DU Alumni / Magazine Feature / People

“Brothers and Sisters” writer draws on DU theater degree

When Molly Newman was a theater major at DU, it never occurred to her how her acting training would prepare her for a career behind the scenes.

Newman (BA theater ’76), currently a writer and executive producer for the ABC drama “Brothers and Sisters,” finds that having a grasp of acting technique makes her job easier.

“As a producer, I work with these powerhouse actors every day, so it’s important for me to understand their process as artists — what they need to interpret the scene correctly, how they can emotionally make the journey from point A to point B in an honest and compelling way,” she says.

The show, which debuted in 2006, is a character-driven family drama with one of the most celebrated casts on television, including Sally Field, Calista Flockhart, Rachel Griffiths, Rob Lowe and Ken Olin. Now in its fourth season, “Brothers and Sisters” averages more than 9 million viewers each Sunday.

Newman says that when she’s writing, she needs to get inside every character’s head, understand their point of view, and know what they want. These are the first steps she learned as a student actor when approaching a new character: What does my character want in this scene? What is the conflict or obstacle standing in the way of getting what I want? What is my point of view?

“We have a large ensemble on our show, and sometimes I’m writing scenes with 10 or more characters,” Newman says. “The challenge is knowing from moment to moment what each character is thinking as well as what he or she is saying.”

Newman has been a writer on “Brothers and Sisters” since the beginning of its run on ABC. Her colleagues credit her with helping establish the voice and tone of the show.

“Her diverse acting background instantly makes her a better writer for TV,” says David Marshall Grant, executive producer and showrunner of the hit series. “TV lives or dies on dialogue and Molly can go from drama to comedy on a dime.”

Over her career, Newman has written for other series, including “Frasier,” “The Larry Sanders Show” and “Murphy Brown.” She traces the start of her writing career to a time just after she graduated from DU.

The Denver Center Theatre Company (DCTC) was auditioning local actors and Newman prepared an unusual audition piece adapted from oral histories of 19th and early 20th century women who quilted. The audition led to an invitation to expand the material into a full-length play and eventually led her to a career as a playwright.

Her efforts became the musical Quilters. Originally produced by the DCTC in 1982, the play ran on Broadway in 1984 and was nominated for six Tony Awards. Quilters became one of the most produced musicals in America and was revived by the DCTC this year.

“I’ve reinvented myself more than once — from actor to playwright to television producer and writer,” she says. “For me, each experience informs the next one. I don’t think I could have landed in this career place without going through the various steps along the way. And I hope there are more to come — I’m always invigorated by a new challenge.”

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