'American Odyssey' Co-Creator Adam Armus: How I Made It In Hollywood

The executive producer shares with THR how a love of TV and a drastic midlife career change led him to follow his dream.
NBC

Working as a financial lawyer in Los Angeles, Adam Armus had always been a lifelong TV fan and writer. However, when his fellow attorneys noticed he spent more time writing and talking TV than actually practicing law, they — along with some family members — encouraged him to pursue a career as a TV writer, where he’s written for such shows as Xena: Warrior Princess and Heroes

Now, as Armus steps into a new role as series creator of NBC's midseason drama American Odyssey — about a female soldier discovering an international, terrorist-funding conspiracy — he reveals a bit of his own journey in Hollywood.

I started off as a lawyer. I grew up in New Jersey, went to school in Chicago and then went to UCLA law school. I was always a big TV fan, and I always wrote, so it was in my blood already then, but I got a job as a lawyer.

I worked at a really large law firm, and I worked with this particular lawyer. We would talk about television — about stories, about good episodes, shows that I liked. We had a conversation once when he asked what’s my dream job. At the time, I said, "Well, being a lawyer is great!" but he persisted, "No, really?" I told him that it would be to write for television. He said, "Well, you ever think about trying to do that?"

Of course, I said no. I hadn’t gone to film school, I hadn’t done any of the things you do when you’re younger to be writing in television. I was working so hard as a lawyer that I actually had a birthday party and wasn’t able to make it. All of these people had a birthday party for me and I missed the whole thing.

I remember my girlfriend saying, "Why are you driving yourself crazy for something you don’t want to do?" And I said, "Well, I don’t really have a choice. This is my career. This is what I’m doing." But she said, "But it’s not what you love." Thankfully — given that she’s now my wife — she was like, "Take the time. I’m making the money for the both of us. Just do it." For a year and a half, two years, she basically supported me. I owe it all to her.

I started taking writing classes. UCLA offered extension classes in TV sitcom writing. I was kind of funny at the time, so I thought I’d give that a try. I remember the teacher was Steven Pritzker who wrote for The Mary Tyler Moore Show. There, I met my writing partner Nora Kay Foster.

We wrote a sitcom. It was basically a script that was part hers and part mine, and we put our scripts together and got in the Warner Bros. Writer’s Workshop together. After being in the program, we could actually call an agent and they would take our call!

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So, we got an agent, and Kay had a friend who knew somebody who was a producer of Xena: Warrior Princess and Hercules: The Legendary Journeys. We met with them, and they took a chance. We wrote the second episode of Hercules. We worked for several years with Robert Tapert and Sam Raimi and the whole Renaissance Pictures gang.

We had written 14 episodes of Xena and three episodes of Hercules before Kay and I wanted to stretch our wings. At that time, The Sopranos had just gone on HBO. We came up with our own idea and wrote a spec script. That script got us a new agent, a manager and an interview with David E. Kelley. We got the job and were out of the Renaissance world and into network TV.

We worked for a few more years with Kelley, and after that we kept on writing. We kept on getting jobs. We kept on doing good work. Thankfully, for American Odyssey and NBC for putting it on the air, it feels like it’s opening up a new door for us as show creators. For most of my career, I’ve done my best working on someone else’s show or on someone else’s vision. Now, it’s our vision, my vision of what the show should be and I think, at least for now, the network looks at us as people who can create that vision — create what that show should be.

I hope to continue to do all of it — to create new shows, to support other people in their shows. Neil Simon is one of my very first loves because he looked at life in a different way. For me, every writer that does that, from David Chase to David E. Kelley to so many people I’ve worked with, Tim Kring on Heroes — these people have inspired me beyond anything. I try to live up to their ethos and find something new to say about what it means to be alive. I don’t think I’ll ever be at the point where I say, "Yeah, I’ve made it!" but I do feel like we’ve been successful, and for that I’m really grateful. 

VITAL STATS:

Personal: Married, kids. Lives in L.A.

Reps: Melissa Myers and David Stone, WME

Hot Project: American Odyssey, Sundays at 10 p.m. on NBC

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