Revolutionizing Hollywood: Greg Berlanti Creates Groundbreaking TV, Film

Greg Berlanti is credited as a writer on 17 television series and an executive producer on a whopping 29 of them. And it all started in Rye.

Superhero: Writer, director, and producer Greg Berlanti, who grew up in Rye, has created iconic TV shows and movies, including the “Arrowverse superhero franchise (above)” and “Love, Simon.”
Published June 7, 2024 2:35 PM
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This article was updated on June 14 at 12:01 p.m.

“Greg, move your head!” a man’s voice shouts at a young boy sitting in front of a television screen.

Fans of shows like “You” (on Netflix), “The Flight Attendant” (on HBO Max), or the entire “Arrowverse” superhero franchise of the CW Network are probably familiar with that distinctive and funny sign off at the end of every TV episode produced by Berlanti Productions.

But they might not know that Greg, the little boy in question, has deep roots in Rye.

Greg Berlanti, the principal of Berlanti Productions, is credited as a writer on 16 television series and served as a a non-writing executive producer on a whopping 27 series. He also has worked as a writer, director, or producer on 19 movies, including the groundbreaking and critically acclaimed “Love, Simon” (2018).

And it all started in Rye.

“I could talk to you all day about Rye!” Berlanti said during a recent interview with The Rye Record. “Both my parents are from Rye; they both went to Rye High School.” (His mom, Barbara Moller, graduated from RHS in 1962 and married Eugene Berlanti in 1963.) “All my cousins went to Rye, my aunt still lives there.”

Berlanti’s aunt, Ann Moller, worked for years at Milton School. Berlanti grew up visiting his grandmother in the house that his father had grown up in. He attended Milton School, participated in activities at the Rye Arts Center, and graduated from Rye High School.

A self-described “Gen X latchkey kid” who was always interested in stories, Berlanti looks back fondly on afternoons at the Rye Free Reading Room. After school, the library was a haven where he could “sit in the corner, read books, and play on the first computer that anybody had.” He wasn’t just entertained at the library — he soon became an entertainer himself, writing and performing puppet shows for the younger kids.

His mother was particularly enthusiastic about the arts, and functioned as something of a “producer” for Bertin Rowser, who founded the Rye Arts Center’s youth theater program. “She would go out and sell tickets and everything like that. They were a real twosome.”

Perhaps Berlanti was fated to work in TV and film, because he earned his first real paychecks by helping to open Rye’s inaugural video store. Long before Netflix or even Blockbuster, Berlanti assisted the Rye Cardmart Video Store as they put together “their robust collection of VCR, VHS, and Betamax tapes.”

He also frequented the Port Chester flea market, where he would pore over piles of comic books (annoying the owner of the stand, who chastised him for reading too long without buying). But he must have ingested a lot of ideas, because stories of superheroes ultimately became the building blocks of the CW’s “Arrowverse” — eight critically acclaimed, interconnected TV series about DC Comics superheroes. (Not to mention “Riverdale,” one of three shows Berlanti developed based on Archie com- ics, and a wide variety of DC shows on different platforms.)

After attending Northwestern University, Berlanti worked in a Chicago theater for a few months before moving to LA in 1995.

“I knew I wanted to write. I didn’t know I wanted to write television, which is interesting considering how much time I’ve ended up spending there,” he said.

He hoped to write plays and movies, but he spent his first three years in LA “doing really horrible temp jobs — tutoring the SAT and answering phones at the mall.”

When he was down to his “last pennies,” fellow Northwestern alum Julie Plec passed a script of his along to Kevin Williamson, the creator and showrunner of “Dawson’s Creek,” a CW hit in the late 1990s. Berlanti was hired as a staff writer on the series, and then “one thing led to another, and I blinked and I don’t know how I got this old,” laughed Berlanti, who turned 52 in May. “I don’t know how it went so fast.”

Nicole Maines as Dreamer, TV’s first transgender superhero, in “Supergirl.”

He ultimately replaced Williamson as the “Dawson’s Creek” showrunner, and was instrumental in convincing the network to allow the first same- sex kiss between two men on U.S. network television.

LGBTQ+ characters feature prominently in many of Berlanti’s most popular shows, including those with iconic American characters like Superman and The Flash. Spotlighting a lesbian Caped Crusader (“Batwoman”) and TV’s first transgender superhero (Nia Nal on “Supergirl”) broke ground in the genre, but Berlanti saw getting them on TV as just a few of the many hurdles involved in making TV shows.

Getting any show past network and studio execs, through production, and onto screens is a battle, he said. If you’re going to go through all that work, Berlanti said, it might as well be for something you care about.

“Getting a show to air is so challenging, so you really have to be passionate” about the subject matter, he said. There were certainly difficult conversations, he said, but because it was important to him, he felt motivated and determined.

When Berlanti was growing up, there was no LGBTQ+ club at Rye High School, and the only stories involving queer people on television were about the horrors of AIDS. In a 2020 interview with “Entertainment Weekly,” Berlanti said that positive gay storylines usually consisted of “when one man would put a hand on another man’s shoulders,” and that even that seemed controversial.

“I can still feel today what it would have meant for me to have any LGBTQ+ characters or narratives,” he said. Berlanti didn’t come out until he moved to LA as an adult. Despite the increased acceptance of queer people in today’s culture, Berlanti has noticed while working with youth groups, that “there is still an undercurrent of a hostile message towards a lot of these youth. So there’s still a lot of work to be done to help these people feel like they can be themselves.”

One of the unifying themes across Berlanti’s projects, he said, is family. “Whether it’s work families, a family of superheroes, a chosen family, or a family of origin, the characters we’re writing about are evolving and changing and learning.” Berlanti has written about “found families” of cops, firefighters, teenagers, and superheroes, but in every context they represent “how we all have conflict with the people we love, and we work it out.”

Berlanti and his husband, Robbie Rogers, (a retired soccer player who played on the LA Galaxy and the U.S. Men’s National Team) now have a family of their own, with two children. Before their daughter was born, Berlanti and Rogers took their son to visit his old house on Dearborn Avenue.

“It’s a very poignant part of my memory,” he said. Now that he is a dad, he’s “extra nostalgic” for his childhood in Rye. “I’m thinking of what it was to have such a great close-knit community to raise a kid in, and how grateful I am for the elements I had around me.”

He encourages others who want to pursue the arts to take advantage of those same resources in town, like the Rye Arts Center, and around Westchester.

“The other incredible outlet you have is getting on the train and going into New York City for plays,” he said. “If my grades were really good, every quarter my mom would take me out of school on a Wednesday and take me down to see a matinee.”

Now that young people have access to so much technology, he said, the most important thing is “finding ways to tell stories. Because the more stories you tell, the better you’ll get at it. And if you’re lucky enough, one day, you’ll be able to make a career out of it.”

In the aftermath of Covid-19, the 2023 Writers Guild of America and Screen Actors’ Guild strikes, and entertainment company consolidations, Berlanti said this is the most challenging period he’s seen in television history. But he encourages aspiring storytellers not to give up.

“You just have to believe, and you just have to enjoy it, and find the things that can connect you to it,” he said. “I do think you can make a life for yourself in the arts. If it’s what you really are drawn to and work really hard at, I do believe it’s possible.”

Berlanti is embodying those possibilities, and once you know his name, you’ll see it everywhere. Some of his most recent projects include “The Girls on The Bus” (HBO Max), “Dead Boy Detectives” (Netflix), the recently released feature film “Atlas” (star- ring Jennifer Lopez) and the soon-to-be-released “Fly Me To The Moon” (starring Scarlett Johansson and Channing Tatum.)

Greg Berlanti is now far from that little boy whose head was blocking the screen. He has become a famed product of Rye who has been turning heads toward eye-opening and highly popular entertainment.

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