Despite their different genres, the TV shows “The X-Files,” “The Simpsons” and “Beverly Hills 90210” have something in common: all were produced by Dan McDermott, a former executive vice president at Fox and alumnus of Los Altos High School’s Class of ’81.
In addition to his role as producer, McDermott wears many hats in the entertainment industry. After his stint at Fox, he served as president of DreamWorks Television, where he oversaw all aspects of development, production, finance, casting and personnel. Among his major productions were “Spin City,” “Freaks and Geeks” and “Las Vegas,” as well as the award-winning miniseries “Band of Brothers.”
McDermott said his true passion, however, lies with screenwriting, an interest he developed in the Film Analysis class he took while a senior at Los Altos High. Taught by English teacher Neil Elverson, who passed away in 2011, the class provided McDermott his first experience with the world of cinematic entertainment.
McDermott recalled Elverson’s teaching methods.
“He loved movies and spoke of them with great passion,” he said. “He dedicated a full semester to Film Analysis and provided my initial foray into the language of film, the nature of film narrative and the art of cinematic storytelling. I was immediately hooked.”
That semester of Film Analysis changed McDermott’s life. After graduating from high school, he attended UCLA, where he majored in film and television. He earned a master’s degree in screenwriting as a Screenwriting Fellow at the American Film Institute in Los Angeles.
Although McDermott excelled in his studies, as he entered the job market he said he began to understand the challenges associated with the entertainment business.
“The entertainment business is unique in that a dedicated and serious education in film and television, as I acquired at UCLA and the American Film Institute, does not guarantee a job post-college, much less a career over the long run,” he said. “There are many barriers to entry – and many doors that either do not open, or close shortly after opening.”
McDermott said he quickly learned that diversification is the key to continued success in his field. He began to initiate projects of his own, such as creating and executive producing the series “Angela’s Eyes” for Lifetime and writing the remake of “The Omen” and the original feature “Eagle Eye.”
Perhaps his biggest challenge occurred just last year, when he co-created, co-wrote and pitched the drama “Zero Hour” to ABC. The show, which featured the editor of a skeptics magazine who finds himself drawn into a massive conspiracy, debuted Feb. 14. Competing with established shows like “American Idol” and “The Big Bang Theory,” ABC canceled “Zero Hour” due to low ratings after three airings.
But McDermott remains optimistic about the future.
“The greatest challenge everyone faces when electing for a career in entertainment is learning to not take no for an answer,” he said. “All screenplays are rejected many, many times before going into production. Same for television shows, actors auditioning for roles, directors hoping to land a job, and on down the line. One must have a belief in oneself and a passion for the business.”