny, but not for the right reasons … and then on the New Adventures of Flipper: “That was a very difficult job. I don’t think most people realize that there are only about 10 stories in the world where you can organically include a dolphin … it’s impossible.

Dustin is the founder and co-owner of Pajiba. You may email him here, follow him on Twitter, or listen to his weekly TV podcast, Podjiba.