Steve Lichtman, '95: From Practice to Prime Time

Appeared in Record issue: 
Spring 2008

In 2001, after practicing law in New York since his graduation, Steve Lichtman, ’95, chucked it all and lit out for Hollywood to follow the dream he had nurtured since childhood: writing for television.

“I had some college friends who had achieved a little success in television, so I sent them some sample scripts I’d written and asked them if they thought I’d be crazy to give up my legal career to come out to L.A. to try to make it as a writer. They all said, ‘Yes, but come anyway.’ So I did.”

After a frustrating initial period—“You think you’ve grabbed the brass ring, but then you find out that it only gets you onto the next merry-go-round,” as he puts it—Lichtman enjoyed some encouraging successes. He sold two law-based pilot episodes that didn’t quite make it onto television screens, and then he worked for a while as a staff writer at a show that was canceled.

His Law School experiences helped him considerably. The first pilot he sold featured a mob-busting U.S. Attorney based on his classmate Greg Andres. The second drew on his wife’s work at a civil rights law firm. His wife, Kathleen Salvaty, graduated from the Law School in 1996; they met in Martha Nussbaum’s course, Law and Literature.

Today Lichtman is a staff writer for Eli Stone, an ABC show that premiered earlier this year. Stone is a hugely successful corporate lawyer with a few complicated problems. For one thing, his cases regularly raise moral dilemmas that cause him to wonder whether he’s on the right side of things. For another, he has visions, which quite often involve the singer George Michael.

Stone doesn’t know if he’s just a little unbalanced (he has a brain aneurysm) or if he’s a prophet assigned to correct the world’s injustices. This season’s shows have tackled, among other things, the possible connection between childhood immunizations and autism, the human toll of the war in Iraq, and the steroid scandals in major-league baseball.

“I always remember a central point that Professor Nussbaum emphasized in the Law and Literature course,” Lichtman reflects. “It was that we shouldn’t discount or discard our emotions in approaching legal questions. What she was saying is at the heart of what we are doing: showing the emotional truths at the heart of cases, not just the legal truths.”

Reviewers have responded positively, with the Chicago Tribune crediting the show with “a great deal of wit, skill, and earnestness,” and Entertainment Weekly magazine calling it “charmingly witty” and “solid as a rock.” Over ten million people watched the premiere episode, which topped all its competitors in the prized 18-to-49-year-old demographic.

For Lichtman, it’s all gravy. “Even if things hadn’t worked out this well for me, I always would have been happy to have taken my shot at doing what I loved. Now, watching my words turn into productions that are enjoyed by millions of people is an astonishing, completely gratifying experience. I get to make some good drama, the cast is amazing, and the producers have stellar track records, so we might stick around for a while,” he says.

The lengthy writers’ strike, which found him walking a picket line for several hours every day, gave him more time to spend with his children, Jane and Frank, but when it was settled he was glad to turn back to another important relationship. He says, “Eli Stone is a very interesting guy. I hope my life will be tangled up with his on a daily basis for many years to come.”