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Meredith Stiehm speaks on campus about her experiences as a Hollywood screen writer. Stiehm, a Penn alumna, has been nominated for several Emmy Awards and served as a writer and coproducer of E.R., NYPD Blue and Beverly Hills 90210. [Avi Berkowitz/Th

While many students have spent countless hours watching such television favorites as ER, Beverly Hills 90210 and NYPD Blue, Penn graduate Meredith Stiehm has spent her career writing these hit series.

Stiehm spoke at the Kelly Writers House Wednesday as part of this year's Alumni Visitors Series, a program that allows students to interact with and learn from accomplished Penn graduates.

In an hour-long question-and-answer session, the scriptwriter, producer and playwright shared her experiences with students and faculty.

Stiehm began her talk by playing an Emmy-nominated clip from the 1998 season of NYPD Blue. She explained that, like many NYPD episodes, this clip was based on an actual case.

Throughout the talk, the audience continued to learn behind-the-scenes information about popular TV shows.

According to the scriptwriter, on ER, "actors were running that place" more than the show's writers were. And though there were four doctors on staff, Stiehm highlighted the difficulty in trying to strike a balance between "too much technical stuff... and having some... because it sounds intriguing and real."

Stiehm also discussed the disparity between average TV writing and top-quality work. "You can churn out a lot of episodes that are okay," she explained, as "mediocre TV is very easy to write." But "the number one show," she said, "is rarely the best written one."

On a personal note, Stiehm revealed to students and faculty, "I don't watch any TV," and later declared herself to be,"not that interested in power." She cited The West Wing, The Shield, Law & Order and NYPD Blue as shows she feels exemplify good television writing.

Stiehm graduated from Penn in 1990 with a degree in English and Playwriting. Though her true interest lies in playwriting, she acknowledged she "never figured out how to make a living that way."

Instead, she opted for television scriptwriting. In addition to her work on Beverly Hills 90210, ER and NYPD Blue, Stiehm has worked on Northern Exposure and The District. She has also written a musical called "Rules for Girls," the Disney TV movie A Fair and Even Chance and several plays.

Offering some words of wisdom to students, Stiehm told those interested in scriptwriting to "write two scripts and get an agent." She also issued a cautionary statement to students, warning that "if your heart's gonna break because a scene you like gets cut or rewritten, then you shouldn't do TV."

Wharton freshman Rob Forman found this advice very valuable, commenting, "It's good to know the suggested route for getting into the field."

Temple University sophomore Hunter Venable also found Stiehm's words helpful, especially since he is "interested in TV writing... and exactly what Stiehm is doing."

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