Eight Chosen for Disney/ABC TV Diversity Writing Program

Created in association with WGA West, program lets writers work with writing staffs, TV executives

Last Updated: February 18, 2010 @ 3:10 PM

Eight writers have been chosen for the annual writing program at Disney/ABC Television Group, in association with the Writers Guild of America, West.

Participants in the program, marking its 20th anniversary this year, are Zach Ayers, Denise Hahn, Aaron Ho, Zahir McGhee, Gina Monreal, Sierra Ornelas, Gloria Shen and Phononzell Williams. They will work closely with executives from Disney/ABC Television Group and gain valuable exposure to the writing staffs of various Disney/ABC Television Group series.

“With this 20th-anniversary class, we have reached an important milestone in the company’s ongoing commitment to developing the next group of writers,” Tim McNeal, VP of talent development and diversity for Disney/ABC Television Group, said in a statement. “Our program provides the best training ground for new writers aspiring to break into television.”

“The Writers Guild has a unique relationship with the Disney/ABC Television Group Writing Program. These talented writers are our future members and it’s important for us to connect with them at this early stage of their careers,” Kimberly Myers, the WGAW’s director of diversity, said in a statement.

More than 1,500 submissions were received from around the country for the intensive training program. In 2009 writing participants were staffed on such series as ABC’s “Brothers & Sisters,” “Ugly Betty” and “Samantha Who?” as well as ABC Family’s “Greek.”

Alumni of the program include Jane Espenson, writer-executive producer-creator, “Battlestar Galactica,” “Warehouse 13” and “Caprica”; Tim Doyle, writer/co-executive producer on “Better of Ted”; Ayanna Floyd, writer-producer, “Private Practice”; Nelson Soler, writer-producer, “Lincoln Heights”; Saladin Patterson, writer/co-executive producer, “Psych”; Maria Jacquemetton, writer-supervising producer, “Mad Men”; and Reggie Rock Bythewood, writer of the film “Notorious.”

2010 Disney/ABC Television Group Writing Program Participants (from the Disney/ABC press release):

ZACH AYERS (Comedy)

Zach Ayers, born in Anchorage and raised in Seattle, is a former producer/director for the CIA turned comedy writer. After four years at CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, Zach pursued this less-clandestine career with vigor. Following his education at Ithaca University, he graduated from Second City’s writing program, creating successful but nonetheless unheard of web series for Crackle and Blip.tv. He then spent two months in London as the head writer of a comedic talk show at the Hayward Gallery. Most recently Zach was a writer’s assistant for the first season of the cable network series “Men of a Certain Age.”

DENISE HAHN (Drama)

Denise Hahn grew up in Boulder, Colorado. After graduating from Yale with a degree in English, she moved to Los Angeles, where she quickly landed a job as a development assistant with an independent film producer. Denise completed her Master of Fine Arts degree in the Peter Stark Producing Program at USC. After gaining valuable experience in development and production at Fox Searchlight, she discovered that writing was her true calling. She began writing screenplays and television specs and instantly fell in love with the medium’s power to create infinite new worlds and characters.

AARON HO (Comedy)

Born in San Francisco and raised in Fresno, California, Aaron Ho graduated from the University of California, San Diego with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Film & Video. There he started honing his writing, in addition to being the founder of the UCSD Poker Society. He began his career working as an assistant on “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno,” where he wrote jokes for the late night series. Aaron was the winner of the 2009 New Writers Award, given by the Coalition of Asian Pacifics in Entertainment. Most recently he worked on the production staff of the upcoming network comedy series, “100 Questions.”

ZAHIR MCGHEE

Born and raised in South New Jersey, Zahir McGhee realized at a young age that the next best thing to being the sixth Cosby kid was to write for television. After graduating from the University of Maryland with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Government and Politics, Zahir graduated with distinction from the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts with a Master of Fine Arts degree in Writing for Screen Television. There he held the prestigious Annenberg Fellowship. Most recently Zahir worked as the film coordinator for the 41st NAACP Image Awards.

GINA MONREAL

Gina Monreal’s unique background of growing up in a Mexican-Norwegian family has proven to be a great resource for her storytelling. She spent six years writing, acting, directing and producing in the

 

 

Chicago theater community. Her play, “Big Dreams,” received multiple productions and was supported by grants from the Culture and Animals Foundation, Ludwig Vogelstein Foundation and the Illinois Arts Council. Gina recently earned her Master of Fine Arts degree from USC’s Writing for Screen & Television Program and participated in the NBC, CBS and National Hispanic Media Coalition TV writing programs.

SIERRA ORNELAS

Sierra Teller Ornelas, an award winning sixth generation Navajo weaver, grew up in Tucson, Arizona. She received a Bachelor of Arts degree in Media Arts from the University of Arizona. There she worked diligently as a contributing writer and producer for Comedy Corner, the longest running weekly college sketch comedy show in the country. After graduation she moved to Washington, DC to work as a program assistant at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of the American Indian. In 2009 she participated in the IAIA Summer Television & Film Workshop and the National Hispanic Media Coalition Fall Television Writers Program.

GLORIA SHEN

Gloria Shen received her Bachelor of Arts degree in Sociology from Bowdoin College and was awarded the Goodwin Commencement Prize for her essay, “In Search of Pencil Sharpeners: Living the Efficient Life,” which she delivered as a keynote speaker at Bowdoin’s 2003 Commencement. During her role at the notable Robert F. Kennedy Center for Human Rights in Washington DC, Gloria was inspired to pursue a writing career and received her Master of Fine Arts degree in Professional Writing from the University of Southern California. Having been a lifelong fan of television programming, she is now focused on writing as the medium through which she best expresses her observations on the daily dysfunctions, embarrassments and triumphs that create connections between us all.

PHONONZELL (Phonz) WILLIAMS

Phononzell Williams spent his younger years in Detroit. He went on to attend the University of Michigan, where he developed a new understanding of film and television. His teleplay, entitled “Vacancy & Gravity,” won top writing honors and the Lawrence Kasdan Award. Upon graduation he moved to Los Angeles, where he started his career working several grueling production assistant jobs until landing a writer’s assistant position on ABC’s “The Unusuals,” where he was exposed to the workings of a professional writer’s room.