By Sheila Pursglove
When Cherry Chevapravatdumrong earned her degree from New York University Law School, she was on the road to a corporate law career and days spent writing legal briefs.
Then she piled her belongings in her car and burned rubber down another road - coast to coast to Hollywood.
Now she spends her days writing outrageous scripts for the dysfunctional Griffin family on the hit Fox TV show "Family Guy," and co-wrote the spinoff book, "It Takes a Village Idiot, and I Married One."
The Emmy-award winning animated sitcom centers around Peter and Lois Griffin of Rhode Island, teenagers Meg and Chris, and diabolical infant Stewie - her favorite long before she joined the sitcom staff. The family's pet pooch Brian is an unusual mutt with a Mensa IQ, and a penchant for martinis, cigarettes, fast cars, and dumb blondes.
Chevapravatdumrong joined the show in its fourth season, and for a while was its only female writer. She also serves as supervising producer.
It's a far cry from her early writing experiences, keeping a diary in third grade. Then as a "River Rat" Huron High School student in Ann Arbor, she was editor of the school newspaper and wrote for the literary magazine.
"Other than that, I was your standard AP-class-taking, violin-playing orchestra nerd," she says.
Parental pressure nudged the nerd to a degree in psychology from Yale and subsequent law degree, but her heart was never really in it. Instead, writing skits and songs for the annual "Law Revue" musical comedy show was a highlight of her studies.
So while her friends studied for the bar exam, Chevapravatdumrong decided once and for all, the law life was not for her. She headed west, determined to bust into television work, and found a series of assistant jobs - for an agent, for TV executives, and as assistant to the writing staff of the TV sitcom "Listen Up," starring actor Jason Alexander, where she discovered how short-lived a show can be.
"Assistant jobs are generally difficult and low-paying, but I would've taken them over being a lawyer any day," she says.
All the while, she was networking and writing spec scripts, hoping to break into TV writing.
"You've got to meet people and write scripts," she says.
Networking paid off. She met people who had worked on "Family Guy" before it got canceled. When the show was resurrected, they remembered her, and her foot was well and truly in the door.
"'Family Guy' looks like so much fun, it's easy to forget the hard work behind the scenes - outlining, drafting, reading, table-reading with actors, sketching, editing, and fine-tuning after the work returns from Korea where animation is done," she says.
Where does she find ideas for the script?
"Anywhere! Random pop culture, life in general," she says. "The great thing about a show like 'Family Guy' is that you can be doing a joke about post-impressionist art one second, gay marriage the next, and 'Jersey Shore' the next. Everything is fair game."
If the TV job was the result of planning and determination, landing a gig writing teen books was pure serendipity. When her agent asked if she'd ever thought about writing a book, Chevapravatdumrong, who as a kid loved books by Judy Blume and Beverly Cleary, responded, "Uh, sure!"
Under her briefer moniker, Cherry Cheva, she has written novels for teen girls. "She's So Money" is a lighthearted look at the senior year of high school and loosely based on her own experiences working at her parents' Ann Arbor-area restaurants, Lotus Thai and Marnee Thai; and "Duplikate" is about an overachieving high school senior named Kate who find an avatar from a computer game has gained three-dimensional status and entered her life.
Despite the slower, more detailed change of pace - and the need to rein in her usual R-rated dialogue - Chevapravatdumrong enjoyed the switch.
"It's very cool that I get to do both books and TV now," she says.
Chevapravatdumrong, who shares her experiences and passion for writing on teen forums, returned to Ann Arbor for the holidays, where she gave a presentation and signed books for fans at the Ann Arbor District Library downtown branch.
As for her original career choice, the closest she has come to the law in recent years was a 'Family Guy' episode titled, "Barely Legal." And the fact that "Family Guy" has garnered a few lawsuits of its own.
Her TV work is so far removed from corporate law that it's - well - laughable.
"I have friends who are lawyers and I'm pretty sure they don't get paid to show up and make each other laugh all day," she says with a smile.
Published: Fri, Jan 8, 2010