This debut novelist explains what it's really like to write for the most popular TV shows
Gina Fattore shares her most exciting moments working on Dawson's Creek, Gilmore Girls, Parenthood, and more.
Gina Fattore's debut novel, The Spinster Diaries, follows a Los Angeles television writer who also happens to be a self-described spinster — obsessively reading chick-lit novels, and moonlighting as a casual hypochondriac. The book is fiction, but Fattore drew parts of the plot from her own life: She's an established television writer, having served in the writers' rooms of Parenthood, Gilmore Girls, Masters of Sex, and Dawson's Creek, to name a few. Here, she tells EW in her own words about writing her novel, and the top-five most exciting moments of her TV writing career.
The heroine of my debut novel, The Spinster Diaries, is an anxious, perennially single TV writer. Any resemblance to me is… completely and totally one-hundred-percent intentional. Sure, I could have switched things up and given my heroine some other artsy and vaguely cool-sounding job: architect, artisanal winemaker, editor at Entertainment Weekly. But, frankly, I was way too lazy to do all that research.
For better or worse, working in TV is the only life I know, which also makes it the one I’m best qualified to depict. I got started doing it way back in the mid-90s — well before TV was cool — and at this point, I’ve worked on so many shows that it’s been suggested to me (wink, wink, nudge, nudge) that maybe I should take some off my IMDb page. You know, so I could maybe pass for younger…which is not one of the 14 shows I’ve worked on! Although I am only one TV degree removed from Younger because Paul Fitzgerald, who plays Liza’s ex-husband on that show, is also on Dare Me, the neo-noir cheerleader drama I co-created with Megan Abbott based on her novel.
Dare Me is the first show of my TV writing career where I also served as showrunner, i.e., the boss. Before that, I’d always been “on staff,” as we say in the biz, and the great thing about being “on staff” is that it keeps you humble. Do you have a supercool, truly amazing job? Yes, you do. You’re a writer on a TV show, for heaven’s sake. You make your living doing something you love. Free food is rampant. Occasionally you get to talk to celebrities. But at this level of show business, there’s very little danger that you will start to experience any of its negative side effects, which may include ….
- Believing your own hype
- Leaving your spouse for someone younger
- Bradley Cooper embarrassing you while you’re winning an award
No, at the “TV writer on staff” level, you’re mostly just doing a lot of writing, rewriting, and/or talking about writing. And we all know how glamorous writing is, right? We’ve all done a book report at some point in our lives. Still, with all TV writing staffs now sadly consigned to work in the virtual realm – and all TV production completely shut down – I couldn’t stop myself from tripping down memory lane and compiling a list of the Top Five, All-Time Most Exciting Moments of My TV Writing Career.
5) Ray Romano walks into the Parenthood writers’ office. He looks lost. I give him directions to the showrunner’s office. That’s it. That’s the story. I know nowadays everyone thinks Ray Romano is sexy, but I knew. I knew way back in 2013.
4) It’s 1996, and I’m the showrunner’s assistant on King of the Hill, or as my fellow assistants sometimes call me…Queen of the Hill. The table read for “Square Peg,” the second episode of the show, has just ended. The writers go back to the writers’ room to fix the jokes that didn’t land; I steal some leftover bagels and head back to my office. When I get there, my boss, television-writing legend Greg Daniels, who would later go on to create the American version of The Office, turns to me and asks, “What did you think of the table read?” Incredible, right? Then I pitch him an idea, and wait for it… my idea actually makes it into the final version of the episode.
3) In May 2009 we are filming an episode of Californication on location at UCLA when the paparazzi captures me having a particularly good hair day. The fact that Fox Mulder is standing directly behind me looking cooler than cool is clearly beside the point.
2) It’s 2 a.m. on the set of Lane’s baby shower, and I am fading fast. With so many beloved Gilmore Girls characters crammed into Miss Patty’s, it’s taking all night to get the footage we need, but I co-wrote “Will You Be My Lorelai Gilmore?” with fellow staffer Gayle Abrams, so I want to prove to the crew that I can make it all the way to wrap. As my eyelids begin to close, I hear something that perks me up immeasurably, a sound I will never forget… Sally Struthers is singing the “All in the Family” theme song. Like most O.G. TV writers, I am a person who grew up watching way too much TV, and in this moment, it is like I am actually melding with television history. But wait, there’s more! Sebastian Bach from Skid Row is singing with her – because as any self-respecting Gilmore Girls fan can tell you, he plays Gil, the guitarist in Lane’s band Hep Alien. Finally, to make the moment even more surreal... Geddy Lee from Rush also happens to be on the set that night. He and his then-teenage daughter are huge Gilmore fans. Truly, you cannot make this stuff up!
1) That Dawson crying meme that is oh-so-famous? I was there when that was filmed, so that was a strong contender, but then it hit me. The true high point of my Dawson’s Creek experience — and of my entire TV writing career — was actually just a phone call from Wilmington, North Carolina, containing some extremely good news about “Castaways,” my nineteenth episode of the show, then in pre-production. For the uninitiated, “Castaways” is the one where Joey (Katie Holmes) and Pacey (Joshua Jackson) accidentally get trapped overnight in a Kmart.
Though it was not constructed with this in mind, it’s actually chock full of useful tips for anyone who might be sheltering in place with their high school ex (change into comfy clothes, play board games, talk obliquely about your true feelings for each other, etc.). In my original outline for the episode — and in my first draft — I had Joey joke about how much she hated Pacey’s goatee, but I didn’t take the idea any further than that. Honestly, I don’t think it ever occurred to any of us in the writers’ office that Joshua Jackson would actually be willing to change his facial hair for a random scene in the sixth season of a show that was about to be canceled. But then it happened, the all-time, number-one, best-ever moment of my TV writing career: Josh volunteered to lose his goatee! I celebrated the only way a veteran TV writer knows how…by doing a rewrite. The resulting scene — where Joey gives Pacey a clean, close shave — is totally delightful and charming, if I do say so myself. Check it out on Hulu!