The new ABC-TV show by Josh Berman ’91, Notorious, is sexy and sudsy. It’s a world of Porsches, mansions, sleek office buildings, and expensive clothes (and unmentionables). The show is inspired by the real-life interplay of criminal-defense attorney Mark Geragos and Wendy Walker, producer of CNN’s Larry King Live.
Notorious’ will-they-or-won’t-they series leads Piper Perabo and Daniel Sunjata cavort and scheme amid glamorous settings, but creator (aka showrunner) Berman comes to work wearing sneakers, jeans, and plaid shirt. His Hollywood office, on a studio lot, is spartan. “A lot of writers think it’s bad luck to decorate their offices,” Berman says. Getting too comfortable may be followed by firing or cancellation.
“I took several creative writing courses at 185 Nassau. But I didn’t believe I could make a career out of being creative,” says Berman, a native Angeleno who grew up in the middle-class neighborhood Encino.
At Princeton, Berman focused on law and public policy at the Woodrow Wilson School, which taught him to “listen rather than speak.” He was a Fulbright scholar in Australia, then completed a joint law and business program at Stanford.
Working as an entertainment executive, he was asked his opinion on scripts. “I felt I couldn’t really judge until I’d written one myself,” Berman said. “So I started staying up late writing.”
His first was a TV movie that was optioned but never produced. Later, he wrote a script that wound up on the desk of someone on CSI: Crime Scene Investigation. Berman was on his way.
Beginning as a writer on CSI in 2000, he later served as a writer, story editor, and ultimately executive producer on shows like Killer Instinct, Vanished, Bones, and The Mob Doctor, among others.
Concerned that he was becoming pigeonholed as a crime writer, Berman created Drop Dead Diva for the Lifetime network, about a vapid model who comes back to life as a plus-sized lawyer. Diva taught Berman how to make a slick production on a small budget. The show ran for 78 episodes and in 130 countries.
Now, even while working on Notorious, Berman is launching another show, Daytime Divas. Set to air in 2017, it looks at the lives of five women on a fictional talk show.
“My job is seven days a week, but I kind of love it right now,” says Berman, who lives in the Hollywood Hills with his partner and their 11-year-old son and 8-year-old daughter.
The internet and changing viewing patterns have greatly affected the industry, he says. “I get feedback on social media instantly, so I know I can’t slack off; I work on a show until it is as perfect as it can be.”
Berman says the biggest necessity in entertainment is to have thick skin. One show he worked on was canceled after three episodes. “You just keep going. You have to!” he says.