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Analytics Background Led to a Career in Television

  • Julie Barr
  • MIT Technology Review

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Dottie Zicklin '86 was work­ing on Wall Street when she decided she needed a change. So she drew from an interest she picked up at MITtheater.

Zicklin, pictured above, was intrigued by her first college the­ater production. Although she didn’t love acting, she became interested in writing. She wrote a one-act play about student life at MIT and received $400 to produce it in Kresge Theater. With that, she started on a path that led her to become an execu­tive producer and writer for television. “You would never imagine that studying eco­nomics at MIT is the place you’d get turned on to the­ater,” she says.

After working at Merrill Lynch for two years, Zicklin moved to California and studied script writing in a UC Davis graduate program, where an internship writ­ing for the TV show China Beach kicked off her career in television.

“For me, TV is like a novel with chapters where you can stay with the same characters for a long time,” she says.

“I like char­acters, and I felt that TV is really about characters, where film is often more about plot and spectacle.”

While economics and theater may seem drastically different, Zicklin says her analytical mind helps with successful story structure. “It’s kind of like a proof in calculus,” she says. “There are many different ways to write a script. Each script is different. It’s a new prob­lema new proof.”

Zicklin produces the TV series Younger, now in its fourth season, and has been directing for the last two years. “I was really excited to direct,” she says. “When you direct, you’re in charge of every single creative deci­sion for that episode: ward­robe, props, where you want the cameras, lights.”

As a woman who came to directing later in her career, Zicklin is enthusiastic about the future for women in that profession. “There’s sort of a tipping point here in Hollywood where they really want female directors,” she says. For example, the influential television writer and producer Ryan Murphy wants half of his directors to be female, as does NBC, she says. “I got into it late because it’s really tough to break into as a woman, but I think the younger genera­tion is really going to bust through this.”

A two-time Writers Guild of America Award nominee, Zicklin has written and pro­duced for sitcoms like Grace Under Fire, Cybill, and Caro­line in the City and was co-creator of Dharma & Greg. When she isn’t on set, she surfs and spends time with her husband, Eric, and their 14-year-old son, Evan, in Malibu, California.

 

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