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‘Mrs. Maisel’ Creator Amy Sherman-Palladino Honed Her Writing Skills on ‘Roseanne’

Last year Amy Sherman-Palladino, creator of “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” made Emmy history with wins for both comedy writing and directing, becoming the first woman to achieve that double. On July 16, her show, a ’50s period piece starring Rachel Brosnahan as an up-and-coming comedian in New York, was nominated for 20 Emmys, including outstanding comedy series. Sherman-Palladino also created the hit comedy-drama “Gilmore Girls,” which, despite winning just one Emmy, was a fan favorite for its depiction of a young single mother raising a daughter; its rapid-fire dialogue was filled with pop culture references, a Sherman-Palladino signature.

Her big break came in 1990 on “Roseanne.” There, she co-wrote the episode “A Bitter Pill to Swallow,” which tackled the issue of birth control and earned Sherman-Palladino her first Emmy nomination — the only writing nod “Roseanne” received in its 10-season run. For Sherman-Palladino, it was a sign of things to come.

You took the “Roseanne” job over a callback for “Cats.” Did you make the right choice?

It was a callback for the road company of “Cats,” not even Broadway. I was a dancer, so I thought I should take the gig that I trained for. I probably made the right choice. Writing was not a world I was even remotely contemplating. I didn’t know how to use a computer. I had to learn in my first year at “Roseanne.” My writing partner Jennifer Heath did all the typing, so I had to learn to type.

What made you take that leap?

It just so happened that it coincided with Roseanne firing everyone from the year before. The new staff had no girls, and they needed people who could write for teenagers and menstruated so they could understand a good period joke. It was about six months after we wrote spec scripts, and I got a call from Jennifer, and she said we got on “Roseanne,” and I’m like, “I have my callback on Tuesday [for ‘Cats’]. What if I get that?” She said, “Don’t go! We have to be at work on Monday!” I didn’t even have time to process the fact that my life had taken a major shift. And I never had to put toe shoes on again, and my ass would be chair-shaped for the rest of my life.

Was there pushback on writing an episode about birth control?

Roseanne was specific about doing things that were true to the characters. Maybe it wasn’t what the studio wanted us to write about, but it was a natural extension of a girl in her first serious love. I give a lot of credit to Bob Myer, who was executive producer. He probably felt this was the script that was going to have eyes on it, and he didn’t give it to one of the upper-level men. He gave it to the two female writers on staff that he felt would be most in tune with the subject. That was an amazing gift that he gave us.

What did you learn from “Roseanne” that you brought to your later shows?

Always make the big small and the small big. And it’s not about the plot, it’s about the people. That’s what “Gilmore” always was, and I feel the same way with “Maisel.” It’s a bigger show conceptually than “Gilmore” because you’re in a time when women had different obstacles to overcome than they do now, even though a lot of the obstacles are still the same, unfortunately. The truth of what the characters are feeling has to be the most important thing you put out there. I learned that on “Roseanne,” and I’ve taken it with me through my entire career. 

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