Down a long hallway lined with posters of some of today’s hottest TV shows, I had an amazing time chatting with Arrow showrunner Beth Schwartz about her experiences getting started and thriving in this sometimes tumultuous industry. Over this 3 part interview, she shares how she came to run one of DC’s most successful shows, some of the ins and outs of creating a TV show, and what her recently-announced overall deal with Warner Brothers means for her personally and professionally. Settle in – you’re going to want to make sure you don’t miss a word!
You write on one of the most successful superhero TV shows — what is your origin story? Where did you come from, and how did you get interested in writing?
I’m from Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. In ep 7.16 I say where Mia and Felicity are living is called Bloomfield – I took that from my hometown.
I’ve always been interested in writing. My mom is an English teacher and was actually my 7th grade English teacher. And what I like to say was my first spec script was in middle school when I wrote a play ‘episode’ of 90210 the original and cast myself as Brenda, who was my favorite. So obviously I was interested then, but I didn’t know that it was a career because most people I grew up with were not writing for television.
I grew up in the midwest too, so I completely understand that.
I went to the University of Michigan and I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do and I took a playwriting class. I wrote a play and won a scholarship for it, and my teacher really encouraged me to go into creative writing. And that turned into majoring in screenwriting.
When I moved out here, my first job was working for Dan Fogelman – you may have heard of him, he’s slightly successful (the ‘slightly’ was sarcasm, for those who weren’t in the room to hear her joking tone) – on a comedy, and then I realized I wanted to be in the drama world. My second job was working with Greg Berlanti. So I got pretty lucky in my first couple of bosses.
I’ll say! And how did you get that first job?
I got my first job because I interned on General Hospital, and I had become friends with another intern who was working on the show with Dan Fogelman. I had just moved out here and we had stayed friends and she was like, “There’s a job opening to be Dan’s assistant, come in, I’ll put your resume in the mix.” I had nothing on my resume, except like “Camp Counselor” — you know, it’s that first resume where you are just trying to make a full page of jobs that MIGHT somehow relate to the industry. So I met on that and Dan and I clicked and it just ended up working out that that was the best first job ever.
Wow, that’s great! Yeah, so much of getting hired is knowing the right people, and being top-of-mind at the right time. That’s awesome. How did your career progress from there?
It was just sort of an assistant’s journey from one show to another show. When I worked for Greg on a season of Everwood, it was when he had both Jack and Bobby and Everwood. I was going to be on Jack and Bobby as a writer’s assistant, but it got cancelled, so I jumped to show a show called Invasion. That was actually Katie Cassidy (who plays Laurel Lance on Arrow)’s uncle Shaun Cassidy’s show, so I worked with him first before Katie. But then that show got cancelled.
When I was on Invasion, I was Larry Trilling’s assistant — he was the directing producer at the time. I worked for the most amazing people who I still keep in touch with who were just amazing mentors to me, so I feel very lucky.
And then I got my first writer’s assistant job on the show What About Brian with showrunner Josh Reims. That’s where I wrote my first produced episode of television, so that was really exciting. I threw a huge party, invited all my friends, my parents, my grandparents flew into town…
Aww, that’s so sweet!
Yeah. It was great. And then that show got cancelled.
So I started working on Brothers and Sisters – Greg was supervising that show at the time. And I wrote two episodes on that show as a writer’s assistant.
And then the writer’s strike happened and I ended up working on Hart of Dixie. So that was now the third show I was a writer’s assistant on, and I wrote a freelance episode for Leila Gerstein. And at the end of that, Greg had called to see if I wanted to work as a writer’s assistant on Political Animals, a short order starring Sigourney Weaver, in between seasons. So I went to work on that show, and as I was working on that show, they were developing Arrow and Greg said, “I want you to be on Arrow.”
So I went on Arrow season 1 – as a writer’s assistant.
Wait – you started on Arrow as a writer’s assistant?
I was really hoping to get staffed and it did not work out. That first season I ended up writing 5 episodes as a writer’s assistant and then they finally said, “Yes, it’s probably time to staff you.”
I got staffed season 2 of Arrow, and then season 3 I got a double bump to executive story editor. On season 4 I was co-producer and Greg also put me on Legends of Tomorrow season 1 as a consulting (producer). So I wrote a couple of episodes there, helped them on that show a little bit. And then I came back for season 5 and I was promoted to be a co-EP because I had been running the room since season 4. Season 6 I was a co-EP, and this last season (7), I got promoted to showrunner.
There were a lot of jumps, but because I had so much experience already writing and producing and being in so many different kinds of writers rooms, I soaked up everything. I didn’t even realize it at the time, but I learned from Greg how to break story, and that helped me a lot and always stuck with me. It was definitely to my benefit, although it didn’t seem like it at the time – all those years of being a writer’s assistant that I was really not happy about ended up paying off in the end because it was like kind of a grad school for me.
Once you got going, it really accelerated. Yes!
How was it on season 4 (of Arrow) when you were working on two shows?
It was a lot. But I love Phil Klemmer, he’s the showrunner over on Legends of Tomorrow, and it’s such a great group of people. It was fun being in a different room, because I had been on Arrow for so long. Although I think we realized after that season that it made more sense for me to be permanently on Arrow and take more responsibility, so that’s what ended up happening. But that group is a really fun group. They’re very – I don’t want to say similar to the show, cuz that doesn’t really make sense, but they all have such a great sense of humor. Where our room and the stories we talk about are a lot darker, they’re a lot goofier, which is fun.
Nice, that’s awesome!
Wow, what a fantastic journey. I’m really inspired by Beth’s work ethic and perseverance, despite the seeming-setbacks of repeating her job as writers assistant. And here she is, closing out season 7 of Arrow and beginning work on the show’s final season! Love it.
And don’t miss the penultimate episode of Arrow season 7, tonight at 9/8c on the CW! And be sure to check back next week for part 2 of my interview with Beth, where we get into more of the nitty-gritty of writing and casting a hit TV show!