Profile: Veasey’s Road to Drama Showrunner Cobbled With Industry Preconceptions

Feb 23, 2004  •  Post A Comment

Pam Veasey worked her way from office assistant on “Gimme a Break” to executive producer on one of the Fox Network’s hottest series of its time, “In Living Color.” But when it came time to move on, the only offer she got was from the African American ensemble comedy “Living Single.”
“It was a great show,” Ms. Veasey said, “but it would look the same on my resume as what I had just done. You can’t let the business decide you’re just a `black writer,’ or that’s all you’ll ever be.”
So Ms. Veasey took a pass.
Turning her back on a job that could have meant a mid-six-figure salary, she opted instead to write spec scripts that would help her branch into TV dramas. A University of Southern California graduate in political science, she also took time to work outside show business on Michael Dukakis’ and Walter Mondale’s presidential campaigns. Now in her 40s, Ms. Veasey runs “The District” on CBS, making her the only black female showrunner on a network drama. She bounced between comedy and drama for years before getting there, attending many job meetings in the process.
“They’d literally go, `We need a black writer,’ or `We need a female writer,”’ she said. “I’d go to these interviews with the other five black writers in town, and they’d pick one of us and fill their quota, and they’d feel good about that.”
Ms. Veasey said the studios’ minority outreach has opened doors, but not often the ones she wanted. She said she turned down a producer-level staff job on “Friends,” for instance, because she had already established herself at a higher executive producer level. She was willing to drop back to lower-paying producer jobs when she first switched to drama, even though white males in a similar position haven’t always had to take that demotion, she said.
Still, Ms. Veasey is pleased with the way things have worked out. She compared her career path to that of her father, who moved the family from Texas to Utah to Washington to Wyoming, accepting affirmative action jobs that eventually allowed him to earn his doctorate.
“In my family, it was always about the opportunity you were provided,” she said.