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'Whiskey Cavalier Writer: This Show is Exactly What TV Needs

March 20, 2019

For 37-year-old Jameel Saleem, Whiskey Cavalier is the escapism every viewer needs— a mix of action, emotion and humor after a long day soaked in reality.

“There is a piece of me in every episode,” Saleem said.

“Not just funny stuff. I was very involved in the emotional stories.”

Saleem, known as more of a comedy writer around town, found himself immersed and writing for the one-hour action dramedy that premiered on ABC in February. Saleem, along with nine to 10 other writers, began crafting the story in June of 2018.

“We were pitching ideas and putting them up on board,” Saleem said.

“Outside of that the other big thing was the emotional journeys of the characters ... where we wanted to start them and where we wanted them to get to by end of season. It’s a spy show but it’s really about the interpersonal relationships in the group.”

The show, created by Dave Hemingson, follows the adventures of an FBI agent named Will Chase (otherwise known as Whiskey Cavalier), who is played by Scott Foley. Following a breakup, Chase is assigned to work with a CIA operative named Francesca “Frankie” Trowbridge (otherwise known as Fiery Tribune), played by Lauren Cohan. Together, they lead a team of spies, fighting the bad guys across the globe while coping with the everyday stresses of life and relationships.

Between the drama and action there is humor and lightheartedness, something Saleem says TV needs.

“It’s a show that has something for everyone,” Saleem said.

“I don’t know if people do this anymore, but you can get together as a family and watch the show.”

That’s something Saleem has always appreciated in the entertainment he consumes and creates.

“It’s a sad world we live in," he said.

"There is enough in reality to cry about. I like my movies and TV shows to have hope and I like happy endings and fun.”

It’s part of the reason Saleem, who is originally from the east coast, has enjoyed writing comedic films and television shows in a journey that for him began in the early 2000s.

“After high school, I went to Hampton University and majored in accounting because I was going to join the FBI,” Saleem said.

“It’s something I wanted to do since I saw Point Break when I was 10. But then I ended up dropping out.”

After dropping out of college, Saleem moved in with his grandfather in New Jersey and decided to go to acting school. Eventually, he moved to Baltimore, Maryland and began working on his acting craft.

“I got a speaking part on The Wire that got me in SAG even though it got cut from the episode.”

In 2007, Saleem moved to Los Angeles.

“There was a promise of a production assistant job. I was a PA on some music videos. I did a couple movies … Hancock with Will Smith and Fast and the Furious, the fourth one. Then, I got a job as a casting intern and then I got promoted to casting assistant and that was my day job.”

The casting director Saleem worked with at the time was Matthew Barry. Saleem says Barry gave him some critical advice that helped propel his career.

“He told me I should write, direct and star in my own short film. I wrote a 20-page short film, I directed it. Someone was nice enough to give me $3,500. I put a crew together. I taught myself how to direct and edit and made a movie.”

After that experience, although Saleem still had a tinkling to act, he decided to actively pursue writing and directing.

From there, he went on to write and produce a web series, a short film, and a feature film that even had a Kevin Hart cameo called Exit Strategy. He eventually wrote a spec script for Modern Family that found its way to one of the writers on The Office. That meeting eventually led to representation.

Saleem became a working TV writer in 2014. He wrote a freelance script for TV One’s The Rickey Smiley Show. His first staff gig was on Manhattan Love Story. Eventually he also worked on The Soul Man, Telenovela on NBC, South Park and finally Whiskey Cavalier, which airs on Wednesday nights on ABC.

“The show has a lot of action, a lot of great chemistry between the main characters,” Saleem said.

“The interpersonal relationships are what make the show. The action is the backdrop to the emotional stories and the emotional journey of characters. But the actors are so good and the characters are written so well and in a fun way … you just want to be with these characters and you want to see them interact with each other because they have such great chemistry together.”

But although Whiskey Cavalier seems to be having initial success, Saleem won’t be sticking around. He found an opportunity he just couldn’t pass up on Matt Groening and Josh Weinstein’s second season of Disenchantment on Netflix.

“I had the chance to work with Matt Stone and Trey Parker on South Park and they are my heroes," Saleem said.

''South Park is my favorite show of all time and working with those two, who are legends in comedy animation and TV, and now having the opportunity to work with Matt Groening, who wrote Futurama and The Simpsons and is another hero of mine, a legend, it's a dream come true.”

As Saleem makes his own dreams come true he has advice for aspiring screenwriters: There is no traditional way to break into the entertainment business.

“College isn't on the cover sheet on your script … it’s the title of your script and your name. If you write a good script, they don’t care where you went to college or if you went to college at all.”

What Saleem does recommend is reading, writing, networking and never giving up.

“I went to a writing workshop every Saturday for three years straight. It’s the only thing I did on Saturdays. I wrote tons of specs. I read every script I got my hands on. I applied for every writing program but never got into them. I submitted to festivals. You just gotta keep putting your stuff out there," Saleem said. 

And if you do, it might bring you the esteem to be hired on a network show like Whiskey Cavalier.

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