JMU Alumni and Emmy-Award Winning TV Writer Meets SMAD Students

Media Arts and Design

Phoef Sutton, the recipient of JMU Distinguished Alumni Award, gave a lecture to SMAD students about his career as a playwright, Television writer, producer and novelist on March 15th.

Phoef Sutton graduated from JMU in 1981. As an undergraduate, Sutton worked as an actor and playwright. He was the only undergraduates to win the Norman Lear Award for Comedy Playwriting.

After graduating from JMU, Sutton produced plays at various regional theaters around the country. His play “Burial Customs” won the National Endowment for Arts Playwright Fellowship.

Sutton moved to Los Angeles in 1985. He worked as a writer on the show “Newhart” during his first year of freelancing and also worked at the NBC television show called “Cheers” as an executive producer. Sutton got his start on the show after being newly married at the time, having a child and only 35 dollars in the bank.

“I didn’t know what the hell I was doing...I just kept my head down and worked like the devil,” said Sutton.

His roles ranged from staff writer to executive producer in the eight years he stayed at the show, winning him two Emmy Awards and a Writer’s Guild Award.

Sutton has created his own shows and movies in the years following his time working with NBC on “Cheers.” His work included shows called “News Radio,” “Thanks” and “Boston Legal.” “Boston Legal”, a show about a young lawyer in the 50’s starring William Shatner, has won a Peabody Award, a GLAAD Award and a Television Academy Honors Award.

Sutton has dabbled in all kinds of writing related to TV such as drama and science fiction but has gravitated particularly towards comedy over the years.

“Comedy is not a defense mechanism, it’s a way of viewing the world,” said Sutton.

He advised students to not adhere to the cliché of following one’s gut instinct and to always pursue their passion.

Sutton has written several books in addition to television writing and screenwriting. He is the author of the mystery series “Crush” about a bouncer in Los Angeles living by his own moral code. The series includes the books “Crush,” “Heart Attack and Vine” and “Colorado.” Sutton has also co-written two books with author Janet Evanovich titled “Wicked Charms” and “Curious Minds.” His book work ranges from genres of romance to mystery to comedy.

Sutton now lives in Vinalhaven, Maine with his wife Dawn and two daughters, Skylar and Celia.

He is currently working on a podcast called Film Freaks Forever where he talks with his friend Mark Legan about unusual movies.

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Published: Thursday, March 21, 2019

Last Updated: Thursday, November 2, 2023

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