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Janine S. Barrios

Janine Sherman Barrios worked on ER, for four seasons, working her way up to an Executive Producer. She was nominated in 2006 for a HUMANITIAS Prize for the ER episode “Darfur.” Prior to ER, Barrois spent five seasons on Third Watch, rising from Story Editor to Co-Executive Producer. She has also written on Eddie Murphy’s The PJ’s and The Jamie Foxx Show. Barrois got her start on Lush Life, where she was placed after participating in the Warner Bros. Writers Workshop.

Interview with Janine Sherman Barrios

  • Chris

    Thank you for being the very first interview for the Back Story series on the website.

  • Janine

    My pleasure. I graduated from the Workshop in ’96 and it really helped start my career.

  • Chris

    What was the first show you were staffed on?

  • Janine

    My first show out of the program was Lush Life with Karyn Parsons and Lori Petty. I then went on to work at Jamie Foxx, followed by The PJ’s and then Third Watch.

  • Chris

    How did you make the leap from comedy to drama?

  • Janine

    Back at the time when the networks were developing shows centered on kids in college, I was writing a feature with my writing partner that fit into that genre. One of the people who really fell for it was Andrew Stearn over at John Wells Productions. We started developing it internally as a television show, but it didn’t go anywhere because it ended up being a very hard sell. After the process was over, we interviewed with John Wells while he was busy on the set of ER and the next thing we knew we were on staff at Third Watch.

  • Chris

    Was that a hard transition?

  • Janine

    Definitely. In drama, it’s all about the story, whereas in comedy, it was all about the comedy. All I would hear about in comedy is, “Don’t worry about the story. Just make it funny.” So, when I jumped to drama, it was like meeting a new guy and falling in love.

  • Chris

    Was it love-at-first-sight or did you have to warm up to “him”?

  • Janine

    I had to give it a while to see if he was in love with me. But after four or five months I had hit my stride and fell in love. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the same for my writing partner who knew she wanted to go back to comedy.

  • Chris

    Do you ever find yourself trying to make drama funny?

  • Janine

    I like to write human stories about life and death and, when it’s appropriate, make light of it.

  • Chris

    When you started writing, having a couple of good specs was all that a writer needed to get staffed on show. Now a writer needs original material as well. Do you think this is a good thing for television?

  • Janine

    It’s a good thing because it allows you to hear a writer’s voice. People even want original material from me. But as an Executive Producer, I really want to know if a person can mimic a show because that is what they will be doing when they come on staff. I think it’s hard enough for someone at a low level to master a spec of an existing show, nonetheless an original. But I would read an original piece knowing that the person writing it probably doesn’t know nuance, scene, structure, repetitive beats or telegraphing. These are the things you learn when you’re on staff.

  • Chris

    Are you finding it hard to find your voice again after nine years of being staffed?

  • Janine

    No, I have definitely always been writing my own stuff on the side so I didn’t get rusty and that is really out of the encouragement of my agent and manager. I currently have a movie in development at Warner Bros. and another indie movie in the works. I also wrote short stories on the side and some pilots when I got really inspired.

  • Chris

    With all the medical research over the years, could you save a life in a pinch?

  • Janine

    No (laughing), you wouldn’t want me anywhere near you if you went down. But, it has made me more interested not only in our healthcare system but in the drama of diseases. Because of my research, when I now hear people talking about universal healthcare, I really believe you get what you pay for in this country. You will get better treatment if you have money and that is a problem. Now, life and death is a product of who has the most money, and it really shouldn’t be. It is really something we all have to deal with in this country.

  • Chris

    Do you know how many script you’ve written between Third Watch and ER?

  • Janine

    Around 30 episodes between both shows, I suppose. There have been so many.

  • Chris

    Did it get easier with each script?

  • Janine

    I think it’s different with each episode, but the one thing that remains the same is the nervous feeling that your script isn’t going to be good. Sometimes, the story isn’t there and you have to find it, leaving you with the feeling that you have to prove yourself and make it as good as it can get. The politics of writing on a show is that when you’re coming up the ladder you won’t get the episode that is guaranteed to be amazing. Instead you’ll get the one that is so-so. The showrunner will get the episodes that has the money on it already, the ones with a big “death” or the finale episode. As a writer, your job is to not let the audience know your episode wasn’t one of the stories that didn’t have money on it.

  • Chris

    So, now that ER is over, what? Another medical show?

  • Chris

    So, now that ER is over, what? Another medical show?

  • Janine

    I’m going to focus on developing my own projects. The reality is that working on a staff right now is just my day job, and the real mission for me is getting my own show on the air.

  • Chris

    Chris: In the face of a crumbling global economy, what would you tell young writers trying to get staffed on a show?

  • Janine

    I would say save your money and be persistent because there are fewer jobs and a lot more talented people flooding the market. If you can be okay having a gig one year and not having one the next, then do it, but if you can’t then I would say go home.