Magazine Feature / People

Alumnus gets dream job in Hollywood

photo portrait

Jim Gray

Jim Gray is living a story straight out of Hollywood. Actually, straight into Hollywood.

The University of Denver graduate has parlayed good luck, hard work and perseverance into what legions of star-struck writers only dream of: a full-time writing position for a network show that’s earning critical acclaim.

“This just doesn’t happen,” Gray says. “And it just happened to me.”

When ABC’s new comedy/drama Pushing Daisies debuts in October, Gray (BA communication and psychology ’03) will be on board as a staff writer.

Gray, 26, took his degree and his dreams of writing to Los Angeles right after graduation. He figured he’d get a job waiting tables while hunting for a writing gig. Instead, he went weeks without work, living off credit cards. He was about to give up when he got a job at a Beverly Hills restaurant.

“I didn’t have any money saved. I didn’t have a place to live. I just came out here cold turkey,” he says.

Finally, he got a job as low-level assistant on a reality show. He started out running errands and cleaning out the fridge but rose to an assistant level where he helped with paperwork required to get the show on the air. 

In 10 weeks, it was over. 

“I went back to Denver. It was a discouraging experience, and I was ready to do something else,” he says.

Gray was about to join the Marines when he decided to head back to Los Angeles for the two months he still had on his apartment lease. Two weeks before the lease expired, Gray says he started packing.

A fraternity brother helped him get a job as an assistant on the CBS’ drama Crossing Jordan, a show about a crime-solving coroner. Much of what he did involved contacting experts to make sure the plots made sense medically.

And he kept writing on the side. When he submitted his script for a Jordan episode, it was accepted. He got a writing credit for an episode this past spring. Even more important, he got an offer to come back as a full-time writer for the 2007–08 season.

Then the show got canceled, and Gray was out of a job. Again.

Almost immediately, Executive Producer Bryan Fuller offered him a job as a writer’s assistant on Pushing Daisies. Gray’s job was to sit in a big conference room as writers tossed out plot ideas. He compiled the ideas into notes for the next day. The hours were long, with meetings from 10 a.m.–6 p.m., followed by more hours at the computer compiling and rewriting late into the night.

This past spring, Fuller asked him to outline a script, take the ideas and make a rough draft episode. When Gray stayed up all night and turned in a full script, Fuller liked what he saw. Challenged to do it again, on an even tighter deadline, Gray turned out another script.

“I came into work one morning in June, and the producers ask me to come into the office. I’m thinking ‘Hey, maybe a better parking place?’” Gray says. 

Even better, a staff writing position. 

That, Gray says, just never happens.

“I have friends who have been assistants for 15 years,” he says. “This is unbelievable.”

TV Guide’s Matt Roush says Daisies is his favorite new fall show and predicts it will be a big hit, raving: “Diving into this enchanting show is like gorging on a delicious dessert with each bite giving off a new and unexpected pleasure.”

The show is about a kind young man who can bring things back to life with one touch, and with a second touch, send the reanimated person back to the great beyond forever. For Gray, the quality of the story and the crew he’s working with (including director Barry Sonnenfeld, who produced and directed Men in Black) is exciting. 

But if he’s learned anything in Hollywood, Gray says it’s that if anything can go wrong, it will, and he’s never far from unemployment.

He’s holding on to his old apartment and his Dodge Neon, with no plans for fancy upgrades just yet.

Pushing Daisies
debuts Oct. 3 on ABC. To see a preview go to

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