June 2023 | Peter Blake AB ‘91 JD ‘95

by Laura Frustaci

Peter Blake AB '91 JD '95 was a lawyer and management consultant before he started writing for television. He wrote for HOUSE, MD. for eight seasons, and has written for THE PRACTICE, ELEMENTARY, GOTHAM and BILLIONS, among other shows. He created and was the showrunner for EL CANDIDATO, a bilingual production set in and filmed in Mexico City that premiered on Amazon in July 2020. Peter earned three Emmy nominations as producer for HOUSE, MD. His teleplays have won the PEN/USA literary award and the Edgar award, and have been nominated for the WGA and Humanitas awards. Peter is currently an Executive Producer on THE GOOD DOCTOR on ABC, or would be if there weren't a strike. Peter is from New York City and is a graduate of Harvard University and Harvard Law School. He lives in Los Angeles with his wife Jennifer and their two children. 

Peter Blake (AB ‘91, JD ‘95) started his career journey to television writer and creator in a rather surprising way: by attending law school. At Harvard, Peter cultivated his interest in culture by majoring in History and Literature. Upon graduation, he chose a career path the way many 21-year-olds do: he followed in his father’s footsteps and went to law school. Unfortunately, he hated it. “I didn't find it interesting and wasn’t good at it, either. It was really rule-based and not as creative as I thought it would be,” Peter recalls. After graduation, he received an offer to be a management consultant at Monitor Company. “I was even worse at that than I would have been as a lawyer. My brain didn’t work in that way. But it forced me to just get out of there, so I moved to LA and got a job as an assistant.” 

His pivot to Hollywood turned out to be instrumental in his career path. Peter worked as an assistant and low-level executive for three years before finally realizing that his true passion was writing. He wrote two spec scripts that, along with his legal background, enabled him to land a role writing on THE PRACTICE, one of many legal shows on the air at the time. “I was really lucky -- I got an offer to write on HOUSE after THE PRACTICE ended, and that became a giant hit,” Peter explains. “I kept that job for eight years, which was rare then and is kind of unheard of now. Since then, I’ve bounced around between cable shows like BILLIONS and HEMLOCK GROVE and network shows like GOTHAM, ELEMENTARY, and THE GOOD DOCTOR for the last three years on ABC.” 

A unique aspect of Peter’s career is his experience working on international shows. “I like learning languages, I spend a lot of time doing it,” Peter says. “So, I started working on international TV shows at the same time as my US work, which is an uncommon thing to do in Hollywood. I spoke French and Italian, so I got a job working in Rome on ZEROZEROZERO on Amazon Prime. I was a consultant in the writers’ room in Rome. We only worked in the mornings and I spent the rest of the time wandering around the city. It was an amazing experience.”

After that, Peter was approached by producers who wanted to do a show set in Mexico City, and he ultimately ended up creating a series for Amazon: EL CANDIDATO. Then, after EL CANDIDATO, Peter helped a Chilean writer with a pilot he was working on, which led to a job on Apple TV’s first Latin American show: MIDNIGHT FAMILY. In between all this, Peter also taught writing in Haiti at the only film school in the country and ran a simulated writers’ room for a pilot they shot. 

Having worked on such an interesting variety of shows, but most recently (and for the longest amount of time) on medical TV shows, we asked Peter what kind of impact he felt that shows about medicine can have. “Americans get a lot of their medical information from TV shows, so because of that, there’s a very good organization called Hollywood, Health and Society which puts writers in touch with doctors in order to make sure that the medicine that is shown onscreen is as realistic as it can be,” Peter explains. “When I worked on HOUSE, we did a lot of episodes about rare diseases, and I think in some cases shed some light on diseases that were underfunded, which may have helped a little bit. But what was more important was that we told stories about mental illness involving House himself which I think were accurate and responsible. House suffered from addiction and depression problems, and at the end of one of our seasons went to a psychiatric treatment facility. We worked with psychiatrists to make sure we handled that issue in a realistic and sensitive way.” At the end of the day, Peter notes that ultimately, “the most important thing was telling a story that would connect with the audience.” 

Speaking of telling stories, the industry has recently entered into a conversation about the power of AI generated stories. “From what I’ve seen, AI can do some amazing things,” Peter states. “For example, I asked it to write a scene with doctors doing liver surgery and I was blown away by what it came up with. But currently AI seems to be an extremely sophisticated form of auto-complete, so it doesn't yet come up with anything especially original or brilliant. I think for the time being, it can be a useful tool for writers themselves if they want some ideas, but the product it gives you is not something that can be filmed.” Peter quickly adds a caveat to this optimism: “I have no idea at all how things are going to shake up five years from now because ChatGPT, for example, is improving so much in each iteration that my tempered optimism about it might prove totally wrong if it continues at this pace.” And, he adds, "The danger right now for writers is not the studios hiring AI to replace us, but producers using AI to create mediocre written material that we're hired to adapt. Which turns us from creators who own the material into hired guns, diluting our authorship and lowering our earnings."

This dovetails well with some of Peter’s advice for young writers: “Have a job while you’re writing. Or even better, have a career while you’re writing, because you never know how things are going to work out. Also, getting some life experience will help you as a writer. Going to law school helped me.” Another important piece of industry advice Peter shared is to be nice… to everyone: “Be good to the people around you. If the fact that it's the right thing to do isn't enough of an incentive, do it because it will help you - they will be your co-workers and possibly bosses one day.” And finally, Peter concludes, “There’s a balancing act in being a writer.” He elaborates: “You need to be confident enough that you will finish a script. Any script you write, no matter how bad it is, has an infinitely better chance of helping your career, than a script that you polish to perfection but never finish. But at the same time you need to be insecure enough, or more accurately, realistic enough, to realize that your work isn't perfect, so that you're open to taking notes and improving your script.” 

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