Issue 43 | August 2008

  • Message from Membership Directors Kibi & Angela
  • Message from Mia
  • Member Profile: Steven Peterman '72
  • Industry Successes
  • Pencil Me In -- Harvard Food & Wine (HFW)
  • Featured Member Posting: Production Attorney Wanted at Top TV Production Company

Message from the Membership Directors

Happy August, Harvardwood family! Thanks for keeping us posted on all your happenings, sounds like everyone is keeping busy this summer. Hope you find time for some sun, shade, and relaxation this month. If you're in NYC, check our our Harvardwood NYC party this Fri., Aug. 15th!

In the meantime, get involved with online voting for our members' short film, watch and/or post new Harvardwood Channel videos, and oenjoy ur featured profile on Steven Peterman '72. Thanks to all the new volunteer profile writers who have been doing a fantastic job, and to all of you who have shared your stories below. 'Til next time...

Cheers!
Angela and Kibi

Message from Mia

Many thanks to our Harvardwood NYC Books & Publishing Panel participants (Molly Barton, Laurence Bergreen, Ceridwen Dovey, Jennifer Joel, Jennifer 8. Lee, and Nancy Redd), who spoke to a packed house on July 22nd in NYC! The event was so successful that we'll be doing a west coast Harvardwood Books & Publishing Panel on Wed., Aug. 27th with more alum authors, agents, and publishers (Leonard Chang, David Landau, Nancy Redd, Matthew Snyder, Dustin Thomason). As always, details can be found on the website: http://www.harvardwood.org/events/event_details.asp?id=28426

And another piece of good news...Harvardwood advisory board member Robert Kraft '76 has been elected to one of six elected positions on the HAA Board of Directors -- thanks for casting your votes!

-Mia

Member Profile: Steven Peterman '72

by Robin Russin '79

I've known Steven Peterman '72 for years, since our kids went to pre-school together, and so I know he isn't just a funny guy. He's a warm, generous and modest guy, too, and the combination has served him well; sometimes, nice guys do finish first. We sat down over happy-hour sangria to talk about how he got here, and what he's been up to recently.

Starting out as an actor, Peterman turned to writing as a more secure profession (go figure). It proved to be the right choice: along with his long-time writing partner and fellow former actor Gary Dontzig, Peterman went on to write for some of the best shows on TV, winning three Primetime Emmys and being nominated for two Humanitas Awards along the way. Starting as story editors on the original writing staff of "Murphy Brown" he and Dontzig rose to executive producers of the legendary series, then went on to develop "Suddenly Susan." After stints on the critically acclaimed "State Of Grace" and the final season of "Becker," Peterman and Dontzig co-wrote (with Michael Poryes) the pilot of the Disney sensation "Hannah Montana." Along with Poryes, Peterman has remained with the series as executive producer, eliciting this comment from his teenage son: "Dad, you've made me a legend."

Peterman's parents ran a modest Italian restaurant in Milwaukee and had to take out loans to send him to Harvard, hoping their math/science-challenged son might at least become a lawyer. Unfortunately, the lure of what little theater there was at Harvard proved irresistible. Peterman became involved in numerous productions, including the Hasty Pudding revue, where he scored the lead female ingénue "Jack Lemmon" role; that was the year Dustin Hoffman was honored, and Steve was immediately star-struck. He does confess to having composed a few pieces for the Lampoon but says he was too intimidated to turn them in.

Somehow he got into law school—"It was the 70's and standards were much lower," he explains--but tried to postpone the inevitable by taking a leave of absence to work on a kibbutz in Israel. Before going off, he re-applied to law school at the University of Wisconsin for the following year, but also to Circle in the Square's theatre school in New York. "The universe will tell me where I belong," he thought. The universe being perverse, however, he got into both.

After three weeks of law school, he realized there was a problem. "I was pathologically incapable of studying," he recalls. "I would go to class, then come home and stare at the TV until Madison programming went off the air and that Indian-head thing came on. Younger alumni can ask your parents what that means."

The night before his first quiz, he made the call to his parents, telling them he was going to New York. "They were sick, but supportive. I thought my dad was going to throw up." But within months of arriving in New York, Peterman was on Broadway, playing, ironically, a neurotic young law professor ("Clearly I was typecast"). Eventually his agent suggested he go to Los Angeles. The first week he arrived, he landed a successful showcase, and he continued to work as an actor for several more years.

By 1984, Peterman--now married to his lovely and long-suffering wife, Susan--realized he needed a new plan. Several of his actor friends had turned to writing and thought he should give it a try. "I didn't want to. Writing is much harder than going to the gym and waiting for an audition."

But eventually bills, desperation and Susan's artfully placed heavy sighs proved too powerful. That's when Gary Dontzig appeared.

"We met doing a play at the Old Globe in San Diego, and then I ran into him at the gym one day after a miserable audition." When he told Dontzig he was thinking about writing, Dontzig suggested they get together and knock some ideas around.

"He was gay, I was straight. Neither of us thought much of the other's acting. And we were both unemployed. It was the beginning of a wonderful twenty-year partnership." Peterman credits Dontzig with a motto that has pulled him through many tough times: "When in doubt, say yes--because when you say yes, you never know what can happen."

They wrote two spec scripts together, which got them their first job for Turner Broadcasting on the half-hour kids' show, "Rocky Road." The series creator, Arthur Annecharico, had been a television ad man who realized he could make original programming cheaper than the shows he was selling ads for. A Roger Corman of original cable programming, he hired young, inexperienced writers who learned to work at break-neck speed on tight budgets. "A whole group of us, including Dan O'Shannon, Rob Ulin and George Beckerman, came out of there and went on to careers in network TV."

After writing/producing 63 episodes in 71 weeks for Annecharico, the team was able to write a script for a new dramedy at Warner Brothers, "Just In Time," produced by John Wells. "They only shot six episodes and ours was number seven, but someone gave it to Diane English, who was putting together the original staff of "Murphy Brown." She hired us and that's the show that made us."

After "Murphy," Peterman and Dontzig discovered they had a gift for fixing troubled shows. "'Suddenly Susan' was a pilot that wasn't really there yet." Originally shot as the story of a children's book editor in Pasadena whose safe life is turned upside down when she's ordered to "babysit" a wacky older author, the pilot, starring Brooke Shields, didn't test well. This created a large problem for NBC, since the show was scheduled to premiere in the plum spot right after "Seinfeld." NBC brought in Steve and Gary, who reconceived the show, transforming Shields into a shy copywriter who gets the chance to have her own column as a suddenly single woman in San Francisco. They surrounded the inherently sweet and earnest Shields with a cast of crazies including Kathy Griffith and Judd Nelson, and the show went on to a successful four-year run.

After "Suddenly Susan," Peterman and Dontzig helped friends Brenda Lilly and Hollis Rich bring the Humanitas-nominated "State of Grace" to life and were ready to move on to hour and feature projects. Then Disney approached them to take a look at the pilot script for "Hannah Montana," which they had been trying to cast and now believed was not ready for production. Peterman saw promise in the series, and he and Dontzig did a rewrite that impressed both Disney and Michael Poryes, the original writer. The three executives produced the pilot, and Peterman is particularly proud of pushing for the casting of then-unknown Miley Cyrus, who won the part over more experienced young actresses because of her fresh, unpredictable quality. The rest is history.

So what did Harvard contribute to Steve Peterman's long, successful run?

"In terms of my career, it's been absolutely useless—other than as an opportunity for people to make snide comments, usually delivered in a terrible Boston accent."

More seriously, Steve says, "what it gave me was a belief that I was capable of achieving something, regardless of what my external situation might indicate at the time. It gave me a sense of hubris that has served me well. It made me brave. At Harvard, I was surrounded by so many people who were so talented in so many ways, and it made me want to earn my place among those people."

And his parents got to see him win an Emmy.

Industry Successes...

Ryan Buckley KSG '09 launched Scripped.com, an online screenplay services website, seven months ago and now has 8,000 writers and 10,000 scripts. Edward Burns is blogging exclusively on Scripped.com as the site continues to grow. However, we could always use some help from the Crimson community. If you're interested in contributing in any way, please contact Ryan at [email protected]pped.com. Also, Scripped.com just announced a partnership with the makers of Movie Magic Screenwriter, an Academy Award-winning software program. Details of the announcement can be found here: http://www.businesswire.com/portal/site/google/?ndmViewId=news_view&newsId=20080728005434&newsLang=en
We will be the first online and offline screenwriting software combination!

Miranda Yousef is an Associate Editor on "I.O.U.S.A.," which played Sundance '08 in the Documentary Competition and will be released theatrically on August 21. From the makers of "WORDPLAY" and the studio that brought you "SUPER SIZE ME," "I.O.U.S.A." is a timely and entertaining look at the U.S.'s rapidly growing national debt and the consequences for our country and its citizens. A special nationwide screening on August 20th will be followed by a live (via satellite) town hall meeting with Warren Buffett and others. If you can't get a ticket to that, please go see it on its opening weekend! http://www.iousathemovie.com/

James Miles Fisher '05 appears in a few episodes of THE CLEANER, which premiered in July on A&E. The show is inspired by the true story of a interventionist William Banks (played by Benjamin Bratt) who helps people get away from their addictions by any means necessary. Here's a peek - http://www.aetv.com/the-cleaner

Alex Schemmer '04 had a recurring role on NBC's "Days of Our Lives" in July/August, playing Les, a British bad boy with a trust fund and a bad attitude. He also just shot a Guest Star on Steve Bochco's new series "Raising the Bar" which airs this fall on TNT.

Anthony Onah '05 wrote and directed The Cure, an AARP-commissioned short film. The film will be featured and released on the website www.stolendreams.com this Aug. 10 -- part of an online VOTING competition. Miqi Huang and May Lugemwa '04 produced; Akis Konstantakopoulos '06 was cinematrographer. Story: When her son is gravely injured, a single mother finds herself caught in an impossible circumstance. The film is part of AARP's ongoing "Divided We Fail" campaign. A non-partisan initiative, the campaign's goal is to encourage leaders and citizens at large to work towards affordable, quality health care and financial stability for all Americans. Go to www.stolendreams.com to watch and VOTE for the film!

Jonathan Dorf '93 just had High School (non) Musical, his stage parody of the Disney hit, published by Playscripts. He's currently working on a screen adaptation. For more on the play, visit http://www.playscripts.com/play.php3?playid=1335.

Danielle Parsons directed a new video currently up on Slate.com. The project came from her desire to illustrate a big idea about which she cares deeply. It's called: Can Ants Solve Traffic Jams? As roads and highways become ever more clogged, Danielle Parsons tells us how researchers are studying ways to learn from nature's own traffic-flow experts: ants. http://www.slatev.com/player.html?id=1681718043

James Beard Award-winning author Karen Page MBA '89 was featured in July on "The Leonard Lopate Show" on WNYC Radio (NPR) and "Food Talk with Mike Colameco" on WOR Radio to discuss her IACP "Cookbook of the Year" and Georges Duboeuf "Wine Book of the Year" WHAT TO DRINK WITH WHAT YOU EAT. Over the July 4th weekend, she also moderated a panel on "Flavors of Tomorrow" at the historic Gastronomy by the Seine conference, the first-ever celebration of New American cuisine in Paris. The Washington Post's wine columnist, Page is coming out with her 8th book in September entitled THE FLAVOR BIBLE: The Essential Guide to Culinary Creativity, Based on the Wisdom of America's Most Imaginative Chefs (Little, Brown; $35).

A documentary by Kobina Aidoo KSG '07, "The Neo African Americans," about how immigration from Africa and America is transforming the African American narrative was featured on CNN International's i-Report: http://edition.cnn.com/2008/US/05/01/ireport/index.html#cnnSTCVideo The trailer for the documentary can be seen at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UJKV5roH244

Frequent Flying this September? If you're heading out of town on American Airlines during the month of September, look (or rather listen) for Sara Melson's '90 song "Anywhere Anytime" on American's in-flight radio and in the mag. Bon Voyage!

Production for the Harvardwood Interview Series in New York is provided by David Kowarsky '05, founder of Khyros Multimedia. Visit http://khyros.com for more information, or contact [email protected] to discuss your next production.

Pencil Me In...

Foodies take note! Harvard Food & Wine (HFW), a network for alumni and students in food and
wine, is currently taking shape. In the spirit of hospitality -- since Harvardwood members like nothing more than to toast their successes with a glass of champagne! -- HFW will be hosted as a Group on Harvardwood.org. Kick-off events are planned in Boston for alumni in October and for students in November. HFW 101, a shameless copy of the Harvardwood 101 program, is also being planned for Burgundy, France in January. Details for joining HFW on Harvardwood.org to follow soon. Contact is Cathy Huyghe, owner of 365daysofwine.com and Boston correspondent for WineTasteTV.com. Cathy was inspired to initiate this group after she participated in a Careers in Food panel at OCS this spring. The room was packed, the enthusiasm was palpable, and Cathy felt it somehow needed to be funneled in an organized direction. HFW was born. Cathy can be reached at [email protected]

Featured Member Posting:  Production Attorney Wanted at Top TV Production Company

Premiere television production company is looking for an experienced production attorney for its busy production schedule of new and veteran programs. Qualified candidates will have at least 3 years of solid production legal experience, including drafting and negotiating talent agreements, participant agreements and other related releases and agreements, and clearance (both during production and in post-production)... To view full posting, please visit: http://www.harvardwood.org/?page=JobsCareerCenter


 

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