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The Rockaway Times
AWriter’s Road
By Pat Morgan
Terence Winter knows how to
tell a story. And he’s been rec-
ognized for that ability.
Four Emmy Awards, a Gold-
en Globe, an Edgar (as in Allan
Poe, presented by the Mystery
Writers of America), and nu-
merous others. Even if his name
doesn’t quite ring a bell you
know his work. Those awards?
They come your way when you
write stuff like The Sopranos,
Boardwalk Empire andTheWolf
of Wall Street. But how he got to
Hollywood is a story unto itself.
As the youngest of five chil-
dren in a working-class family
from Marine Park, Brooklyn,
Winter went with the flow dur-
ing his teen years. He attended
Grady High School, a technical
school in the Brooklyn, and had
no ideawhat hewanted to do for
a career. His dream jobs ranged
from rock star to astronaut. But
he remembers a teacher, Lainie
Gilbert, who saw promise in his
writing and encouraged him to
continue with short stories.
His first venture into business
was after he graduated from
high school. Winter went into
partnership with his employer
and helped turn around a fail-
ing deli inMill Basin. But he had
a falling out with the partners,
who bought him out at the age
of 19.
It was now Christmastime
1980. Winter sat in his small
Brooklyn apartment, complete
with the sad reality that comes
with an orange shag carpet and
bad paneling. He had to do
something. A Benjamin Frank-
lin quote, “If a man empties his
purse into his head, noman can
take it away from him. An in-
vestment in knowledge always
pays the best interest,” steered
him to college.
It seemed New York Univer-
sity was a popular school and a
good place to start. He had not
taken the SATs and the only way
he figured he could enroll was to
select an obscure major. So he
chose Medieval Religion, which
the only thing he knew about
from that era was The Knights
of the Round Table. He eventu-
ally settled on Political Science,
History and Journalism classes.
Although NYU had a renowned
institute of film and television,
the idea of working in that field
was far off his radar.
Besides attending college full
time, Winter worked full time
at night to support himself. He
held various jobs during that
period, including a position as
security guard at the Lutheran
Medical Center in Brooklyn and
delivering the New York Times
in Mill Basin. During his last
two years at NYU, he landed a
job as a doorman on the Upper
East Side, which allowed him to
study and write his papers for
He was a doorman but he’d
long had dreams of being the
guy adoormanheld thedoor for.
As a teenager, he would wander
around the Kings Plaza mall,
specifically the upscale furni-
ture department in Macy’s. This
provided motivation to keep
pushing forward. He believed
the only two professions that
would make money involved
medical or legal. Since being a
doctor was out of the question,
he opted for law school. But a
seed may have been planted
as a journalism professor, Jerry
Schwartz, wrote a letter of rec-
ommendation for Winter, but
it also included a private note
encouraging him to become a
Winter enrolled in Saint
John’s University Law School,
graduating in 1988, but with
an ever-growing pile of student
debt. He went on to graduate,
and pass the NewYork State and
Connecticut Bar exams.
He landed a job in Merrill
Lynch’s legal department in the
World Financial Center in lower
Manhattan. Winter was present
for the stock market crash on
October 19, 1987, ironically the
same day that Jordan Belfort
(Wolf of Wall Street) was laid off
from L.F. Rothschild, down the
At that point, Winter was in-
terested in an Assistant District
Attorney job in Brooklyn. But
being $75,000 in debt at this
point, he opted for work at an-
other law firm offering higher
pay but a fairly certain road to
The dreary prospect made
him ask himself, “What would
you like to do?” The answer
was screenwriting. So, he sold
everything and moved to Los
Angeles, sight unseen.
The new, unfamiliar Los An-
geles sparked creativity and
drive. He finally had purpose
and passion. He consumed
every book on screenwriting
and read every sitcom script
he could find. In order to get in
the game, a successful sitcom
screenwriter needs to be able to
write for a variety of characters.
Winter wrote a sample episode,
or “spec” of the showHome Im-
provement. He watched every
episode and deconstructed
them scene by scene in order to
write a sample script.
Sharpening his writing skills
was one thing, making neces-
sary connections another. He
found out that a law school
classmate from St. John’s, Doug
Viviano, was bonded as a Holly-
wood agent so he with Doug’s
permission, created an agency
under his name.
Even with this new connec-
tion, Winter continued to feel
the pressure of a ticking career
clock. He was 30 with nothing
to show for it. He started taking
his work to every production lot
in LA, under the guise of a mes-
senger from the Doug Viviano
Agency. At least this way the
scripts made it into the building
and had a chance of being read.
Then one Friday afternoon,
the phone for the Agency rang
and an Executive Producer from
the television showFresh Prince
of Bel Air was on the other end
looking for Doug. Since Doug
was in New York and it was after
hours, Winter pretended he was
Doug and agreed to provide the
Producer with another sample
script, this one for The Wonder
Years, working non-stop from
Friday night through Tuesday,
cranking out an episode. He
fortunately received a call back
and sold them on an idea.
The Fresh Prince opportunity
didn’t go anywhere, but two of
the show’s producers took no-
tice of Winter and later hired
him for the series “Sister, Sister,”
a 1994 sitcom. Around that time,
Warner Brothers held a sitcom
writer’s workshop, where only
15 candidates were selected out
of a pool of over 2000. Winter
was one of the 15 selected for
this ten-week program that fea-
tured a different speaker every
week to broaden the attendees’
Winter’s first staff job was on
the Fox series The Great De-
fender, which starred Michael
Rispoli, who later played the
role of Jackie Aprile on the So-
pranos. There was also anoth-
er Sopranos connection when
he met writer Frank Renzulli,
Terence Winter
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