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Paul Attanasio

Paul Attanasio

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Also Known As: Died:
Born: November 14, 1959 Cause of Death:
Birth Place: Bronx, New York, USA Profession: screenwriter, film critic, TV host, producer

Biography CLOSE THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

One of the more prolific screenwriters working in Hollywood, Paul Attanasio worked both sides of the field in television and movies, creating some of Hollywoodâ¿¿s most acclaimed projects. After working for a time as a journalist, Attanasio segued to screenwriting and found his first success on the small screen as the creator and executive producer of "Homicide: Life on the Streets" (NBC, 1993-99), one of the most acclaimed crime procedurals of all time. From there, he earned an Oscar nomination for writing Robert Redfordâ¿¿s brilliant look at the 1950s game show scandals, "Quiz Show" (1994), and later earned a second Academy Award nod for his work on "Donnie Brasco" (1997). Rapidly becoming one of Hollywoodâ¿¿s go-to writers for uncredited script doctoring work, Attanasio did stumble a bit with underwhelming scripts for "Sphere" (1998) and "The Sum of All Fears" (2002), while creating short-lived shows like "Gideonâ¿¿s Crossing" (ABC, 2000-01) and "Century City" (CBS, 2003-04), both of which failed to last beyond their first season. But in collaboration with David Shore, Attanasio executive produced the long-running "House" (Fox, 2004-2012), which won a slew of awards while becoming a top 10 ratings...

One of the more prolific screenwriters working in Hollywood, Paul Attanasio worked both sides of the field in television and movies, creating some of Hollywoodâ¿¿s most acclaimed projects. After working for a time as a journalist, Attanasio segued to screenwriting and found his first success on the small screen as the creator and executive producer of "Homicide: Life on the Streets" (NBC, 1993-99), one of the most acclaimed crime procedurals of all time. From there, he earned an Oscar nomination for writing Robert Redfordâ¿¿s brilliant look at the 1950s game show scandals, "Quiz Show" (1994), and later earned a second Academy Award nod for his work on "Donnie Brasco" (1997). Rapidly becoming one of Hollywoodâ¿¿s go-to writers for uncredited script doctoring work, Attanasio did stumble a bit with underwhelming scripts for "Sphere" (1998) and "The Sum of All Fears" (2002), while creating short-lived shows like "Gideonâ¿¿s Crossing" (ABC, 2000-01) and "Century City" (CBS, 2003-04), both of which failed to last beyond their first season. But in collaboration with David Shore, Attanasio executive produced the long-running "House" (Fox, 2004-2012), which won a slew of awards while becoming a top 10 ratings winner. Whether on television or the silver screen, Attanasio built a reputation for works of unrelenting realism and strong characters, making him one of the most highly sought scribes in the business.

Born on Nov. 11, 1959 in the Bronx, NY, Attanasio was raised in the Pelham Bay area and later Teaneck, NJ by his father, Joseph, an actor and retired commercial consultant, and his mother, Connie, a former real estate broker. After graduating Harvard University in 1981, he attended their law school and earned his juris doctor in 1984, before being hired on at the law firm of Cravath, Swaine & Moore in New York City. Convinced by a senior partner to find something that he truly loved, Attanasio left the firm and landed a trial run as a film critic at The Washington Post following freelance gigs for The Boston Phoenix, Rolling Stone and The New Republic. He quickly secured the job and served as the Postâ¿¿s film critic from 1984-87 while also playing host of "The Movie Show" (Cinemax, 1986-87), a cable series devoted to movie reviews, interviews and behind-the-scenes-reports. After burning out from writing constant film reviews, Attanasio left Washington for New York to write screenplays. Though his first script was terrible by his own admission, it had enough in it to attract an agent and later an assignment to write a spy movie for Paramount Pictures.

Though mostly known for his film work, Attanasio had his start on the small screen when he wrote the pilot for "Homicide: Life on the Streets" (NBC, 1993-99) for producer Barry Levinson, who had secured the rights to Davis Simonâ¿¿s gritty non-fiction novel Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets (1991). An unglamorous look at the glory-free lives of Baltimore homicide detectives, "Homicide" was widely hailed by critics as being one of the best cop procedurals ever made and went on to become the first drama to win three Peabody Awards in 1993, 1995 and 1997. A year after creating "Homicide," Attanasio had his first produced screenplay with "Quiz Show" (1994), an exemplary docudrama about the quiz show scandals of the late 1950s. Focusing on the game show "21," the movie starred Ralph Fiennes as the erudite Charles Van Doren, a charming college instructor who becomes entangled in a growing scandal involving the showâ¿¿s crooked producers (David Paymer and Hank Azaria) feeding him answers, thanks to the investigation of an intrepid Congressional lawyer (Rob Morrow). Though not a major box office hit, "Quiz Show" was highly praised by most critics and earned four Academy Award nominations, including one for Best Adapted Screenplay.

That same year, Attanasio was hired by Levinson to adapt Michael Crichtonâ¿¿s best-selling thriller, "Disclosure" (1994), which starred Michael Douglas as a corporate executive accused of sexual harassment by a new hire (Demi Moore) that turns out to be a ploy to remove him from his virtual reality company. Despite mixed reviews, the film was a big hit, earning over $200 million at the box office. With Levinson producing and Mike Newell directing, Attanasio next wrote the script for "Donnie Brasco" (1997), a look at the real-life story of Joe Pistone (Johnny Depp), an FBI agent deep undercover in the Bonanno crime family, thanks to his friendship with low-level mobster Lefty Ruggiero (Al Pacino). Both grittily realistic and entertaining, the intimate character study of a man struggling to reconcile his real life with his undercover persona earned Attanasio his second Oscar nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay. From there, he shared screenplay credit with four other writers on the woeful adaptation of Michael Crichtonâ¿¿s sci-fi thriller "Sphere" (1998), directed by Levinson and starring Dustin Hoffman, Samuel L Jackson and Sharon Stone. While he did some uncredited work on both "Armageddon" (1998) and the colossal bomb "Town & Country" (2001), Attanasio returned to the small screen to create "Gideonâ¿¿s Crossing" (ABC, 2000-01), a short-lived medical drama starring Andre Braugher as an unorthodox doctor juggling new techniques with old-school bedside manner.

He went on to write the action thriller "The Sum of All Fears" (2002), which starred Ben Affleck as a young Jack Ryan called up to stop terrorists from pushing the U.S. and Soviet Union into war. Back to television, Attanasio created and executive produced "Century City" (CBS, 2003-04), a futuristic law series that explored the legal system in the year 2030. Following more uncredited work on films as varied as "Beyond the Sea" (2004) and "Poseidon" (2006), he adapted "The Good German" (2006) for director Steven Soderbergh, a period espionage thriller about an American reporter (George Clooney) searching for his lost love (Cate Blanchett) in postwar Germany. Attanasio bounced back to television to collaborate with David Shore to help create, write and executive produce the Emmy-winning medical procedural, "House" (Fox, 2004-2012), which starred Hugh Laurie as a drug-addicted, misanthropic, but utterly brilliant diagnostic physician who acts as something of Sherlock Holmes in solving tough infectious disease cases. A big ratings and critical hit, "House" won numerous awards, particularly for Laurie, over the course of its eight-season run. During that time, Attanasio did uncredited work on "The Bourne Ultimatum" (2007), "Leatherheads" (2008) and "The Fighter" (2010), and after "House" left the airwaves, he created "The Vatican" (Showtime, 2013- ), a thriller that covered the politics inside the hierarchy of the Catholic Church.

By Shawn Dwyer

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Filmographyclose complete filmography

CAST: (feature film)

VIEW THE FULL FILMOGRAPHY

Milestones close milestones

:
Raised in Tenafly, New Jersey
1984:
Hired to work at law firm of Cravath, Swaine & Moore; turned job down to intern at <i>The Washington Post</i>
1984:
Worked as a film critic for <i>The Washington Post</i>
:
Host of film review and interview cable series, "The Movie Show" (Cinemax)
1987:
Moved to L.A.
1993:
TV scriptwriting debut with the pilot episode of NBC's "Homicide: Life in the Streets" (produced by Barry Levinson)
1994:
Feature film screenwriting debut, "Quiz Show"; Levinson's company (Baltimore Pictures) was one of producers; earned Best Adapted Screenplay Academy Award nomination
1994:
Adapted the Michael Crichton novel "Disclosure" for Levinson
1997:
Scripted Mike Newell's hit mob movie "Donnie Brasco" (produced by Levinson); received second Oscar nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay
1998:
Co-screenwriting credit on Levinson-directed "Sphere", adapted from Michael Crichton's novel
1999:
Received six-episode series commitment from ABC for hourlong medical drama based on the nonfiction work "The Measure of Our Days"; series expected to debut in fall 2000
2000:
Created the ABC medical drama "Gideon's Crossing" loosely-based on the experience of the real life Dr. Jerome Groopman
2002:
Penned the pilot "R.U.S./H."; also served as an executive producer
2004:
Executive produced "House M.D." (Fox) a medical drama starring Hugh Laurie
2006:
Penned the adaptation for "The Good German" directed by Steven Soderbergh and starring George Clooney
2007:
Reportedly did uncredited rewrite for "The Bourne Ultimatum"
VIEW ALL MILESTONES

Education

Harvard University: Cambridge , Massachusetts - 1981
Harvard Law School: Cambridge , Massachusetts - 1984

Notes

About his decision to forsake the practice of law: "He [a senior partner from Cravath, Swaine & Moore] said he'd rather be sitting in a vault in Omaha doing a document discovery in the middle of summer than playing golf or spending time with his family. He was very sincere about it. And I felt I should find something I love to do, too. And this was not it." --Paul Attanasio quoted in The New York Times, September 12, 1994.

Recalling his years as a critic with certain distaste: "I was like the snotty boy critic. It was the time of the teen-age comedies, and just seeing one after another was wearing me out. I remember my last review was for 'Over the Top', a Sylvester Stallone arm-wrestling movie. I had already used my Sylvester Stallone insult jokes in my 'Rambo' review. I had nothing new to say. It was probably the shortest review of all time. Two paragraphs." --Attanasio in The New York Times, September 12, 1994.

Companions close complete companion listing

wife:
Katie Jacobs. Producer.

Family close complete family listing

father:
Jospeh Attanasio. Actor, retired commercial consultant.
mother:
Connie Attanasio. Former real estate broker.
brother:
Robert Attanasio. Novelist. Born c. 1963.
daughter:
Annie Attanasio. Born c. June 1992.
VIEW COMPLETE FAMILY LISTING

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