This list was so interesting to research that I've decided to make it a two-parter. (Part 2 is here.) Usually the biggest names in TV got their start in that medium. But once in a while you'll hear about a writer who gets a motion picture screenplay produced, then makes the move to television. This once was considered a step down; now it's a different story. Especially when these writers create their own hit series and become the highest-paid people in show business. Here are nine recent examples.
- HOME FRIES, written by Vince Gilligan. The genius behind Breaking Bad and its spinoff Better Call Saul got his big break with his script for 1993's Wilder Napalm, a little-seen Dennis Quaid/Debra Winger drama. A more unlikely Gilligan project is this Drew Barrymore romantic comedy, which he penned during his tenure on The X-Files. (Gilligan also cowrote the Will Smith superhero flick Hancock.)
- CROSSROADS, written by Shonda Rhimes. Rhimes rules over network primetime, thanks to her shows Grey's Anatomy, Scandal, and How to Get Away with Murder (created by Peter Nowalk). She also created the since-cancelled Private Practice. She'd come a long way in a short time: in 1999, she wrote the bland Britney Spears vehicle Crossroads, then The Princess Diaries 2 in 2004. Not exactly a career highlight, but a year later came Grey's.
- RUNNING WITH SCISSORS, written by Ryan Murphy. Murphy also produced and directed this independent comedy-drama, based on Augusten Burroughs' memoir. To be fair, he'd already created two TV series by this point: Popular and Nip/Tuck. But his greatest successes – Glee, American Horror Story, and American Crime Story – were yet to come.
- NO STRINGS ATTACHED, written by Elizabeth Meriwether. This Natalie Portman-Ashton Kutcher rom-com has few fans, but it nevertheless opened the door for the young – just 30 years old in 2011 – Meriwether to launch her successful sitcom New Girl.
- AMERICAN BEAUTY, written by Alan Ball. Now here's an odd case: By 1999, Ball had spent years as a TV writer and producer, mainly on the since-forgotten sitcom Cybill and Grace Under Fire. He seemingly came out of nowhere with his Oscar-winning screenplay for American Beauty. He could have easily stayed in movies after this great honor, but Ball surprised everyone by heading back to television, creating Six Feet Under and, later, True Blood. (He made a brief return to the big screen in 2007, writing and directing the indie disappointment Towelhead.)
- SCREAM, written by Kevin Williamson. Williamson beat even Ball to the punch: when his first produced screenplay Scream made him a household name, he followed it up with the similarly hip slasher movies I Know What You Did Last Summer, The Faculty, and Teaching Mrs. Tingle. Then he decided to create the decidedly un-horrific (depending on your tastes) TV drama Dawson's Creek. These days Williamson straddles horror and drama, creating The Vampire Diaries and The Following.
- ALIEN: RESURRECTION, written by Joss Whedon. Whedon was a third generation TV writer: father Tom wrote for Alice and The Golden Girls; grandfather John wrote for the Donna Reed, Andy Griffith, and Dick Van Dyke shows. The youngest Whedon wrote for Roseanne before his first feature screenplay, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, was turned into a so-so 1992 feature. Before Whedon reclaimed his Buffy franchise and made it a cult TV hit five years later, he was one of many writers on Toy Story, Titan A.E., and Atlantis: The Lost Empire. He left animation behind and got sole screenplay credit for this Alien sequel. Whedon is currently keeping one foot in television and one foot in feature films.
- REGARDING HENRY, written by J.J. Abrams. If there's an even bigger geek icon than Joss Whedon, it's Abrams, who, like Whedon, is producing TV and movies simultaneously. (He's also the son of a boob tube heavyweight: father Gerald is a veteran movie-of-the-week producer). But before Lost, Alias, and even Felicity, and long before directing his first feature (Mission: Impossible III), the 25-year-old Abrams wrote this Harrison Ford tearjerker. (His first produced script was actually Taking Care of Business, a vehicle for James Belushi, of all people.)
- THE SUPER, written by Sam Simon. Most people think of Matt Groening when they think of The Simpsons, but Simon, who passed away in 2015 at the age of 59, created the show with the cartoonist. Simon was just in his mid-twenties when he was hired to oversee the final season of the legendary sitcom Taxi. In 1991, just as The Simpsons was taking off, Simon wrote his one and only produced screenplay: this slight Joe Pesci comedy.