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Fresh Voices in TV Who Broke Out in 2017

The Peak TV era has opened a lot of doors for tyro talents. Here’s a look at distinctive scribes, directors and producers who emerged from the pack in 2017.

Dan Perrault and Tony Yacenda
American Vandal” (Netflix)
The tyro creators of Netflix’s buzzy true-crime mockumentary came out of nowhere to deliver a show that transcends its spoofy conceit. The show from CBS Television Studios could have easily been a one-joke vehicle, but with the help of showrunner Dan Lagana, “American Vandal” manages to make viewers care about the characters presented in the probe of a sophomoric crime — so much so that Netflix ordered a second season. “American Vandal” also earned a nomination from the Writers Guild as best new series, recognition that will drive its kudos buzz.

Frankie Shaw
SMILF” (Showtime)
Shaw joins the growing list of TV auteurs with a half-hour series that mixes the pathos and bathos of being a young single mother on the Southie side of the tracks in Boston. The actress created the series, stars, wrote multiple episodes and directed the pilot. All of her labors have added up to Showtime’s most well-received comedy in several years.

Ben Cavell
Seal Team” (CBS)
The “Justified” alum delivered a solid hit with his first series created-by credit. The actioner that revolves around a team of Navy SEALs is a promising addition to CBS’ drama roster that even has the network thinking about potential franchises. It didn’t hurt that Cavell’s pilot script was strong enough to draw David Boreanaz as his leading man.

Tracey Wigfield
Great News” (NBC)
She’s a graduate of the Tina Fey-Robert Carlock school of comedy, where she was a star pupil. Wigfield won a writing Emmy for her work on “30 Rock” but she’s now coming into her own as the creator, showrunner and semi-regular co-star on the NBC comedy “Great News.” The comedy starring Andrea Martin and Briga Heelan was funny enough to earn a second season renewal despite low ratings for its initial midseason run.

Heather Marion
Better Call Saul” (AMC)
Add Marion to the list of talented young scribes emerging from the “Breaking Bad” and “Better Call Saul” writers room. Marion’s script for the Season 3 episode “Slip,” which earned her a Writers Guild Award nomination. Not bad for a new entrant who advanced from staff writer to story editor for Season 4.

Max Landis
“Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency” (BBC America)
Landis has been bubbling up for some years now as a screenwriter. But in “Dirk Gently” he found a perfect match of material (the novel series by cult-fave author Douglas Adams) and his offbeat sensibilities. Taking Adams’ world from page to screen is a tough needle to thread — it’s been tried before — but Landis brought it home for the Beeb with the assist of showrunner Robert C. Cooper.

Variety’s Best of 2017

Jim Jefferies
“The Jim Jefferies Show” (Comedy Central)
Jefferies has emerged as a strong voice in a short time through the series that is a mix of travelogue and political commentary. Jefferies impressed by landing a Writers Guild nomination for comedy talk-variety series, busting into a field dominated by hosts who have logged many more miles on air than this Aussie standup comic.

Andrew Sodroski
Manhunt: Unabomber” (Discovery Channel)
Discovery’s narrative take on the Unabomber saga became a howdunit in the hands of creator Sodroski, who shifted the focus from Ted Kaczynski to the meticulous work of the FBI agent who tracked him down in that tiny Montana cabin. Sodroski has made a few “Screenwriters to Watch” lists over the years but “Manhunt” was the vehicle that really showed off his storytelling skills.

Kimberly Miller Olko
“Martha and Snoop’s Potluck Dinner Party” (VH1)
Talk about the hostess with the mostest. Olko conceived a reality series that is at once easily defined by its title and a complete head-scratcher of an idea. Yet there’s no denying that the queen of domestic pleasures and the rap star have a rapport that makes for good TV — especially when they invite a few friends over for a bite. Olko no doubt learned how to throw a great party during her tenure a decade ago as a producer on Martha Stewart’s syndicated talk show.

Bruce Miller, Reed Morano
“The Handmaid’s Tale” (Hulu)
The TV marriage of writer, director and source material produced a phenomenal series that came out of nowhere to win the Emmy for best drama in September. Seasoned showrunner Miller excelled where others had previously failed in translating Margaret Atwood’s beloved novel to the screen. Director Morano gave it a look and feel that was as compelling as it was unsettling. With Elisabeth Moss pouring her heart and soul into the lead role, no form of tyranny could have stopped this show from bursting out in a big way.

Joe Penhall
Mindhunter” (Netflix)
Penhall had a tough line to toe with his Netflix period drama about the early days of criminal profiling, based on John E. Douglas and Mark Olshaker’s nonfiction book of the same name. While the audience going into the series came armed with years of knowledge about how criminal investigations and interrogations were supposed to work, the characters in the show were just figuring out many of those specifics for the first time. Penhall delicately wove together tales of both the criminals and the cops to paint rich portraits of the people behind the crimes.

Sarah Watson
The Bold Type” (Freeform)
Watson shined a light on the best parts of female friendship in this Freeform drama that centers on three young women working at a fashion magazine. But what made the take on the story even more refreshing was that the women’s female boss was always one who liked to lift them up, rather than put them down, Miranda Priestly-style. The show gave a voice to tough topics that ranged from getting tested for the BRCA gene to deportation to speaking out against sexual assault but always did so under the comforting — and empowering — umbrella of sisterhood.

Lena Waithe
Master of None” (Netflix), “The Chi” (Showtime)
Waithe has seen her multi-faceted career skyrocket this year with a writing Emmy win for her work on Aziz Ansari’s “Master of None” — a milestone first win in the category for a black woman. But Waithe was already on her way, having sold the drama series “The Chi” to Showtime (it’s set to bow Jan. 7). She’s gone from staff writer to series creator in just a few years, and there is clearly more to come.

Pete Holmes
Crashing” (HBO)
Yet another show about a guy struggling to make it in showbiz? Thanks to creator and star Holmes, “Crashing” turned into a pleasant surprise. The show offered an endearing look at a sad sack who is determined to pursue his dream of becoming a standup comedy star, even if he doesn’t exactly have a steady place to sleep most nights. Holmes knows whereof he speaks as a veteran comic and writer. Hopefully, he’ll stick around on this piece of floor for awhile.

Brit Marling and Zal Batmanglij
The OA” (Netflix)
Actress Marling demonstrated her vision as a creator with this unsual series about a blind woman who disappears for seven years, only to return with her sight restored. “The OA” co-creator Batmanglij also rose the challenge, with limited TV experience, of directing all eight episodes and co-writing several with Marling. The hard work was rewarded with a second season order and a Writers Guild nomination for the series pilot episode, “Homecoming.”

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