‘Dirty John’ Boss on Filling Her Office With Confidence Boosters

The writer’s office for true crime series “Dirty John” closed down after the first season, but ended up in the same space on the Universal lot for the second season. Showrunner Alexandra Cunningham set up her space for maximum comfort — including testing various couches before she found the one with the right “squishability” — as well as functionality. “Originally my [story] cards were hung on the other side of the room,” she says. But she had them moved to the wall her desk leaned against so she could just turn her head and look up to see her whole season come together.

Alexandra Cunningham Writers Office
CREDIT: Michael Buckner/Variety

Star Power
Directly across from Cunningham’s desk hangs the framed poster for the first season of “Dirty John,” featuring Eric Bana and Connie Britton. “Those two actors signed on before I had ever even written a stitch, which gives you a warm glow,” she says. Looking at the poster reminds her not only of how much fun they had during the process but also gives her a little boost of confidence, she admits, when resetting the show.

Alexandra Cunningham Writers Office
CREDIT: Michael Buckner/Variety

The Art of Darkness
In 2014 Cunningham worked on Carlton Cuse and Kerry Ehrin’s “Bates Motel.” That second season of the show just happened to the one in which the team was gifted with Hirschfeld lithographs. Both “Bates” bosses personalized messages to Cunningham on hers, which she has hung in the corner of her office. “That’s probably one of my favorite jobs,” she says, noting the room was very small, consisting of the showrunners, herself and about three other women. “It was a really entertaining energy.”

The Therapist Is Not In
Fellow showrunner Sera Gamble gifted Cunningham with a desk placard that jokingly warns those who step into her space that she is “on strike” from dealing with “emotional labor.” “I always joke that I think my showrunner style is ‘tired debutante’ because I try to always be polite and ‘Tell me, what is it? We’re going to try to fix it,’” she says. But she needs people to understand she feels the pressure, too.

Alexandra Cunningham Writers Office
CREDIT: Michael Buckner/Variety

Saved Seat
The first director’s chair back Cunningham ever received was on the set of “Prime Suspect.” It was originally, mistakenly embroidered with the words “Executive executive producer” under her name instead of simply “executive producer.” She was so “tickled” by that, she kept it and now has it hung under her other memorabilia from her time on the show, a letter from original series creator Lynda La Plante.

Alexandra Cunningham Writers Office
CREDIT: Michael Buckner/Variety

A Torch Passed by a Titan
As Cunningham was rebooting “Prime Suspect,” she received a supportive letter from La Plante that she framed to display in her office. “Lynda was so great to me in terms of passing a torch,” she says. The U.S. “Prime Suspect” was the first show Cunningham developed and then ran; it aired on NBC from 2011-12. “To get that vote of confidence, it gave me such a boost and it makes me want to be that person for other people.”

Popular on Variety

More TV

  • Ballers HBO

    'Ballers' to End After Season 5 on HBO

    “Ballers” is coming to an end after five seasons on HBO. Star and executive producer Dwayne Johnson confirmed the news via an emotional Instagram video. “My heart is full of gratitude to all of you for rocking with us every season. You made us HBO’s highest rated comedy for years and most importantly, you helped [...]

  • Sublime Primetime

    How Emmy-Nominated Writers’ Rooms Keep Politics in Mind

    In a world filled with elections, social movements and national tragedies, how open should the doors of a writers’ room actually be? For some of this year’s Emmy-nominated shows, those doors are wide open. Before the 71st annual Primetime Emmy Awards air on Sept. 22, the Writers Guild of America West and Writers Guild Foundation, [...]

  • Disney Villains Series 'Book of Enchantment'

    'Book of Enchantment' Series Based on Iconic Disney Villains Shelved at Disney Plus

    Disney Plus has decided to not move forward with “Book of Enchantment,” a series based on some of Disney’s most iconic villains, Variety has learned from sources. The news comes the day before Disney is set to unveil its streaming service at the biannual D23 convention in Anaheim. The prospective project was based on the [...]


    Brenda Blethyn to Star in New ITV Sitcom 'Kate and Kolo'

    Oscar-nominated Brenda Blethyn is set to star in the new sitcom “Kate and Kolo” for ITV, the U.K. broadcaster announced at the Edinburgh TV Festival. Blethyn takes on the title role of Kate in the comedy alongside theater and film actor Jimmy Akingbola as Kolo. Blethyn is a popular star with ITV audiences after having [...]

  • Sean Spicer Emmys

    Sean Spicer's Casting Explained? Red States Love 'Dancing With the Stars'

    ABC faced backlash this week after casting former White House press secretary Sean Spicer on “Dancing with the Stars.” But that outrage might actually spice up the dancing competition’s dwindling ratings — particularly in Trump Country. “Dancing with the Stars” has faced a relatively alarming decline in ratings over the past two cycles, falling 32% [...]

  • Peppa Pig

    Hasbro Acquires Entertainment One in $4 Billion All-Cash Deal

    Toymaker Hasbro is acquiring studio Entertainment One in an all-cash transaction valued at $4 billion, bringing My Little Pony and Nerf under the same umbrella as “Peppa Pig” and “PJ Masks” and furthering Hasbro’s growth goals in the infant and preschool categories. Hasbro aims to expand its operations in film and TV. Entertainment One’s production [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content