Traverse City Record-Eagle

Archive: Sunday

February 3, 2013

'Homeland' writer to speak

Behind the scenes of critically acclaimed show

The National Writers Series presents "An Evening with Chip Johannessen" to kick off its 2012-13 Winter/Spring season Feb. 7.

Johannessen is a veteran television writer and currently a writer and executive producer of the popular Showtime series, "Homeland."

Doug Stanton, National Writers Series founder and best-selling author, will join Johannessen on stage for the Q & A format.

"I do like talking to people about what they like about the show," Johannessen said. "It's interesting to hear what people are responding to."

The Michigan native's television writing career dates to the early 1990s, when he began working on shows that included "Beverly Hills, 90210." More recent credits include writing and producing for "Dexter" and "24." The critically acclaimed "Homeland" just finished its second season. The writing team focuses on stark realism and streamlined simplicity, he said.

"If we don't need a scene, get rid of it," he said, noting that the staff evaluates every bit of dialogue and line the same way. "We try not to be too clever, to take the writer out of it and get the sense it's really happening."

Finding success in depth reflects technological changes that have elevated serious storytelling as the hook to capture a no-longer-passive audience. The digital era with myriad devices and methods to access programming frees viewers from broadcast schedules, growing commercial breaks and linear viewing.

Audiences now want to be emotionally involved in a show and its characters. To Johannessen, this shift has invigorated the television side of the entertainment industry.

"Alternate ways of viewing mean you have to do a kind of storytelling that needs a little more tension," he said.

Writing for The Harvard Lampoon in college did not focus Johannessen's creative muse on a literary career. Instead graduation meant launching a rock band and trying to carve out a following. When that adventure fell apart and he had to earn a living, writing fell into place.

"I didn't really have any career plans after school," Johannessen said. "I just kind of stumbled into this through a series of accidents."

An Evening with Chip Johannessen runs at the City Opera House, 106 E. Front St., Traverse City on Feb. 7. Doors open at 6 p.m. for the 7 p.m. program

Tickets are $20 in advance or $25 at the door. Purchase online at www.cityoperahouse.org or by calling 941-8082

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