By Soo Youn ’96
Two Amherst playwrights are now writing for network TV.
[Television] With a single Amherst production, the college lost one future MBA and another would-be lawyer. But it gained two formidable playwrights now writing for TV. Kim Rosenstock ’02 is a writer on Fox’s hit comedy New Girl. Julia Brownell ’04 writes for NBC’s critically adored Parenthood, having previously worked on NBC’s Smash and HBO’s Hung. Rosenstock and Brownell are friends, neighbors and fellow book club members in L.A.’s hipster capital, Silver Lake. And yes, they still write plays.
So it all started at Amherst?
Brownell: Sophomore year there was a 10-minute Festival of Plays. I auditioned for one directed by Kim and Kat Vondy ’02. Kim said, “You should take a class with [Playwright-in-Residence] Connie Congdon.”
Rosenstock: I didn’t realize it led to her theater career! She owes me! Julia was the funniest actress who auditioned. I cast her. It was the first and last thing I ever directed. But out of it Julia and I became friends.
New Girl’s Kim Rosenstock ’02 (left), and Julia Brownell ’04, a Parenthood writer. Photograph by Amanda Friedman
How does being a TV writer differ from being a playwright?
Brownell: TV helped me be less precious. The time constraints are so severe. Your work is going to be on the air in months or even weeks; if you write a scene in two hours, it’s possibly going to shoot tomorrow. That’s pretty cool—and scary. In playwriting there’s more romanticizing the process. I had a play at Lincoln Center. I started writing it three years before. On Parenthood, I started working in May . We’ve written 22 episodes.
Rosenstock: Thinking of the most concise way to convey a thought literally never entered my mind before I worked in television. Every episode of New Girl is 21 minutes and 35 seconds. Working within that time limit you learn to discipline your penchant for monologues.
Since I’ve written for a network sitcom the past few years, my joke “muscle” has been built up. Before, I would know a joke wasn’t working but resign myself to it being a clunker. Now I have more confidence in my ability to fix a joke.
Writing a play [involves] going stir-crazy. Then, at the end of the tunnel there’s the light of a community to embrace the final product and put it up in production. You emerge from this writing cocoon and there’s this party in the rehearsal room, and you’re talking too loud and hugging your collaborators too tight because you’re so glad you’re not alone with the play anymore.
With television, every day I work with 15 of the smartest and funniest people I’ve ever met. It’s highly social and collaborative. It’s such a comfort and relief to know that if you can’t figure something out in the script, one of your brilliant co-workers most likely can and will.
Do you have a dream job?
Brownell: I can’t make a living as a playwright, but I can make a really good living as a TV writer. Hopefully I’ll continue to do both. It was a dream year when I got to write on Hung and have a play up in New York.
Rosenstock: I might be doing my dream job. I never thought I would be able to make a living as a writer. I have a musical, Fly By Night, up now at Playwrights Horizons in New York, the theater where I interned while taking my LSAT course because I was sure I needed another career option.
Youn is a New York- and Los Angeles-based journalist.