A Match Made in Medford
Two superstars of the film and television world share a Tufts connection—as well as a marriage.
Medford/Somerville, Mass. [04.08.10] Todd Kessler (A'80) and Sharon Hall (J'86) occupy a unique place in the extended family of the Communications and Media Studies program at the Experimental College. Though both would likely scoff at the term, they are indeed a superstar couple, sharing impressive resumes that include writing and producing for both television and film.
Kessler got his start in television producing with CBS and Scholastic. Later, he shifted to writing, working on shows including ABC's "The Practice," NBC's "Crossing Jordan" ("I made sure that Tufts was prominently featured in the main character's story," he says) and CBS' "The Unit." He is now co-executive producer on the CBS drama series "The Good Wife," starring Julianna Margulies.
Hall bookended her time as vice president of programming at BBDO Worldwide Advertising-where one of her projects, "Rock the Vote," won a duPont-Columbia Award for excellence-with two stints developing TV series for MGM Television. She is currently executive vice president of Sony Entertainment, overseeing production of such shows as "Damages,""Breaking Bad" and "Rescue Me."
We spoke with them about their careers and their Tufts roots:
How did you meet?
Todd: We actually met at a cocktail party thrown by Tufts alum Jon Tisch, for those of us in the media (before the CMS program existed). Sharon was looking for a new job and I was looking to hire a new staff person at Scholastic Productions. We took an immediate disinterest in each other. It took many months -- and Sol Gittleman's uberpresence -- to bring us together. Sharon didn't take the job because I had a bigger agenda. We married two years later.
Sharon: At the time we met Todd was a TV production executive and I was a writer. Today, I am the production executive at Sony Television, and Todd is a writer. We have both hopscotched between producing and writing roles in our careers, often blurring the lines between the separate functions. It helps us both to understand how the "other side" thinks.
Todd, your television credits seem to be split down the middle between writing and producing. Can you talk for a moment about each role, how they differ and relate, and whether you have a preference?
Todd: As a writer in television, producing comes with the territory. Unlike feature films where the director has the final say on most creative matters, writers in television have the last word. For me, producing is a writer's way of protecting the original vision for the script. Writing is a solitary, internal experience. Producing is the opposite. Producing is all
about working with others to collectively see what you see in the story. Both are crucial and use different parts of my brain. Hopefully, both parts work well together.
Sharon, you come from a family that's enjoyed great success in both the television and film industries. What was it like growing up in that environment and how did it impact your career? (For the uninitiated, Sharon's father, Monty, is none other than the famed game show host/producer, most notably of "Let's Make a Deal" from 1963 to 1986).
Sharon: My father was very good about keeping his work life and his family life separate. Living in Beverly Hills we were generally protected from the culture of celebrity. No one in chicken outfits showed up at our front door looking for a game show host. My father mostly emphasized hard work and giving back to others. Those values stayed with me
more than anything else.
Has your involvement in the writing and production fields ever led the two of you to collaborate on the same projects? If not, do you ever utilize each other's talents for creative input, or do you often find yourselves working independently of one another?
Todd: We worked together briefly on a short-lived drama series called "The Cape" about astronauts. Sharon was the executive and I was one of the writers. We also wrote a screenplay together -- which wasn't the easiest collaboration. We work best together when we have a separation of labor. Sharon is very good at giving criticism and I am used to receiving it! Seriously, we bring different skills to the creative process and usually they connect well. We also share a very similar sensibility.
What are you working on currently?
Sharon: Todd and I are currently developing a television pilot based on Boston's own Robert Parker and his Spenser series of detective novels. Sony is the studio, TNT is the network. Steven Spielberg's Dreamworks is the producer and Todd is the writer/executive producer. That's a lot of pedigree going in. We are very hopeful about its prospects. We'll
Our records indicate that you were at Tufts at different times (class of '80 (Todd) and '86 (Sharon), respectively). Did you ever cross paths while at Tufts?
Sharon: Aside from introducing us through the New York Tufts Alumni Association, we have an eerie coincidence in that Todd's dorm room in Bartol House became my Torn Ticket office! We were in the exact same space every day, only six years apart.
Interview by John Ciampa, Staff Assistant, Communications and Media Studies Program