Allison Montgomery Gibson- Co-Executive Producer/ Writer: Awkward
When did you realize you wanted to work in television?
I was actually a government major in college first, planning to go to Law School. Then I met a lawyer who said major in anything you want. Be an English major if you want. Litigators have to be good storytellers. So I immediately changed my major to Radio-TV-Film. I was a big fan of “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” and “Bob Newhart.” And had watched “The Dick Van Dyke Show” in reruns and thought writing in television looked so fun. I enjoyed the classes so much I stayed and got my Master’s in Communications and never went to Law School.
What advice do you have for college students who are looking to pursue the television industry?
Learn everything. Producing, directing, editing, writing. The more you understand about the total process, the better you’ll be at whatever area you want to do.
Also, be prepared to start at the bottom. There are a lot of people that want to work in this industry. So you usually have to start in entry level jobs that you are over qualified for. But that’s okay. If you have talent, you will move up, and usually quickly.
What is something you wish someone told you about working in television?
Don’t forget to pursue other interests outside of Communications. Anthropology, Music History, Astronomy… Computer Science, whatever you’re interested in. Do a semester in another country, or on an opposite coast. The more diverse your background, the more you will have to draw upon to tell stories.
What was your first job working in television? What did you learn from it?
I put my typing speed on the top line of my resume and my Master’s Degree on the bottom and got a job as an assistant to the President of an Independent Production Company that made syndicated television series and television movies. And it was a great start. I got to know how things worked, and some of the names and players that worked in this part of the business, and when a television series moved their production offices into our building, I walked down the hall and got a job as a Writer’s assistant, which is the perfect job for a writer. I couldn’t have gotten that job without some industry experience. So, luckily, I didn’t get all hung up on the fact that I had a Master’s Degree and was too good to type, or answer phones, because that’s how I got my foot in the door.
What is your writing process like?
If I’m at home, I like to write in the morning. I like to start after breakfast with a quick meditation to clear the mind and then dig in. 9-1 is my basic day. Unless there’s a deadline in which I’ll go longer.
I may spend the whole time writing in front of the computer, or I may be reading drafts and editing, or breaking a story and putting post-its on my wall. I do it uninterrupted. No email, no texts, no phone calls. Because I want to stay in my imaginary headspace. If I take business calls, or call somebody to fix my roof, or chit-chat with a friend, I lose the space. It’s hard to be funny when you are worrying about the world, or a friend, or your to-do list.
How has your time been so far working on “Awkward?” What has been your favorite storyline to write so far?
Awkward has been a good experience for me. Coming into a show starting it’s 4th season, that has already been doing well, is a responsibility. You want to keep the quality up, and deliver to the show’s fans.
For personal reasons, I had taken a couple of years hiatus from staff work before taking Awkward, so it was fun to be back in a room. We developed a very solid process for breaking stories, and opening up the show a little bit more for some of the characters that hadn’t been serviced as much in prior seasons. Which is something you can do, and need to do in later years of a series.
Two of my favorite storylines involved Tamara. In Season 4 I really thought catfishing storyline was fresh and fun. And in Season 5 I loved her engagement story with the military man. Both involved her spinning her imagination and digging herself in deeper and deeper and that’s fun to write and watch.
I also loved the way we built to the Prom in Season 5. It was the culmination of so many things we had set in motion through out Season 4 and the first half of Season 5 that it felt very fulfilling when we were breaking that two-part episode and got to finally give the audience, and us, what everyone wanted.
You’ve worked as a writer on many shows, what is something you’ve taken with you from one of your early writing jobs and applied to your work on “Awkward?”
When you work on a lot of shows you learn to trust the process. Some stories break easily; some are more difficult. Don’t panic, or over celebrate either one. Sometimes the toughest to write turn out to be the best. Sometimes the easiest one that everyone thought was fantastic falls flat. Things happen, stories evolve. I try not to get too high or too low about any one episode. You get really invested in these stories and it’s hard to find the right blend of passionate and detached that is necessary.
What shows made you fall in love with television? What shows are you currently loving?
First and foremost, “I Love Lucy” was the first show I watched in reruns and wanted to see over and over. That’s such a true test of comedy, when you’ve seen the jokes but you still admire the construction and performance so much you want to see it over and over again. Other favorite comedies “Friends,” “30 Rock,” “Big Bang Theory,” “The Middle” and for me the best comedy of all time “Roseanne.” It was groundbreaking in every way. It had terrific character arcs over the season. Big funny with big heart is my favorite. And the series still holds up very well today.
Other drama favorites, “Hill Street Blues,” “St. Elsewhere,” “ER,” “The X –Files,” “The Sopranos,” “Battlestar Galactica,” “Parenthood.” “Breaking Bad” was brilliant, and had the most fulfilling series finale ever in my book.
Currently, I can’t wait for the next seasons of “Silicon Valley” and “Veep” and “Orphan Black.”
When I got started there was a lot of talk that there was nothing good ever on television. Well, nobody can say that now. There’s more great television than any of us have time to watch. That’s another good lesson for anyone going into the entertainment business. Things evolve constantly. Nothing stays the same.