How to Make It: Rules for Success from TV Writers

Clyde Phillips

Experience: Executive producer, Houston Knights (CBS); executive producer, Eddie Dodd (ABC); creator, executive producer, and writer Parker Lewis Can't Lose (FOX); executive producer, Players (NBC); creator, executive producer, and writer, Suddenly Susan (NBC); executive producer and writer, Get Real (FOX); executive producer and writer, Boomtown (NBC); executive producer and writer, Dexter (Showtime); executive producer and writer, Nurse Jackie (Showtime)

Advice: "Read everything. Read the classics, read the novels that are out now. Understand viscerally the way three-act drama works. Read Aristotle. Know it so that it becomes second nature. Then get your foot in the door any way you can. You can be in grad school and have written the best script ever written, but it will be almost impossible to get it read if you aren't inside the business. You have to get in the room.

"I hadn't really wanted to work in TV, originally. I was doing graduate work in California in English, teaching English classes. One summer I needed a job. When you live in New York and you need a job, you wait tables or drive a cab. In California, if you need some money you go on a game show. I went on Split Second, a Jeopardy-type show, and wound up writing questions and answers for the show. That got my little toe in the door of show business. It allowed me to network and meet other young assistants.

"I wound up meeting with the kings of television movies back in the day, Rick Rosenberg and Bob Christiansen, and they gave me a job reading scripts. They liked what I was doing, and offered me a job as a secretary. I turned it down and went back to grad school, though they continued to give me scripts to read. Eventually I realized I wanted to work in television and took the job. From there, I worked on TV movies, started making pilots, was a showrunner—that led me to where I am now, at Nurse Jackie.

"Eventually, Dexter came along. Showtime gave me a call, asking me to take a look at a pilot that was just made that needed a showrunner. I did that show for the first four years, then left to come back to Connecticut to be with my family. Then I moved to Nurse Jackie.

"We're in a new golden age of television. The real golden age was Max Shulman and Paddy Chayefsky in the '50s and early '60s. This new golden age is about cable television. Because they aren't beholden to advertisers, premium cable especially, they've shaken up the monotony of the '80s and '90s. I'm most proud of my work on the fourth year of Dexter. We hit our stride and made one of the best years of television ever."

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