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Melissa Rosenberg: From 'Twilight' to 'Red Widow' TV show runner

A TV and screenwriter who labored for years on various shows and found her niche with 'Dexter,' Rosenberg is happy to be in the lead on ABC's 'Red Widow.'

March 09, 2013|By Nicole Sperling, Los Angeles Times
  • Melissa Rosenberg, screenwriter for the "Twilight" movies, is the show runner for ABC's "Red Widow."
Melissa Rosenberg, screenwriter for the "Twilight" movies,… (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles…)

For years Melissa Rosenberg toiled away as a TV writer, jumping from one show to the next, never finding the right fit for her voice and personality. Then she landed on Showtime's "Dexter" and the combination of her dark sense of humor and the show's edgy story lines melded together in a frothy mixture of critical acclaim and avid viewership. Rosenberg was on the Emmy-winning show for four years, convinced it was the best job she would ever have in television.

Until now.

The 50-year-old writer-producer, now best known for her screenwriting work on the wildly successful "Twilight" movie franchise, is the show runner behind ABC's new female-driven series "Red Widow." From the moment the studio brought Rosenberg the original Dutch series "Pinoza," she knew she had to be a part of it.

"At its center is a mother of three who is making some very morally ambiguous decisions. She is flawed and complex and she screws up," said Rosenberg, during an interview in her office on the Disney lot days before the series premiere last Sunday. "Those are the stories I want to tell."

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The heavily promoted two-hour family crime soap premiered softly, to only 6.8 million viewers. Critical reaction was mixed, praising series star Radha Mitchell but criticizing the handling of the series' mixed tones.

Yet combining family politics with a crime drama was exactly the reason Rosenberg agreed to helm the project. She has spent the majority of 2012 turning the Dutch story line about a woman forced into organized crime into an American series set in the Northern California waterfront town of Sausalito.

"Red Widow" features Mitchell as Marta Walraven, the upper-class suburban housewife who must confront her family's history and her husband's dubious livelihood after he is gunned down in their driveway. The eight-episode midseason drama — a similar short-order strategy to the network's debut of "Scandal" in 2012 — tracks Marta's reluctant journey into this world and her quest to find out who killed her husband.

ABC approached Rosenberg with the high-concept drama after she completed her years as the screenwriter on the "Twilight" franchise. Rosenberg was one of the few constants on the blockbuster series that saw a revolving door of directors helming her adaptations of Stephenie Meyer's books. Though the experience on "Twilight" was a rewarding one, it reaffirmed her love of television, where the involvement in the material extends beyond turning in a final draft.

"I like TV better, there is no question," said Rosenberg, a tall blond with a confident stride and easy laugh. She's also overseeing the ABC pilot "Thunder Mountain" while she waits to see whether "Red Widow" lands a second season. "Not only do I love a writing room but as a show runner in TV, I have creative say on everything: the eyelashes, the shoes, the cut and color of the film. It's much more satisfying."

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While Rosenberg frequently served as head writer, or as a show's No. 2 employee, as she was on "Dexter," "Red Widow" marks her first time running the entire production. According to Jeremy Gold, head of creative affairs for Endemol Studios, the co-producer of "Red Widow" with ABC, Rosenberg's previous experience on "Dexter" and "Twilight" made her the proper fit for the series.

"She is able to tell real, emotional human-stakes stories inside of a construct that is a tad high-concept," said Gold. "In our case, it's not werewolves and vampires but the core philosophy is the same — make the extraordinary feel relatable."

To do so, Rosenberg used a naturalistic approach that according to her star Mitchell required an obsessive attention to detail.

"She had a clear point of view in terms of how she wanted it to look," said Mitchell. "She didn't want it overly stylized. She wanted it raw. She was constantly removing makeup from people. I think it gives it a tone where all this could have really happened."

Rosenberg found her debut as show runner both stimulating and surprising, not realizing the intense job requirements of the position until it was hers.

"I was stunned, surprised by the sheer volume of work," said Rosenberg. "You make 10 decisions just in your walk from the writer's room to the bathroom. What's incredibly thrilling about that is you are operating on all cylinders all the time. It's invigorating, magical in a lot of ways."

nicole.sperling@latimes.com

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