When Lauren Schmidt, Wittenberg University class of 2000, came to Wittenberg, she imagined pursuing a degree in psychology. Even after she changed her major to English during her sophomore year, she never envisioned herself living in California, writing for popular television shows.
Fast forward to 2008, and that's exactly where Schmidt finds herself. Formerly a writer for the award-winning NBC show, West Wing, Schmidt has hooked on with a new hit show, ABC's Private Practice. A co-producer of the show, Schmidt's words will come to life on the show when the first episode she wrote airs at 9 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 21.
"It's not a career path I'd ever considered before – I had plans to go to grad school, get my MFA, and teach creative writing," Schmidt said. "But sitting in a producer's office in Los Angeles, I started reading the first few scripts of West Wing. It hadn't even started shooting yet. They were simply words on a page, but I was entranced."
Schmidt entered the realm of television writing the summer between her junior and senior years at Wittenberg, when she served as an intern on West Wing. After graduation, she worked on the show for six years as a writer's assistant and researcher, and she had her first solo episode of West Wing air in 2004. In 2003, she was nominated for a Writers Guild of America award for an episode that she co-wrote.
"During production, the writer is on set – working with the director, actors and departments to make sure the vision of the script is being carried out," Schmidt said. "It's one of the most exciting parts of being a writer – seeing your words come to life."
Recently Schmidt has found herself in another place that she never thought she would be – picketing with the Writers Guild of America over the issue of new media.
"Industry experts agree that in the next two to five years, most American televisions will be connected via the Internet. The problem is, media conglomerates propose that there be no Writers Guild jurisdiction over Internet media, even though likely all television will be transmitted this way," Schmidt explained. "So the companies will start making a great deal of money by broadcasting television shows on the Internet, and the writers will get none of that money."
Smith added that the strike has affected her writing.
"The only writing I can do in my free time is personal," she said. "So far, I haven't been able to sit back down at my computer. It doesn't quite feel right. I am pouring all my time and energy into fighting for this cause I believe in – and I don't want to ‘benefit' from my free time yet."
Schmidt learned a lot from the experience and recognizes the valuable education that she received from West Wing writers Aaron Sorkin and John Wells.
"Dialogue had never been my strong suit in writing, so I saw this as the ultimate learning experience. Aaron Sorkin wrote dialogue the way I tried to write prose – full of rhythm and life," she said.
Schmidt credits her professors and mentors at Wittenberg with helping her to find and develop her passion for writing.
"I had the good fortune of having Dr. Robin Inboden as a professor and my adviser; and I squeezed my way into an upper-level creative writing course with Dr. Susannah Mintz. Those two women really influenced my desire to pursue English and creative writing," she said.
Schmidt also credits Wittenberg's Writing Center with her success in the field.
"Maureen Fry flawlessly taught me the ins and outs of peer review; of writing as a team; of working with a group toward a common goal, publishing the Spectrum journal," she said. "These are lessons I use again and again in the writers' rooms of West Wing and Private Practice."