Russ achieved notable success early in his career, having first worked as an assistant on various network shows, where he built important networking relationships as he worked on his writing. And before I knew it, he had an office at CBS Studio Center (just a 10 minute walk from Holiday Manor), and he already had garnered prestigious writing credits on such top-rated shows as the ensemble one-hour dramas Hill Street Blues and St. Elsewhere, as well as hit half-hour comedies as Newhart, Valerie and Webster. He went on to be a producer/writer for more hit shows including Becker, Cybill, Murphy Brown, Mad About You and The Drew Carey Show.
Before he moved to the big house in the hills, Russ was a warm welcoming neighbor and colleague, and he readily shared insight into his work process with me, and he was a kind supportive critic of my writing. One of the things that struck me about his process remains unique from every other writer I encountered in my years working in Hollywood was his diligent system of studying the shows he was working on, or was targeting to get work with.
Russ had a vast library with years of TV Guides, all neatly organized (this was before the Internet became ubiquitous) and from it he amassed the loglines of every show he targeted for study. In doing so, he created his own ‘Bible’ of the show, and he could map every storyline a given show had produced for every season. This way he could shape his story pitches to the shows in areas he knew the series had not yet explored. Russ also would audio record multiple episodes of a show he planned to write a spec script for. For example, when I was writing my own spec script for Newhart, he lent me ten audio cassettes he had recorded of the series to help capture the voice of each character to promote effective dialog writing. It helped me immensely.
Russ’s methodical, comprehensive and in-depth study of each series world obviously put him in a great positon to eventually take on the producorial role of later hit series with authority. His system of approach helped me shape my development in the Hollywood writing craft with my following years of work on my own network television series pitches and assignments.
Me and Russ
2015 Los Angeles Times
Festival of Books.
Russ is a novelist as well!