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Jenji Kohan

Lawrence Bush
July 4, 2017

Jenji Kohan, the creator of TV’s “Weeds” and “Orange Is the New Black,” was born in Los Angeles to a show biz family on this date in 1969. She has also worked as a writer or producer on “The Gilmore Girls,” “Mad About You,” “Tracey Takes On . . .” and several other shows, and has received nine Emmy Award nominations. Of her prison show, “Orange Is the New Black,” Kohan says, “You’re not going to go into a network and sell a show on really fascinating tales of black women, and Latina women, and old women and criminals. But if you take this white girl, this sort of fish out of water, and you follow her in, you can then expand your world and tell all of those other stories.” Kohan scored when Netflix ordered thirteen episodes of the show without a pilot. “That’s miraculous. That is every showrunner’s dream, to just ‘go to series’ and have that faith put in your work. They paid full freight. They were new, they were streamlined, they were lovely, they were enthusiastic about it. And I love being on the new frontier. I love being first out of the gate.” “Orange” is based on a memoir by Piper Kerman, a Smith College graduate from a wealthy family who served thirteen months in the federal prison in Danbury, Connecticut, on drug charges. “She’s turned criminals into women we know, women we care about, women we root for,” writes Time magazine.

“It’s not a secret that the work I do is also my soapbox. Having a soapbox is a great privilege. However, it’s not effective if you’re scolding people. I always have an agenda, but my first job is to entertain and make the audience care about those characters and stories. You’ll never get your point across or move the needle or plant ideas unless people are invested. . . . People watch TV for pleasure. It’s got to be fun. Prison is a dark, dark world, but I don’t think we’re being disingenuous by making it comedic. Humor is how you survive the darkness.” --Jenji Kohan

​​​​Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.