By TYLER ELLYSON
LOS ANGELES – Tim Schlattmann doesn’t have any regrets.
When the University of Nebraska at Kearney alumnus speaks to students at his alma mater, that’s something he emphasizes.
“The worst thing in the world to me would be to look back at the end of your life and regret the things you didn’t do,” he said.
An award-winning Hollywood writer and producer, Schlattmann uses his own story to inspire other Lopers. He encourages them to pursue their passions, and never let anything stand in their way.
“You’ve got to take that swing.”
That mentality, mixed with a strong Nebraska work ethic, led to his successful career in Los Angeles.
“I’ve had some soul-crushing projects that didn’t move forward, but it doesn’t faze me,” he said. “I just keep going forward because this is what I want to do, this is what I like to do. In a way, this is what I’m supposed to do.”
TAKING A LEAP
A Kearney native and Kearney High School graduate, Schlattmann earned a bachelor’s degree in telecommunications from UNK in 1985, when the school was known as Kearney State College. He gained hands-on experience through the campus radio station and TV studio while also working part time for KGFW and KQKY.
“All four years of my undergraduate I was working in radio, because that’s what I thought I was going to do,” he said. “I thought I was going to be a DJ.”
That plan was short-lived.
Schlattmann continued working for the Kearney radio stations after college, then decided to attend graduate school at Colorado State University. He also worked for a radio station in Greeley, Colorado, but discovered he “really enjoyed” teaching as a graduate assistant.
After earning a master’s degree in speech communication in 1988, Schlattmann walked away from radio to teach at Washburn University in Topeka, Kansas.
“When I look at being a DJ, being a college professor and now being a writer, the common thread is communication,” he said. “I’ve always been communicating to people. It’s just that the scale is much larger in Hollywood.”
Although he had a “very comfortable” position as a faculty member, Schlattmann spent just three years at Washburn. In 1991, at age 27, he moved to LA with hopes of breaking into the television industry.
“I wanted to push my boundaries and see how good I was,” he explained. “And I had this dream in the back of my mind of moving out to Los Angeles, where I knew absolutely no one, and trying to break into show business. Even if I failed, I knew I would never regret taking the chance, so I had to try it.”
PERSISTENCE PAYS OFF
Schlattmann’s first job in Hollywood was as a production assistant for the NBC sitcom “The Torkelsons.”
“All that means is I was basically a gofer,” he said. “I would get people coffee. I would deliver lunches. I would deliver scripts to actors’ homes at night. So, I literally went from grading exams and reading my students’ papers to making sure that my boss’s sandwich was cut diagonally and not in half.
“But it got my foot in the door and started the networking that I was going to need down the road, because these were the people who were doing what I wanted to be doing. So, I was just like a sponge.”
A year later, Schlattmann became a writer’s assistant, allowing him to see the “nuts and bolts” of how an episode comes together. He wrote his own scripts on the side and shared them with co-workers to gather feedback.
“Every script that I wrote was getting better. I was getting better at the craft of writing because I was now inside the factory,” he said.
Eventually, his scripts were good enough to garner attention from an agent. After signing as a client, he earned his first writing credit on the popular ABC sitcom “Roseanne.”
“It took about four years – it was almost like going back to college – to just learn the process and then meet the people who would ultimately hire me down the road.”
Schlattmann’s other series credits include Fox’s “Get Real,” WB’s “Smallville,” CBS’s “Under the Dome” and Netflix’s “Insatiable.” His favorite project was “Dexter,” a Showtime drama about a forensic science technician who leads a secret parallel life as a vigilante serial killer.
“That was the one that kind of blew everything up for me,” Schlattmann said. “It matched my sensibilities perfectly. A little bit of humor. Dark, psychological. And then we had this great engine to the story about a killer killing other killers.”
Schlattmann wrote for all eight seasons of the original “Dexter,” earning numerous Emmy Award, Writers Guild of America and Golden Globe nominations for his work. He also received the prestigious Peabody Award in 2007.
“Sometimes you’ll have a show that’s very popular, but the critics don’t love it. And sometimes the critics will love a show, but it just doesn’t have an audience and it goes away. Dexter was this slow build,” Schlattmann recalled. “Not a lot of people had heard about it when it first came out. A lot of people didn’t have Showtime. But every season there was a larger audience. Even our final season was larger than the season before.
“I was never going to walk away from the show until it ended, because I was cognizant of how rare this was at the time. This is what you dream and hope for. This is what I moved from Nebraska to do.”
As a co-executive or executive producer, Schlattmann has worked on projects with the likes of J.J. Abrams, Steven Spielberg, Stephen King, M. Night Shyamalan and Eva Longoria. His ultimate goal is to create his own series.
“That’s been my white whale that I haven’t been able to harpoon yet,” he said. “And that’s what keeps me going – I want my own show.”
Schlattmann knows his show business career won’t last forever – “Hollywood likes the new, young thing, and that goes for writers as well as actors” – so he’s already prepared for that transition. He plans to return to teaching someday while continuing to create on a smaller scale.
“Whenever I’m done with the writing career and I go back into a college classroom, my work experience is going to inform everything in terms of what I can teach students because I’ve actually done it,” he said. “It’s not theoretical. It’s not out of a book. I’ve actually made television shows and I’ve written for them. If I can let students know how that process works and how it’s done, they’re going to be better prepared if they want to make that leap and try and go into Hollywood.”