Julie Hébert is an award-winning playwright and a television writer, director, and producer. She began her career in the San Francisco theater world, and her plays have been produced across the country and won many honors, including two PEN awards for drama.
In the late 1990’s, a meeting with producer John Wells led her to television, where she has written, directed, and produced episodes for such popular shows as ER, The West Wing, Third Watch, Nashville, and The Good Wife among others. Julie is currently an executive producer, writer, and director on ABC’s American Crime.
Julie shared stories of her early theater days, and how her very first directing experience - in a directing class - was an AHA! moment for the rest of her career.
We talked about the break John Wells gave her (and other women and minorities) with a program he started that allowed her to shadow tv directors in order to learn the ropes. At the end of program, you got to direct one of Wells’ shows - at the time this was ER and Third Watch. It was a breakthrough experience. After much hesitation, Julie ended up in the writers’ room for Third Watch, despite not knowing much about first responders in New York City. But she found the process of character and storytelling to be the same as her days working in theater, and instantly felt at home in her new position.
I asked Julie a lot of questions about HOW and WHY episodic television has a different writer and different director for each episode. She does a great job explaining the process, the jobs, and who gets what credit. This is a quick education in behind-the-scenes scripted tv.
Naturally, we talked a bit about the lack of female directors working in Hollywood, and Julie shared a few stories about the treatment she has received as a woman in her role as a director.
Cut from the final audio, Julie told me about this site if you want to read more (funny/depressing) stories about discrimination against female directors. And here's an article from Vanity Fair about that site and why it matters.
One of my favorite stories Julie tells is about Dr. Green from ER. The scene she describes is nearly 20 years old, but I still remembered it. This is what it like to make such compelling tv: you are influencing the thoughts and actions of those who are invested in these shows. Julie holds the responsibility well.
Another responsibility that Julie has taken on is the Look What She Did! project, which she created to highlight stellar women both past and present. It’s a simple idea: amazing women talking about amazing women, but it has caught on with universities and online, and their dreams are big for where the Look What She Did! videos might go. You can browse and share them here.
Julie’s choice for a book that has made an impact on her life marks the first time that I have cried making this podcast. She reads a passage from No Author Better Served that brought us both to tears.
I loved this conversation with Julie Hebert, not just for the interesting things I learned about writing/producing/directing television, but because of the heart and spirit that she brings to the work. This is an episode I’ll be thinking about for months.
Remember to follow Smartest Person in the Room on Facebook, and sign up for our weekly emails with details and news about each episode.