The Office Writer-Producer Recalls Internship That Launched Her Career

With another group of TV Academy Foundation interns learning the ropes this summer, we thought it would be highly instructive to check in with an alum of the vaunted program to find out how it helped them gain footing on the Hollywood ladder.

Jennifer Celotta, an Emmy nominated writer-producer with NBC’s The Office (pictured, with genial show co-star John Krasinski), says her TV Academy Foundation internship in 1993 proved to be an invaluable launching pad. Straight out of Boston University, she landed an eight-week summer assignment with Home Improvement. At the time, the Tim Allen sitcom was taping a third smash season and Celotta says it offered her an unusually high level of support and encouragement.

“It put me on a show where people were willing to mentor and help new people get in,” Celotta tells FishbowlLA via telephone. “Some of my friends ended up on shows where they were not able to move up, there just was not that belief of a new generation of people being let in the door.”

“At Home Improvement, I was an intern, then a PA, then an assistant, then a writer’s assistant, then a writer for the last couple of years of the show,” she continues. “Elliot Shoenman, the showrunner, who worked on The Cosby Show and was a very successful writer-producer, mentored me while I was there. It was incredible.”

Shoenman read Celotta’s first spec script for Home Improvement, giving her pointers not just on the material but also about how to forge a Hollywood career. Amazingly, Celotta–who garnered three straight Primetime Emmy Award nominations between 2007 and 2009 for her work on The Office—became a Hollywood writer before she got an agent at ICM. Excessive perkiness notwithstanding.

“I was definitely the dorky intern,” she admits with a laugh, “where I had 50 questions on a piece of paper and every time a writer would come out of the room, I would ask them to pick a random number and, you know, number 27, ‘How long does it take you to write a script?’”

“When I first started, I was just so unbelievably green,” Celotta adds. “Somebody had given me the advice to go up to everyone on the show and ask, ‘Who are you and what do you do here?’ I’m not even sure they meant it literally. But I marched into the Home Improvement kitchen on Day One and there was a person there getting coffee. I asked them, ‘Who are you and what do you do here?’ He was so nice about it… He replied, ‘I’m Matt Williams and I created the show.’”

Celotta’s other producing credits include Malcolm in the Middle, Andy Richter Controls the Universe, and The Trouble with Normal. She won a WGA Award in 2007 for The Office and another the following year for helping Rainn Wilson shine as host of the 2008 Film Independent Spirit Awards.

[For more info about the TV Academy Foundation’s internship program, click here; photo credit, from 2009 TV Academy panel event: Mathew Imaging]