I have meant to blog so many times in the past year, but as you can see if you check this joint out, well, ever, that hasn’t happened. I forgot how busy things get when you’re on the staff of a TV show and you’re also trying to have a life around it. So I’m sorry, blog, for neglecting you.

But now that I’ve had some time to process the “Allegiance” experience, I wanted to write this to share my whole crazy journey with you guys.

Just under a year ago (literally, by about one week), I got a call from my agent that George Nolfi, the creator of “Allegiance,” wanted to meet with me. I had read the pilot early on in staffing season and loved it, put it on my wish list, and hoped I’d at least get in the mix for it. And just like that, I was.

My main goal at the meeting was to not geek out about talking to someone who had co-written “The Bourne Ultimatum,” which, if you know me, was a challenge of epic proportions. But I managed. George’s passion for the show and his excitement about doing TV were wonderful to be around, and I came away from the meeting wanting the job not just because it was another staff writer job and thus I could continue to be a working writer, but because I could feel, in my gut, that this was going to be a great show to be a part of.

I was not wrong.

Because George directed an astounding five episodes of our show (including the pilot), he was steering the ship from New York (where we shot) a great deal of the time. That meant I spent most of my writers’ room life with our other two EPs, John Glenn and Rashad Raisani. If any of you ever get to work for these guys, do it. They are great bosses. If Rashad is reading this right now, he probably just made a face at me because he hates the “boss” word. But I only speak the truth. If John Glenn is reading this, he’s probably just shocked I am doing something other than watching TV.

Our writers’ room was a great mix of folks at all levels, and a place where hierarchy wasn’t important, good ideas were. I’m also proud to note that I again worked on a staff with multiple female writers – four this go-round – so as scary as those numbers are about women and minorities not being hired on shows, don’t let them discourage you. Some folks get it.

Because this was my first experience in a writers’ room, it was a little intimidating at first, but I fell in love with it quickly and completely. While I was working on my outline and script, I came into the office every day so that when I took breaks, I could run down to the room and see where the story was going without me, and I honestly couldn’t wait to get back full-time once my pages were in. There’s something so incredible about knowing that even if you only know part of the fix, someone else will ride that wave with you and help fill in the rest of the connective tissue till the whole idea works. And then that moment when you all know, “Yes, this is our episode!” and you can send it off to outline… yeah, that’s pretty great.

Of course, sometimes it turns out that’s really not the episode – but then you all fix it together. TV writing is a team sport, my friends, and that’s never more evident than when everyone has to roll up their sleeves and figure out why something isn’t working when you were all sure it would. But that’s the beauty of the team part — someone solves this timeline issue, someone digs up new research for a different take, someone comes up with a new in to the scene, and voila — episode fixed!

I was fortunate enough to be at “Allegiance” long past my initial twenty weeks, and so I was there when our premiere numbers came in and left us all disappointed. I’m not sure I’m over that yet. But we still had work to do and a finale to finish, and so that’s what we did. I am so glad for our whole cast and crew that we got a chance to finish telling the story of the O’Connor family and give it a real ending.

One of the best things of all to happen was that the episode I wrote aired right before our cancellation, and my mom got to watch it on her very own TV in her living room. That was pretty awesome.

Despite our being off the air, I am happy that the fans “Allegiance” did have are getting to finish the ride online at NBC.com and On Demand, where the network is releasing the rest of the episodes. The finale will be out next week, and I hope people come away feeling like they had an intense, interesting run to the finish line with Alex, Mark, Katya, Natalie, Victor, Sarah, and Sam.

A few things that were extra great about this whole experience – I got to write more lines for my buddy Kenny Choi, who I worked with on “Ironside”; I got to help plot all kinds of evil things for Giancarlo Esposito, who I’ve loved since “Homicide,” to do as our big bad of the season; and I got the chance to work with my friend and a great editor, Phil Fowler, who I met while I was a closed captioner and he was an assistant editor over on “Grey’s Anatomy.”

But the best thing is that there are people on this staff that I will know the rest of my life. Whether we work together again or not, some of them are stuck with me… so in case they didn’t know that, fair warning. That’s what y’all get for being awesome.

I’m smack in the maelstrom that is staffing season once again, and so when I know what my next adventure is going to be, I’ll make the time to update here with the news. In the meantime, if you’re running back and forth across LA on the meeting-go-round as well, good luck! And if you want to be, make sure you’re up to date on all the writing program deadlines and getting those applications and scripts out there.

There are no guarantees that once you get a job as a TV writer it’ll last more than twenty weeks or longer than a season… but while you have it, I hope it’s the best job you’ve ever had. So far, I am two-for-two.

Here’s hoping number three is just around the corner… and just as great. But maybe a season two next time?

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I get asked by a lot of writers who are in or are alums of the two network writing programs I completed (CBS and NBC) and by writers I’ve met in other venues about how to prep for staffing season. So I figured I’d share a little bit of my process and put it out there for folks who might be interested.

First let me say, grain of salt and all that. I’ve been through staffing three times, once without representation where I was up for one job I didn’t get; once with representation where I got unbearably close to three jobs and didn’t get any of them; and the third go around where — success! My reps and I finally got to have that fabulous “You got the job!” phone call. So this is just what I do. Maybe a different strategy will work for you. Mostly my message is: prepare. You have to be an active participant in building your career.

Since I’m getting ready to hit the trenches again, here’s a little peek into how I look at staffing, and if it helps you, great, and if not, you can feel free to give me side-eye since I can’t see you doing it.

Be prepared and have your samples ready. Samples are what get you the meetings that get you the jobs. Have samples you love and be ready to talk about them. And always be adding to your body of work. My current group of samples is made up of pilots, specs, and short stories. You never know what might work to get you in the door.

And really evaluate what kinds of material you already have when you’re deciding what to write next. Do you have samples that will service the different types of shows you might want to work for? You don’t have to write everything. Most of us have a “type” when it comes to shows. But if you want to make female-lead dramas an option and all your samples are male leads, it’s time to travel a different road. Want to write a sci-fi show? Have a sci-fi sample. Give yourself as much of an opportunity as you can.

Be a partner to your representative(s). I am blessed with agency and management representation from people who totally get me. I don’t generally have to explain why I like a show or a script or why I think I’m a good fit. But sometimes a script speaks to me that’s a little outside my usual box, and I know that even though it might not be the most obvious show to try to pitch me to, I have something to offer them. So I make sure to list what samples I think I have in my portfolio that might work if that showrunner is looking for a staff writer and I explain why I think I could sell myself for that job. And while returning shows are always harder to get at that staff writer level, have a list of returning shows that you’re right for, too. You never know when an upper-level writer might leave to go make their own show and an opportunity opens up at the lower level.

Know everything you can about what’s going on. It seems obvious, but you’d be shocked how often I ask writers about pilots they’ve read or liked and they aren’t familiar with who wrote them or what network they’re at. Know your game board. Read every trade summary you can find on what scripts were bought where… some only cover network buys, some cover cable, Amazon, and Netflix, too. You have to know where your jobs are so you can go out and find them.

Strategize your pilot reads. Once you know whose scripts made the cut and are being shot, take a critical eye to the list. There will be writers there you admire, writers whose shows you’ve loved, writers you just heard from another friend were kind of awesome; there will be shows you know you could write in your sleep because they fit your brand to perfection; there will be shows you know you have a strong sample for. List those shows and start reading and don’t stop till you’ve finished that group of scripts. Then list your favorites, let your reps know that if you got to be choosy, this is the group of pilots you know you’d love to work on, and get them any supporting info you can (see be a partner to your reps). You may not get meetings on those shows, but every bit of information you give your reps on what you like and why you like it will help them market you better to all the shows they contact on your behalf.

Once you do that, read the rest of the pilots. There will always be some you know you’d likely never get a meeting for… it’s not your thing, no samples that match, etc. But if you go on a general at Fox, the exec might ask you about that sci-fi skewing pilot you didn’t read because you knew you’d never meet on it… and you don’t want to have to admit you didn’t read it or fumble through a vague general conversation. The more you can engage the people you meet with, the more you make an impression on them, and that will always come back to you in a good way, even if it’s a few staffing seasons down the pike.

Always, always be polite and gracious to everyone you meet, from the gate to the actual executive or showrunner you’re going to talk to. Again, seems obvious. But I know people at the upper level and in executive suites who tune out on writers who don’t say hello and good-bye to their assistants or who act a little jerky to the security guards. You might be working with these folks soon. Be someone they want to see again.

Always be prepping. If you hear you’re in the mix for Show A and you know the creator of Show A worked on three shows you’ve never watched at all, go watch a few episodes to get a feel for what they’ve done. Sure, maybe you don’t end up getting a meeting, but if you do, you aren’t scrambling to catch up on that person’s body of work while also trying to re-read the pilot and come up with notes on story ideas or questions you want to ask. Watching more TV will never hurt you as a writer. Trust me, if it could, I’d be in perpetual pain because the sheer volume of TV I watch… oy!

And watch at least one episode of any show an executive covers before you go meet with them. That’s what they do for a living and you want to respect their hard work as much as you want yours respected. Sure, maybe you can’t be an expert, but when they mention they also cover Shows X, Y, and Z, you can have something nice to say or have a “Wow, I saw that finale. Interesting way to leave things” comment at the ready. That may not be the show you’re there to meet on, but a genuine interest in what those folks in Current and Development do goes a long way.

Be happy for all your friends who do get jobs. We’re competitive beasts whether we like it or not. It’s hard to watch people get that thing you want so badly. Sometimes you will literally lose out on a job to someone you’ve traded scripts with for notes or had Sunday brunch with. But the way I’ve come to look at it, any job I don’t get is a job that wasn’t meant to be mine. Pollyannaish? Sure. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t true. I mean, I’m writing a blog telling you folks how to go out and get jobs I might be up for! But too many people have helped me and given me advice for me to be unwilling to share myself.

So be happy for your friends, celebrate with them, and know that when you get your job, they’ll celebrate with you.

And finally… don’t give up. Two years ago, I didn’t get two jobs back to back right before Memorial Day weekend. It was soul crushing; I cannot lie. I gave myself a day to be miserable over it. Then I entered scripts in the Austin Film Festival to make myself feel better, like I was doing something to help my career. I made the finals with one of those scripts and ended up going to the festival and having a ton of fun. I also met some writers who have become friends. Making that cut was some much needed validation and it made my inner circle a little bit bigger.

Maybe that tactic won’t work for you, but whatever you need to do to pick yourself up when you don’t get the gig, do it. Have someone else help pick you up if need be! Because endurance wins this race. After I didn’t get those two gigs and another one a month later, I went to work on the pilot that did get me a job last season. And even though that show got canceled, I came out of it and went right back to writing.

That’s all you really have control over in the end. You keep writing, and you keep being sure the right job is going to come. And on the days you forget… ask someone to remind you. It helps, believe me!

Good luck!

Wow, it’s been a minute.

I knew it had been a while since I had time to blog. Turns out I was last here on May 16th, when I decided to give notice at my job and have faith that the writing gig I’d long sought was waiting around the corner.

It was.

After worrying over how few meetings I was going on… (I later found out my upper-level writer friends didn’t want to tell me all they were hearing about what a tough year it was for staff writers, and thank goodness! There might be way less vodka in my freezer if they had)… I found out that I had a showrunner meeting for NBC’s new series “Ironside.”

I was excited to be sure, but also grounded. I’d gotten close three other times to getting a job. And so even though I really wanted this and knew I was ready for it, I went into preparation mode knowing my life wouldn’t end if I didn’t get the gig.

This showrunner conversation was very different than the others I’d been on. It was going to be over Skype, which till the day I found out about this meeting, I had never used. So most of that first few hours was learning exactly how to Skype. (Thanks to my brother and my friend in Texas for practicing with me.)

Then there was watching the pilot… three times… and reading the latest version of the pilot script and thinking up ways that my life experience made me a good fit for this show.

The next day, after I made sure my room was clean enough for Skype and after I picked out my favorite business casual t-shirt, I met Ken Sanzel over the computer. It was a good conversation, though I couldn’t honestly tell you now what most of it consisted of. It felt like we got along really well. It ended with my asking when he might make a decision and Ken saying probably in the next day or two. And that was that.

I had a lunch date with another writer friend, so I left messages for my agent and manager, sent up a little ask to my Dad that he pull any strings he had up on high in heaven, and went off to lunch, which was great and fun, and I never bothered to pick up my phone because I wasn’t expecting anything but a possible recap phone call with my reps.

So imagine my surprise when I pulled out my phone to see what time it was as we were getting the bill and saw that I had three missed phone calls and two missed texts from my agent, manager, and two of my writing mentors. I looked at my friend and said “Either this is good news or something REALLY bad just happened.”

It was good news.

Of course, I didn’t know that right away because my reps asked me to walk them through the meeting, which I did, and then came the moment my stomach dropped…

“He (Ken) just had one kind of hard question he wanted to ask.”

Okay, I can take hard questions, I thought. Lay it on me.

“Do you want to write on his show?”

I cried. I’m not gonna lie. I cried right there in the thankfully very empty restaurant with one customer and one waitress looking at me wondering what was going on. I cried for all the times I almost gave up and held on; for all the nights I slept two hours to meet a deadline for my writing programs at CBS and NBC; I cried because I am lucky enough and blessed enough to have been surrounded by people who believed in me.

I cried because finally… finally… someone said yes.

There were a lot of phone calls then, and celebrating… at least after the waiting. Waiting for your deal to be officially signed so you can shout your good news to the world feels like torture till you remind yourself how long it took to feel that exquisite, awful delay before you can tell people your dream finally came true.

The best call came from my mom the day after I told her I got hired. She called to make sure I had really given her the good news and she hadn’t dreamed it. She had dreamed it so many times, she just wanted to make sure it had actually happened.

There was also the amazing news and gift that one of my great friends, Brian, was also staffed on the show, and we would be there to help each other through those staff writer ups and downs. Seriously… that was a miracle of some writer god’s making, and I will never forget how the universe had my back there.

We started our show the first Monday in June, and we hit the ground running. First thing you should know, Ken’s not a room guy, so we ran a “writers’ hallway.” Our crew of consulting producers, co-eps, producer, and Brian and I got used to moving into each others’ spaces quickly and comfortably, bouncing story areas, breaking out our boards, and asking questions. Lots of questions.

I was the only person on our staff who had never been on a show before. But everyone, from our P.A. to the boss was willing to answer a question, point me in the right direction, or just let me blather my way to the answer on my own. (This includes my man Brandon, who didn’t tell me I could park at base camp during my location shoot, but I love him anyway).

There are moments from wandering that hallway I’ll never forget, especially some of our bullpen hangouts with Teri Weinberg, who probably won’t miss me taunting her with baked goods. Or maybe she will…

There were hard days in the mix of awesome. It took a while to get my area in shape, and then I think I wrote no less than six drafts of my outline. The first draft of my script was… not what it needed to be. The second made me feel like I had earned my desk.

Then there were notes and then there was prep, and thankfully I had an awesome co-ep shepherding me along the way. You should all be listening to The Mick Betancourt Show on iTunes, btw. He has great people sharing their stories about how they got started in the business, along with some amazing life history that will show you, truly, we all get there in our own way.

After prep came shooting. And let me tell you, if I thought I was blessed before, the crew that made our show happen was the extra helping of wonderful. They were so patient with the new kid who didn’t always know where to stand and who dropped her phone under our vehicle barricade and tried to act all nonchalant about looking for it. They taught me a lot, kept it loose, and got the job done with incredible dedication and class.

And then on the last day of my shoot, we got the news. “Ironside” had been canceled. On top of that, the final day of shooting on my episode was it… we were “done” done.

It broke my heart to be sure… I was working at this amazing job, making TV, surrounded by some of the most generous, talented people I’d ever met, and now we had to say good-bye.

Our final night of shooting rolled past midnight and into my birthday. The crew gave me a cake and sang, and I told them I couldn’t think of anywhere better to be celebrating, and it was the absolute truth.

My first job as a writer lasted just shy of five months, but I got some serious bang out of it. I got to write an episode, see it produced, and even though we’ve officially ended, I’m still getting the chance to sit in on post and watch the final product come together. It’s been amazing, and I don’t think there are words enough to tell you all how incredibly full-up with goodness I am after this experience.

It took a village for me to get there. So thank you to all the friends and family who kept me going; thanks to Brant, Toochis, and Steven; thanks to Carole, Jeanne, Janie, Karen, Jen, Julie Ann, Stacey, Stacey (yep, there’s two!), Bruce, and Deepak. My village is pretty damn awesome!

Thank you to Blair, Brent, Pablo, Neal, Spencer, and Kenny for being such a great cast… And thank you to all the fantastic guest actors who kept me mesmerized during my shoot, especially Lou Diamond Phillips and Robert Forster.

Thank you to our amazing production staff and our crew for making magic happen under the gun…

Thanks to Brandon, Andréa, Rob, Helen, and D.J. for always being around to share a laugh or answer one of my rookie questions…

And thank you, thank you, thank you to Ken, Mark, David, Rob, Judi, Mick, Talicia, and Brian for being the best first “writers’ hallway” cohorts a girl could ever ask for.

Somehow, someday my episode will be something people can see. When I know how, I’ll let you know.

And now… on to show number two, wherever you are.Image

So with one big life change behind me — moving out of the apartment that’s been home for a decade and into my friend’s house — it’s time for another. I gave notice at my job today and will be leaving closed captioning at the end of the month.

Obviously I do so with great hope that my next job description is “TV Drama Writer” but with plans already set as to what I will pursue to pay the bills if, God forbid, that doesn’t happen. (PLEASE, TV GODS. Seriously!).

So why now? Because I think you just know, deep down in your gut, when your life needs to change. You feel it, it nags at you, and finally, you have a choice… ignore it and stay stagnate or take the risk and change it.

My move is part of what’s allowing me to do that. Knowing I have a safe place to land and a roof over my head makes it easier to risk being unemployed for a short period of time, and while the rational, responsible, grown-up me is already doing minute calculations of just how many bills can get paid for how long without another paycheck… the part of me that knew it was time to do what was best for me is totally at peace.

I was also certain it was the right time and the right decision because no argument could make me doubt it. Sure, I’m a girl who likes nice things (See my numerous posts about shoes and massages on Facebook), and it could mean sacrifices ahead. Those cuts and slashes to my lifestyle could go far deeper than the trivial. But none of that seemed worse to me than NOT changing what I knew needed to be changed.

And thus… a letter of resignation is submitted, my agent and my manager are hard at work trying to help me find my gig, and I am unpacking and cleaning and getting yet another fellowship spec finished up and breathing deeply for the first time in a very long time because I know that I’m doing exactly what I need to be doing.

So what will I take with me from this long road I’ve walked in the closed captioning biz?

Hours and hours studying some of the best writing on TV up close and personal. I’ve had the pleasure of working on shows from awesome folks like David E. Kelley, Mike Kelley, Shawn Ryan, and Andrew Marlowe to name a few, and I’ve learned so much from how each show runs, how it’s assembled, what changes are made from VAM to Final cut, and from seeing shooting drafts become completed TV episodes. I always joke that this job was a master class in pacing and dialogue structure, but one I got paid to take.

Post people work hard, y’all! Unsung most of the time and forgotten when it’s glory time by and large, these are some dedicated, smart, fun people. I’ve worked with some great ones and some not so great ones, but they’ve all taught me a lot about how I want my post production staff to run when I’m finally the showrunner. I’d tell you which show has the best post production staff in TV… but I don’t want anyone hiring them before I sell a pilot and steal them away from where they are now 😉

How much harder and longer can I work when I feel like I can’t type another word? A lot longer, and a lot harder… because no one’s deadline cares how tired you are or how sore your hands are. Get it done, get it out, get it on the air. Oh, and that power outage in Hollywood that meant “Ugly Betty” still had to be at the network by 6 a.m. Pacific even if we weren’t getting final video till 2am or later? Just one of the fun adventures of delivery deadlines.

In a larger sense, I take away some important truths about myself as well, perhaps none more important than an acknowledgement of my own strength, determination, and ability to do what needs to be done to balance my work life and my personal life… a lesson learned after allowing one to grossly overtake the other.

And I have learned that in the hardest of times, when I’ve been knocked down and have nothing to hold on to, I can find a way to stand up and move forward.

So forward it is… to what, we’ll find out in the coming days. But I’m fortunate to have friends and family willing to support me through it emotionally and spiritually, and while I may not be able to say I’m doing this without fear, I can say absolutely that I am doing it with total confidence.

One last note… my new roommate (aka one of my oldest friends in LA) bought this for our house. It’s kind of our mantra for the months ahead. Let the adventure begin!

wakeupsmiling

The TV Gifts I Got This Fall

November 29, 2012

Fall is always a busy time for TV viewers, with the onslaught of new shows competing for our hearts and attention. It’s especially so now that cable shows are usually lingering into the fall or having their own premieres, making our DVRs want to implode from overuse. It’s extra busy for us baby writer types who have to know what’s happening on every show on every network in case we get called in for a meeting with someone who works on it!

Amongst my returning faves, I’ve been especially thrilled to see that my top new show from last year, “Person of Interest,” continues to just get more and more incredible every week, and that the big hook-up on “Castle” has only made that already fabulous show even more fantastic and fun.

There are numerous new programs I’ve been enjoying, and a large slate of returning and new shows coming in 2013 that I’m super excited about (“Justified,” “Southland,” “Dallas,” “The Americans,” and “Monday Mornings,” I’m looking at you! — Wow. How much of my time is TNT going to get?) But there are a few gems from the fall that I wanted to take the time to blog about quickly for those of you who haven’t checked them out.

“Elementary” — CBS, Thursdays, 10 PM — I had read this pilot and really enjoyed it and was very pleased with all the casting before getting to see it. But what has truly made me fall hard for this show is the pacing. The bits and pieces of character reveal we get of Sherlock (Jonny Lee Miller) and Watson (Lucy Liu) each week are weaving together intriguing people that I already care so much about. In fact, the way in which we’re getting to know this small group of main characters, Aidan Quinn’s Gregson included, reminds me a lot of “Person of Interest” last year and the way I became so invested in the characters so quickly because the core of who they were was revealed through actions and responses to situations early on in the storytelling.

Of particular note was the confessional scene in which Sherlock admits his addiction to Gregson, which not only revealed the depth of Sherlock’s respect for the NYPD captain, but also Gregson’s insight into who Sherlock is. It’s also been great to watch Watson come into her own as an investigator, both on the cases of the week and when it comes to peeling away the defenses Sherlock has mounted to keep his emotional self safe.

“Vegas” — CBS, Tuesdays, 10PM — This show had a unique writing challenge from the start. Michael Chiklis’ mobster Vincent Savino and Dennis Quaid’s Sheriff Ralph Lamb were both such strong characters, keeping them from being in a constant state of tense standoffs was clearly going to be key to the way the show played out. But as they’ve interacted, both needing and hating one another, a grudging respect has grown between these two men which infuses their scenes with an energy that has numerous layers beyond that initial tension. Their humorous and informative exchange over a bottle of scotch this past Tuesday told you more about this relationship and where it stands than pages of exposition could. And the end beat, with a report of a body being found and, off of Lamb’s look, Savino quipping “don’t look at me” is a sample of the humor working its way into the dynamic of this odd duo.

But the biggest surprise of “Vegas” is the women. Oh, these ladies! Such a mix of personalities and yet they are all strong and smart and destined to be pained by the men they love (or want to love.) Maybe it’s the fact that the show is set in the ’60s, maybe it’s because of the overuse of clichés I’ve seen in mob movies, I’m not sure, but I didn’t expect the healthy dose of savvy these ladies bring to the table. Mia’s (Sarah Jones) business smarts and cool exterior are sure to be tested by her attraction to Deputy Jack Lamb (Jason O’Mara), especially with her volatile mob boss father Rizzo now in charge of the casino; A.D.A. Katherine O’Connell’s (Carrie-Anne Moss) affection for and understanding of Ralph has been clear from the start, and she brings out something in him that always adds nice color to Quaid’s portrayal of Lamb.

And the most unexpected revelation… mob wife Laura (Vinessa Shaw). After responding to Vincent’s honest admission that he needed her to make his Vegas dreams come true, Laura not only moved to town but became a full partner to her husband. She just helped him engineer a mob-backed mayoral victory for a candidate that had zero chance of winning at the start, and her honest but clear response to meeting Vincent’s former mistress revealed a great deal to us about this marriage and both husband and wife.

“Last Resort” — ABC, Thursdays, 8PM — Yes, my heart is already grieving this show, which will not get extended beyond its original 13-episode order, but while you can, I encourage you to watch. Andre Braugher is, well, Andre Braugher, which means he’s amazing, but the constant ability of this show to push characters into game-changing situations to reveal bits of them to us has kept me enthralled from the pilot forward. Most refreshing? That Navy wife Christine (Jessy Schram) is not some poor victim being manipulated by the government but is instead smart enough to have figured out on her own that she was being played and brave enough to from an alliance with Washington insider Kylie Sinclair (Autumn Reeser) in order to do what she can to help save her husband the rest of the crew aboard the U.S.S. Colorado.

I especially love the scope of what creators Karl Gajdusek and Shawn Ryan tried to do with this show and how the characters are able to reveal themselves at the most unexpected times. I literally jumped out of my chair when Admiral Shepard killed to try to save his daughter’s life, and the way Scott Speedman communicates X.O. Sam Kendal’s conflicted feelings about his captain continue to express how torn he is between friendship, duty, and just wanting to go home. I will be here till the end, and I will miss it when it’s gone.

“Major Crimes” — Returns to TNT for Season 2 in 2013 — While technically a summer premiere, MC wrapped up its run this fall, and before it comes back next year, if you didn’t get a chance to see it, I highly recommend catching the reruns on TNT.

No one was more worried about the idea of a spin-off of “The Closer” than I was; my love for that show runs deep and my pride in the spec I wrote for it (which helped me get into two network writing programs) remains high. But creator James Duff pulled off a major feat here. Not only did “Major Crimes” have to debut immediately after the finale of its mother ship, with no time in between to help the audience transition, it had to take largely the same cast and acclimate us to a new standard operating procedure in the unit, with new leadership and new agendas all over the place.

This succeeded for me largely because all the differences between Mary McDonnell’s Sharon Raydor and “The Closer’s” Brenda Leigh Johnson became the tools by which we saw the unit work through the same feelings we were having and allowed us an insight into Raydor outside of work that humanized her greatly. When Flynn (Tony Denison) has to point out to the former I.A. captain that you need to refer to homicide victims by name or the other detectives take it wrong and criticizes one of her former policies, which has complicated their case, Raydor not only takes in the critique, she ends up turning it into a moment to win some respect from Flynn when his advice helps her solve the case. And her refusal to allow disgruntled Provenza (G.W. Bailey) to retire because she knows she needs his expertise was handled beautifully, allowing us to see how much she has learned about this team and how they tick.

The added storyline of Raydor fostering former street hustler Rusty Beck (Graham Patrick Martin) provided some hugely emotional moments in the first season, none of which was more palpable than her having to let him leave for a weekend with his biological father, the choked back desire to warn him to be careful instead coming out as “have fun” when you could see she just wanted to run and grab him and not let him go. The squad, too, have all become family to Rusty… watching Flynn, Buzz, and Provenza, for instance, talk through how to handle his first dinner with his biological dad was a great chance to see how this group have all become invested in his well-being. And the finale scene with the entire squad signing off on Rusty’s paperwork (watch it; I don’t want to ruin the build-up) was a great way to end this first year of the show.

What are some of your favorites and why? Share in the comments, and if I haven’t seen them, I’ll try to check them out!

Once, an acquaintance of mine overheard me telling someone a story about my favorite football coach.  When I was finished, she asked, “how exactly does someone end up with a favorite coach?”

I explained to her that football is one of the true deep loves of my life, and that while I admired many players and had a few beloved teams, yes, I did have a favorite coach because he’d not only changed the way I looked at the game, he’d changed the way I look at my life as a person and as a writer.

Tony Dungy is a man who lives in faith, and I respect him immensely for it even if my own relationship with it can best be described as “rocky” and “under construction.”  But he’s one of those people who walks the talk that comes out of his mouth, and as such, he coached both the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Indianapolis Colts in the manner in which he lived… quietly, thoughtfully, earning respect by giving it, and by instilling a sense of discipline in those around him.

He didn’t scream at people to get them to do what he wanted, he didn’t curse at officials or badmouth management, even when he had good reason.  In fact, there were times I kind of wanted to see him lose it, but just when you’d think Coach was finally going to lay into a player who was putting self ahead of team — one of the biggest sins you can commit in Dungy football — he’d just get this look of utter disappointment on his face.

And his players would tell us in interview after interview… disappointing Coach Dungy was the one thing you never wanted to do.  I remember one player saying he begged coach to yell at him after getting into some off-field trouble, but that calm voice remained steady, and the player said he’d never felt worse in his life.

I’ve often posted on Facebook after an episode of “Friday Night Lights” where fictional coach Eric Taylor was especially awesome that every kid should have a Coach Taylor.

Every kid should have a Coach Dungy, too.

Coach had lost his job in Tampa for not having the killer instinct, but found a job in Indy because Jim Irsay wanted a man to lead the Colts on and off the field, and he more than got his money’s worth.  And still those rumblings began again, because every year it seemed the Colts just had to finally be ready to win it all and then every year, they came up short.  So there it was… Dungy will never get them to the Super Bowl… Dungy’s too conservative… too nice.  Dungy doesn’t have the killer instinct…

Then the world reminded us there were more important things than trophies and win-loss columns.

When James Dungy took his own life at 18, Colts fans mourned with the Dungy family as best we could, but we all knew that they were facing a tragedy we couldn’t even begin to imagine.  And yet there Coach stood, delivering a eulogy for his son that celebrated the gift of the 18 years they’d received with James, and somehow lifting up everyone around him on what was surely one of the most difficult days of his life.

And then Coach went back to work, and the Colts didn’t make it to the Super Bowl.  In years past, that would’ve left me cussing out my television and hating on whoever had beaten them, wishing them defeat at someone’s hands so they could get what they had coming.  But in January of 2006, when the Colts went home, it felt like a relief… Coach could be with his family, the players had time to grieve the kid they’d known so well, and we could all just take a moment to hope that everyone left behind who had loved James would be okay.

The next year, Coach Dungy returned to his team, and the Colts returned to the playoffs.  But there was no week off in the 2006-2007 playoffs, no dominance that screamed the Colts were a shoe-in for the AFC title game.  First there was a wild card game against Kansas City; then the Baltimore Ravens, who routinely made it their life’s work to beat Peyton Manning to a pulp, but somehow… a win; and then… the New England Patriots, who lived to destroy the Colts’ playoff dreams.

The Colts were behind the majority of the game, and I couldn’t imagine that the team and the fans had come this far to not make it to the promised land once again.  My heart ached a little at the thought of watching Coach Dungy have to shake hands from the losing sideline again… not after he’d come back, not after what his family had sacrificed for him to have another shot at the big game.  And then one of my closest friends, who is also a huge football fanatic, said to me, “Just have a little faith.  You know they can do it.”

So I had a little faith… and just said over and over again, “they can do it.”

And they did.

Now I’m not trying to take any credit for that… no magical thinking here.  What was more important was the reminder from my friend.  The Colts had done everything the way they believed was right for them… they had followed Coach Dungy’s lead, held firm to their philosophy of how to win, and they had earned that win with every second of hard work they’d put in all year… in all the years since Dungy had come to Indy… through that final whistle.

Their belief was rewarded even bigger on February 4, 2007, when the Colts took home the Lombardi trophy and made Tony Dungy a Super Bowl winning coach.

And what in the world, you ask, does all this have to do with me, my life, or writing?  Well, it has to do with what I learned by watching Coach Dungy walk through his coaching life back from his assistant days with the Minnesota Vikings, which is where I first became acquainted with his coaching philosophy.  You don’t have to be the loudest, you don’t have to ignore everything else in your life except the job, you don’t have to listen when people tell you that you have to change who you are to get where you want to go if you’re sure who you are is the best person you can be.  You can instead keep working and moving forward and doing what you believe in your soul to be right.  And even if it takes a little longer… it will still get you to where you wanted to be all along.

This last year of my life has been filled with more excitement and optimism and more stress and disappointment than any year I’ve lived so far.  I like to think of it as the featured roller coaster in “Niceole Land,” and the ride is poised to continue.

But when it starts to feel like… well, like the downs are little more frequent than the ups… I think about Coach Dungy and how he got to where he wanted to be by doing the things he believed in his soul to be right.

It might take a little longer… but I’ll get there.  And I’ll still be me when it happens.

If you want to read something both entertaining and full of inspiration, pick up “Quiet Strength” by Tony Dungy.

When I started the CBS Diversity Writers Mentoring Program, we had to submit a little bio about ourselves.  Mine started off like this:  “Niceole Levy has watched more than 700 prime-time television shows in her lifetime and often jokes that her Master of Professional Writing degree from USC was simply a way to justify all that TV time as ‘advanced research.’  Now she also calls it work, her position as a closed captioning supervisor providing access to hours of drama and comedy programming for her viewing pleasure.”

A few clarification points:

1. The actual number of television shows has just hit 746.

2.  I really do get paid to watch TV, so a lot of those shows were watched for income, though some of those were certainly enjoyable and a few became favorites.

3.  I know it’s hard to believe after seeing how much TV I’ve watched, but I do not spend all my time sitting in front of a television.  On top of the obvious — writing — I cook, bake (a lot), do Pilates and dance workouts, walk, shoe shop (more than I should), spend time with family and friends, and go to a lot of summer movies where pretty boys blow up lots of things.  In other words, I actually have a life that doesn’t involve TV.  So how do I manage to watch so much?  I apparently sacrifice sleep over a chance to hang with my favorite characters.

So, yeah, there’s been a lot of TV.  I love it… not a bad thing to love the industry you want to spend the rest of your life working in, right?  But out of that 746 shows (Wow.  That really starts to look like A LOT of TV when I keep typing it), there are 5 key shows that had the biggest impact on the writer I have become and the one I continue to strive to be.  And clearly I’m about to tell you what they are and why, but with this note — your 5 is probably different, and more power to you.  There are some amazing shows that I love that won’t make this list (“China Beach,” “The Unit,” “The Sopranos,” “Boston Legal,” and the single-season gem “Terriers” to name but a few.)  But these are the ones that, as I sit down to craft pilots, I think back on in the hope of trying to create something that is even a fraction as well-drawn, moving, and memorable.

1.  “Hill Street Blues.”  One of the most striking things about Hill Street to me is that really, if you could CGI in modern clothes and switch out the giant hand-held portable phones for smart phones, the subject matter holds up remarkably well.  But one of the best things about HSB was that they were never afraid to reveal awful things about characters you loved… recovering alcoholic J.D. LaRue seemed to always be one step away from self-destructing, and even Renko’s friendship with Bobby Hill couldn’t always keep his old-school racism at bay.  The writers also didn’t hide from the emotional costs or the life-and-death realities of what it meant to live your life on a beat, and often delivered that message with a punch to the gut for viewers.  In a spoiler-free world, I had no idea Ed Marino’s Joe Coffey was going to be gunned down, and it absolutely broke my heart.

And to top it off, Frank and Joyce… who were the first couple I saw on television that made me think about what a real relationship should look like outside of all the romance and perfection so many other shows put on display.  What did it really mean for two strong adults to try to put their two lives together and make a marriage work?  I’m not sure I’d ever thought about that before these two forced me to think about relationships in more grown-up terms.

2.  “Homicide: Life on the Street.”  The true testament to the power of this show in my life can be summed up with one episode title:  “Three Men and Adena.”  The episode is so brutal and so upsetting that I have barely been able to rewatch it more than once since I first saw it.  Because if Frank and Tim are right?  If they’re right, then their inability to bring Risley Tucker (played by the always amazing Moses Gunn) to justice is injustice at its worst.  And if they’re wrong?  They destroyed a man emotionally and still couldn’t close their case.

Those were the stakes the cops of “Homicide” faced every week, and they pulled no punches, not when one of their own committed suicide or faced losing a part of himself after a stroke on the job, and not when one of Baltimore’s finest becomes a murderer rather than let a murderer go free.

3.  “NYPD Blue.”  I know, another cop show!  But while Blue yet again dealt with cops, it was the character arc of one Andy Sipowicz that made it one of the shows I cherish most.  If anyone had told me in year one that I would come to care so much for Andy, I’d have laughed at them.  He was everything you’d come to expect in the disillusioned depiction of a cop… a racist, a sexist, a bad husband and father, a drunk.  And yet piece by piece, we watched Andy’s life be rebuilt… destroyed… and rebuilt again.

It’s hard to say which of the tragedies Andy suffered broke my heart more… the day he found his son was the victim in the murder he’d responded to, the loss of his best friend Bobby Simone, or the death of his beloved Sylvia.  But there is no doubt what my favorite Andy moment of all was… the last one, with Andy, now a fully-realized, strong, sober, happy man, in charge of the squad he loved after putting in all the hard work it had taken to earn the job and the respect that went along with it.  It was one of the most amazing journeys I’ve ever been on with a character, and hey, as you know from the TV show total, I’ve been on a lot of them.

4.  “Once and Again.”  Gone far before its time, this show’s depiction of the complexities of life post-divorce, of falling in love again, of blending families, and of growing older never failed to move me.  There were no perfect people anywhere to be found in this tale, no white knights riding in on horses to save the damsel.  But there was such a level of honesty in how they revealed each layer to their characters, some hidden so deep that even in the final episode, Rick and Lily were still realizing that after they’d said I do and supposedly set out on their happily ever after, there was still a chance that they might want different things out of life, and what did that mean for their family?

Even when I wanted to yell at them, because everyone on this show could be a jerk, (because seriously, who can’t?)  I felt their confusion and their struggle with whatever was motivating the jerky behavior.  Years after the final episode, I still think of how much I would’ve loved to see Rick and Lily have their baby and face squeezing one more person into their already bustling lives or what a joy it would’ve been to see Karen finally… finally allow herself to be happy with Henry Higgins or how amazing it would’ve been to see this extended family that always found a way to tell the truth, even if it took a few lies or omissions to get there, discover and accept Jessie’s sexuality.

5.  “Friday Night Lights.”  The most recent entry to my Fantastic Five, but no less beloved than the others, from the very first episode of FNL, I knew I’d love this show forever.  Something about the way you felt everyone else’s reaction to Jason Street’s injury told you about what this show was and what you could expect from it, and even that one little misstep in season two (okay, not so little, but still, we all got over it, right?) did nothing to diminish my devotion.  This show faced the task of replacing treasured characters as the originals “aged out” and graduated, and I remember being so worried that I’d never feel for Vince Howard the way I had about Matt Saracen.  Who could touch my heart the way 7 had?  And yet I went into the final season of the show worried sick that Vince’s past might come back to destroy him and hoping against hope that he would stay on the path Coach Taylor had set him on.  And could I love any character more than Tim Riggins?  He was every guy you’ve ever known who is good at heart and can’t seem to catch a break.  And yet finally, even Tim Riggins seemed on the path to a good life because of the town that never forgot him and the people who loved him.

Much has been written about the Taylor marriage in FNL, and it is truly one of its finest aspects.  I won’t belabor it by repeating everything great that’s been written about it except to say that it was inspiring at every turn.  But one of the biggest things I will take away from FNL is the spirit of the show.  Clear Eyes. Full Hearts. Can’t Lose.  It wasn’t just Coach Taylor’s winning philosophy.  It was a summation of what you can do when you write from your heart and tell a great damn story.

So as my latest pilot outline goes to script, many of the things I consider on the journey will be those I’ve mentioned here.  How can my couples’ relationships be as meaningful and as important as the ones I loved so much?  How can I write an episode that someone will remember years later and think, “and that’s when I knew I’d love this show”?  Find the honesty, find the thing no one’s expecting, mine the layers to reveal something no one can see in the character until you peel back the skin, write an episode so powerful, it’s almost unwatchable… those will be my goals… and now, off to write I go.

P.S. If you haven’t seen any of the above — get thee DVDs!  You won’t regret it.  And, fellow writers, what are the shows that made you want to write?  Hit the comments and share!  I can always use new inspiration!