By Christina Gray
Eric Shaw’s ’03 path to becoming an Emmy-winning writer has been a circuitous one. It began in 1994, when he crammed everything he owned into his Toyota Corolla and drove from Jericho, N.Y. to Los Angeles, Calif. to pursue a career in screenwriting. With no job secured, he relied solely on a friend’s reference, which allowed him to rent an apartment. He wasted no time, however, and began diligently faxing his resume to more than 200 production companies.
Only one company responded—Wapello Productions, then owned by Tom and Roseanne Arnold—and at the interview, he was hired on the spot. One year later, with Tom Arnold’s help, Shaw landed a position as a production assistant at FOX, where he served his time making coffee runs and photocopying scripts. It all paid off when he was offered the chance to write his own script for an episode of FOX’s Secret Service Guy.
“It is a very small business, and there is no better recommendation for a gig than from someone your prospective bosses know and like. But I was finally offered the script because I begged! To succeed in Hollywood, you must be persistent,” Shaw said.
After a few years in the business, Shaw realized that opportunities in his niche industry were dwindling as the reality television phenomenon took off. With his first child on the way, he decided to step away from the uncertain world of sitcom writing and applied to GS with the intention of going into law or medicine.
Upon matriculating in the spring of 2001, Shaw supported himself by working a staggering 70 hours per week as a facilities manager at a stock footage company in downtown Manhattan. He also found time to write for the Columbia Spectator while completing a bachelor’s degree in political science with a focus on constitutional law.
After graduating in the spring of 2003, Shaw was looking for work while he applied to law school, and reached out to his former boss at FOX. After following up on several referrals, he eventually found himself on the phone with the executive producer of the animated series SpongeBob SquarePants, who said he would be looking for a writer in a few months and would call back. Shaw never expected to hear from him again, but three months later the phone rang.
Shaw seized the opportunity to dive back into writing, but it required some sacrifices because the Nickelodeon office was located in Burbank, Calif., and his children were living in Long Island, N.Y. at the time. To balance his career with parenthood, Shaw flew home more than 40 weekends of each year.
“I would take the Burbank to JFK red-eye Friday night, and then I’d be back at JFK for a 6 a.m. return flight on Monday. I just couldn’t stand being away from my kids,” Shaw said.
When his role at Nickelodeon concluded, Shaw’s agent found him a job as a head writer with the PBS animated series WordGirl, a show in its fifth season intended to expand children’s vocabularies. Shaw was nominated for, and eventually won, an Emmy award for outstanding writing in animation at the 40th Annual Creative Arts Daytime Emmy Awards on June 14, 2013.
Lately, Shaw’s focus has been shifting from children’s programming to live action drama, and he hopes to write the next Breaking Bad. He is also currently a visiting instructor at Colorado College in Colorado Springs, Colo., where he teaches a course in basic screenwriting.
“So many professors, like Brigitte Nacos in the Political Science Department at Columbia, have had a profound effect on my life. If I can make that sort of impact on someone else’s life, I want to do it,” Shaw said.