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The Bricks of Breaking In: How 'S.W.A.T' Co-Ep Kent Rotherham Found His Voice in the Writers' Room

June 18, 2024
10 min read time

There are many avenues writers can take on their journey to becoming a television writer. One significant pathway is going the assistant route and working up the ranks to staff.

Kent Rotherham (S.W.A.T., Timeless) took just that route and it helped build a foundation for a career that has seen him grow from intern to runner to assistant to Co-EP.

The Assistant Route

As a kid, Rotherham would always be writing scripts and forcing his brothers to be in his movies they’d make in the backyard with their dad manning the camcorder. As far as actually turning that childhood fun into a television writing career.

“It’s not something that I knew was a career growing up in the ‘90s in Wisconsin. I didn’t know about writers’ rooms. You just watch a movie and it’s like oh, a director made a cool movie," Rotherham said. "I think when I got into The West Wing when I was growing up, that was kinda the first time I was aware that oh, somebody’s writing these words.” 

A political science major in college, Rotherham filled his elective options with classes from the Film & Theater Department. Even through that, he still wasn’t aware that writing for a TV show was a job. Between his junior and senior years, Rotherham interned at The Late Late Show With Craig Ferguson.

“They didn’t really know what to do with the interns, so we would make copies and get coffee and then we would just hang out in the writers’ room," Rotherham shared. "I could not believe that this was their job. It was a very, very cool thing and I’m like, I have to figure out a way to do this.”

Crop black job candidate passing resume to HR employee, The Bricks of Breaking In: How 'S.W.A.T' Co-Ep Kent Rotherham Found His Voice in the Writers' Room

Hooked on becoming a TV writer, Rotherham moved to Los Angeles. He asked friends how to find assistant jobs. They recommended he reach out to some employment agencies that specifically hired people for entertainment.

“One of the first meetings I had they were like, Jerry Bruckheimer’s production company is looking for a runner. So I became a runner at Bruckheimer Productions," Rotherham shared. "Then, shortly thereafter, one of his assistants quit and so I got that job.”

While an assistant at Bruckheimer, Rotherham spent the time learning and absorbing the industry, which included reading everything he could get his hands on. After a few years, Rotherham realized he needed to get closer to a writers’ room. By this time he’d gotten to know more people in the industry so he could interview with a few showrunners.

“I was very lucky to get the job I did with Shawn Ryan," he shared. "That was my path. Shawn was the reason I got a script.”

Read More: History of TV: Behind The Shield is a different kind of cop show

The Bricks of Breaking In: How 'S.W.A.T' Co-Ep Kent Rotherham Found His Voice in the Writers' Room

Getting That First Script

That first script opportunity came on the Amazon show that Shawn Ryan and Cris Cole were adapting for American television: Mad Dogs. Rotherham had been working in the room taking notes.

“I remember the day, Shawn pulled me out and was like hey, look, Episode 9, we kinda knew where we were going with the show and he and Cris had talked and they gave me the opportunity to write the freelance," Rotherham said. "I was walking on cloud nine then. I couldn’t believe it.”

It was the kind of experience writers hoped for when they got their first chance to write an episode.

“Everyone in the room, they were very supportive when I was breaking the episode. I couldn’t have had bigger fans and bigger support and it was honestly like a dream come true,” Rotherham elaborated. 

He continued: “Shawn is very big on having writers of the episodes produce their episodes and walking the whole script through. We filmed in Puerto Rico and I got to go there. It was grad school for me being able to sit in those prep meetings, and being on hand to change the script. Cris Cole was there, the creator, the whole way through. Very, very lucky to have that experience.”

The Bricks of Breaking In: How 'S.W.A.T' Co-Ep Kent Rotherham Found His Voice in the Writers' Room

Make Yourself Indispensable

Staffing on a TV show is the start, but what about building longevity in your professional career? Rotherham has found that the key to a writers’ room is making yourself indispensable.

“Figure out a way to make something your thing, whether that’s I can write action really well, I really know this character’s voice. Because you start at these early levels and you don’t really know your place or your role on the show. It’s the showrunner’s voice and it’s the showrunner’s show, but if you can figure out a way to sort of plant your flag, something about the show, it helps give you some footing," he suggested.

Another recommendation to build longevity in this industry is to be someone people can depend on. Be the person willing to put in those late nights and email your friends in the writers’ room over the weekend to help with notes on a scene. These little things can make a big difference along the way. 

Writers Rooms-1

Be Flexible

Some of the best advice Rotherham got along the way came while he was in the Mad Dogs room when he was getting worried that his episode pitch wasn’t really landing.

He explained, “I remember someone telling me to be flexible and to not be precious with the material.”

Rotherham continued: “Just because you have an attachment to a scene, it might not be the best thing for the show and there’s a million reasons why pitches fall away that have nothing to do with the writing or the pitching even, it could be a production reason, it could be a character thing that’s going to happen in a future episode.”

The Bricks of Breaking In: How 'S.W.A.T' Co-Ep Kent Rotherham Found His Voice in the Writers' Room

In the Writers' Room

An important factor for success in a writers’ room is attitude. It’s a collaboration. Be likable. Be friendly.

Rotherham pointed out, “Sometimes people overlook that being agreeable and not being a naysayer and not being kind of a roadblock or an obstacle in someone’s pitch or what someone’s trying to do with an episode, that’s a really valuable thing in the room. You want to be someone that is supportive.” 

A common mistake that Rotherham sees amongst newer writers is that when a showrunner likes your pitch, writers don’t just take the win.

“Take it. Don’t keep pitching it. Don’t add more to it," he said. "When a showrunner’s like yeah, I think there’s something there. It’s not your job to have that fully fleshed-out pitch ready to go. You just pitched something that has legs for the show. That’s great. Take the win and now let’s go back to the drawing board and collaborate around it. You don’t need to fill in the blanks right then. That’s why we’re all here.”

Another element for thriving in the room is to not take things personally, especially when it comes to pitching. This is something that Rotherham wished he had known earlier in his career.

“There have been times in the room where you pitch something and it doesn’t land. Then someone else pitches it in the afternoon and it lands and you’re like, 'What’s that about?' It’s understanding that the room wasn’t there yet or maybe you weren’t the right messenger for that particular pitch and somebody else was and now the room has collectively talked through one hundred different options."

Rotherham suggests, "Now that pitch that you thought, didn’t I just say that a few hours ago, it lands. Do not take that personally.” 

Read More: Writers’ Room Etiquette for Screenwriters


Battling Imposter Syndrome

One of the biggest challenges Rotherham faced early on was self-doubt.

“When you’re first sitting in a room and looking around, you’re like everyone in here is so smart. Especially when you’re the youngest or the newest, greenest person at the table," he said. "That was definitely something I remember feeling like I want to make sure if I’m only going to talk two or three times today, I want to make sure that what I’m saying is valuable.” 

These feelings of imposter syndrome are something that a lot of staff writers experience.

“Eventually you realize, 'OK, I got hired for a reason.' I made it my job early on to just sort of be a sponge and to try to absorb everything I could. I think that helped me overcome some of those early imposter syndrome-type feelings," he said.

Read More: Imposter Syndrome? Here’s how to deal with it

Writing on a laptop, The Bricks of Breaking In: How 'S.W.A.T' Co-Ep Kent Rotherham Found His Voice in the Writers' Room

Always Be Reading

There’s a saying that good writers are good readers and good readers are good writers. That is something that Rotherham has found very true throughout his career. When it comes to up-and-coming writers, he encouraged,

“If you’re not reading what’s out there, if you’re not aware of what’s out there, you’re giving yourself more challenges than you need," he said.

Rotherham gives some suggestions to challenge yourself, saying, "Read every script you can find. Give notes on scripts. That’s the job. The job is reading and then write, write, write.”

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