Hailing from Westerville, Ohio, Lauren Schmidt Hissrich, Wittenberg class of 2000, had no idea when she came to Wittenberg that she would come out writing for television and streaming services in Los Angeles, California, but that’s exactly where she is today.
Hissrich, who majored in English literature and creative writing with a minor in women’s studies, originally came to Wittenberg to study psychology, but with some encouragement from Professor of English Robin Inboden, she switched to English her second year and never looked back.
After a summer internship working on the popular late ’90s and early ’00s show The West Wing, Hissrich discovered that her love of writing could turn into a career in television that is thriving to this day, with the recent release of her Netflix series The Witcher. The show, of which Hissrich is the creator and executive producer, is based on the book series by Andrzej Sapkowski.
A member of Chi Omega sorority, Hissrich worked in the Writing Center during her days at Wittenberg and was fortunate to study abroad her entire junior year at Lancaster University in England, which she says “changed the entire course of my life — it gave me the confidence and courage to move to California after I graduated.” Hissrich recently took some time to talk to Wittenberg about her time at the University as well as her career.
Wittenberg: Tell me about your career and how this came about.
Hissrich: After I studied abroad, I was looking for something to fill the time during the summer before my senior year. My aunt invited me to stay and hang out with her in Los Angeles. I’d never been to California before, so it sounded fun and exciting and the perfect antidote to an Ohio summer. But the truth is, I’m not very good at “hanging out.” I needed something a little more structured, so when my aunt’s friend offered to let me come intern at his workplace, I jumped at the chance. When I drove into Warner Bros Studios the first time, and into the offices of a brand-new show called The West Wing, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I answered phones for the next six weeks, and more importantly, got my hands on my very first television scripts by Aaron Sorkin. I read them a dozen times each, soaked them in, and wondered if I could take my love of essays and short stories and somehow translate them into this world. It was a big leap for someone from the Midwest! Even when I finished my senior year and moved to LA to be a writer’s assistant on TWW, I did so thinking it would be temporary and that I would spend a year living this ‘glamorous’ life, then go back to grad school and find another way to use my degree. But I never left. I’ve been in Los Angeles for almost 20 years now and have been working in television for every single one of them.
Wittenberg: What are your ultimate career goals? What is one TV show you would love to make?
Hissrich: I always wanted to create and write a show that could challenge me, force me out of my comfort zone, make me look at the world a different way, and allow me to write fun characters and relationships over a long period of time. Short answer: I’m living my ultimate career goal right now. The Witcher has been a mind-blowing experience in every way, from the writer’s room in LA to filming all over Europe. I hope I get to keep doing it for a while.
Wittenberg: If you could write for one TV show of the past, which one would it be?
Hissrich: This is a tough one! I love ER — it’s the first show that impacted my youth, when I had to ask my parents to stay up late to watch it. It’s the first show where I noticed the different voices (both writers and directors) that were brought together to create all of the layered, emotional, action-packed episodes. I’m also obsessed with Six Feet Under — I was living in LA when it premiered, and it was my dream show in terms of how it handled complex (often unlikable, always relatable) characters. And you didn’t ask this, but I’d also love to write on several current shows that explore brilliant female characters: Fleabag, Killing Eve, and Dead to Me are all on my go-to list.
Wittenberg: Can you recall a story or moment growing up that helped to shape your current interests, activities, and/or career pursuits? If so, explain.
Hissrich: My mother has a story that I wrote in second grade, about going on a picnic with my family after it rained. I wrote about how it felt to take off my shoes, run through the lawn, and have mud squish between my toes. The teacher circled the word ‘squished’ and wrote: NICE DESCRIPTIVE WORD next to it in her black pen. I think that was the first time I realized that I liked writing — not only describing things I felt and experienced, but also the rhythm and feel of words themselves, of what they could evoke in readers. I’m also an avid reader, a repeat reader — as a child, I read books like Island of the Blue Dolphins or Bridge to Terabithia or A Separate Peace or the Laura Ingalls Wilder books a hundred times each, and I think that leant to my love of writing as well. A good story well told can keep a reader (or viewer) coming back again and again, even if they know the end.
Wittenberg: How did Wittenberg lead you down your career path?
Hissrich: Wittenberg is a University that fosters creativity and free thinking, with a focus on personal growth and self-improvement. I was given the space to find myself... and then find myself again as I grew and changed. A liberal arts education allowed me to pursue psychology, for instance… which, in turn, I carried with me into my English and writing degree, utilizing what I’d learned in the classroom to dig deeper into my characters’ backstories and psyches. But let’s go back to Dr. Inboden, because she’s the key factor here: she believed in me, encouraged me, and didn’t laugh when I said I was moving to Hollywood. As a young woman who was a little scared of reaching for the stars, I couldn’t ask for a better mentor and friend.
Hissrich was also recently featured in an article in the Columbus Dispatch.
-Emma Seibert ’21, Office of University Communications