Jenji Leslie Kohan (born July 5, 1969) is an American television writer, producer, and director. She is best known as the creator of the Showtime comedy-drama series Weeds and the Netflix comedy-drama series Orange Is the New Black. She has received seven Emmy Award nominations, winning one as supervising producer of the comedy series "Tracey Takes On...".
Kohan was born in Los Angeles, California, the daughter of novelist Rhea Kohan (née Arnold),and writer, producer, and composer father, Alan W. "Buz" Kohan. Kohan has two older brothers, twins Jono and David. She comes from a show business family; Buz is an Emmy Award-winning television writer, and David is an Emmy Award-winning television producer.
Kohan says that Buz was the "king of variety television in his day", writing and producing the Oscars and other variety shows. She said he was "very prolific, very funny, and a craftsman as well". Kohan thinks that "a lot of my ear for dialog comes from my mother", who was a writer.She grew up in Beverly Hills, California.She first went to Brandeis University, but then transferred to Columbia University as a sophomore, graduating from Columbia with a degree in English in 1991.
On her beginnings, an ex-boyfriend from college said told her that she had "a better chance of getting elected to Congress than getting on the staff of a television show". She would later say that this "was the perfect thing for him to say, because my entire career is, 'Well, screw you.'" She also stated that: "We broke up. And then I started writing. I quit all of my crappy odd jobs, and I moved in with a friend who was living in Santa Cruz. And every day we would go to these little cafes in Santa Cruz, and I would work on spec scripts and study these videotapes I had recorded off television of Roseanne and Seinfeld and The Simpsons. What ended up happening was, my sister-in-law's father worked in a building with an agent and gave him my scripts in an elevator. And he read them, and I was on a show by spring. And it took off from there, and I never stopped working."
Kohan's first show was Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, which Kohan said was a "rough entrance" to the business, as she was the only woman in the writer's room.Early in her career, she worked for her brother on Will & Grace.She has discussed the differences between her and her brother's career saying, “David took the big, commercial, funny route; I was always a little darker personally, and not terrific within the system. I had to make my own way.”
Kohan was the creator, executive producer, showrunner, and head writer of the Showtime comedy-drama Weeds, starring Mary-Louise Parker.She sold the pilot to Showtime with five words: "Suburban. Widowed. Pot. Dealing. Mom." The show went on to run for eight seasons.
Orange Is the New Black
Kohan is the creator of Netflix's Orange Is the New Black, an adaptation that was inspired by the memoir Piper Kerman about her experience in a minimum-security women's prison.On why she chose Netlfix: "I took it to HBO and Showtime and Netflix. And the greatest thing about going to Netflix was that I pitched it in the room, and they ordered 13 episodes without a pilot. That's miraculous. That is every showrunner's dream, to just 'go to series' and have that faith put in your work. They paid full freight. They were new, they were streamlined, they were lovely, they were enthusiastic about it. And I love being on the new frontier. I love being first out of the gate. It's really, really fun, because I think it is the future in a lot of ways, of how people consume media, and it's great to be in there early."
On her strategy for populating the universe with a talented, unusually diverse cast: "You know, it was an embarrassment of riches. You have this huge talent pool that is generally tapped for very limited visibility roles, but they're so good and to be able to let them flex and shine is just so exciting. I would get these audition tapes and it was just one after the other, so good. So we started creating more characters because we wanted to use more of the girls we saw in the audition tapes. There were just so many great Latina actress and black actress that hadn't had the opportunity to really do this thing, especially in New York, which was a fresh pool for me in terms of faces and talent. Like I said, it was an embarrassment of riches and we really got amazing people."
Kohan runs her writer's room for Orange from Los Angeles, while the show films in New York. "Though she typically flies in to be on set for the first and final episodes, the distance has enabled the self-described 'control freak' to maintain a saner schedule, and some sense of normalcy" with her family.
Netflix, as a streaming service distribution model of TV and movie content, is unique in that it does not provide ratings information, so Kohan does not know exact ratings for Orange Is the New Black, which has been characterized as the most watched original series on Netflix, in a new distribution model where binge viewing is enabled by full seasons of shows being made available at once.
Kohan has an overall deal with Lionsgate TV.
As of December 2013, she is working on a new series about witches in Salem for HBO which is under her overall deal with Lionsgate.
On her definition of Showrunner on Orange: "I run the writer's room. I have final cut in the editing room. I approve all the casting, wardrobe, sets.... One of my great skills is hiring people who are really good at their jobs and for the most part letting them do them."
Kohan owns the historic Hayworth Theatre, "a Spanish colonial-style building named after actress Rita Hayworth, has changed its identity many times since it opened in 1926 on Wilshire Boulevard near MacArthur Park." Kohan is planning on using the second floor as production offices for writers and editors on her TV shows.
Awards and nominations
Kohan has received seven Emmy Award nominations, winning as supervising producer of Tracey Takes On.... She shared a CableACE Award in 1996 for her work on that show. She received her first nomination for her show Weeds in 2009, for Outstanding Comedy Series. She was nominated for a Producers Guild of America Award in 2007, and two Writers Guild of America Awards.
In 2014, Kohan was named one of Time's 100 Most Influential People. In 2014, Orange is the New Black was nominated for 12 Emmys.
Kohan is married to author and freelance journalist Christopher Noxon. They have three children, a son Charlie, a daughter Eliza, and youngest son Oscar.They live in the Los Feliz section of Los Angeles, California.Kohan and her family are Jewish;they belong to two synagogues and a chavurah group, and her children attend Jewish day school and summer camp. Every Friday, Kohan and her extended family have Shabbat dinner together.
Kohan's bright, multicolored hair was discussed by a Hollywood Reporter article: "Her brightly colored locks, she explains, were a way to have a little fun with the grays coming in. As her mother once advised: 'If you can't fix it, decorate it.' So every three to six weeks, she settles into a chair at a Hollywood Boulevard salon and lets her hairdresser L'Nor get creative".
- In "Bora Bora Bora", when Larry meets Piper for the first time at Polly's house he is watching Weeds.