Meet ‘Drop Dead Diva’s’ Adam Perlman: Writer on the rise [Q&A]

Name: Adam Perlman

Age: 29

Years in Los Angeles: 1.5

Current gig: TV writer, “Drop Dead Diva”

Graduated: Harvard

Studied: Playwriting

Cool quirk: Knows Yiddish

Hollywood Jew: The first episode you’ve ever written for television will air this Sunday. Encapsulate your episode in one sentence.

Adam Perlman: It’s about learning how to make the best of your past.

HJ: How’d you get your break writing for TV?

AP:I’d been practicing law in New York and I was the only person in world who was lucky when Lehman Brothers and the entire market collapsed because I was able to sit and write scripts. Through very good luck, I got a meeting with Josh Berman, the creator of “Drop Dead Diva” and he hired me, so I quit my job and moved out to LA.

HJ: What was the inspiration for your episode?

AP: I was happy to introduce a preacher into the show because I was very interested in the idea of somebody who was willing to break the law to do what was right, and dealing with questions about ethics and morality and ‘How can you be the best person you can be?’ The thing I’ve always been most interested in are shows that are about using the power of television to teach as well as entertain. You can get inside people far more in this medium than through news or through essays. It’s a chance to hit people right in their funny bone and right in their gut.

HJ: “Drop Dead Diva” is a show about a former model who is reincarnated in the body of plus-sized lawyer, who is also deceased. Is this positing some alternate reality?

AP: The reality is present day Los Angeles. It’s half a body switch show, where the soul, the memory, the spirit of the dead model goes into the dead lawyer. But at its core, it’s about a person getting a chance to learn and grow in ways she never did and in ways she never thought she’d have to.

HJ: How does a guy write women well?

AP: I think you have to—and this is writing anyone—really think through a character and a character’s choices and not think of them as a device for your words or plots.

HJ: Why is a show that is created in L.A. filmed in Georgia? 

AP: More and more shows are being filmed outside of L.A. because it’s too expensive to produce here. In L.A. you have to chop the shooting schedule to five or five-and-a-half days and it’s really hard if you’re trying to produce an hour-long show. In Georgia, we’re able to stretch the budget to shoot in 8 days. It’s money.

HJ: What’s your dream job?

AP: This has been a phenomenal job so far; Josh Berman has put together an incredibly egalitarian [writers] room. If you didn’t know what peoples’ titles are, you’d have no idea of the pecking order; everyone has input. If you’re asking what other projects are out there, the new HBO/Aaron Sorkin journalism one seems like it could be a pretty amazing.

HJ: Who are the writers you most admire?

AP: David Kelley, Aaron Sorkin, early David Mamet; particularly the specificity of his language, the rhythms he catches. Sondheim is probably my all time favorite writer; there’s no one else who can make you laugh and cry within the same line.

HJ: Hardest lesson you’ve learned about Hollywood.

AP: How much of it really is up to luck. Talent is very important and effort is very important, but there’s a certain gigantic component of luck that people have to deny in order to enjoy their placement. You can see how much of it turns on the snip of a coin.

HJ: Best advice for aspiring writers?

AP: Write, write, write. And when your writing is strong enough, don’t be afraid to show it to people.

HJ: Biggest surprise about working in entertainment?

AP: How wonderfully grounded a lot of the people are. There are certain stereotypes about Hollywood that are true, but most people I’ve met are tremendously grounded, family-oriented, wonderful people. There is a bit of a community aspect that I’ve found and that was more than I was expecting.

HJ: Do you think that stems from the mythology of Hollywood being a Jewish place? 

AP: I’ve probably never lived outside of a predominantly Jewish community in my life. I’ve always lived in a Jewish culture and always been very aware of the values it breeds; but also a sensibility, and a sensibility that tends to be very ironic, very aware of itself and its place in the world. There’s nothing so Jewish to me as a sense of humor and a way of recognizing Jews and that Jewish sensibility whether it be in New York in theater or in Los Angeles in Hollywood.

HJ: How do you think that Jewish sensibility gets articulated in your own writing?

AP: My sense of humor comes very much from that sense of being able to laugh at oneself and the absurdities of life. I always expect joy and sorrow to be mixed or balanced; for example, personally, I found out I got this great job and before I move I’m certain I’m going to get fired. There’s always that neurosis, but there’s also something wonderful and healthy about it, knowing there’s something bigger than yourself and your own concerns.

HJ: What are you doing for the high holidays?

AP: The high holidays is definitely a good time to temple shop.

“Drop Dead Diva” airs Sunday nights at 9pm on Lifetime