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‘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.”

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