John Wells

John Wells Headshot

Writer • Director • Producer

Birth Name: John Marcum Wells

Birth Date: May 28, 1956

Age: 68 years old

Birth Place: Alexandria, Virginia

Though most noted for creating and executive producing some of television's most critically acclaimed shows, John Wells was difficult to pigeonhole because of his extensive producing credits in features while also displaying considerable business acumen as the president of the Writers Guild of America, West. In fact, Wells made his producer debut on the satirical comedy "Nice Girls Don't Explode" (1987) before transitioning to television as a writer and eventual co-executive producer on the acclaimed Vietnam drama "China Beach" (ABC, 1989-1991).

After developing the failed cop procedural "Angel Street" (CBS, 1992), he became the executive producer on the Michal Crichton-created medical drama "ER" (NBC, 1994-2009), a long-running, Emmy Award-winning series that established Wells as one of the top television producers in the business. From there, Wells ventured back into film producing with "The Peacemaker" (1997) before creating the mildly successful "Third Watch" (NBC, 1999-2005) and stepping into the showrunner role on the critically lauded political drama "The West Wing" (NBC, 1999-2006).

Meanwhile, his company John Wells Productions produced a number of well-received indie features like "Far From Heaven" (2002), "The Good Thief" (2003) and "I'm Not There" (2007), and Wells himself made his feature directing debut with "The Company Men" (2010). But his bread and butter remained television, though the not-easily-defined Wells jumped from network to cable with "Southland" (NBC, 2009; TNT, 2010-13) and "Shameless" (Showtime, 2011- ), where he flourished under more creative freedom while retaining his high standard of quality television.

Born on May 28, 1956 in Alexandria, VA, Wells was raised by his father, Llewellyn, an Episcopalian minister, and his mother, Marjorie. An avid television watcher all throughout his life, Wells eventually earned his bachelor's degree in film from Carnegie-Mellon University and moved on to the University of Southern California, where he earned a master's degree in business of entertainment. At the time, Wells worked in the marketing and advertising department for Paramount Pictures on such productions as "Reds" (1981), "Raiders of the Lost Ark" (1981), "Ragtime" (1981) and "One from the Heart" (1982).

He also kept active in the theater, producing a number of acclaimed stage productions in Los Angeles, including "Tanzi," "Battery," "Balm in Gilead" and "Steaming." Wells moved into producing features with "Nice Girls Don't Explode" (1987), a rather silly satirical comedy about a young woman (Michelle Meyrink) whose hormones cause spontaneous combustion whenever aroused, which leads to exceedingly difficult problems in trying to find the right man. He soon moved into television by writing an episode of the "CBS Summer Playhouse" presentation, "Roughhouse" (1988), before serving as the story editor on the limited series, "Just In Time" (ABC, 1988).

Wells took his first major strides in television after joining the Vietnam-set medical drama, "China Beach" (ABC, 1989-1991), during the critically acclaimed show's second season. After writing several episodes, Wells was bumped up to supervising producer for the third season and co-executive producer for the fourth and final seasons. His technical and managerial expertise as well as his sympathy for actors helped Wells maintain the complex storylines and gritty, detailed realism that became more pronounced later in his career. Meanwhile, he set up his production company, John Wells Productions, which began a long-standing relationship with Warner Bros. Television, and created his first series, "Angel Street" (CBS, 1992), a hard-hitting detective show about an ambitious black homicide detective (Robin Givens) determined to prove herself to all the men in her department.

The show lasted four episodes. Also that year, Wells made his first venture into television movies by co-writing and co-executive producing "The Nightman" (NBC, 1992), a suspense thriller about a convicted killer (Ted Marcoux) paroled after 18 years, who confronts his victim's daughter (Jenny Robertson) with the truth behind the shocking murder.

Wells achieved arguably his greatest success as the executive producer of the long-running medical drama, "ER" (NBC, 1994-2009), which was created by author Michael Crichton and chronicled the trails and tribulations of doctors and nurses in a large Chicago teaching hospital. For the first six seasons, Wells also served as the showrunner while writing a number of episodes. Though cast members came and went with soap opera-like frequency - stars Anthony Edwards, Julianna Marguiles and George Clooney went on to greater fame, thanks to their time on the show - Wells himself remained a constant throughout its 15-year run, retaining his executive producer credit during that span. He gave up the reigns during the sixth season, but frequently returned to pen a number of episodes, and was even nominated for a Humanitas Prize for his season seven episode "A Walk in the Woods." His last written episode was "Old Times," which reunited original cast members Clooney, Marguiles, Noah Wyle and Eriq La Salle. A number one show for three of its first 10 seasons, "ER" slipped in the ratings during its last few years.

Nonetheless, the series earned Wells a total of 11 Emmy nominations, but only one award win in 1996 for Outstanding Drama Series.

As a result of the success of "ER," Wells signed a deal with NBC in 1995 to develop five more series for the network. He bombed with his first effort under his new contract thanks to the short-lived "Trinity" (NBC, 1998), a drama about a working class Irish family that last only four episodes. Meanwhile, he returned to features as the co-executive producer of DreamWorks' inauspicious debut "The Peacemaker" (1997), an espionage thriller involving stolen nukes from the former Soviet Union starring Nicole Kidman and George Clooney. But Wells' success remained inextricably tied to the small screen. He went on to co-create and executive produce the mildly successful "Third Watch" (NBC, 1999-2005), an hour-long drama that focused on the work of New York City police, paramedics and firefighters during the third watch hours of 3 p.m. to midnight.

Wells remained the executive producer through three seasons before leaving to take over as the showrunner on "The West Wing" (NBC, 1999-2006), follow the departure of creator Aaron Sorkin. Though an executive producer throughout the show's run, Wells took hold of the reigns for season five and continued to steer the critically acclaimed show toward Emmy glory, earning three consecutive nominations for Outstanding Drama Series.

Despite his commitment to television, Wells increased his presence on the big screen as the executive producer on a number of lower budget and independently made features. Such titles as "White Oleander" (2002), "Far From Heaven" (2002), starring Julianne Moore, "The Good Thief" (2003) with Nick Nolte, "Infamous" (2006), and the fictional look at Bob Dylan's life "I'm Not There" (2007) were all made under the John Wells Productions banner. Concurrently he worked on a number of series following "The West Wing" leaving the air, but none managed to last very long.

He went on to create and executive produce the failed crime drama "Smith" (CBS, 2006), which featured the FBI pursuing a group of professional thieves led by salesman-by-day (Ray Liotta) trying to make a few last scores before he retires. "Smith" debuted to poor ratings that only got worse until finally the network cut the show after three episodes, leaving four unaired. After serving as executive producer on the cable movie "An American Crime" (Showtime, 2007), Wells made his feature debut as a director on the low-budget drama "The Company Men" (2010), which followed three corporate executives (Ben Affleck, Chris Cooper and Tommy Lee Jones) after they become the victims of downsizing, which forces them to reevaluate their lives and careers. Far from being a box office smash, the film managed to receive a large amount of positive critical reviews.

Prior to "The Company Men," Wells was elected president of the Writers Guild of American, West, where he led smooth negotiations with the Alliance of Motion Pictures and Television Producers on a new contract following a bitter battle during the strike of 2007-08. He next executive produced the acclaimed "Southland" (NBC, 2009; TNT, 2010-13), a gritty cop show that highlighted the trials and tribulations of both patrolmen and detectives in the Los Angeles Police Department. Hailed by critics for its stark realism and fine performances, the show struggled to survive on network television, but found new life and a larger degree of creative freedom on cable following a high-profile bungling of the series by NBC. Meanwhile, Wells went on to executive produce the unyielding dark comedy "Shameless" (Showtime, 2011- ), a remake of the British series of the same name that followed a dysfunctional family headed by a perpetually drunk, but sweet-natured patriarch (William H. Macy) who leaves his 18-year-old daughter (Emmy Rossum) to mind the household.

Once again, Wells was able to exercise more creative freedom with his latest offering and worrying far less about high ratings.

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