#GameChanger and Power Producer Courtney Kemp explains her journey to producing primetime television.
MADE: To start off, can you give us a rundown of your journey to success?
CK: Well, here’s the thing. Something interesting about that. It wasn’t smooth. I started a doctoral program in English at Columbia University. I left there after I got my Master’s and went into Magazine Journalism. When I was at GQ, I wrote an article about interracial dating. Two writers Chris Alberghini and Mike Chessler (who now run Awkward on MTV) – those guys read my article and wanted to turn into a TV show. We pitched that show at HBO when I knew nothing about TV and it didn’t go anywhere. But, what was nice is that I realized that’s what I wanted to do – I wanted to write for TV. I went back to New York, I worked at the J.Crew catalogue (writing the catalogue) and I worked at Origins doing makeup and facials. I wrote and then I went back out for staffing season the next year. I got nothing. Went on a bunch of interviews, I had an agent at that time so I was very lucky because they are the same one I have now. I flew back. We laugh about this now, but I got an interview with the TV show Girlfriends and I flew back out the same night to meet with Mara Brock Akil, who didn’t end up hiring me.
MADE: It definitely sounds like a roller coaster ride. How did it pick steam?
CK: [laughs] So, fail, fail, fail. I ended up writing a “spec” for Bernie Mac. That spec got me a meeting on The Bernie Mac Show. But in that interim, my (then) husband and I decided that I should move to California. Moved to California on June 16, 2004, and I got a meeting at The Bernie Mac Show in July of that year. A month later I had a pitch meeting there, but they gave me off the script. And then they hired me. So in August of 2004, I started as a staff writer on The Bernie Mac Show. And then I got fired at the end of that season because it wasn’t very funny. And that’s okay, because that’s not what I’m supposed to be doing. I’m not supposed to be doing comedy. I’m supposed to be doing drama. So, I wrote a spec for CSI, and that spec CSI got me a job on In Justice (which is was my first drama job for the Kings [Michelle and Robert King]). And this is very important that you get this, In Justice was “that” show. The second show that I worked on and it was Robert and Michelle King who ended up hiring me for The Good Wife so many years later.