Guardian’ creator recalls NU roots

Matt Paolelli

Warren Beatty. Ann-Margaret. Cindy Crawford. David Hollander?

If the last name in that list isn’t familiar, it’s because the TV show Hollander, a Northwestern alumnus, created only recently hit prime time when “The Guardian” debuted on CBS in 2001.

“The ratings are great and we’ve been consistently in the top 20 shows of the last two years,” Hollander said.

Long before “The Guardian” became a hit, however, Hollander was hitting the books at NU. He recalls his college years as a time when the Evanston Campus was a hotbed of future celebrities.

“When I was there it was a really fun time because there was a group of incredibly talented young people working within the formal university structure but also breaking out of that structure to form theater companies and do other things,” he said. “For example, I would be working on a play and that would be on at 6 o’clock. Then at 8 o’clock we’d go see David Schwimmer in one of his Lookingglass Theatre Company shows and at 12 o’clock we’d go see the Mee-Ow show that Ana Gasteyer was performing in. It’s an incredible thing to look back at and remember.”

Hollander said while he was a performance studies major and budding playwright at NU his professors helped him find a new approach to writing.

“I found that the entire performance studies program was very formative and helped me to get my start in writing,” he said. “When I was in my late teens and early 20s I had nothing to write about so I looked at the existing structures in society and wrote about them.”

But Hollander looked no further than his own backyard to create “The Guardian.” Set in his hometown of Pittsburgh, the show focuses on Nick Fallin, a self-centered, 30-something lawyer working for a successful law firm. After Fallin, played by Simon Baker, is arrested for cocaine possession, he is sentenced to community service at a child advocacy firm. The show chronicles Fallin’s work for both his usual rich clients and his new poor ones.

“Primarily (the idea for) the show came from my upbringing in Pittsburgh,” Hollander said. “My father was a lawyer and I grew up straddling two worlds with the working class and the privileged class and I always wanted to write about it.”

But writing is only the beginning of Hollander’s job description.

“I write the episodes, I cast the episodes, I often direct the episodes and I edit the episodes,” he said. “My job is to be in the process of making every episode, and we make 23 episodes a year, so basically it’s an enormous task.”

Despite the long hours, Hollander said he wouldn’t have it any other way.

“It’s the greatest job,” he said. “It’s a really hard job, but I love it because I get to tell stories any way that I want and work with people that I enjoy being with.”

But for NU students hoping to follow in his footsteps, Hollander warned that a career in Hollywood is not so easy or so glamorous as it seems.

“When you have time, get out to Hollywood or New York and take a close look at what the business really is and make the decision if you really want to be in it,” he said. “And once you make the decision, don’t look back. Stick with it.”