ROCKFORD — Shawn Ryan’s career as a screenwriter and television producer is hardly an overnight success story.
In fact, far from it.
The Rockford native and Keith Country Day School alum pursued his Hollywood dreams shortly after graduating from Middlebury College in Vermont in 1988 but struggled for an extended period.
“I moved to Los Angeles when I was 23 and it wasn’t until about four or four-and-a-half years after I moved there that I started regularly making an income as a writer,” Ryan said during a recent visit to his hometown. “Before that, I called myself a writer but I was actually a math tutor, a guy answering phones at a law firm or any number of odd jobs.”
Ryan finally found success as a staff writer on the show “Nash Bridges” before he struck gold when he created and served as head writer for the Emmy-nominated television drama “The Shield” on FX from 2002 to 2008.
Shawn Ryan:Famed TV writer returns to Rockford’s Keith School with graduation message
Ryan has also written for such shows as “The Chicago Code”, “The Last Resort” and “Timeless”. His remake of the 1970’s drama SWAT will return for a sixth season this fall on CBS.
Despite his success, Ryan said he stopped reading reviews of his work 15 years ago.
“What I learned was that the good reviews didn’t really validate me and the bad reviews hurt,” Ryan said. “So, if I’m happy with the show, that’s enough for me.”
Ryan is currently working on a new action-thriller that will be on Netflix next year called “The Night Agent,” based on the 2019 New York Times bestseller by author Matthew Quirk.
What lies ahead for the television industry in this era of numerous streaming platforms?
“All of a sudden, you add up the prices of all of these streaming sites and you’re paying the same or even more than your cable bill,” Ryan said. “I think we’re going to see fewer shows (in the future) but probably better shows once we consolidate a bit and the talent amasses around fewer shows.”
Ryan returned to Rockford last week to be the commencement speaker at Keith Country Day’s graduation and was more than happy to reflect upon his roots.
“What I always say when people learn that I went to such a small school, they conclude there must not have been a lot to do,” he said. “I always thought the opposite because I played on the soccer team, the basketball team and the tennis team. I got to be in the school plays. I really got to do everything.”
Ryan and his wife, Cathy, have been married for 24 years and have two children.
While his recent visit was his first trip to Rockford in seven years, Ryan remains proud of his hometown.
“I always want to remember where I came from because Hollywood can screw your head up in a lot of ways if you’re not careful,” he said. “I always think of Rockford as the people I have found to be incredibly generous, kind and they’re the neighbors that will help you out when things go wrong.”
Ken DeCoster: firstname.lastname@example.org; @DeCosterKen