Three Pittsburghers in key behind-the-scenes roles on prime-time TV shows

Editing, directing, producing: Pittsburgh natives are everywhere in entertainment


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BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. -- It takes a small army to get a TV show on the air. While most viewers see only the stars of a show and a few TV aficionados pay attention to the credits of writers and directors, there are dozens more people working in the trenches to make prime-time programming a reality, from skilled craft makers in charge of wardrobe and set design to executives responsible for the finances and making sure the program is completed on time and (they hope) on budget.

Former Pittsburghers work behind the scenes in television production in all capacities; today we look at the jobs of three natives who work on TV series that air this week as part of the new fall TV season.

James Wilcox, editor/director

Growing up in the Hill District, James Wilcox, a 1977 Pittsburgh Schenley High School graduate, planned to play baseball in the major leagues. He went to Community College of Allegheny County on a baseball scholarship but realized he needed to be in a climate where he could get out on the diamond more often.

He transferred to Clark Atlanta University in Georgia, where he took classes in the mass communication department.

"I couldn't see myself in a traditional 9-to-5 job," he said in mid-August from Los Angeles, where he was editing the season premiere of "Hawaii Five-0," airing Fridays at 9 p.m. on KDKA-TV. "I wanted to do something creative, some challenge that involved thinking on my feet."

He applied for an internship in CNN's sports department, a placeholder in case the pro baseball career didn't work out, and landed it but found he was unsatisfied with the then-new, turbulent CNN operation. He wound up trading jobs with a college friend who worked in the sports department of a local Atlanta affiliate. He eventually got hired full time and moved from sports to news editing.

A few years later Mr. Wilcox got a call from his first news director at that Atlanta station, beckoning him to Los Angeles. He ended up working for the CBS Los Angeles affiliate and CBS News for nine years. When he saw the local news business changing in 1993 -- budget cuts in Olympic coverage, changing technology -- he moved over to be an editor on the short-lived newsmagazine "Front Page" before his first foray in scripted programming as an editor on Showtime's "Soul Food."

He studied acting in Los Angeles to prepare himself for the next step in his career, directing, which he first got a chance to do on the ABC sitcom "My Wife and Kids." He's also been an editor on "Dark Angel," "Reno 911," "Everybody Hates Chris" and for six seasons on "CSI: Miami," where he also directed. Mr. Wilcox is currently an editor on CBS's "Hawaii Five-0," where he expects to direct an episode next season.

As an editor, Mr. Wilcox said it's his job to meld the work of the writer of the episode and the director of the episode, using all the footage filmed to piece together the most entertaining story possible.

"It's my instinct lining up with the tone and direction of the script as it comes from the director and as done by the actors," he explained. "It's said on a TV show or film, it's written three times: by the writer, by the director and a final time when it's edited. My job is the last sort of writer; I have control over all the variables."

Once a show is edited, then it goes to studio and network executives, who offer their notes, input and suggestions for further refinement. That's where two other Pittsburgh natives come in.

Rosemary Tarquinio, network executive

A Moon Area High School grad, Rosemary Tarquinio attended Penn State University after determining a childhood full of voice lessons was not what she wanted to pursue professionally. She took a TV 101 class and read a book about the history of CBS and decided she wanted to work in television.

An internship at KDKA-TV led to a full-time job as an associate producer on "Pittsburgh 2Day" in the 1980s before she moved to Los Angeles to work as an assistant for a movie producer, learning about directing, producing and everything it takes to make a filmed entertainment project come to fruition. She eventually worked with film director Wolfgang Peterson and helped develop the 2001-03 CBS drama "The Agency," about the CIA.

For the past nine years she's worked at CBS Television, where she is vice president of current programs. While development executives are charged with getting new series off the ground -- from a script for a pilot episode to pilot production -- current executives oversee production of programs that already have been given a series order.

Ms. Tarquinio oversees CBS's "The Mentalist" (returning at 10 p.m. Sept. 29), "2 Broke Girls" (season premiere at 9 p.m. Monday) and the upcoming midseason drama "Reckless." In previous TV seasons she has been assigned to "Elementary," "Criminal Minds" and "The Good Wife," among others.

"Think about if I was just in a regular business corporation without the creative element: I am a project manager," she said. "The shows I cover are my assets and I am responsible for those assets. I'm helping facilitate to make them as successful as possible, creatively and financially."

So, yes, that makes her "a suit," as a Hollywood writer might say derisively.

"I prefer to be a help rather than a hindrance," she said. "For me, it's [a question of], does a script work? If it works, I may offer a few thoughts, sure, but you keep them to what you think would help instead of hinder them. In this job there is no ego. I shouldn't give a note just to hear the sound of my voice."

Ms. Tarquinio works with writers and producers, reading scripts, giving notes on episodes of TV dramas and looking at rough cuts of shows as edited by people like Mr. Wilcox.

For comedies, Ms. Tarquinio attends a table read of the script with the cast and then returns on tape night when sitcom scripts are rewritten on the fly.

"The writers and producers know what jokes are working because the live audience is letting them know through their engagement and laughter," she said.

Although she long ago switched her career focus from performance to TV production, Ms. Tarquinio still sings, including the national anthem at a 2010 Steelers game. She put together a one-woman cabaret show in her free time a few years ago and found it helped with her work at CBS.

"It made me a better executive," she said. "I then had to step into the performer's shoes and get notes from people, and I had to really think about the notes I was getting."

"Giving notes" is standard practice in Hollywood, an experience Ms. Tarquinio has shared with another Pittsburgh native.

KristieAnne Reed, production executive

While at Carnegie Mellon University as a directing major, KristiAnne Reed had one goal: directing musical theater.

"How's that going for me?" she asked rhetorically with a laugh while seated in the lobby bar at The Beverly Hilton.

An internship with a film producer between her junior and senior years of college resulted in a course correction that took her to Los Angeles instead of New York.

"When I came here I had my first exposure to producing, and I thought, wow, this is actually a really good career and utilization of what I felt my skills were."

Her first professional credit was as an assistant to the producer on the 1996 Ellen DeGeneres movie "Mr. Wrong." She then hopped from film production to film production, as film professionals do. She met producer Jerry Bruckheimer on his 1997 movie hit "Con Air." He had an assistant who was leaving, and he asked Ms. Reed to help out for two weeks, which led to an 18-month stint before he promoted her to his company's director of production.

"She started on my desk and she absorbed it so quickly and learned so fast and grew beyond it, and I saw she was going to be a major force in our company," Mr. Bruckheimer recalled after a July CBS press conference for his company's latest drama series, "Hostages" (10 p.m. Monday).

Ms. Reed, a 1990 graduate of Bishop Canevin High School, said when Mr. Bruckheimer launched a television division in the early 2000s -- an early hit was the original "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation" -- he would loan her out to the TV side. By the mid-2000s, she segued permanently to the TV division as executive vice president of Jerry Bruckheimer Television.

One of Ms. Reed's early assignments for Bruckheimer Television was on CBS's 2005-07 drama "Close to Home," which Ms. Tarquinio was assigned to be the current executive on representing CBS.

"She developed it and sold it to CBS," Ms. Tarquinio said. "I really enjoyed working with her. She's more of the producer, somebody I would talk to and she'd give me a head's up, 'This is happening,' 'This isn't quite working,' 'We're going to do a little re-shoot,' 'This script is in great shape, I can't wait for you to read it.' It's a conversation, basically."

Ms. Reed is one of three executives who oversee Bruckheimer Television, recruiting writers, developing new ideas, pitching networks, filming pilots and putting series into production.

"I run the company although on some days I feel like I report to her," joked Jonathan Littman, president of Bruckheimer Television at a July 2011 CBS party. "KristieAnne is one of those rare talents in this business who not only has enormously strong people skills but also enormously strong creative and producing skills."

On a single day in late July, Ms. Reed attended the press conference for "Hostages," returned to her office and jumped on a conference call about the story for the show's seventh episode. That was followed by a conference call about a pitch for a TV show for fall 2014.

Her schedule also included a meeting with a writer she has been trying to develop a show with for the past few years ("It's a long business," she noted) and a conference call to give notes on a cut of an episode of the upcoming TNT unscripted series "Marshal Law: Texas" about law enforcement personnel in Houston. Ms. Reed serves as co-executive producer on both "Marshal Law" and "Hostages," which is about a surgeon (Toni Collette, "The United States of Tara") encouraged by a hostage-taker to kill the president of the United States during a medical operation.

Ms. Reed said the biggest hurdle with "Hostages," a rare serialized series for Bruckheimer and CBS, is getting viewers to jump on board.

"Just explaining, 'Trust us, it will be good,'" she said is the No. 1 challenge with marketing the series. "It's getting hard to say," because audiences have been burned by such promises in the past.

Ms. Reed, whose younger brother Brett Reed is a film editor in Los Angeles (he was first assistant editor on "Zero Dark Thirty" and "Argo"), said she has no regrets about her decision to forgo a career as a theater director.

"I wouldn't be good at it," she said. "I think everyone has their superpower and my superpower is probably more the bigger picture. I like to do multiple things; with directing you have to be so specific and I'm not sure I would be talented enough, specific enough."

She's happy to be a problem-solver, helping to close a deal with a guest actor or help secure a filming location.

"It's exciting to find new ideas and new writers," she said, "and [figuring out] how do we kick down the door and get a show on television."

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TV writer Rob Owen: rowen@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2582. Read the Tuned In Journal blog at post-gazette.com/tv. Follow RobOwenTV on Twitter or Facebook.


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