David E. Kelley urges showrunners to focus on the work that matters


David E. Kelley urged fellow TV showrunners and writers to be mindful of the privilege they have in the platform television provides to reach millions of viewers as he accepted the 2022 Creative Conscience Award Thursday night during from Variety’s Showrunners Dinner presented by A+E Studios.

Kudos were presented to Kelley for her decades-long career of socially conscious work, which includes series such as ‘The Practice’, ‘Boston Public’, ‘Boston Legal’, ‘Ally McBeal’, ‘Doogie Howser, MD’ , “Big Little Lies”, “Nine Perfect Strangers” and “Big Sky”, among others.

“If our work matters even a little, then that’s something,” Kelley said.

Kelley spoke heartfeltly to a packed house of showrunners, including top Emmy nominees and producers featured in Variety’s 2022 Producer Impact Report, at the dinner held at the Sunset Tower Hotel. in West Hollywood. Participants included Quinta Brunson, creator and star of “Abbott Elementary”; Liz Meriwether of “The Dropout”; Rick and Morty boss Dan Harmon; “Only Murders in the Building” John Hoffman; Julie Plec (“Roswell, New Mexico”); Danny Strong of “Dopesick”; “Saving Time” Max Borenstein and Rodney Barnes; the “Hacks” trio of Jen Statsky, Lucia Aniello and Paul W. Downs; “Pachinko” and EP “The Morning Show” Michael Ellenberg; Nikki Toscano of “The Offer”; Dan Erickson “severance pay”; and Sierra Teller Ornelas of “Rutherford Falls”.

Kelley detailed her journey to finding a new passion outside of law.

“It was hard work, but I knew whatever it was, it wasn’t this. I practiced law, when I kind of dug into my heart, that just wasn’t it. And the hours are long,” Kelley said.

This search led him to the Colonial Theater in Boston, where he sometimes sneaked into shows as he returned home from a late night at his law office. At one point, while overwhelmed by his next move, Kelley walked into the theater when no one else was there, hoping to find inspiration from the venue itself on the way. for which it was intended.

“It was shortly after that I started writing seriously. And it was shortly after that I had a screenplay option by Howard Baldwin. And shortly after that I got a call of Steven Bochco’s offices,” Kelley recalls.

It was his relationship with Bochco that would take him to new heights. After writing for “LA Law,” the two embarked on a working relationship that would lead to several collaborations, including the famed “Doogie Howser, MD.”

At that point, Kelley decided to go off on his own. Bochco, however, remained a strong influence in his future works –– with 2019 Creative Conscience winner Norman Lear.

“Now when I was a kid in Boston, I didn’t watch much television. You could have thrown in any name — producer, writer, director, otherwise; I wouldn’t have known who they are, except for two. The first was Norman Lear,” he said. “Because I grew up watching all of his products, ‘All in the Family’, ‘Maude’, ‘The Jeffersons’.”

“Watching TV shows, I knew he was a man who brought his conscience to the office,” Kelley continued.

The second person he mentioned was mega-producer Bochco.

“Looking at his work, I knew he also brought his principles to the workplace and incorporated them into his shows,” Kelley added.

The lessons he learned from his mentors were “too many” to list, he told the audience. But he recognized that all the people he looked up to who had a lasting impact on his life and career (his mother, his sister, and his high school Latin teacher) were all kind people who respected those around them. . These are the people he thought of when he started a new script.

“I had a kind of cheat sheet to guide me when I was breaking stories or writing scripts, I was like, ‘Does this meet Steven Bochco’s standards? Would Norman Lear be proud? Would my Latin teacher agree? Does my sister? My mother? Said Kelley.

“Having someone you look up to, people you look up to, values ​​you can aspire to, is a gift. I know you all have people to look up to. And I encourage you to be inspired by it,” he continued. “And I would also remind you that as showrunners, you have a platform that reaches millions of people. So be aware of the opportunity that is in front of you. Because not everyone understands that.

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