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‘American Crime’ Creator John Ridley Tunes Into Early Days Working in TV

John Ridley, the creator of ABC’s “American Crime,” won an Oscar two years ago for “12 Years a Slave.” But TV came first for the writer-producer, whose got his start on NBC sitcom “Rhythm & Blues” in 1992. His initial mention in Variety came in 1995, as co-producer of “The John Larroquette Show.”

What was “Larroquette like?

I was there for one season, and it was groundbreaking for me. It was the first time I had a deal. I worked with Mitch Hurwitz, a writer-showrunner who has one of the most creative minds around. “Larroquette” was a challenging show. It was about a recovering alcoholic, set in a bus terminal, with a cast that was black, white, Hispanic. I was also working with (exec producers) Paul Junger Witt and Tony Thomas; their legacy in this business is close to unrivaled.

What did you learn?

I learned from Mitch’s work ethic. Plus he and Witt-Thomas involved writers at every step — editing, casting, everything. I’ve been very fortunate with the showrunners I’ve been around: Jordan Moffet, John Bowman, Mitch Hurwitz, John Wells. John (Wells), for example, makes clear you’re not just a writer; you need to “produce” your episode — to engage with all the department heads, the actors and directors, to anticipate and communicate everything.

How did you start out?

I wrote a spec script, I think for “Married … With Children,” and my agent, Adam Fierro, was one of my best mentors. One day another agent — not my day-to-day agent — called me in and went through my script page by page, telling me everything wrong with it, and not in a way that was encouraging. There were Post-it notes all over the script. It was painful. One week later, Jordan Moffet called me in for the NBC series “Rhythm & Blues.” His copy of the script also had a Post-it note, but this one said “It’s great!” He said, “I read your script and I love it.” The lesson was that not everybody is going to be satisfied with your work, and not everybody is good at communicating what needs to be done. You have to manage it on your own. But you also need people like Jordan, who believes in your work.

And he hired you?

Fox had a diversity-writers program, and from there, I had to work my way up. “Rhythm & Blues” was my first job in Hollywood, in 1992. We worked on the Fox lot, and if you were on staff you could enter from Constellation (Avenue), but I always wanted to enter from the front (on Pico Boulevard). It felt special and magical. I thought, “Even if I never do anything else, I’ve made it this far.”

Do you use these experiences on “American Crime”?

I hope so. I’ve been presented with opportunities that I hope I’m paying back; I hope to pass it on.

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