By Sarah Stortz
University of Iowa students in the next academic year will have the unique opportunity to learn from the writers of one the most highly acclaimed series to air on television. And they also happen to be UI graduates.
Next semester, a new Theater Department course called Writing for Television will be introduced, open to graduate students and higher-level undergraduates with permission.
In the course, students will learn how to develop a concept for a 30-minute television show, outlining a season, and writing a pilot.
The class will be led by UI alumni Robin Green and Mitchell Burgess, who were previously head writers and producers for “The Sopranos.” The married couple met during their time at the university, and their talent for television writing helped the series win several awards.
Most notably, the duo won the Prime Time Emmy Award for Outstanding Writing for a Drama Series in 2001, as well as in 2003 with series creator David Chase.
Outside of “The Sopranos,” the two created and wrote the CBS police drama series “Blue Bloods,” which was recently renewed for its ninth season.
Alan MacVey, the chair of the Theater Department and the director of the Performing Arts Division, said Green and Burgess expressed a desire to give back to their alma mater somehow. With a collaboration between the UI Foundation and faculty members, Green and Burgess now have the chance to share their expertise with young writers.
“I know the two people pretty well and find them to be a wonderful mixture of rich and deep thinkers and creative people,” MacVey said. “One other element that’s in there is the skill to handle a complicated plot. That’s a really impressive skill; it’s a craft.”
UI theater Associate Professor Lisa Schlesinger, one of the faculty members who helped bring the class to campus, said there has been an ongoing discussion over further developing the study of screenwriting. Currently, the Theater Department and the Cinematic Arts Department offer courses related to screenwriting.
With the existing screenwriting classes, Schlesinger said, she believes several writers on campus have the potential to create engaging material in this new course.
“It’s the golden age of television,” she said “[These students] watch television and film their whole life, and they can create really exciting, original work.”
Lan Samantha Chang, the director of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, said one of the great resources of the Workshop is having so many successful alumni, many of whom have gone on to write professionally for television.
“The new screenwriting workshop is the first effort in what will hopefully become a stronger connection between the university itself, the students here, and the television alumni,” Chang said.
Knowing Green’s and Burgess’ extensive knowledge of television writing, MacVey said the course will be a valuable experience for students who wish to go into screenwriting.
“[Green and Burgess] have a rich vision, and they’re creative people,” MacVey said. “That’s why they’ve been so successful. These people are at the top of their field. They know every inch of it, and they know the potential for what’s going to come next.”
Schlesinger has a similar view.
“It’s amazing that these two people are so generous to come back and share their experience with young people,” she said. “Anyone who gets to work with them is really lucky.”