Lauren Stein, AS97

Six years after arriving in Hollywood with no job and no leads, Lauren Stein now works on shows seen by 10 million viewers.

When writers for top television shows pitch story ideas, there is a good chance they are pitching to Lauren Stein, AS97.

Stein’s job at NBC is to oversee everything involved in such shows as Miss Match, Crossing Jordan and Crime and Punishment. If she approves an episode, it gets on the air.

“A writer will call me and do a pitch like, ‘We want to do a story about home invasion and people will be following victims home.’ I'll say, ‘OK, I like that.’ The script comes to me, and I read it to see if it is compelling, do we like it, how are the characters, the stories, etc.,” Stein says.

Ten million viewers tune in to the shows Stein works on now, but in 1998, when she left her desk job in Philadelphia, packing up her clothing and her dreams for Hollywood, Stein's friends and family were split.

Some told her they wished they could do that, too. “Which I never understood,” she says, “because if you want to do it, just do it.”

Some told her she should go to law school instead, because Hollywood would always be there. “I said, ‘Well, law school will always be there, too.’”

Her grandfather’s advice rang truest for her: “You have to do it so you’ll have no regrets.”

Stein says she learned to trust her own instincts after an English professor took one look at the first draft of a paper she wrote the first semester of her first year at UD and told her she shouldn’t be majoring in English. She switched to criminal justice, but she says she always wished she had stuck with English, especially now that studios are turning increasingly to the classics for story fodder.

So, when Hollywood beckoned, Stein phoned a family friend whose son worked on a television show. The friend’s son squired her around Hollywood for a week. Everybody she met there told her the same thing: “If you want to do it, just do it.”

So, with no job and no leads, Stein rented a studio apartment in a so-so Hollywood neighborhood and signed on as a volunteer for a student film for the American Film Institute (AFI). “I didn’t give myself any time-frame for it to work or not work,” she says. “I just came out here and if it worked, great, and if it didn’t, I would go to law school.”

When she arrived, she met law school grads who worked in mailrooms and lawyers hustling to become theatrical agents. She also met someone at AFI who steered her to a starter job as a production assistant on a sitcom. Her unofficial job description: “You do all the grunt work—whatever they want you to do—from answering phones, dealing with the actors, copying scripts, picking up laundry or delivering scripts at all hours of the night.”

She worked so late that when she’d call her mother in Rockville, Md., on her way home, her mom would just be getting ready for work. She also worked a second job as a store clerk to pay the bills.

“There are ways to do it,” she says. “If you come out here and you have a negative attitude, you’re never going to succeed. When you're a production assistant, the money is sucky. But, if you work somewhere that pays overtime, you can make a decent amount of money, and I never had any time to spend it because I was always working,” she says. “If you want it, you make it work.”

As a production assistant on various failed shows, Stein observed who does what—from agents to management to production. “That's where I saw which road I wanted to take,” she says. “I wanted the executive route.”

She mailed hundreds of blind resumes, but didn’t hear back from one. Then, an old friend introduced Stein to a literary agent who lined up some interviews for her at studios and networks.

She snagged a job as an assistant in the current series department at Warner Brothers Television, reading scripts and keeping track of writers and directors.

“These assistant positions are really whatever you want to make of them,” she says. She says she figured out some assistants just keep the calendar. Some read scripts and take an active role. She became “a sponge” who learned all she could and worked all she could.

Next, she applied for NBC’s associates program—a plum junior executive track. She was up against 1,500 other applicants, but Stein's wafer-thin chances grew when they sent her a comedy script and a drama script and asked her to do coverage on them—basically dissecting the stories and giving notes on each character. She had been giving coverage since her days as a production assistant, so she knew the drill. Thirteen months and seven interviews after she applied, she got the job. After six months, she was promoted to manager of NBC’s Primetime Series.

In her typical day, she arrives at the office about 8:30 a.m. and leaves about 8 p.m. She might encounter NBC Entertainment president Jeff Zucker or give notes on productions to Darren Starr, creator of Sex In The City and Melrose Place, a show that she says she grew up watching. “The people I've learned the most from have been my bosses and the people I now work under at NBC,” Stein says. “I’ve just been very fortunate to have a lot of mentor-type people.”

She goes out to a business dinner about three or four nights a week, but she tries to limit herself to having dinner with businesspeople who are also friends. The other nights, she goes home and watches all her favorite shows cued up on TiVo.

“I'm so glad that it’s not a typical job,” she says. “Every day, there’s something funny that happens. Every day, it’s something new. Even on my hardest days, I sit here and I look around and I think, ‘I get paid to make television.’ That's just amazing.”

—Kathy Canavan

published 2004 in UD Messenger

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