Collecting Success

Following stints as a scriptwriter on Happy Days to producing Hannah Montana, Barry O’Brien ’79 is tackling his biggest role yet as showrunner of The Bone Collector TV adaptation.

Barry O’Brien ’79 runs the show—literally. For NBC’s Lincoln Rhyme: Hunt for the Bone Collector, he’s responsible for everything from writing the story to refining the final cut of an episode before it airs. It’s challenging. It’s creatively rewarding. And O’Brien loves his job. There’s nowhere else he’d rather be.

When you’re a showrunner, how do you overcome the inevitable obstacles? “Well, I get up early!” O’Brien laughs. All jokes aside, his problem-solving process is powered by a work ethic inspired by his former football coach Pat Malley and an emphasis on collaboration. “Day to day, show-running is a lot of work. There’s a lot of rewrites and entities to work with—it’s a big job, but it’s a great job.”

Big is an understatement. Show-running is a craft O’Brien has mastered over decades, with a resumé that includes co-creating the hit Hannah Montana. “I started as a writer—my first script was on Happy Days.

For his 24th network show, O’Brien is adapting Jeffrey Deaver’s 1997 thriller novel The Bone Collector into a television series for NBC. O’Brien sees this small screen take on criminalist Lincoln Rhyme’s story as a chance to elevate police procedurals. “I’m excited about this story because I feel that there is a really fresh, very different entry point into that form. The story is unique.”

Scam Barry O'brien 01 2
Generations have loved O’Brien’s work. He started as a script writer for hits including Happy Days and Fraggle Rock. He also produced Hannah Montana.Illustration by Sean McCabe.

The Bone Collector follows Rhyme’s (Russell Hornsby) hunt for a serial killer as he adjusts to life as a quadriplegic. He partners with NYPD officer Amelia Sachs (Arielle Kebbel) to be his “legs and eyes” on the case. For making the show work, O’Brien feels an immense obligation to the disabled community: “We have a number of disabled consultants on staff, on set, and in the writing room. In this process, I’ve been exposed to this community—the consistent message I get is that their loss of mobility is not an end, but a new beginning.” That’s the message O’Brien wants reflected in his work, by portraying Rhyme in a nuanced, authentic way.

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