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Billion-Dollar Kiss: The Kiss that Saved Dawson's Creek and Other Adventures in TV Writing

Billion-Dollar Kiss: The Kiss that Saved Dawson's Creek and Other Adventures in TV Writing

by Jeffrey Stepakoff

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When Jeffrey Stepakoff was graduating with an MFA in playwriting, he imagined a life in the New York theater, wearing a beret and smoking clove cigarettes. Writing for the "boob tube" didn’t even cross his mind. But he ended up in L.A. in the late 80’s, when television writers were experiencing their equivalent of a gold rush. After the billion- dollar


When Jeffrey Stepakoff was graduating with an MFA in playwriting, he imagined a life in the New York theater, wearing a beret and smoking clove cigarettes. Writing for the "boob tube" didn’t even cross his mind. But he ended up in L.A. in the late 80’s, when television writers were experiencing their equivalent of a gold rush. After the billion- dollar syndication of Seinfeld, when studios were paying astronomical amounts of money to writers to create the next Friends or ER, the sudden mania for scripted entertainment made the TV writer a hot commodity. He found himself meeting with big agents, inside primetime story rooms, pitch meetings, and on the set of some of TVs most popular shows, and making more money than he’d ever thought possible.

Weaving his personal story with television’s, Stepakoff takes us behind the scenes to show what it’s like to have a story idea one week and see it come to life and be seen by millions of people just a week later. Stepakoff also takes us inside the industry to explain what we’re watching and why by exploring the growing problems of media consolidation, the effects of interference from executives, the lack of diversity, and what reality television is doing to quality scripted television.

When the market crashed and the dust settled, TV executives and the media conglomerates they worked for were sitting on a broken business model. Slowly, a new programming idea began to take hold—what if the writer and their salaries were removed from the equation? Reality TV was born and the TV writer suddenly became obsolete— at least temporarily.

Editorial Reviews

Juan Carlos Coto
Call it 'Adventures in the Small Screen Trade,' a memoir with insight into history, culture and business. Billion-Dollar Kiss tells its story with everything we strive for in great TV -- some great lines, cool twists, and the one thing we don't always achieve -- truth. (Juan Carlos Coto, Writer-producer, NCIS, Invasion, The Pretender, The Dead Zone)
Jill Soloway
Everything, everything, everything I would tell someone who wants to be a TV writer is in this book-- the good stuff, the bad stuff, the sad stuff, juicy details, actual dollar amounts, names and gossip, plus all the real-time advice you can truly use. Plus, there's something even more important holding it all together-- Jeffrey Stepakoff's heartfelt, hilarious journey through the TV biz. Next time someone asks me if they can pick my brain I'll recommend this book first. (Jill Soloway, Co-executive Producer, Six Feet Under)
Naren Shankar
For a business with all-too-short a memory, Stepakoff has provided a funny and insightful chronicle of how we got where we are today. The only way you could learn more about the business of writing for TV would be by writing for TV. (Naren Shankar, Executive Producer/Co-Showrunner, CSI: Crime Scene Investigation)
Dana Coen
Episodic TV is lucky to have someone as intelligent and even-handed as Jeffrey Stepakoff sorting its laundry. Richly detailed, dead-on-accurate and painfully amusing. I'm a 'big fan!' (Dana Coen, Co-Executive producer and writer on Bones, NCIS and JAG)
Loraine Despres
Jeffrey Stepakoff tells the 'true truth.' More than a memoir, BILLION- DOLLAR KISS gives the reader a history of the business of television from the heady days of the late eighties until today. It's an indispensable book for not only for anyone thinking about writing for TV, but for seasoned writers wondering what's happening to their careers. (Loraine Despres, author of The Bad Behavior of Belle Cantrell, The Scandalous Summer of Sissy LeBlanc and former TV writer)
Publishers Weekly

From 1988 until 2004, Stepakoff led a charmed life. A co-executive producer of Dawson's Creekand a writer on Major Dadand The Wonder Years, among other shows, he achieved his lifelong dream: working in television. The 1990s were the glory days, Stepakoff says, when big money was thrown at everyone. Armed with an M.F.A. from Carnegie-Mellon and several key Hollywood contacts, Stepakoff parlayed youth, ambition and luck into gigs on several shows—both as a writer and producer—netting himself a fortune in the process. He details the money, the madness and the industry in his memoir, in which, along the way, he explains how to break in, how the industry works (from development deals and pilots to bona fide hits) what agents do and why. He chronicles the people and the experience, admitting there is nothing "more intoxicating than making TV shows every week," and noting that a successful show can demand 16-hour workdays to churn out 22 episodes a season. He also explains how, with the advent of reality TV, the party ended. Would-be TV writers will crave these behind-the-scenes details of a writer's life—even if that life no longer exists. (May)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Library Journal

Arriving in Hollywood in 1988 at the dawn of the "Second Golden Age of Television," aspiring screenwriter Stepakoff soon hit it big, winning jobs on such popular television shows as The Wonder Yearsand, later, Dawson's Creek. Along with thousands of other young writers, he raked in the cash as studios rushed to outbid each other and sign exclusive deals with hot new talent. As Stepakoff explains in his first book, it was like a gold rush. Eventually, however, with the rise of cheaply produced reality television and game shows like Who Wants To Be a Millionaire?, the industry would fundamentally change. Stepakoff blends his personal story into a larger narrative of the television industry during this time period, the result of which is a choppy but mainly readable autobiography and an informal history of television over the past two decades. Although he sometimes digresses into fits of name- or salary-dropping, the book will entice media watchers and aspiring television writers with its behind-the-scenes insight on a productive time in Hollywood. Suitable for public libraries as well as performing arts collections in academic libraries.
—John Helling

Kirkus Reviews
A veteran TV writer/producer recounts how he got lucky and made an obscene amount of money during Hollywood's go-go '80s and '90s. Few would deny that Stepakoff is one of the luckier people in television: To have nabbed as much work and earned as much money as he has-as a writer, no less-practically implies the presence of a watchful higher power. Fortunately, his upbeat, smiley memoir is very mindful of this fact, and the author rarely tries to play the sympathy card. His narrative bounces amiably from getting an MFA in playwriting at Carnegie Mellon to scoring extremely fortuitous meetings with powerhouse TV writers and producers like Steven Bochco and John Wells. Stepakoff moved up easily from well-connected intern to writer, working on shows including The Wonder Years and Dawson's Creek. The text frequently reads like a speech to prospective TV scribes, laying out the mechanics of residual payments and explaining Hollywood's intricate social hierarchy. A little of this goes quite a long way, especially as Stepakoff seems more interested in chronicling the massive amounts of money shoveled out to writers in the days before reality TV (Fox paid one guy $2.5 million a year just to "think funny") than he is in discussing how exactly he churned out all that dialogue. The emphasis on personal wealth feels a touch unseemly after a while, and the lazy, arbitrary story arc will leave many readers too listless to care.

Product Details

Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
Sold by:
Penguin Group
File size:
421 KB
Age Range:
18 Years

Meet the Author

Jeffrey Stepakoff was raised in Atlanta, Georgia. He attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill where he received a BA in Journalism. In 1988, the day after getting his MFA in Playwriting from Carnegie Mellon, he drove to Hollywood where he began writing for film and television.

Stepakoff has written for fourteen different TV series, including the Emmy-winning THE WONDER YEARS, SISTERS, and DAWSON'S CREEK where he was Co-Executive Producer. He has also created and developed pilots for many of the major studios and networks, including 20th Century, Paramount, MTM, Fox, and ABC. And he has developed and written major motion pictures, including Disney's TARZAN and BROTHER BEAR.

A few years ago Stepakoff began pursuing his long-held dream of writing fiction. FIREWORKS OVER TOCCOA, a SIBA Okra Pick and an Indie Next List Notable, is his first novel. Stepakoff's second novel, THE ORCHARD, comes out in July 2011. His fiction is available now in six languages.

Presently, Stepakoff lives in Atlanta with his wife and three young children, and is working on his third novel for St. Martin's Press. In his spare time, he builds forts in living room with sofa cushions.

Join him at: www.facebook.com/JeffreyStepakoff

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