Courtesy of Scott Rosenbaum/Photo: Allen Berezovsky

Executive producer, writer and showrunner Scott Rosenbaum has an incredible amount of information to share with us. He literally breaks down the entertainment industry and proves that you can obtain your dreams by persistence and working hard. 

Scott started his career as an intern and worked his way up to the mailroom. He was new and raw to the field, having taken on the initiative to become a writer during college.

Scott Rosenbaum is attached to shows such as “Brothers in Arms,” “V,” “The Shield,” “Chuck,” “Queen of the South,” and the list goes on and on.

This is a must-read interview for anyone interested in show business, whether it’s in front of, or behind the scenes.

 

You were born in Philly and graduated from the University of Michigan. What was your major focus in college? Did you always know you wanted to work in the entertainment field? What was the deciding factor that brought you to the LA area?

My major focus in college was English Literature and Creative Writing. I knew in college I wanted to be in the entertainment field. I wasn’t exactly sure in the beginning. I think at first I was thinking about being a novelist. Then, in my junior and senior year I took some screenwriting classes at Michigan, and that’s when I got bitten by the screenwriting bug. The deciding factor that brought me to LA was that there were really no other options in terms of where to get work. I guess you could say New York was a place to go, but 99% of the jobs that I was aware of were in LA, so it was a no-brainer to move to LA.

 

You’re married to Liz Allen who is a DGA Award-nominated film and television director. How’d you meet? Is it hard being married to someone who is also in show business, with crazy schedules? How do you both manage your time?

We met, interestingly enough, because of the television series “V.” I had randomly met a writer named Gregg Hurwitz, who I then ended up hiring to be a writer on “V.” When he had his first TV episode produced, he had a party so everyone could see his name on the little screen, and Gregg was friends with Liz. So, I went that night to support his first on-screen TV credit and that is where I met her. It’s hard with scheduling. She travels a lot, so there’s a bunch of time where she’ll travel, she’ll take my son with her, and we’ll be separated at times, but overall it works pretty well. Sometimes I visit her. She loves working, so I think that makes the marriage better, that she’s able to go off and work and I’m able to go off and work. We make it work. It’s been good.

 

Tell us about your very first job in the business.

I was a non-paid intern at a company called Percy Main Productions, with a producer named Mimi Polk and her partner at the time, Ridley Scott. It was a good job, very hard. I was only there for about two months and then I was able to get a job in the mailroom at United Talent Agency. That was a really tough job. Crazy, crazy hours, but really a great job because I learned a lot of things about the business that turned out to be very important. Most of all, on my downtime, I was able to copy and read existing scripts, both TV pilots, TV episodes and feature scripts from writers who were actually working. It gave me a better sense of how good my writing needed to be in order to be a professional writer.

 

What type of mistakes did you make during your career?

I think the mistakes I made during my career have been mostly just the mistakes that all writers make. I don’t make them a lot, but I think that in the beginning, before I was making money, I wrote nonstop. All I did was write, write, write—I dedicated my life to writing. My output was absolutely incredible. The amount of writing I did, many people would say, “You can’t do that, you would have no life.” Well, I did it because I wanted to become a professional writer. Almost none of it actually sold or got me a job, but the writing made me get better and better. It prepared me, and finally I was able to write a script that got me a job—and that was on “The Shield.” Then, I worked a lot. I was mostly working on assignments, and people would say, “When you’re a showrunner, this and that…” The mistake I’m getting to is that during that middle period, I didn’t write my own original material as much as I should have. The reason I didn’t is because when you’re running a show, it’s terribly time-consuming. There are 80-hour weeks, and you’re always working on the weekend. I just didn’t have a lot of time, but I wish I pushed myself to carve out—even if it was just an hour a day, a couple of hours a week—to work on original material, because I don’t think I did a lot of that. Recently, I’ve been fully focused on creating my own original material, so I fixed that mistake. As you get older, you learn.

 

You previously had an overall deal with 20th Century Fox Television. What does “overall deal” mean exactly?

The company basically pays you a salary. Almost every writing job is freelance; you get hired to write something, they tell you they’re going to pay you “X” amount of dollars, and you have to deliver a script over 15 to 20 weeks. You get paid for that script, and that’s it. An “overall deal” means they pay you an actual yearly salary, and they guarantee you a salary that you negotiate for a year. For that, you’re working nonstop for them. It’s a way for them to make you exclusive to them, so that the company gets first crack at anything you develop, or any original ideas you have. If you’re writing a pilot that doesn’t get picked up, but they have another pilot that they want to go to series that they need a showrunner for, it allows them the option to assign you to that show, and you will write for that show. There are benefits and negatives—the benefit is that you’re getting paid no matter what—you have a job. Sometimes it might take 2 to 4 months to get another job. In this case, you’re getting paid. On top of that, there are usually things at the company, say for 20th Century Fox, where they need a writer, and you can slip into it if it’s something that you’re excited about. The negative side in this day and age (it used to be much more calm), is that Netflix would be a show from 20th, or CBS would buy a show from ABC Studios. Now, these companies want to 100% completely own their material. What could be a negative is, if you’re working for 20th and you want to do a serial killer show, and 20th doesn’t want to do a serial killer show, you can’t go to Netflix and can’t sell that serial killer show. You just don’t get to write the serial killer show. Creatively, that can really hamstring you in many ways. The positive is, if you like the company and you feel that they’re going to make the type of material and have the vision for content that you have, it’s a good situation. You have a system in place, you have executives in place, and you have the resources of that studio to further your goals.

 

You were recently offered a script deal for FOX Entertainment.

This was unique in that I had an idea for a show. We had fired our agents, so I was reaching out to executives to say, “Hey, I’m interested in developing. I just wanted you to know I don’t have an agent right now because of the packaging situation that the WGA was trying to end.” Some executives reached out to me immediately and said, “We’d love to hear what you have. We’d love to work with you.” One of the people I sat down with was Michael Thorn, president of Fox Entertainment. He said, “Hey, Im glad you reached out because I dont even really need to hear your idea right now, I like working with you. I want to make you a blind script deal.” I wasnt sure if I necessarily wanted to do a blind script deal because I had specific things in mind. Michael said, “Lets get the deal going, and if we cant come up with something, you can walk away.” I had a bunch of ideas, and very quickly we identified one. I had worked with him before—I worked at FOX for years, so I was very comfortable. I like Michael Thorn a lot. I like all of the executives and everybody thats over there now. For me, it felt like a no-brainer once we identified something that they liked and I liked. So thats essentially how that happened.

 

What are the details of a script deal?

A script deal is essentially this: a company says we like this writer, we like this showrunner, we don’t know what we want them to write for us, but we want to just lock them in. So they will make you what’s called a script deal, which is where they guarantee that they’ll pay you to write a script. Then what you do is pitch them your ideas. They may have ideas for shows, they may have IP (intellectual property) that they want to turn into a series, and you go through all of the different ideas and come up with one idea that you both want to work on, and that becomes the story/idea that falls into that script deal.

 

When you accepted FOX’s script deal, does that also mean you’re going to be EP?

When I write a script, I’m always an executive producer, and oftentimes I’m the showrunner. There are times when I will just be an executive producer, create a series and bring in another showrunner. But in most cases, usually when you make a deal, they want you to be the showrunner. In the case of the FOX deal, I’m going to be the showrunner of that one.

 

What’s the average time frame from when you’re offered a deal, until it’s actually seen on television? What steps are in between that involve you?

For network television, if a show’s going to get on the air, the time frame is about a year. Usually when you pitch a show anytime between May and November, they decide which shows are going to shoot to pilot in December, then usually you shoot your pilots in May, and they decide which pilots they’re going to pick up. Then, they’re usually on the air anytime between September and December, depending on if it’s the fall season or mid-season. So it’s a year at least, sometimes a little bit more.

 

A script deal just means you’re just going to write a script. It doesn’t mean it’s going to get filmed. It’s literally them saying they’re going to pay you to write a script. Then, once you write the script, they decide if they’re going to pick it up and make it or not. Sometimes they’ll guarantee that a pilot will be shot, but from my experience, and I’ve had those before, they’re called “put pilots”—they’ll guarantee that the pilot will be shot, but they can always pay a penalty to the studio to not shoot it. If they don’t feel like it’s a series they want to put on the air, they’ll just pay the penalty. The penalty does not go to the writer, it goes to the studio that is paying for the writer to write the script.

 

Let’s go back to year 2000 when you were a writer on “Grown Ups.” Tell us what it was like being in the writer’s room.

“Grown Ups”…I was a staff writer. It was created by Matt Miller who was my best friend in college. It was a half-hour comedy, and there were eight or nine writers. You didn’t write at home, you usually went to an office. The showrunner had everybody meet in a conference room. The showrunner often talked about what they were looking to do in a particular episode. At that point, all of the writers would speak up and pitch ideas for that episode. The showrunner would listen to the ideas, and pick which ideas they liked the most. Over the course of days and weeks, the episodes are broken, which means the basic storyline was broken down from A-Z, and then eventually when the showrunner thought the story has gone as far as it needed to, the showrunner assigned a writer to write an outline. After the outline was written and changes were made, a script was written. All throughout this time, the material was sent to the studio and the network for notes, and ultimately a final draft was considered deemed ready to be shot. That’s called the final shooting script. Then it was sent to the stage to be shot, and the actors and director took over from there. The writer was on set and the showrunner was there overseeing it.

 

What is a “bottle” episode? Why do TV shows need them?

With TV shows, bottle episodes are becoming less and less common. They never do them on cable or streaming. But on network shows, budgets are tight, and sometimes certain episodes will cost more than others. Out of necessity, you want to keep your show on budget. As an example, let’s say the pattern, which is how much you spend per episode, is $3 million. On one episode you deem it necessary to have more digital effects, more action, and you need more locations, so you spend $4 million. You need to make up that $1 million. You don’t go to the studio or the network to ask for more money unless it’s an absolute emergency. So in that case, what you might want to do is say, “We have some stories that don’t require a lot of locations, and in fact are super character-driven episodes. We don’t need to go on location and we can shoot these scenes with just a few actors on location and just make it a very character-driven episode.” What you’re doing is called a “bottle episode,” which means instead of shooting two or three days out on location, you might just shoot one day on location, and the remaining days of the schedule you’ll shoot on your sound stages. It’s done for budgetary reasons. Interestingly enough, I often love writing bottle episodes—it’s really challenging to make dynamic scenes between your characters, because you’re not relying on action, you’re not relying on great visuals, you’re relying just on classic storytelling— interesting dialogue and the concept of dynamics. So it’s a great exercise.

 

You worked as executive producer on several shows, including “Chuck,” “The Shield,” “V,” “Gang Related” and “Queen of the South.” How did you become an EP? Who trained you? What is included in your role as EP? What’s the difference between an EP and a showrunner?

I became an EP because I worked on “The Shield” after “Grown Ups;” I was a staff writer on “The Shield.” I worked on that whole series and I just kept getting promoted. Shawn Ryan, the creator, liked my writing. I produced the episodes with his help. He found that he could trust me on set, trust me casting, trust me doing all the little pieces in concert—of course, with the showrunner—that would help make the show go from just being a really good script to a really good episode. There is a big difference between an EP and a showrunner—a massive difference. The showrunner is the CEO of the series. The showrunner’s in charge of everything; they’re literally the top of the pyramid. They hire everybody, they delegate authority for things they don’t want to do. They’re in charge of the final draft of the scripts, and the final cuts. EPs could have very different roles. You can be an EP just by finding an idea, or optioning a book or an article. Because you were the one who optioned it, you get paid money and get to call yourself an executive producer. In some cases you’ll hand off to the showrunner who will handle everything, and in other cases you’ll work alongside the showrunner. That would be an example of a non-writing EP. They don’t do any of the writing. In some cases they are a showrunner; if you were to pitch something to Shawn Ryan you might be the showrunner of that show and he would be the EP, so he would be the EP who was a showrunner. But there are also non-writing EPs and usually they wind up being executives and business people who seek material, and then find the writer and the showrunner. They’re oftentimes creative as well—they have a vision for what they want the show to be. In most cases, they aren’t actually writing. There are also writer EPs that aren’t showrunners. They are writers on the show who have become very valuable to the showrunner. They are writers who can run the room, they are writers to whom the showrunner can say, “I need an episode—go off and write it. Get me a first draft tomorrow.” They are someone that the showrunner can send to set to speak to the actors for them. Essentially all the skills you need to be a showrunner, but you aren’t a showrunner, is what a writing EP oftentimes has. Writing EPs are often the ones who eventually will become showrunners. Usually they’re very happy on their current show—creatively they’re very happy. They may not want to go off and create a show yet. They may be under contract and can’t. Or, they just may not want to be a showrunner. They might find a show that they love creatively and just want to be a valuable member of the staff.

 

You were working on “Chuck” when you got the call to take over ABC’s “V,” which was halted after the first four episodes. What drove you to leave “Chuck” and accept the offer for “V”? 

I loved working on “Chuck,” and it was actually really painful to leave, but there were a couple of factors. One was, usually when you’re working on a show and a studio comes to you and says they want you to run a show and take over, it’s one of those things where you want to be receptive and help. But at the same time, it just so happened that I was very excited about the show. I loved the old “V.” I was a little disappointed with the new version of the show. I didn’t love the first four episodes for a bunch of different reasons. But they said to me, “You can do what you want. You obviously have to stick to the first four episodes and work off of it from there.” But there was really nothing broken or laid out for the rest of the season, so I had carte blanche moving forward. I liked the challenge. I was a little concerned about turning it around at that point. The show had creatively moved in a direction I didn’t like, and I thought it would be jolting to reinvent it. There were also issues with time—I really had no time to turn the ship around, I had about a month to write new episodes and get us back on the air. So that part was very challenging, and not particularly pleasant. But I loved the original. I loved the concept of “V.” I thought the cast was fantastic. Yes, it was a challenge, but it was also something I was very excited about. It was a great experience and really fantastic. It wasn’t just that we were moving creatively in a different direction; I was told we had to be on the air in literally a month around Christmas. I had to cancel my Christmas plans and I had to get episodes written. I had to lock myself in a room for a month and figure out what the rest of the season was going to be. So that part was just really, really hard.

 

What did you do to get the show off the bubble to get it picked up for Season 2?

I think that the studio and network got creative. I had to go in and pitch them Season 2. After Season 1 ended, I think everyone was a little down on the show because it was just so rocky and difficult, and at the time, a fairly expensive show. Now it wouldn’t be considered expensive, but it was back then. And the numbers had dropped a lot. I had to come up with a Season 2 pitch. I think I came up with a really good one. It seemed like they responded to it and really liked it. I think that’s what pushed it over the “bubble”—the creative, and what we were going to do in Season 2, and they decided to give us a shot.

 

Tell us how you bounced things off the other writers that were no longer on staff. What ideas did you have that you did NOT put in the show? Do you prefer to work alone when writing?

Some of the writers were still on staff. When I got brought onto the show, most of the writers were already contracted, so I was dealing with most of the writers. Some people literally quit—they just had a rough go of it, and didn’t want to be a part of it. I was actually able to add to it, and that’s how Gregg Hurwitz came along. There was a big group of people that were still there—Cameron Litvack, Charles Murray and Angela Russo. There were some really good people that were still on staff. So I still had them. I bounced ideas off of them, of course. In the beginning, I had to lock myself in a room to come up with stuff to bounce off of them. But once I did, I brought them in and we worked on it all together. I was actually lucky. They let me hire a guy named John Wirth who is a fantastic showrunner and a great writer; he was the one person they let me bring in for help. He was not on the staff. He was wonderful and made it so we all didn’t slit our throats.

 

Did you hire the staff for “V” Season 2 yourself?

For Season 2, John was on the show, thank God. I hired Gregg, and I hired a couple other writers. The showrunner will hire the writers, but the showrunner hires pretty much everyone. They hire the directors, the entire crew—they hire in some way, shape or form, everybody who works on the show. Obviously there are a lot of other people, like production assistants. It’s too much to interview everyone, so what the showrunner will do is hire heads of departments, and then trust the heads of departments to hire those people. For instance, if you hire a line producer, you trust the line producer to bring in people they like to work with and who they think are the best people. They’ll run them by you. But for the most part, I usually trust my department heads and give them carte blanche on the hires because I haven’t worked with a lot of these people. The post-production supervisor will help me with finding and hiring the people I need in that department, such as the cinematographer and the DP. I trust them to hire the camera operators and all the people that they need in their department. It goes on and on. So what you’re really doing is hiring the production heads and trusting them to hire the people that they need to do the job.

 

 

How do the fans weigh in on how you make decisions for which direction to steer a show?

I think sometimes you listen to fans, and sometimes you don’t. If I read an input and I think it makes sense, I’ll consider it. Usually it’s something such as fans like new characters, and they want to learn more about certain characters. It’s harder now because there are so many different fan boards, but back at “V,” there was one central board, and I was able to read that. I do find that listening to the fans does help in some ways because it gives perspective that myself or the other writers may not have, and we get a sense of what they’re responding to and what they like. And if they’re liking stuff that we’re enjoying, we’ll give them more. But if the fans wanted something and we disagreed with it, would it change our opinion? Or, would we have the writers work on situations that we don’t agree with? The answer to both questions would be “no.” The job of the writer and creator is to create the show, and do the show that they think is best.

 

Currently, what’s your typical day like?

I write all day. During the summer, I was not in production on anything because of COVID. And even before COVID, I was mostly just working on interesting projects. I have three projects I’m working on: the FOX project, a television series called “Brothers in Arms” based on a video game that I’m working on, and I have another project I’m working on which is an anthology series. Then I have a couple of other projects—one is a Netflix show that I’m working on. Another one is just something that I created myself that I am going to pitch in the next couple of months for the new network season. I have another project that I’m working on with Joe W. who I worked on “Queen of the South” with—he’s a fellow showrunner. We have something we’re going to go out and pitch. And then I have another thing that I’m working on right now with a big director, and that’s a really cool project, too. That one’s sort of on the down-low right now—I’m not supposed to talk about it. So, I’m pretty busy. I basically write all day. Go to my office and work from 9 to 7. Much of the day is writing, but a lot of the time I’m talking to producers, getting notes, talking to agents about attaching clients and directors to projects.

 

How do you earn a living?

Fortunately, I am able to earn a living through my writing. I have been a professional writer since I was on “Grown Ups,” and I haven’t looked back since. I feel very fortunate, and that’s how I make my living.

 

This interview has been edited and condensed.


Written by Ilana Rapp

Ilana Rapp is a media-savvy Generation Xer with instinctive wit, quick humor and a taste for deep human emotions. As a former (child) actress with Broadway, film and television credits, she is adept at, well, lots of things. She blogged on The Huffington Post and writes entertainment pieces for Casting Networks, Casting Frontier, NYCastings, Mupo Entertainment and New Jersey Stage. She is a huge fan of the television show “V.” Ask her why her favorite number is 22. Follow Ilana on Twitter @IlanaSpeaks22