By Judith Ohikuare and Danielle Kam
Women are taking over your television in inspiring ways. You've obsessed over their work — now binge on their leadership lessons.
Watson, creator of the upcoming Freeform scripted series Issues (inspired by the life of Cosmo's editor-in-chief, Joanna Coles), dreamed of being an English teacher … until she took a college film class. Taking every opportunity — she read scripts for a production company, was a writer's assistant on That's So Raven, and sold freelance scripts — landed her a network job.
1. How to cope with nonstop job change. "Before Parenthood, I was on staff at four shows in a row that were canceled after one season. I started to think I was the black widow of television. Those early years can be frustrating, so having a support network of peers is huge. Once a month, I meet to write with a group of writer friends. We invite actors to read the parts aloud. Even when things are hard and you're not selling your work, hearing something you created be spoken out loud helps you feel like you've accomplished something."
2. How to speak up. "If pitching ideas is part of your job like it is mine, observe for a while before you jump in. See what people are like, learn how things work, and then challenge yourself to start pitching. Watch how your ideas land, and set small goals for yourself. Starting out, I felt more comfortable speaking in a smaller room with more low-level people. If you're in a high-level room with intimidating people, you might even wait for those people to leave the room. The important part is to hear yourself speak and gain confidence."
3. How to handle harsh feedback "Knowing how to collaborate well is essential. Listening to feedback is part of that process — it's something I'm still learning. Sometimes you'll have a knee-jerk reaction to a note, but after you sleep on it, you think, Damn, they were right. Try hard not to react in the moment. Look for the note behind the note. I once fought a showrunner about a story until he said, 'This is my show. This is the way we're doing it. Get on board.' After I let go and dove into the way he wanted it done, I opened up creatively. The episode turned out great … and I had fun."
"So many things we are certain about turn out to be wrong," says Kemp, a former writer for The Good Wife and creator and executive producer of Power on Starz. She once dreamed of being a magazine editor-in-chief and wrote a big story that nearly became a TV show. Neither the show nor her mag career panned out, but Kemp discovered her love for television through the experience. She began working as a copywriter and a makeup artist at Origins while writing scripts on the side. "I wasn't wrong about being a writer," she says. "I was wrong about the medium."
1. How to worry less about status. "I spent a lot of time hating myself when I left magazines. Once, an editor I used to work with came into the store where I was doing makeup and said, 'What happened to you? You can't actually be happy doing this, can you?' It felt awful, but I didn't realize until she asked me that I actually was happy. I spent so much time hating my downward trajectory that I overlooked my love of the work itself. It's crucial to have something that you can rely on yourself for. The art of makeup forces me to use a different part of my brain, and it's also a lifesaver because I have to look my best for public events no matter where I travel."
2. How to learn from a big disappointment. "Getting fired is not the end of the world. After I got fired from The Bernie Mac Show, my first big job in television, I thought, I moved a thousand miles across the country for this? I was never supposed to be in comedy, but I didn't know that at the time … and I never would have admitted it anyway. Comedy rooms are competitive and require you to Be! Funny! Right! Now! But sometimes I need a bit of quiet and time to get to my best creative moment. I learned that I thrive in the more collective environments that one-hour dramas have, and I moved in that direction."
3. How to take a leap. "Recently, my boss, Chris Albrecht, told me that when I pitched my own show, Power, he thought, She knows what she's doing. In truth, I didn't know I knew what I was doing! I knew that I could pitch a story, but I didn't know I could tell one for four years. There's no such thing as ready — ready to get married, to move across the country, to have a baby, to run your own show. When an opportunity comes to you, just don't say no."
4. How to suck it up and do the grunt work. "A lot of young people today think getting coffee is a rotten job, but I say do it. And get that coffee right! One of the benefits of my assistant getting me through my day is that she is on every call, gets every draft, and sees how I map out stories. Have the foresight to know that if you are excellent at your job, people will always know your value. Being an assistant won't last forever. Like Rihanna says, 'Work, work, work, work, work.'"
Dogan, senior VP of original programming and series development at E!, has led shows such as Keeping Up With the Kardashians and Live From the Red Carpet. She planned on law school but first took a year off, working as an assistant to a producer — and stuck with it. "Paving the way for storytellers to tell their stories ignited me," she says. She freelanced in production at AMC and MTV before joining the development team at VH1.
1. How to see things from every side. "Jumping from one part of an industry to another can be hard, but it's always valuable to explore other sides of your field if you can. Going from production, which creates and makes shows, to development, where shows are developed, funded, and distributed, was valuable for me because I had a real understanding of both sides of the industry. When I gave notes to producers, I already knew whether they could execute something based on the resources they had, which I think producers appreciated. Many companies have intern programs, some of which let graduates rotate through departments. As an intern, you have exposure to more people than you realize. Make strong connections with the assistants, and when they need to replace themselves, they'll think of you. In the absence of an opportunity like that, stay flexible at the beginning of your career before you have a family, when you have more spare time. Read books and trade magazines about the industry, and do things outside work to keep learning."
2. How to make friends into contacts. "The friendships you make in your first 10 years are the most important ones. At the time, you don't know they're contacts, but you will call on them time and time again over the course of your career. As you start in a new industry, try to meet regularly with friends in your line of work to talk about the week. You rely on your contacts to sing your praises. The only way to do that is to make sure you're someone people feel comfortable recommending."
3. How to protect your good name. "Things change fast in the workplace. In our industry, for example, a lot of people leave their company for another, start their own, or leave production to go to a network. When there's a lot of moving around, the only thing you can take with you is your reputation. Mind that, and be the coworker that you want others to be. Make sure they understand that you're reliable and, when the going gets tough, you'll be there to pitch in. The people you hire and work with may one day be your boss. So when you're looking to bring somebody new in, ask yourself if it's someone you want to work for in the future."
This article was originally published as "Be a Star at Any Job" in the October 2016 issue of Cosmopolitan. Click here to subscribe to the digital edition.