Growing up in Long Island, Gwen Marcus, the longtime general counsel for Showtime, knew she wanted to go to law school when she was 10 years old — but not because she wanted to be a lawyer. She wanted to work in entertainment. Her father, an insurance executive, warned her that, as a woman, if she got a job as someone’s assistant, she risked never being taken seriously.
A better route, he told her, would be to earn expertise that demanded respect, like a law degree. After college at Brandeis University, Marcus went on to New York University School of Law — planning to collect her J.D. but not actually practice law. But as a summer associate at the Paul Weiss firm, something surprised her: “I love being a lawyer,” she says. “That was so not the game plan.”
She made two life-changing connections that summer: Her now-wife, Nancy Alpert, who worked at the firm; and a fellow associate, who referred her for an in-house gig at the fledgling Showtime network, where Marcus now has worked for nearly 34 years. “Back then we had all of two channels, one called Showtime and one called The Movie Channel,” says Marcus.
Marcus is now Showtime’s consigliere for all legal affairs, including programming and distribution transactions, intellectual property, litigation and regulatory compliance, reporting to CEO David Nevins. “I’ve lost track of how many channels we have now, and the concept of ‘channels’ is transforming.”
The network’s trend toward newsier programming, like newcomer Our Cartoon President, means she’s fielding questions round the clock. “Every day this administration generates a ton of news, and every day I look at new scripts and animation,” she says, noting that she spent a recent vacation “screening up the wazoo.”
Work can impinge on life outside the office in other ways, too. Several years ago on a European cruise, she and Nancy found themselves as extras on a 2005 episode of The L Word that happened to be filming on board. “We didn’t have any lines, but we did a fabulous job,” says Marcus, adding, “We kept our clothes on.”
This story first appeared in the April 4 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.