Ex-CIA, Military Officers Turn Hollywood

'Homeland,' 'The Americans' scribes lived the lives they write about

Many series use experts and consultants to make sure their action, whether it’s in a courtroom or outer space, is portrayed accurately — though writers take plenty of creative license.

But on some skeins, including “The Americans,” “Homeland” and “The Newsroom,” a consultant isn’t enough.

Their staffs include writers who’ve actually worked in the fields they now write about.

Joseph Weisberg is a one-time CIA officer who turned to writing fiction. He became the creator, executive producer and writer for FX’s “The Americans.”

His second novel, “An Ordinary Spy,” was optioned for movie development. Then his new agents at CAA asked if he was interested in television. Graham Yost approached him about developing a drama series about CIA agents stationed in Bulgaria; that concept later became “The Americans.”

“Writing a novel is very organic because I have the leisure to rewrite anything two or three times. TV is pretty much the opposite of that,” Weisberg points out.

Alex Cary, writer and executive producer for Homeland, served in an American Special Forces unit during the Gulf War. He was always interested in film, began writing television to break into the business and rose to showrunner on Fox’s Lie to Me.

He was drawn to the pilot script for “Homeland” as soon as he read it. “I wanted to focus less on the mechanical realities of being in the military and focus on the psychology of being a veteran, something I personally dealt with,” he says.

For Cary, TV writing presented a new kind of challenge: “The hardest thing for a writer to do is ask for help,” he says, “but in television you never write completely on your own, which can be limiting but also liberating.”

The writing staff for “The Newsroom,” about a cable news operation, includes former MTV news correspondent Gideon Yago who drew from his frustrations when co-writing the series’ third episode of The Newsroom.

“I was bugged by how few broadcasters and pundits ever got held accountable for mistakes that seemed counter to what I thought the job of journalism entailed,” Yago says.

Despite being an experienced reporter, Yago describes the differences in writing for entertainment.

“Good journalism is all fact. Good entertainment is all emotion: It deeply engages what people can feel. There’s the truth and there’s a good story. In entertainment, the good story is always going to win out. It’s not like that in reporting. I mean, ideally …”

More TV

  • La Unidad

    Movistar Plus Pitches ‘La Unidad’ Digitally to International Buyers

    MADRID  —  Telefonica’s Movistar Plus was set to show off a pair of dramas at this year’s MipTV before the market was canceled. Now, Movistar has prepared online presentations on Monday where it will screen episodes of both series as well as conversations with producers and creatives from both series. Each show focus on terrorist [...]

  • La Linea Invisible

    Movistar Presents New Drama ‘La Linea Invisible’ to Virtual Marketplace

    MADRID – Originally planned to premiere alongside fellow Movistar Plus Original “La Unidad” at this year’s MipTV, “La Línea Invisible” will now instead screen for international buyers digitally in an online showcase hosted by the Spanish broadcaster on Monday. From “What the Future Holds” creator Mariano Barroso (“The Wolves of Washington”), the six-part series is [...]

  • John Callahan

    John Callahan, 'All My Children' Soap Opera Star, Dies at 66

    John Callahan, a soap opera star on “All My Children,” died on Saturday morning after suffering a stroke at his Palm Springs, Calif., home on Friday. He was 66. “Your bigger than life, gregarious personality will leave a hole in our hearts forever. We are devastated–my great friend, co-parent partner, and loving father to Kaya,” [...]

  • Cardi B Joe Exotic

    Cardi B Pledges to Start a GoFundMe for Joe Exotic From Netflix's 'Tiger King'

    Cardi B, like most people in the world, is hooked on Netflix’s “Tiger King.” Over the past couple of days, Cardi has been tweeting about the new docu-series, which follows the bizarre story of Joe Exotic, a private zoo owner with hundreds of exotic animals who ends up in jail for hiring a hitman to [...]

  • Victorious

    Ariana Grande and the 'Victorious' Cast Celebrate 10 Year Anniversary on Zoom

    Nickelodeon fans’ dreams came true when the cast of “Victorious” reunited to celebrate the show’s debut 10 years ago. Ariana Grande, Victoria Justice and their co-stars were supposed to get together in person to commemorate the anniversary, but due to the shelter-in-place rules around the country, the cast all hopped on a Zoom call. Grande [...]

  • Tiger King

    'Tiger King': Where Everyone in the Series Is Now

    (Warning: Spoilers ahead. Do not watch if you haven’t seen all seven episodes of Netflix’s “Tiger King.”) Like a stealthy tiger padding through the jungle, no one saw Netflix’s “Tiger King” coming until it was too late to un-see the questionable conditions the animals were kept in, and the questionable taste in tattoos of nearly [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content