12 Fascinating Things You Don't Know About Jenji Kohan, Creator of 'Orange is the New Black'
Jenji Kohan is an executive producer and writer of Netflix’s outstanding new series, GLOW. She also created Weeds and Orange is the New Black. I’ve seen every season of all three of those shows, and in spite of that, I knew very little about Kohan until her interview with Marc Maron this week because she doesn’t do much press.
Turns out, Kohan is a very fascinating person, who has a fascinating career, and a fascinating family. Here’s what I learned about her, largely from Marc Maron’s podcast, although some of it came from snooping around on the Internet.
1. Jenji is from a showbiz family. Her father, Buz Kohan, was the “king of variety of television.” He won 13 Emmys writing for the Academy Awards, the Tony Awards, and The Carol Burnett Show, among others. He also wrote the lyrics for David Bowie’s side of this very famous performance with Bing Crosby.
3. She has twin brothers, Jono and David Kohan. David Kohan may actually be a familiar name: He created Will & Grace. He’s also responsible for some really bad entries on NBC’s Thursday Must See lineup: Boston Common, Good Morning, Miami, Twins (the Sara Gilbert show, not the Arnie/Devito movie) and Four Kings
4. Jenji Kohan is married to Christopher Noxon. He’s a journalist who also wrote the book, Rejuvenile: Kickball, Cartoons, Cupcakes, and the Reinvention of the American Grown-up. He has appeared several times on The Colbert Report. Back in 2004, Noxon was one of the first reporters to out Mel Gibson as a kind of crazy right-winger.
5. Jenji Kohan’s sister-in-law (her husband’s sister) is Marti Noxon, the creator of Lifetime’s UnReal. She also wrote on Mad Men and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, among many other shows (she met her ex-husband, Jeff Bynum, on Buffy).
6. Kohan’s first television writing gig was on The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, which she described as a miserable writers’ room.
“It was my first job and I was really excited and enthusiastic and our showrunner was an unhappy fellow going through a divorce, drinking a lot. And (he) didn’t want to go home because he was renting some sh*tty apartment in the Valley,” she told the audience at Sydney’s Vivid Festival as part of its Game Changers program.
“So we were there all night and he didn’t trust me because I was the new writer. And he was just an unhappy guy — drinking tequila every day. At a certain point, one of the writers peed in his tequila — then he kept getting the flu. It was just a truly dysfunctional room. And just a lot of stuff going on that shouldn’t have been.”
I’m not sure who the showrunner was at the time, although Andy Borowitz did create the show, but did not divorce until much much later. Kohan was on the show in 1994, so you could probably guess at who the showrunner was.
7. Kohan’s second job was as a writer on Friends. She was fired after the first season. She also didn’t get her name on the episode script she wrote (she thinks she should have taken it to arbitration), so she’s not even listed as a writer for the series.
8. Her next gig was on Tracey Takes On… with Tracey Ullman, which she absolutely loved. She was there for three years, and it was a great gig. Ullman was a great role model to Kohan.
9. In addition to working on Mad About You, Kohan also did a year on Gilmore Girls, which Kohan admits was “complicated,” because the studio forced Amy Sherman-Palladino to have a writers’ room, and Sherman-Palladino didn’t want one, so she’d basically just solicit ideas from the room and go back and write the episode herself. Kohan totally understood Sherman-Palladino’s frustrations.
10. The first show Kohan created was The Stones for ABC. It starred Judith Light, Lindsay Sloane, and Jay Baruchel. It ran for six episodes and it was a disaster. The producers didn’t feel that Kohan was seasoned enough, so they brought in her brother and his writing partner Max Mutchnick to oversee the show, and they ended up rewriting the pilot, which was infuriating to Jenji because she’d been writing TV for much longer, but her brother had had a meteoric rise with Will & Grace. “It affected my relationship with my brother for many years,” Kohan said.
11. Kohan’s experience on The Stones prompted her to go to cable. With Weeds, there was some friction with the network and Mary Louise-Parker in the first season, but once the show was successful, all the friction ended. It went eight seasons. She loved it. It ended in exactly the way she wanted.
12. After Showtime cancelled Weeds, Kohan quickly created Orange is the New Black because she feared if she didn’t have a show on the air, she’d be considered irrelevant. She’d wanted to bring her crew from Weeds over, but she ended up starting OITNB at the same time as she was finishing Weeds, so she didn’t get to bring many of her staffers over.
One of the guys she did bring over to OITNB from Weeds was Stephen Falk, who would later go on to create You’re the Worst. The other was Carly Mensch, who would go on to create GLOW, executive produced by Jenji Kohan.