Finding a 'Homeland' in Television

Talent, luck, hard work and a strong belt keep executive producer Gansa’s career in motion

Why This Matters

Alex Gansa


Showtime’s Homeland, cocreator and executive producer


B.A., English, Princeton University, 1984

Employment Highlights:

Spenser: For Hire, writer, 1986-87

Beauty and the Beast, writer/producer, 1989-90

The X-Files, writer/supervising producer, 1993-95

Dawson’s Creek, executive producer, 1999-2000

Entourage, consulting producer, 2007

24, writer/coexecutive producer, 2009-10

Current title since October 2011


Born Nov. 23, 1960; married to Lauren White; son Willy, 18

If the Emmy Awards were held in the manner of the U.S. presidential
election, outstanding drama candidate ‘Homeland’
would be a frontrunner for the Programming party.

Unfortunately for the Showtime political
thriller, which debuts its second season
Sept. 30, the Academy of Television Arts and
Sciences will not be holding a debate to discuss
the newcomer’s merits against four-term
leader Mad Men at next week’s 64th Primetime
Emmy Awards.

But Homeland’s success since its October
2011 premiere—including a Golden Globe for
best television series drama, its place as Showtime’s
highest-rated freshman show ever and
the fact that it helped earn the network the
most Emmy nominations in its history—has
exceeded any expectations executive producer
Alex Gansa may have had when his agent returned
from Israel with a script and said to
Homeland cocreator Howard Gordon, “‘I think
I have your next series.’”

The script was the pilot of an Israeli series,
Prisoners of War. Gordon, who also serves
as Homeland’s executive producer, brought
Gansa—with whom he had previously worked
on numerous series—on to the project. Gansa
says he was “immediately intrigued” after reading
just that one script. The pair developed the
series for a network home, with cabler Showtime
eventually winning out over broadcast
nets Fox and NBC.

“The importance of the show being on cable
cannot be overstated, just in terms of the creative
freedom it allows us,” Gansa says.

Creative freedom is especially important
when discussing Homeland’s subject matter,
which in just the first season included drone
strikes, government surveillance and domestic
terrorism. With the country currently divided
over its own political issues in the lead-up to
the heated 2012 presidential election, Gansa
says that they “do their best to remain agnostic
on all these things.

“We don’t try to fall on one side of the answer,”
Gansa says. “We just try to ask the question
and let people come to a determination
on their own. Because truthfully, these are the
debates that are going on in the halls of power
and the intelligence community right now.”

Though bringing up such subjects would
have some networks shying away for its controversy,
Showtime president of entertainment
David Nevins says that he “trusts [Gansa] to let
him make the calls.

“[Gansa] is both deliberate and decisive in
his decision-making, and he knows how to
think things through,” Nevins says. “He’s been
doing it for a long time, and Homeland is kind
of the one where he was finally able to come
into his own.”

Not only has Gansa worked on a plethora of
shows, he’s also been able to work on shows
that have become iconic television on both
broadcast and cable. Just prior to Homeland,
Gansa joined Gordon at 24 to serve as a writer
and coexecutive producer for the Fox drama’s
! nal two seasons.

Gansa’s relationship with Gordon spans
decades. The pair met in their senior year at
Princeton and decided upon graduation in
1984 that they would “take a shot,” as Gansa
says, and drive cross-country to work in the
entertainment business. Soon after their arrival
in Los Angeles, they sold a spec script to the
1980s series St. Elsewhere and started an SAT
preparation company (aptly enough for two
Ivy Leaguers). One of their first students was
the daughter of a producer on the ’80s ABC
show Spenser: For Hire, who was always looking
for new writers. Gansa landed a writing
gig on that series.

“It was a combination of serendipity and
hard work,” he says.

What followed in Gansa’s career indicates
more hard work and talent than any serendipity.
Following Spenser, he wrote and produced
for the Emmy-nominated CBS series Beauty
and the Beast
, which was Gansa’s first staff job
as a TV writer. When that show ended, Gansa
and Gordon pitched or produced several pilots,
including Country Estates in 1993, before
Gansa was hired as a writer and supervising
producer on The X-Files.

Gansa’s credits comprise mostly dramas; in
addition to Dawson’s Creek, he worked on the
short-lived Wolf Lake and Numb3rs. But his
one foray into comedy was HBO’s Entourage,
where he served as a consulting producer during
the show’s fourth season.

“I had a blast,” Gansa says of the series,
“[but] I think my own inclination is a dramatic
one. This is where my head resides,
and how I think about stories is in a more
dramatic structure.”

While Gansa does echo that sentiment
in his television choices (Boss and Breaking
top his list of favorite shows to watch in
his free time), he does watch some sitcoms:
namely, NBC’s Parks and Recreation and Fox’s
New Girl.

The college English major is also an avid
reader—he cites the works of John le Carré as
speaking to him in a way that sitcoms do not.
Gansa also, however, calls himself an unhappy
writer: at times, he says, he literally must belt
himself into a chair to write.
“It’s very difficult for me [to write]. I very
much prefer the story process, the production
process. But ultimately…I’m forced to do it,”
he says.

Unfortunately for Gansa (and fortunately
for fans), he will be spending a lot more time
in that chair. As soon as the current Homeland
season wraps, he and Gordon will begin
working on a pilot for CBS next year. And if
Homeland continues with the same ferocity as
during its freshman season, he might need to
buy a new belt.

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