January 2010 | Jon Steinberg '97

Steinberg.jpgJon Steinberg '97 (Writer & Producer, HUMAN TARGET, JERICHO)

By Sean O'Rourke MAT '68

When Jon Steinberg '97 was an undergraduate in Mather House, he concentrated in government, but movies were his passion. After graduation he went to law school at the University of Pennsylvania and later practiced at Morgan, Lewis & Bockius in Philadelphia for a year. But the draw to Los Angeles and the movie industry was too much to ignore. So he packed up his car and drove to California.

In Los Angeles Jon did what many people do when they set out to make it in Hollywood. He did odd jobs, lived on credit cards and slept on an air mattress. He wrote feature films on spec, and although they brought him some attention, an agent and a manager, he could not break through.

Then in the fall of 2004 Jon came up with an idea for a feature that looked as though it would work better as a television series. The only problem was that he had absolutely no experience in television. He and his partner, Josh Schaer, wrote an outline for a series called JERICHO, a post-apocalyptic drama set in an America devastated by a terrorist nuclear attack.

Neither Jon’s manager nor his agent saw much promise in the project, so he and Josh walked it around town on their own. A friend from Philadelphia, Dan Shotz, worked for Junction Entertainment and director Jon Turtletaub (COOL RUNNINGS, NATIONAL TREASURE, THE SORCERER'S APPRENTICE), who was considering going into television. Dan offered to slip the outline into the pile of scripts his boss was considering. When he read the outline for JERICHO, Turtletaub decided to develop it.

The show premiered on CBS on September 20, 2006 to strong ratings, but after a long mid-season hiatus the numbers faded, and the show was canceled. Days later, fans initiated a grassroots effort to bring the show back. Networks usually ignore these campaigns, but this one continued to gain strength. For weeks the fans bombarded CBS executives with e-mails and phone calls. They even sent twenty tons of nuts – an homage to one of the storylines in the season finale.

Finally CBS could no longer ignore the campaign. The network ordered seven more episodes. The second season was critically praised, but ultimately it was the last. However, JERICHO still airs in syndication and regularly appears on lists of the biggest cult television shows of all time.

After JERICHO, Jon sold another pilot to CBS Paramount for director Curtis Hanson (L.A. CONFIDENTIAL, WONDERBOYS, 8 MILE), but it went unproduced. The following season he sold two pilots, the first to ABC for director Gary Fleder (THE EXPRESS, RUNAWAY JURY) and the second to Warner Brothers and Fox for director McG’s Wonderland Sound and Vision (THE O.C., CHARLIE'S ANGELS, TERMINATOR SALVATION). It was based on a DC Comics property called HUMAN TARGET.

HUMAN TARGET is about an undercover security expert who puts himself in danger to protect his clients. Simon West (CON-AIR, THE GENERAL'S DAUGHTER) directed the pilot episode, which stars Mark Valley, Chi McBride, Jackie Earle Haley and Tricia Helfer.

On Sunday, January 17 at 8 PM, Fox will launch the show after the NFC Divisional Playoff game. The second episode will air on Wednesday, January 20 after AMERICAN IDOL. The show will then settle into its regular time slot before AMERICAN IDOL on Wednesdays at 8 PM.

Jon currently lives in Los Angeles with his wife Rebecca and their ten-month-old daughter Madelyn.

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