Gene Hong is that rare TV writer who gets to taste the Hollywood life -- premieres, parties, courtside Lakers tickets -- courtesy of his friend and roommate, Adam Levine, lead singer of Maroon 5.
A 1995 graduate of North Allegheny High School and a 1999 graduate of Allegheny College, Hong is an executive story editor on ABC's "The Goode Family" (8:30 p.m. Friday).
How'd he get to where he is? Like many entertainment industry success stories, it's been a long, complicated trip.
Hong, 32, says he was a class clown in high school, but he always saw comedy and acting as more of a hobby. He studied chemistry and environmental science in college and decided to pursue a career in the entertainment industry after graduation, landing as a finalist in the first season of "Project Greenlight" for a 1940s adventure caper script.
That prospect got him to Hollywood and a round of scripts in development with several companies while also working in a cell phone store and a group home.
Then he was cast in the first season of "Nick Cannon's Wild N Out" sketch show.
"I didn't have an improv background. I just auditioned well," he said. "I think it was more about the writing than the improv for me."
After that, Hong wrote a pilot script that his friend, actor Jeremy Sisto ("Six Feet Under"), passed to producer Jamie Tarses, a former ABC executive, unbeknownst to Hong. Tarses helped garner interest in the project from Sony as a production studio and Comedy Central commissioned a pilot for "Held Up," the story of a bank that gets robbed by two different groups of criminals at the same time.
Comedy Central didn't end up ordering "Held Up" as a series but Hong now has a deal with Sony and is developing a new show: A live-action, office-set comedy about a think tank.
"Every character is named after a friend I had in Pittsburgh," Hong said.
With Sisto he's working on the script for a feature film, a sports dramedy set in the world of amateur doubles tennis.
It's probably a good thing Hong has other projects in the works: ABC's decision to move "The Goode Family" to low-rated Friday night indicates the show will not be renewed. Hong wrote the episode slated to air this Friday.
As for Hong's friendship with Levine, it pre-dates the popularity of Maroon 5. Hong got to know the pop star when Levine was lead singer of a group called Kara's Flowers.
"He was a struggling musician in a band and just part of this circle of friends I had. I met him when I first came out here eight or nine years ago and we just hit it off. We have a similar sense of humor. It's somewhat 'Entourage'-y," Hong said, referring to the HBO series about a movie star and his buddies that returns with new episodes at 10:30 p.m. Sunday. "I've met different people who have gone on to big careers, and it's funny to see how people react. Some people like to separate themselves from people they knew before they became famous. Adam, on the other hand, is a loyal guy."
Hong said Levine invited him to move in as a roommate when Hong was writing "Held Up" after Levine bought a house.
"We still live together and have a lot of fun. I'm more of a homebody; I like to write," Hong said. "He definitely gets me to be more social and go out, and I cause him to stay in a little more."
Contact TV editor Rob Owen at email@example.com or 412-263-1112. A version of this story originally appeared in the Tuned In Journal blog at post-gazette.com/tv.