As a writer for Desperate Housewives, Josh Senter is living a life scripted for TV and mingling with Hollywood's elite.
By Jarrett Medlin
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Go West, Young ManMost people move to L.A. and become a number. Not so for Josh. Instead, Ellen DeGeneres’s mom took him under her wing. It happened on the set of Ellen, the comedian’s once-popular sitcom. After moving to Pasadena, Josh visited the City of Angels by himself to see museums and other sites. That’s when he went to his first show and found himself sitting next to Betty DeGeneres. “I was pretty anxious, and she was so nice and lovely,” he recalls. When the show was over, Betty told Josh to look under his seat. He looked down and found a wristband that gave him access to the set, Ellen and her co-stars, including Jeremy Piven. Not even a week had passed, and Josh was already hanging out with celebrities.
In reality, he was far from making it. In 1997, Josh was one of the youngest students at the Art Center, and the costs of living, school and film added up. For 10 minutes of film, it was $10,000. “Suddenly writing became so incredibly important,” recalls Josh, who was buried in debt and working part-time as a receptionist to pay for college. Several teachers encouraged Josh to pursue writing instead of directing, so he began inquiring about the career.
The first script he wrote was Hat, a Western with a dramatic twist. His teacher read it and said to write another one. “Being so desperate to get a job in Hollywood, I decided to do it,” says Josh. His second script was entitled Happy Valley, the story of a family without a father during the 1950s. Again the teacher liked it but wanted more. This time, Josh dug deeper. He decided to write about a dysfunctional family from St. Louis and put the characters in awkward situations. “Suddenly the characters were coming to life, and it poured out of me in six days,” he says. After turning it in, the teacher came back to him and told him it was transcendent. That was the boost he needed. Josh quit his job as a receptionist at Raytheon and decided to live on a small nest egg while he looked for screenwriting jobs. He hired an agent, and within a month he had a 14-week gig writing for The L Word.
Josh wrote only one episode for the show, a lesbian drama produced by Showtime. He’d leave from Pasadena at 7 a.m., drive two hours to work, write all day and get home at 9 p.m. After three months, he found himself looking for another job. “In the end, I wanted to do something else that was more my world,” he says.
That show was Desperate Housewives.
When Josh heard about Desperate Housewives, he immediately applied for a writing position.
He didn’t get it.
“I was really devastated,” he recalls. “I thought I’d never be able to write another show. Honestly, I was hoping it would fail because I loved it so much.” Of course, Desperate Housewives didn’t fail. The show aired to enormous success and quickly rose to the top spot in the Nielsen ratings.
In the meantime, Josh searched for work. A year passed in which he had several close calls, switched his agent, sold a script that was later canceled, and even borrowed money from his agent because he was broke.
Then he got a call. In October 2004, Desperate Housewives’ producers called Josh and asked for another interview. His agent called 15 minutes after the interview with the good news. The rest is history. The show was nominated for multiple Golden Globes and won quite a few (namely, Best Television Series—Musical or Comedy). Josh has now grown accustomed to working with celebrities such as Teri Hatcher, Eva Longoria and Bob Newhart.
Now, it’s not unusual for Josh to mingle with celebrities. He’s met Steven Spielberg, his childhood hero, and Oprah Winfrey. The last time his mother visited L.A., they bumped into Tom Cruise, Katie Holmes and Adam Sandler at dinner. “It’s really funny because Josh is six foot three inches, and Tom Cruise is five foot seven inches,” recalls Josh’s mom. “Adam Sandler was also sitting there, and he hollered out, ‘Hey, have you ever been to Springfield, Missouri?’ I guess Josh mentioned we’re from Missouri.”
A Twist in the PlotJosh’s contract with Desperate Housewives expires this year. He isn’t sure what’ll happen after the season finale. “I love my job and the people I work with,” he says. “When a show is as successful as this has been, it’s almost guaranteed for five to eight years. If you can stay that whole time, you get residuals.”
It’s likely ABC will extend his contract since he was recently nominated for a Writers Guild Award for an episode entitled “Don’t Look at Me.” In February, he took his mother to the award show, where Josh was introduced as, you guessed it, the youngest nominee.
Outside of Desperate Housewives, Josh has written two feature-length films called A Thousand Miles from Nowhere and Almost Paradise. The first is a romantic comedy about the danger of codependent relationships. The other is about a family’s disillusion and how they find each other and change their ways. He also wants to create a TV series—one that hits closer to home. The storyline is about a home-schooled kid from a small town in Missouri. Sound familiar? It’s an edgy drama that reveals small towns face many of the same problems as big cities. “I find it very interesting, these Bible Belt towns with serpents in the midst,” he says. “I love to deal with this theme of good and evil.” Josh has already talked to numerous networks and hopes to sell the script soon.
Of course, no one really knows what plot twist might be in store for Josh’s life. “He has so many opportunities that he could be doing anything by next year,” says Hannah. “You really never know what’s going to happen next with Josh.”
Jarrett Medlin recently began editing Wichita magazine. He was formerly at Rural Missouri.
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