I met Dan Truly as an undergraduate at the University of Texas. He was the clever kid that made everyone laugh. I admire Dan as he has reached the top of a very powerful industry that has few rules and no playbook. And he did it the old fashioned way through skill, grit and intelligence.
Dan Truly will tell you he had a normal childhood. He grew up in a suburb of Houston and graduated with a RTF degree from the University of Texas in 1985. He may forget to tell you that his father was an astronaut. He may forget to tell you that his father was the head of NASA. But he will tell you that when he was 12 years old, he experienced a moment that changed his life. He saw the movie “Jaws” and he was hooked on the movies.
Dan moved to Los Angeles and met a well known producer who told him that the best way to be “discovered” in Hollywood was to start writing. So Dan wrote a few screenplays. He became noticed for his “snappy, funny, action/comedy” dialogue and his first break came when he was asked to write for the television series “Hercules.” Following that were stints on “Nash Bridges” on CBS, “The Pretender” on NBC and “Big Shots” on ABC. More recently, he worked for three seasons on “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” and is currently a writer and Co-Executive Producer of “A Gifted Man” which airs Fridays at 8:00 p.m. on CBS and averages 8 million viewers a week.
So what does a T.V.Writer/Producer do?
They literally run the show: writing individual episodes, arcing out season-long story lines, weighing in on decisions about casting, wardrobe and props. On a “Gifted Man,” Dan works with his writing staff in Los Angeles and his film crew in New York. He is in constant motion. He laughs and says he doesn’t have a life. But he has a life. A very glamorous life.
When I asked Dan why he is so successful in such a competitive industry, he cited both his persistence (“Otherwise known as I have no other skills so I better make this career work”) as well as his gut instincts about what works on-screen: a personal definition of drama and human interaction distilled from years watching TV and thinking about what works in drama and what doesn’t. He has a strong sense of what is entertaining as well as a desire to generate conflict between his characters. When he adds his gift with snappy dialogue, he has found the formula for success. Did I mention 8 million people watch his show each week?
In casting sessions, Dan has seen how tough the entertainment industry is on the acting profession. He told me that anything creative is a personal endeavor and his advice to actors (and writers) is that they manage their emotions and try not to take criticism personally. He adds that the stakes are very high and a single good role (or script) can make or break a career.
Dan told me that the recession has had a major effect on the entertainment business as there has been a contraction in studio and network budgets. He said when times are good, spending can spiral out of control but when times are bad, no one is willing to spend money on new projects. As with other industries, salaries have been slashed and many people are out of work in all areas of the television and movie business.
Dan has also watched the traditional entertainment model change as audiences have embraced new technologies: internet companies such as Netflix, Hulu and iTunes have contributed to the collapse of the DVD market as well as forcing record companies to scrap former best-selling formats like cassettes, CD’s and albums. He said that all television shows depend on advertising dollars and live or die by ratings in the critical 18-49 age group.
I asked Dan what he would like T.V. fans to know about “A Gifted Man” and he said that he and other writers (led by his boss, former SVU showrunner Neal Baer), are trying hard to deliver an exciting, emotional and entertaining episode each week. He hopes each show makes the audience stop and think when it is over and would like his fans to “tell their friends about our neat little show.”
I asked Dan if his famous father was proud of him and he laughed. “When I first went to Hollywood, he was probably skeptical about my chances. And believe me, there were lean years where I was too. Now he keeps asking me when I’m gonna write a great astronaut show so he can be the technical adviser.”
Attached are two screen scripts written by Dan Truly:
In Case of Loss of Control from A Gifted Man
Bomb Shell from Law and Order: Special Victims Unit