Beyond Vassar

Reality Un-Scripted

By Ashley Wilkins '03

Turn on the television. Pick up the remote. Don't touch that dial. Tune in. Turn it up. Now say hello to the Littmans. No, they are not the latest contestants in a reality series, subjects of a sitcom, or new comedic duo. They are Jeremy '83 and Jonathan '85, two brothers who have made quite an impression upon Hollywood, and more likely than not, upon the programs that are projected out of your television and into your living room.

Jeremy is an established television writer who has worked his way up from spec scripts to staff position to “show runner,” a term that means exactly what it sounds like it should. Jonathan is an executive who is now the president of television production for Jerry Bruckheimer Films, where he is currently managing and producing seven programs. Combined, the brothers Littman have been involved with more hit shows than could occupy a primetime line up, Profiler, CSI, CSI-Miami, Law and Order, and Without a Trace among them.

“Slow and steady wins the race,” said Jonathan, a testament that the road to such accomplishments was not without the occasional speed bump or blinking red light. While at Vassar, neither Jeremy nor Jonathan envisioned themselves being involved in television. Jeremy studied art history and Jonathan studied drama, and though they had been close growing up, their school lives were distinct and separate. With perhaps the slightest twinge of foreshadowing, their academic spheres intersected but once, in a “History of Drama and Film” class taught by Professor James Steerman. From here they separated even further, stretching the distance between coasts like a rubber band, soon to snap back together again.

Jeremy did not always know what he wanted. Upon graduation he knew that he did not want to follow the logical progression of an art history major by working in a museum, and therefore set his sights on law school at Emory University, though he admits without complete enthusiasm. He practiced law for several years in New Jersey, but quit in 1991 when he received a very loud and shrill wake up call: the death of his older brother Josh. “When he died it made me realize that I needed something to make me happy, and ultimately I found it.” For Jeremy, happiness came wrapped in moving boxes and promises of California sunshine, where Jonathan was already established.

Jeremy Littman stands with his brother Jonathan at Jonathan's graduation from Vassar College in 1985
Jeremy Littman stands with his brother Jonathan at Jonathan's graduation from Vassar College in 1985

Jeremy Littman '83 attends brother Jonathan's 1985 graduation

Jonathan spent his senior year at Vassar commuting between classes and New York City where he worked in theater, pursuing his dream of becoming the next Hal Prince, theater producer and director extraordinaire. Ultimately disenchanted by the world of Broadway and beyond, he decided not to listen to the dream, but to the voice of his friend and classmate, Mark Bennett '85, who said, “Jonathan, all you do is watch TV. Why don't you do something with that?” A secretarial job at ABC came first, followed by a move out west working at NBC daytime, which he considered his big break. “It's all about getting your foot in the door and kicking it open,” he said. The door swung wide as Jonathan moved from NBC to vice president of drama at Fox, and finally to Jerry Bruckheimer Films, where the length of his 18-hour days are only exceeded by his delight in doing what he does.

Jeremy found himself digging up research for a reality law program on NBC daytime, and still made time to write two spec scripts (scripts written without being commissioned on the speculative hope that they will be purchased), one for Picket Fences and the other for X-Files. He received positive feedback and soon had an agent. As he explained, “A lot of people will tell you, 'You can't. You shouldn't. Don't. You're crazy.' But, if you truly believe in what you're doing, you've got to go for it.” And go he did, to a job writing for Law and Order where he worked for three years as a staff writer. “It was the kind of job where you get thrown in at the deep end and have to learn to swim. It was not an easy job, but it was the best training I could have gotten.” And that training led him to where he is now, in the midst of achieving one of his career goals, being the head writer of a brand new show.

For Jeremy and Jonathan being Fearless is a family affair, and also the title of their most recent project, a program slated for the Fall 2003 schedule on the WB network about a girl without the gene for fear who becomes an FBI agent. “I'm proud that I'm not afraid to take risks,” said Jeremy. “I'm proud of listening to that little voice inside my head that says, 'Maybe I can do this.'” And maybe the two can do it together. They are working side by side this season, taking risks and molding them into opportunity, Jeremy as show runner and Jonathan as producer. For the Littmans, however, it is not a genetic aberration that has gotten them to where they are today. It is simple, old-fashioned perseverance. “Keep knocking on doors,” said Jonathan. “Eventually someone will open up.”