How ‘The Bear’ writer’s plans went wrong — for all the best reasons

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Joanna Calo and her child.
Despite her plans, writer Joanna Calo found herself navigating a job in television with motherhood.
(Yuri Hasegawa / For The Times)

Editor’s note: This essay was written before the writers’ strike.

I always wanted to make movies; I never wanted to have kids. When I was a kid growing up in New Jersey, I watched movies obsessively and sat too close to the TV, as if I could dive in and be consumed. That was the dream. Then, when I was a junior in high school, we got news that they were shooting a movie in town — our town. The production built a carnival at the end of our main street for a big scene with Meryl Streep. At the time, I was more invested in potentially seeing Renée Zellweger — who I was besotted with from “Empire Records” (“Here’s one for your perfect life. And your perfect body. And your perfect, perfect future!!”).


I left a keg party early one night with my best friend to watch them shoot a scene in front of the local movie theater. The image of Renée on a pay phone with fake rain and a [crane-like] condor lighting up the sky is burned in my brain as the beginning of everything. An internship on a TV show led to a long career as an assistant and falling in love with writing. I knew it would take all of me to get where I wanted to be — back on a set with the big lights in the sky.

Jeremy Allen White stars as an elite chef who inherits his family’s struggling Chicago beef sandwich shop in “The Bear,” premiering Thursday on Hulu.

June 22, 2022

So there was no space for kids or domestic activities — a family wasn’t in the cards. I was just going to move into the Warner Bros. lot like a Hollywood version of Basil E. Frankweiler. I was several years into being a real, guild card-carrying TV writer when I fell in love. And, for whatever reason — said love, biology, societal pressures, subconscious brainwashing, etcetera, I got married and had a baby.

All of a sudden, the game had completely changed. I was navigating being a first-time parent, but I had absolutely no intention of giving up the dream. So I just kept going. I brought my breast pump to the “BoJack” writers’ room and put it on the table so I didn’t have to leave mid-story break. I asked for consulting gigs rather than being full-time, so I only had to negotiate childcare a few days a week. I breastfed right under the frame of the Zoom. And then another type of opportunity appeared and took center stage: supervising. Partnering with young writers that had a great idea but needed an older gal to help them structure things.

Two men in a restaurant cold storage locker, with a third man peering in through the door
Jeremy Allen White as Carmen ‘Carmy’ Berzatto, Lionel Boyce as Marcus, Ebon Moss-Bachrach as Richard “Richie” Jerimovich.

It was that kind of gig, only really embraced because I had a baby, that led me to “The Bear.” Honestly, those writer partnerships felt like a cheat. A loophole. A way to stay in the game but not have to give 100% of myself. As most TV writers experience, a lot of wonderful shows we sell never even get picked up to pilot, let alone to series. So, sure, I’ll sign on to shepherd this TV show from infancy until the end of time. Yep, definitely. See you there. I developed a bunch of fabulous projects with brilliant people during this part of my career but, at my core, I was thinking: I just need to keep my head above water until my daughter is older.


To be clear, Chris Storer, the creator of “The Bear,” a series about a successful chef who takes over his family’s sandwich shop, was not like those other partners. He was neither young (sorry, bud, we’re both old) nor inexperienced. My manager sent me Chris’ early scripts of “The Bear,” a project he had been working on for years. First as a feature, and now as a show in development at FX, and he wanted to bring on a partner to help on the TV writing side. I love those early scripts — they felt alive and wild and special. And they inspired me.

Joanna Calo.
(Yuri Hasegawa / For The Times)

Even so, I was anxious about taking on another partnership. My daughter had turned 2; shouldn’t I be pursuing my own original ideas? But I met with Chris anyway, because the energy in his writing couldn’t be denied. And probably, let’s be honest, because I was scared to actually be staring at a blank screen.

Everything that came after that first meeting happened so fast — it’s still happening fast. I loved Chris. I felt like we’d grown up together. I loved collaborating on the scripts and felt like it became our show in a really natural way. But, unlike all those other projects that languish luxuriously in development, once we sent in the revised scripts, season outline and dream cast, it has gone so fast it’s like someone lit the fuse on a bomb.

Perhaps it didn’t help that while we were waiting for news on the pickup, I discovered I was pregnant again. In the end, I’ve had to push myself to the absolute maximum; I want to be fully immersed in the show and also give myself to the job of being a mother. It’s been … hard.


I’ve felt so stressed that I wished blood would pour out of my eyes as a release. I’ve whined it’s “not fair.” It’s also been a massive joy making the show, and the fact that I’m still creative and creating even though I’m old and tired and have two kids makes me very proud.

Last week I was on location shooting an episode of the new season. My kids were far away, in Los Angeles, and I was missing them so much I wanted to puke. But when I walked out onto the set and saw our condor lighting up the night sky? I felt really, really good.