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Lauren Morelli's path to becoming a writer and co-producer on the Netflix hit series Orange is the New Black was hardly linear. The McCandless native didn't start seriously writing fiction until after college — and spent years working as a personal assistant, nervously wondering what her next move would be before landing a gig on Orange. She's in town as the keynote speaker for the Women and Girls Foundation "Crossroads" conference next Tuesday, March 10 and will attend a "Night Out With Orange" benefit for Project Silk and the Delta Foundation that evening, 8 p.m. at Cruze Bar. Tickets for that event are available here. In advance of her appearance, Morelli spoke with City Paper about everything from why she got into TV to how working on the show made her start to question her sexual identity and leave her husband.
What drew you to writing and how did you make your way to Orange is the New Black?
It was a very long meandering process. [laughs] I was a dance major in college. I'd lived in New York and then moved to LA and been there for about 8 years. I knew I wasn't going to dance but I didn't know what was next, [so] I started taking various assistant jobs. It was just so far from everything that I had imagined my life was going to be. I started writing just for myself — short stories and scripts. That eventually lead to getting a manager and an agent. Orange is my first professional writing job — Jenji Kohan who’s our showrunner and creator, is really one of the only showrunners I know who will hire someone who doesn't have any experience — she really responded to my script. When I met her I think we both felt like we were really kindred spirits.
What's important about Kohan's philosophy?
I think a lot of showrunners care about someone coming in and having a similar voice or being able to mimic their tone, which certainly is important when you’re writing on a show. But Jenji really wants to know that you have your own point-of-view and that you’re going to come in be an individual. I always call our writers room the land of misfit toys. We’re all very unafraid to stand up for our opinions.
I was recently chatting with a TV writer who expressed some concern that new mediums (like Netflix) are creating more fractured and specialized audiences, that we aren't all watching the same shows. What kind of audience do you have in mind when you’re writing an episode?
I actually don’t think about the audience. I think part of what’s made [Orange] so successful is we had no real concept of who the audience was going to be. Netflix was brand new in the original programming space — they hadn’t released House of Cards yet. So it felt like being in the wild west. We weren't writing a network show where we were beholden to advertisers, so it felt very much like we could do whatever we wanted. And I think because of that, I never could have anticipated the audience for Orange would be as broad as it is. I thought it was going to be a very specific group of women who would love it. I kept joking there would be like 10 lesbians in Wisconsin who are going to be really into the show [laughs]. Now that it’s successful, I think it’s really important to not consider the audience. Because when you start writing to the audience, that’s when it can get a little pedantic or expected. Even as an audience member, as someone who watches a lot of TV, I can feel when I’m being pandered to.