TV CEO Jonathan Littman ’85 Offers Tips for Career Success
Vassar students with an interest in careers in the television industry gained some insight into this competitive world recently from a highly credible source. Jonathan Littman ’85, whose resumé as a producer includes such shows as The X Files, Melrose Place, The Amazing Race, CSI: Crime Scene Investigation and its many spinoffs, and current smash hit Lucifer, addressed 20 students about his career and offered words of advice for breaking into the business during a 90-minute presentation in a classroom in the Vogelstein Center for Drama and Film.
Littman, Chief Executive Officer of Jerry Bruckheimer Television, said an imperative ingredient to success in television is a simple one: being passionate about the business. He said his job offers little time for hobbies or relaxation, but whenever he does have free time, “I just watch TV.” His favorites include some current shows such as Flight Attendant, Severance, Succession, and Ozark, but he’s also fond of such classics as Friends, Grey’s Anatomy (“the greatest soap opera of all time”), and The Odd Couple, which aired in the 1970s.
Littman’s visit to campus was hosted by the Office of Advancement, the Film Department and the Career Development Office. And when one student asked him how to launch a search for a job in the field, Littman smiled and responded, “Go to the Career Development Office. That’s how I got my first television job, and the contacts Vassar has in the business are emotionally attached to the school and will help you.”
Littman said he had known since childhood that he wanted to work in the entertainment business, and his first job out of college was in a casting firm in New York City. After a few months, he told his roommate he wasn’t happy with the job. “He told me, ‘You’re really good at staying home and watching TV. Why not work in television?’ That suggestion rang true for me, so I reached out to the Career Development Office and landed a job at ABC.”
Littman subsequently moved on to Fox, where he launched shows such as The X Files. He was later recruited by Jerry Bruckheimer, a successful filmmaker who had decided to move into the world of television. Littman said he tried to dodge Bruckheimer’s request for an interview, but when he finally agreed to a meeting, he was captivated by what Bruckheimer told him. “He said the secret to success in the business is knowing what you don’t know, and that I knew television and he didn’t,” Littman said. “I took the job—against the advice of a lot of people in the business—and I’ve been there ever since.”
Littman told the students the demands of the job require absolute dedication. “When you have that first interview, you have to show that you really want it, that you have a passion for it,” he said. “If you don’t, it will show in the interview.”
Responding to a question from a student about the climate of the entertainment industry, Littman said it had improved significantly in recent years. Allegations of sexual harassment are being taken very seriously, he said, “and many bad people have been forced out of the business.”
Littman, a drama and film major at Vassar, assured the students that what they are learning in their classes here will benefit them for the rest of their lives. “I still draw on what I learned at Vassar every day,” he said, “especially in knowing how to spot good scripts.”
Asked to predict the future of television, Littman smiled and shook his head. “I don’t think anyone knows the answer to that question,” he said. “Streaming is all the rage right now, but many more people still watch network TV.
“Diversity is the key,” Littman concluded. “There are 500 shows on the air right now; the work is there, and if you’re good at what you do, the jobs will find you.”