Thomas Schlamme

Thomas Schlamme
Born Thomas David Schlamme
(1950-05-22) May 22, 1950
Houston, Texas, United States
Occupation Television director, film director, producer
Known for 3 Primetime Emmy Awards
The West Wing
Spouse(s) Christine Lahti (1983–present)
Children Wilson Schlamme
Joe Schlamme
Emma Schlamme

Thomas David Schlamme (pronounced Shla-Me; born May 22, 1950) is an American television director, known particularly for his collaboration with Aaron Sorkin.[1][2] He has also been a producer.


Schlamme moved from his native Houston to New York City in 1973. After serving in several low level positions for production companies, he founded his own company, Schlamme Productions, in 1980. From there, he produced campaigns for a number of musicals, including Cats. He directed the first "I Want My MTV!" advertising campaign in 1981 for producer Buzz Potamkin, and singer/songwriter Amy Grant's 1985 music video "Find a Way" for producers Fred Seibert and Alan Goodman. Throughout the 1980s, he produced a number of specials on various entertainers including Whoopi Goldberg and Rowan Atkinson.

Starting in the late 1990s, he served as producer for shows such as Tracey Takes On... and has directed shows such as Ally McBeal, Boston Public, Friends, ER and Shaun Cassidy's cult favorite science fiction TV show Invasion.


"You almost never see how anyone travels from point A to point C [in most TV shows]. I wanted the audience to witness every journey these people took. It all had a purpose, even seeing them order lunch. It just seemed to be the proper visual rhythm with which to marry Aaron's words. I got lucky that it worked."

—Thomas Schlamme, on the "Walk and Talk" device.[3]

He directed his first movie, Miss Firecracker, in 1989. He also directed the comedy movie, So I Married an Axe Murderer in 1993 with Mike Myers.

Schlamme directed the pilot episode of Spin City and What's Alan Watching?

He worked on the TV series Parenthood for NBC and the now-cancelled Pan Am for ABC. Schlamme has also directed multiple episodes of the 2014 series Manhattan.[4]

Work with Aaron Sorkin

Schlamme's nearly decade-long collaboration in television with writer-producer Aaron Sorkin began in early 1998 when they found they shared common creative ground on the soon to be produced Sports Night.[5][6] Their successful partnership in television is one in which Sorkin focuses on writing the scripts while Schlamme executive produces and occasionally directs; they have worked together on Sports Night, The West Wing, and Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. Schlamme will create the look of the shows, work with the other directors, discuss the scripts with Sorkin as soon as they are turned in, make design and casting decisions, and attend the budget meetings; Sorkin tends to stick strictly to writing.[5]

Schlamme first worked with Aaron Sorkin on his short-lived ABC comedy/drama Sports Night, for which he directed 16 of its 45 episodes. Their biggest break was in 1999, teaming up again on their hit political drama The West Wing. He directed the pilot episode and from then on served as the executive producer until 2003. He directed 14 episodes of The West Wing in addition to serving as executive producer. In 2003, at the end of the fourth season, Schlamme and Sorkin left the show due to internal conflicts at Warner Bros. TV not involving the NBC network, thrusting producer John Wells into an expanded role as showrunner.[7]

In early October 2005 a pilot script dubbed Studio 7 on the Sunset Strip for a new TV series, written by Sorkin and with Schlamme attached as producer, started circulating around Hollywood and generating interest on the web. A week later, NBC bought from Warner Bros. TV the right to show the TV series on their network for a near-record license fee in a bidding war with CBS.[8] The show's name was later changed to Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip.

In September 2006, the pilot for Studio 60 aired on NBC, directed by Schlamme. The pilot was critically acclaimed and had high ratings, but Studio 60 experienced a significant drop in audience by mid-season. The show was cancelled after one season.

"Walk and talk"

Schlamme's direction is characterized by use of a technique called the "walk and talk": sequences consisting of single lengthy tracking shots involving multiple characters engaging in conversation as they move through the set.[9][10] Characters enter and exit the conversation as the shot continues without any cuts.

Personal life

He is married to actress Christine Lahti and has three children.

He is the uncle of producer Dylan K. Massin (son of his sister Susan), who worked on Parenthood (2010 TV series) (of which Schlamme is the executive producer).

He is the step-brother of attorney Solomon Wisenberg, who was Ken Starr's deputy during the Impeachment of Bill Clinton and questioned the president during the grand jury interview.

He resides in Los Angeles with his wife and children.


  1. Darrell L. Hope (July 2000). "Behind the Scenes with Thomas Schlamme". DGA Monthly Magazine. Retrieved 2007-01-31.
  2. Elif Cercel (1999-11-11). "Interview with Thomas Schlamme, Director and Executive Producer, "Sports Night"". Directors World. Retrieved 2007-01-31.
  3. Ray Richmond (May 12, 2006). "Finale: 'West Wing'". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved September 26, 2008.
  4. Robert Lloyd (July 26, 2014). "'Manhattan' an egghead's-eye view of the birth of the atomic bomb". The Los Angeles Times (review).
  5. 1 2 "Interview with Aaron Sorkin: Creator and Executive Producer of "Sports Night" and "The West Wing"". Comedy January 1, 2001. Retrieved January 10, 2007.
  6. Elif Cercel (November 11, 1999). "Interview with Thomas Schlamme, Director and Executive Producer, "Sports Night"". Directors World. Retrieved January 21, 2007.
  7. Josef Adalian (May 1, 2003). "Sorkin sulking away from 'Wing': Regime change for NBC White House series". Variety. Retrieved January 14, 2007.
  8. Josef Adalian (October 14, 2005). "Peacock on 'Studio' beat: Sorkin, Schlamme sell behind-the-scenes drama skein". Variety. Retrieved January 21, 2007.
  9. Clive James (2005). "Fantasy in The West Wing". The Meaning of Recognition: New Essays 20012005. London: Picador. p. 38. ISBN 9780330440257.
  10. Jonathan Gray (2011). "The reviews are in: TV critics and the (pre)creation of meaning". In Michael Kackman; et al. Flow TV: Television in the Age of Media Convergence. New York: Routledge. p. 117. ISBN 9780203879634.
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