HARRIS, SUSAN

U.S. Writer/Producer

Watching television as she grew up in the 1950s in New York, Susan Harris concluded, as do many viewers, that "anybody could write this." Unlike most who make the claim, however, she persisted in preparing work for television, and by 1969 found a way to present it to the creator of Then Came Bronson, a short lived NBC series. The show needed a script and she sold one. In 1970 Garry Marshall brought her to the anthology series, Love, American Style for which she wrote ten scripts. There she met Norman Lear and ended up writing scripts for his breakthrough series, All In The Family, taking her son with her to the story meetings. Following the Supreme Court's 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade, Lear decided to address the highly charged abortion issue in one of his television programs. Susan Harris wrote the script for "Maude's Abortion," a sensitive and sensible examination of a married couple's choices in light of the court's decision. She received the Humanitas Award for her efforts. The Catholic Church, expectedly, disapproved of the story, not the last time Harris would hear from that institution.

During those years she met producers Paul Junger Witt and Tony Thomas and with them formed an independent television production company, Witt/Thomas/Harris, in 1976. For the new company Harris created and wrote Fay, starring Lee Grant, a series essentially canceled by NBC before it aired. (Grant described the NBC executives as the mad programmers.) Harris' next effort was no less controversial, but far more successful. In 1977 she was the sole writer of the series Soap which was attacked by Newsweek magazine, Southern Baptists, and Roman Catholics, none of whom had seen it. The butler in Soap was spun off in a new series, Benson and Harris then went on to create and write I'm A Big Girl Now, Hail to the Chief, Golden Girls, Empty Nest, and Good and Evil. After retiring from television she commented in 1995 that her favorite series was Soap.

Harris recalled that on most of the shows with which she was associated before creating her own company men were writing about women. Maude, she noted, had an all male staff. By the time she received the Emmy award for Golden Girls in 1987 Harris had literally changed the face of television comedy. Her female characters were well defined and represented an array of personality types. Working alone, she sparked a revolution as a woman writing about women while providing insight into male personalities as well. On the cutting edge, she drew the wrath of self-styled moralists even as she used wit, satire and farce to provide a new kind of television.

In the past 20 years Witt/Thomas/Harris has grown to become the largest independent producer of television comedy in the United States. Married to her partner, Paul Witt, Susan Harris is now active in community projects and an avid art collector. Her future writing, she believes, will be in feature films.

-Robert S. Alley


Susan Harris
Photo courtesy of Witt/ Thomas/ Harris Productions

SUSAN HARRIS. Born in Mount Vernon, New York, U.S.A. Married: Paul Junger Witt. Writer for various television series from 1969; co-founder, Witt/Thomas/Harris TV production company, 1976; creator, writer, and producer, various TV series from 1977; assistant producer of film Heart and Souls, 1993. Recipient: Emmy Awards, 1986-87. Address: Witt/Thomas/Harris Productions, Building 45, 4th Floor, 1438 North Gower Street, Los Angeles, California 90028, U.S.A.

TELEVISION SERIES

1969-79 Then Came Bronson (selection; writer)
1969-74 Love, American Style
1971-79 All in the Family
1977-81 Soap
1985-92 The Golden Girls (also creator and producer) 1988-95 Empty Nest
1991      Good and Evil (also creator and producer) 1991-94 Nurses (also creator and producer)
1992-93 The Golden Palace (also creator and producer)

 

See also Soap; Thomas, Tony; Witt, Paul Junger