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Pittsburgh native draws on mom experiences for MTV drama

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As a writer and working mother, Mt. Lebanon native Terri Minsky was drawn to the concept of MTV’s new drama series “Finding Carter” as soon as MTV executives pitched her its concept and asked her to come aboard as executive producer.

‘Finding Carter’

When: 10 p.m. Tuesday, MTV.

Starring: Kathryn Prescott.

The series, debuting at 10 p.m. Tuesday, follows 16-year-old Carter Stevens (Kathryn Prescott), who learns the woman she calls “mom” – a cool, best-friend-like mother – is actually her kidnapper. Carter was taken from her real mother (Cynthia Watros) at age 3. Carter’s world is torn apart, and she maintains an allegiance to the woman she thinks of as mom and disdains her somewhat brittle, rule-making, limits-setting bio mom.

“What you buy yourself as a writer is the two realities of being a mother,” Ms. Minsky said in a phone interview from New York. “You want to be your daughter’s best friend, sitting next to her, eating popcorn and watching a movie. Then there’s the mother you have to be, the one who cares about their safety and has to make sure they’re healthy, productive, happy people, which sometimes they don’t want to be or aren’t naturally.

“You have to say no, to set limits, to be willing to be disliked by them, and you have to hope it passes.”

To create the relationships on “Finding Carter” – including an exchange between Carter and her kidnapper mom (“Love you,” “Love you more,” “Not possible,” “Yes, possible”) – Ms. Minsky drew on her won relationship with her now-college-age daughter, Anna Blum.

“That voice is really clear to me,” Ms. Minsky said of Carter. “I have really put a lot of effort into making sure it’s consistent throughout the 12 episodes [of season one]. She’s a tough character. She’s got to be smart, but she’s in a bad situation. ... You have to be sure she doesn’t come off like a brat or anything like that.”

Ms. Minsky also worked the name of her mother, Joan Minsky, who still resides in Mt. Lebanon, into “Finding Carter” by naming Carter’s biological grandmother Joan (played by Meredith Baxter, “Family Ties”).

“Finding Carter” is just the latest TV effort from Ms. Minsky, who started her career as a journalist and worked for the Wall Street Journal. In the late 1980s, her husband, writer/editor David Blum, suggested they try writing an episode for Ms. Minsky’s screenwriter uncle, Norman Steinberg (“Blazing Saddles,” “My Favorite Year”), when he created CBS’s 1989-91 Matt Frewer sitcom “Doctor, Doctor.”

Through the years, Ms. Minsky wrote for many comedy series, including “Sex and the City” and its more recent spin-off, “The Carrie Diaries,” and she created the Disney Channel hit “Lizzie McGuire” around the same time ABC picked up “The Geena Davis Show” in 2000, a short-lived sitcom Ms. Minsky also created.

“This is a painful subject,” she acknowledged. “I had to give ‘Lizzie’ up to other people. I was not able to run it.”

“Lizzie McGuire” ran for three years; “The Geena Davis Show” was canceled after only a handful of episodes.

Although Ms. Minsky moved her family, including son Sam, out to Los Angeles for “The Geena Davis Show,” for most of her career she’s been able to live and work in New York, whether writing for ABC sitcom “Less Than Perfect” or light NBC drama “Cashmere Mafia.”

“Comedy for me was kind of opportunistic,” Ms. Minsky said of her entree into TV through her uncle’s sitcom. She then deployed a “Game of Thrones”-inspired analogy: “Once I was in comedy, it was as if I had committed to the Dothraki and that was my kingdom and I was not allowed to cross the Narrow Sea.”

In addition to “Thrones,” Ms. Minsky is a fan of “Breaking Bad,” “Mad Men,” “Penny Dreadful” and “The Good Wife.”

“I was a woman in comedy at a point where there weren’t that many women in comedy rooms,” she recalled, including a stint on “Less Than Perfect” with future-“Arrested Development” creator Mitch Hurwitz. “You are laughing for hours and hours a day, but I was not the one telling the joke. I’m just not that kind of funny person. It even got to the point where they were working on rewrites and everybody is pitching jokes, and then they’d have to have [a character say] something emotional and they’d turn to me.”

But when she started working in the writers rooms of TV dramas, she found herself in the role of funny person.

“The revelation for me in a drama room is that I’m hilarious, so obviously I wanted to stay in drama rooms,” she said. “It’s not easy when the perception of you is you write comedy. It’s very hard to tell producers, ‘Thank you, but I wish you would consider me for your drama ideas.’”

When MTV brought Ms. Minsky the “Finding Carter” concept – she has a “developed by” credit on the show rather than “created by” – she jumped at the chance to run her own series at the same time her daughter was heading off to college.

“As soon as she went to college, the universe was like, ‘Here you go,’ and the amazing thing about it was I really wanted to do a mother-daughter show because I’m the first person who ever had a teenage daughter,” she snarked. “And this show had two mothers, and I was in heaven.”

TV writer Rob Owen: or 412-263-2582. Read the Tuned In Journal blog at Follow RobOwenTV on Twitter or Facebook.

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