WTOP Book Report: Writing for ‘The Girls’: TV trailblazer Stan Zimmerman discusses iconic career

Trailblazer Stan Zimmerman discusses iconic TV career
This story was written as part of the WTOP Book Report series written by Terik King. Read more of that coverage.

TV writer Stan Zimmerman talks to WTOP's Terik King about his new memoir.

Television aficionados and fans of iconic sitcoms have much to feast upon in “The Girls: From Golden to Gilmore” (Indigo River), the new memoir from renowned television writer/producer, and theater director Stan Zimmerman, whose credits include The Golden Girls, Roseanne, The Gilmore Girls and A Very Brady Sequel.

Zimmerman’s memoir delves into his multi-decade career, spotlighting the vibrant women who have played pivotal roles in his professional journey and personal life.

“I always wanted to answer the question, ‘Why me?'” said Zimmerman in an interview with the WTOP Book Report, “And how did I get to write for so many wonderful women?” The idea for the memoir, he said, had been brewing for over eight years. “I (decided to) go back to my old journals, which I’ve been keeping since college,” Zimmerman said, “And luckily I wrote a lot of my journals during each of the TV shows that I was on.”

Zimmerman said he hoped that through writing, he could decipher the reasons behind his unique connection with female characters and talents.

From Detroit to Hollywood

The memoir traces Zimmerman’s trajectory from his upbringing in a small Detroit suburb to his pursuit of a career in the entertainment industry. Reflecting on his childhood surrounded by strong, supportive women, Zimmerman remarked, “I was surrounded by three strong, intelligent women — my mother, my grandmother, and my sister — all of whom supported my imagination and creativity.”

He reminisced about his early forays into theater, noting, “Instead of playing outside, I spent time in my basement directing and acting in plays with the neighborhood kids.”

Zimmerman would enroll at NYU, where he met Jim Berg, a fellow student with whom he quickly discovered he shared a passion for television. “We would walk through the streets in New York making each other laugh,” Zimmerman said.

Recognizing their complementary talents, the duo forged a partnership that would define much of Zimmerman’s career. “We brought both of our talents together, and started writing TV scripts,” Zimmerman explained. 

With their sights set on breaking into the television industry, Zimmerman and Berg embarked on the challenging task of writing unpaid examples of scripts for existing shows — an endeavor commonly known as “writing on spec.”

They cut their teeth, writing scripts for shows like Alice, The Facts of Life, Love, Sydney and the Fame TV series, most notably penning an episode of the classic musical series that featured a young Janet Jackson performing the title track of her 1984 album “Dream Street” under the direction of Debbie Allen. However, it was their spec script for the fledgling sitcom “Cheers” that proved to be a turning point in their careers. 

Living Life Like It’s ‘Golden’

“Our Cheers script got to them and we were invited to go in and pitch episodes for a one-time writing assignment on this new show starring four older ladies that live in Miami,” said Zimmerman.

“They had us come in and pitch episodes. And they hated all of them.” That is until Zimmerman, on his way out the door, offhandedly asked the producers, “’What if Rose’s mother came to visit?’ There was a long pause, and they said, ‘Come sit back down.’”

Zimmerman’s tenure on The Golden Girls emerges as a prominent theme in his memoir, with anecdotes and reflections highlighting his interactions with the beloved cast. “Nobody at that time thought (The Golden Girls) would be a hit show,” said Zimmerman.

“They knew how lucky they were to be on a hit show at that age, in that climate.” In his interview with the Book Report, he shared free-association insights into his interactions with the legendary ladies: Bea Arthur (“Terrifying, but a pussycat”), Rue McClanahan (“A consummate actress”), Betty White (“Sweet, but complicated”) and Estelle Getty (“A mother and friend”). 

CLICK IMAGE TO ENLARGE: “The Golden Girls” star Estelle Getty attending the 30th birthday party of Stan Zimmerman, author of “The Girls: From Golden to Gilmore.” (Courtesy Stan Zimmerman)

Zimmerman’s memoir also traces his time as a writer on Roseanne, where he and Berg wrote “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” — commonly known as “the lesbian kiss episode” — where Barr’s character is stunned by a surprise kiss from a lesbian character played by Mariel Hemingway. “It was a huge fight to get that on commercial television, (and to prove) that it wouldn’t turn away viewers,” said Zimmerman, “That’s what they thought would happen.”

Zimmerman said he was intimidate by the atmosphere of the writers’ room on Roseanne, and reflecting on what he would have done differently, said, “I think more than anything, because you want it to be so good … what I would have done differently on ‘Roseanne’ is just embrace my weirdness and just said whatever.”

A stroke of alliterative good fortune would come with the transition to his time on the hourlong comedy-drama The Gilmore Girls, Zimmerman found additional creative freedom in crafting stories centered around the dynamic relationships among three generations of women.

Reflecting on his time writing for the show, Zimmerman remarked, “I just loved that there was a town full of weird, quirky people to go to (for stories).”

Anchoring his glitzy, otherworldly journey is the constant voice of support of his mother, the original primary nurturer of his creativity and imagination. It is there, Zimmerman concludes, that he finds his answer why he was able to effectively write for such durable female TV characters.

“I am attracted to really smart, passionate, intelligent, verbal women, and I love being around them,” Zimmerman said. “And I always have since (I was) a young child … my grandmother, my mother, (and) my sister really created a world where they supported and encouraged my creativity.”

With each chapter brimming with anecdotes and reflections, “The Girls: From Golden to Gilmore” promises to be a poignant testament to Zimmerman’s resilience, creativity, and enduring love for the craft of storytelling.

Zimmerman said his memoir is for “anybody that loves to laugh has watched comedy television in the last 80 years. Anybody that has a mother, anybody that has struggled at a job and thought ‘I’m going to get fired’ or does get fired and (discovers) how they pick themselves up.” 

Zimmerman’s memoir is set to resonate with a wide audience, from die-hard television buffs to anyone navigating the complexities of life and career. “It’s not just my life in show business but just survival skills,” said Zimmerman. “You know, ups and downs, picking yourself up and keep going and rediscovering and keeping life interesting every day, no matter what age you are.” 

“The Girls: From Golden to Gilmore” invites readers to embark on a nostalgic, insightful and laughter-filled journey through the annals of television history.

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Terik King

Terik King is an Associate Producer for WTOP. Before joining WTOP in 2022 he held roles producing podcasts, unscripted television and content for MTV, the NFL and independent documentary production companies.

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