Why We Write

December 27, 2007

Why We Write – Number 4: Carol Mendelsohn


Number 4


 Today’s piece is written by Carol Mendelsohn, Member of the Negotiating Committee, Showrunner and Executive Producer of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, and co-creator and Executive Producer of CSI: Miami and CSI: New York


Once, a long time ago in Upstate New York, far above Cayuga’s waters, on a cold winter’s night in a rundown cockroach infested dump that passed for a house in Collegetown, one of my roommates drew a picture of me.  She did this because it was Saturday night and she wanted me to go out and I wanted to stay in and watch TV.  (Footnote: back in the seventies, Saturday night was the best night of television.  ALL IN THE FAMILY.  MASH.  MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW. CAROL BURNETT SHOW.  LOVE BOAT.  Imagine that).

Anyway, upon seeing the drawing, my other roommates heartily nodded their approval, for Ilene Greenberg had captured the true essence of me with her number two pencil and a sheet of plain white paper.   (INSERT CSI SHOT HERE). 

Okay, I’ll give you a clue, which is what I mostly do when I’m not walking the picket line for a fair deal in new media.   My head was square.  And protruding from the top of my pancake flat skull were two rabbit ears.  Not the plushy, furry kind.  Ilene had drawn a human television set.  (Second Footnote: This was the Dark Ages, before plasmas, DirecTV, Electronic Sell Through and Streaming).

I was one of the first viewers to loyally embrace television.  I was only three when my family’s first black and white TV set was plugged into the living room wall.  It was more cabinet than TV, but I loved it with a passion that has consumed my entire life. 

I quickly became a walking encyclopedia of TV facts and trivia.  I watched everything, which in Chicago was only three network stations and the great WGN, Channel 9, which played Hollywood movies, all day and all night, when the Cubs weren’t in season.

My childhood, except for school and going to movies on State Street, revolved around that TV.  It was years later that I found out people actually feared television was going to destroy the movie business.  If they’d only asked me, I could’ve told them TV wasn’t going to cannibalize theatricals.  TV was additive.  Love one, love both. 

In high school, one of my teachers took an informal poll.  She asked our class, “How many hours of TV do you watch a week?”  I watched 49 hours.  From the moment I got up in the morning to the moment I went to sleep.  TV was my best friend.

In study hall, while others were studying, I was conjuring up episodes of the Big Valley and The Virginian in my head.  I could hear the voices of my favorite characters.  And when a line I made up didn’t sound right, I’d rewrite it.  Some things never change.

I never told anyone about these ‘voices’.  I didn’t want to be labeled as a crazy.  It wasn’t until I got my first staff job that I confessed my eccentricity.  And that’s when I discovered that someone else heard voices, too.

Writers hear voices.  Which is why I never think of writing as writing.  To me, it’s more like dictation.  Which raises a fundamental question.  If I’m not doing the writing, who is? 

Due to the overwhelming sense of camaraderie and solidarity I now feel toward all writers on the picket lines, at Friday rallies and membership meetings, I can be honest here.  I believe that when certain WGA members pass on, they go to a Writers Room in the sky.  And when you are stuck on a scene or a story isn’t working, if you just ‘knock on the door of the universe’ before you go to sleep and ask for help, those Writers in the Sky will pull an all-nighter and have a fix for you in the morning.  (Third Footnote: This in no way should be construed as a template for a Streaming or Electronic Sell Through deal, as no payment is involved).

A writer is born, but never dies.  His or her work lives on.  Even in the head of some kid from Chicago. 

So why do I write?   I write because I hear the voices of those Writers in the Sky.   And I believe there’s a deal to be made that will put us all back to work, but that it has to be negotiated by people on both sides of the table who know the value of those voices.


WHY WE WRITE is a series of essays by prominent – and not so prominent – TV and Film writers.  Conceived by Charlie Craig and Thania St. John, the campaign hopes to inspire and inform all writers during the strike, and perhaps beyond.  If you’d like to comment, or tell us why you write, visit the Why We Write WordPress site or contact us at whywewrite@gmail.com.


  1. Is it mere coincidence that this piece was run directly following Howard Gordon’s?

    Comment by Chad Jarbern — December 27, 2007 @ 6:58 am | Reply

  2. Damn! These just keep getting better and better!!!!!

    Thank you!

    Comment by Bon — December 27, 2007 @ 8:50 am | Reply

  3. Four Writers’ Essays so far and I can relate to all four, as a writer of things myself.
    I’ve been addicted to TV since my first episode of Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood. I often hear my mother scolding me to “turn that thing off and go outside”. (She’s still alive) When I went outside, I would replay what I’d just seen on the TV (Little House on the Prarie, CHIPS) and add characters and new dialogue.

    In college, it was General Hospital (remember Luke and Laura and Scorpio?). My poor roommate must’ve thought I was insane as I re-created the scenes and added dialogue.

    Today, I have high piles of my own scripts sitting on the bookshelf, with little pieces of paper tucked inside with more dialogue.

    I am so glad this site it up. I feel a kindred spirit with you and the others who wrote. And now you know why I strongly support your fight.

    Thanks for sharing your essay.

    Comment by roobaby44 — December 27, 2007 @ 9:57 am | Reply

  4. I have to say “I hear the voices too”, I have been this way since birth. My partents used to indrouce my as the odd one, becuase I love TV and movies. I was always writing short stories or new plot lines to old movies, if I thought a scene should have gone a different way. I am not yet a member of the WGA, but I will be soon and I can only hope that “This too shall pass”. I am so glad to see this site and to also know that there are others out there just like me, a little odd and full of idea’s.

    Thank you for all that you are doing and keep up the good work.


    Comment by Deborah — December 27, 2007 @ 3:53 pm | Reply

  5. Ms. Mendelsohn, this short essay has really impressed me. I feel you’ve figured me out in a way I’ve been trying to for some while. I enjoy TV and movies and having studied Film theory and history, I agree that love one, love both and that TV could never destroy the film industry. Every year, I try out a few new shows, I rent DVDs of old ones, I look for things long forgotten or never heard of in the first place. “A writer is born, but never dies.” The same goes for viewers. I can’t say that I’m a writer, I have ideas, I have dreams, but I can never put pencil to paper. I can, however, always watch, it doesn’t take talent for that.

    I grew up with the cartoons of wisdom: Rocco, Real Monsters, Ren & Stimpy, Animaniacs. But also Parker Lewis Can’t Lewis, Fresh Prince, Family Matters, Family Ties and so many more. I can’t imagine how you writers can always come up with these great shows but I am grateful for it. One day, that might be me inspiring people in such a way. Until then, thank you.

    Comment by Inar — December 27, 2007 @ 4:58 pm | Reply

  6. Far above Cayuga’s waters, deep in the stacks of an overheated building that actually held studying students, I kept getting distracted from my studies by the voices in my head. They insisted that I take note on what they had to say rather than on what I needed to get into my head for the next coming prelim.

    I really like the thought writers hanging out after the cross over, speaking through us and to us as they jostle for facetime.


    Comment by Ruthy Charlot — December 27, 2007 @ 9:25 pm | Reply

  7. I’m not a writer, but I am a reader, a viewer and a teacher. well I occasionally write….reports, evaluations, tragically bad poetry.Every now and then I get to write and edit kids’ stories. That’s the narrative…if we don’t have narrative we lose all direction in our lives.
    whether it makes you laugh, cry or empathise it is still vital to our lessons in being human.
    Must say that I’m not a huge fan of US shows with some notable exceptions. Just finished watching 27 hours of Grey’s Anatomy. It is wonderful as no doubt the many shows that you all write.
    I find it quite outrageous that hte writers are paid so little. We will support you. We have just won a battle in Oz called Yor Rights at Work and Getup. They got rid of an unfair government. They were pure grassroots…internet campaigns.
    How long will your government hang out without without the circus that is entertainment…. Good luck and strength.

    Comment by beachsands — January 3, 2008 @ 12:40 pm | Reply

  8. I really liked this essay. Especially the part about writing being “dictation”. Writing’s like that for me too. That’s why I have to carry a notebook and pen with me everywhere. I’d be on the metro, and then suddenly my friend looks at my like I’m crazy because I’m scribbling in my notebook and laughing to myself at some funny quote that I overheard at the supermarket and wanted to immortalize in my book.

    Love the essays and the site.

    Comment by elaine — January 4, 2008 @ 12:06 pm | Reply

  9. Wow! guess who! Its me so proud.

    Comment by stephaniedawson — April 15, 2009 @ 5:25 pm | Reply

  10. My mother was a Mendelsohn from Baton Rouge (relatives in Cincinnati). Are we related?

    Comment by Lawrence Mann, Jr — June 9, 2009 @ 11:24 am | Reply

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