David Hemingson dumped a law career to work in television, with his mother’s full support.
"Three years, three months and two days into my law practice, I quit," recalls David Hemingson, the showrunner of ABC's espionage dramedy Whiskey Cavalier.
After graduating from Columbia Law School and pursuing a career as an entertainment attorney, Hemingson chucked it all in the mid-'90s to chase his dream of becoming a TV writer. "The only tough thing was the bone-crushing load of student debt," he says. "But I just fell in love with TV."
Hemingson followed a circuitous path, starting out on the subversive Nickelodeon sitcom The Adventures of Pete & Pete before segueing into animated shows ranging from 101 Dalmatians: The Series to Family Guy.
"I feel really lucky that I got that experience, because animation requires you to think visually," he says. "It's all about being surprising and relentless, and I always try really hard to use those muscles."
He's learned from the best in the business, having worked with Shonda Rhimes on The Catch, Kenya Barris on black-ish and Hart Hanson on Bones, among many others.
He's also run a few shows of his own, including the series he considers "the one that got away" — 2005's Kitchen Confidential, based on Anthony Bourdain's memoir and starring Bradley Cooper and Frank Langella. "I just wish it got the chance I think it deserved."
So what's his take-away from all those gigs? "It's got to be your voice and vision when you run a show — you have to take responsibility for all of it, but you can't control all of it," he says. "That can either drive you crazy or it can lead you to enfranchise valuable people that you trust, and lean into collaboration."
On Whiskey (where he's also creator–writer–executive producer), he's collaborating with executive producer Bill Lawrence (Scrubs, Cougar Town) and stars Scott Foley and Lauren Cohan, who play an FBI and CIA agent forced to work together to save the world while trying not to fall in love with each other.
"I see the show as Mission: Impossible smashed into Cheers, with Scott as Diane and Lauren as Sam," says Hemingson of the sensitive fed and the callous spy, who operate out of an abandoned speakeasy in Prague. "It's no accident they hang out in a bar."
As the show closes out its first season, Hemingson awaits word of a possible season two. But he remains confident he made the right decision all those years ago.
"My mom, God rest her soul, was the one person who really encouraged me to do it," he says. "The idea of abandoning a legal career to become a writer is insane. But she was immensely supportive, so this is all for her."
This article originally appeared in emmy magazine, Issue No. 4, 2019
Viewers can catch up on Whiskey Cavalier on ABC.com or the Watch ABC app.