Marta Kauffman Biography


Home > Notables > K > Kauffman, Marta > Biography


Birth Name: Marta Kauffman
Born: 1956


Born on Sept. 21, 1956, Kauffman grew up in the middle of a large extended family that lived in the Philadelphia suburb of Broomall, PA. It was a lively arrangement that offered her an early tutorial in the dynamics of people. Kauffman's mother always had pursued arts in her life, dancing in nightclubs in her younger days before opening up her own dance studio, so it seemed to make sense when the young Kauffman discovered that the arts were her calling as well. By the time of her college years, she was off to Massachusetts to major in theater at Brandeis University, taking an interest in the relationships which sprang from the minds of playwrights. In her sophomore year, Kauffman acted in the Tennessee Williams play, "Camino Real," where she met her future collaborator, David Crane. It was 1977, and both were involved with the school's drama club, Tympanium Euphorium. Kauffman was a year ahead of Crane when the two theater devotees teamed up to direct an adaptation of "Godspell," cementing a creative kinship.

After graduation in 1978, Kauffman moved to New York City and Crane soon followed suit. The two first made a living by devising game show questions for shows that Crane's famous father, Gene Crane, hosted on Philadelphia station WCAU, before working on children's musicals and an unproduced musical version of the movie "Arthur" (1981). The pair were often aided by Crane's roommate, composer Michael Skloff, whom Kauffman began dating. Together, Kauffman, Crane and Skloff contributed songs to the off-Broadway musicals "A...My Name is Alice" and "Martin Charnin's Upstairs at O'Neals." In 1984, Kauffman and Crane, along with Brandeis' classmate Seth Friedman, retooled an old musical they had created entitled "Personals," a dramatic comedy which focused on six single friends and their confusing navigation through the world of personal ads dating. The musical first took shape at Brandeis in 1978 and was later seen at Washington D.C.'s Kennedy Center's American College Theater Festival in 1980 - as was another penned original of theirs, "Waiting for the Feeling." Kauffman and Skloff were married in 1984 and "Personals" turned into an off-Broadway production for the 1985-86 season. In 1985, "Personals" had also racked up an Outer Critics Award and a nomination for the illustrious Drama Desk Award.

Following the success of "Personals," things picked up for Kauffman both personally and professionally. Interest in her and Crane's ideas developed when a Hollywood agent, impressed with the show, enticed them to try their hand at television writing. In 1987, she and Crane were brainstorming on ideas and penning "Let Freedom Sing," a musical celebrating the 200-year anniversary of the U.S. constitution's creation for the Philadelphia-based American Musical Theater Festival. By 1988, Kauffman and Skloff had become parents of daughter, Hannah. A month after her birth, the couple found themselves moving at a hectic pace, taking at least one trip a month to Los Angeles for almost a year, as Kauffman and Crane pitched pilot ideas.

Finally, all decided to permanently plant roots in Los Angeles, with both Kauffman and Crane landing development jobs for the production company of famed producer Norman Lear. From their own three television pilot ideas, one - "Dream On" (1990-96) - a comedy about a divorced, lovelorn man whose inner thoughts were often expressed through bits of footage from old movies, was picked up by HBO. The show was guided by controversial film director John Landis, who brought in Kauffman and Crane and served as an executive producer, but allowed the newcomers to oversee the show themselves. Skloff composed the show's music and an additional producer, Kevin Bright, became a vital part of the Kauffman/Crane team when he joined the producing staff. As "Dream On" kicked into gear, he, Kauffman and Crane combined their resources to start up their own company, simply titled Bright/Kauffman/Crane Productions.

On their own, Kauffman and Crane continued to add to their growing resumes. The two were writers on the CBS Norman Lear-produced comedy, "Sunday Dinner" (1991-92), which lasted for only six episodes. Kauffman and Skloff, meanwhile, added a second child, Sam, to their family in 1991. In March of 1992, Kauffman and Crane saw a Norman Lear-produced series of their own make it to the air. NBC's "The Powers That Be" (1992-93) was a farcical look at the personal life of a dim-witted U.S. senator. Though the show had a fair share of good remarks directed its way, it was not enough. The series was pulled off the schedule in April after only eight episodes, then resumed its final 13 episodes from November of that year until its end in January of 1993. Short-lived as it was, "The Powers That Be" was nonetheless a catalyst for the duo's budding relationship with NBC.

In December of 1993, Kauffman and Crane began writing a pilot for a show they were calling "Insomnia Café," based on an idea they had conceived back in New York.. The series built upon the idea of six young college graduates in their twenties, living and struggling in New York - but by the time the pilot was being written, the pair had re-titled it "Friends Like Us." Bright/Kauffman/Crane Productions had now seen its first on-air creation, "Family Album" (1993), slowly ebb on CBS between September and November 1993. Although CBS only aired six episodes of the series, their second - ABC's July entry "Couples" (1994), about love and marriages in Manhattan - had not lasted beyond the pilot stage. Development on "Friends Like Us," however, rapidly moved along, with taping beginning that summer, despite the network's lingering concerns about having a show without an adult character to chaperone the premise.

"Friends Like Us" became "Six of One," and finally, by the time of its fall debut, just "Friends." NBC initially ordered a dozen episodes along with its pilot, but after that, the orders kept coming. "Friends" (1994-2004) - starring relative newcomers Jennifer Aniston, Courteney Cox, Lisa Kudrow, Matthew Perry, Matt Leblanc and David Schwimmer - was a quick hit, touching upon a search for love and success that seemed to connect with generation X audiences. The series made stars out of its six lead actors and the show itself was nominated for awards by virtually every major guild at one point or another. Over its 10-year run, "Friends" were nominated for a total of 63 Emmy Awards, winning six. Initially left out by the voters, Kauffman and her partners on the producing staff eventually won Emmys for the Outstanding Comedy Series category in 2002.

After "Friends" took off, Kauffman, Crane and Bright found themselves in the enviable position of developing new shows for the network. In 1997, they came up with "Veronica's Closet" (1997-2000), a comeback vehicle for Kirstie Alley, which revolved around a jilted lingerie designer who finds solace in running her successful company. Kauffman and company also became executive producers on NBC's "Jesse" (1998-2000), about a single mother in upstate New York who tries to find love again, which the team developed with creator and "Friends" writer Ira Ungerleider. Between 1998 and 2000, Bright/Kauffman/Crane had a total of three series on NBC at the same time. As "Jesse" and "Veronica's Closet" finally hobbled through their final seasons, Kauffman herself reached number three in the family department, as her second daughter, Rose, was born. In an interesting turn of events, Kauffman eased into a new decade by discovering that "Personals" - the musical that started the careers of Kauffman, Crane and Skloff in the '80s - was to make its June 2000 debut on a West End stage in London.

As 2004 marked the end of the long, lucrative "Friends" journey, Kauffman and Crane mutually decided to take a break from the creative partnership they had shared for over 25 years. They had already intended for "Friends" to be done in 2002, but fan interest and financial incentives offered the main creative team and cast an opportunity to end the show gracefully over two more seasons. It was Kauffman's intention to do nothing more than spend a year and a half relaxing with her family while "Friends" landed another chapter with the Bright-produced spin-off series, "J y," starring Matt LeBlanc.

With half a year left to go on her self-imposed hiatus, Kauffman surprised herself by signing on to executive produce the WB's drama series, "Related" (2005-06), from former "Sex and the City" writer Liz Tuccillo. In a similar vein as that HBO comedy, the series revolved around four career women, all close sisters, who confide about their lives and romantic w s with one another while helping ease their widowed dad back into love. During the pilot's production, Kauffman made a decision to recast a part played by actress Laura San Giacomo, which meant re-shooting almost the entire pilot. With "Related," Kauffman's touch with onscreen relationships was intended to steer the WB towards a more mature audience, but the series failed to land its crowd and did not last beyond a first season.

As 2006 was well underway, she was now back to work, only now, Kauffman was seeking different paths on which to explore her varied story interests. She announced a plan to produce her first feature film, "Blessed is the Match: The Life and Death of Hannah Senesh" (2008), a documentary of Holocaust survival in conjunction with filmmaker Roberta Grossman and the Katahdin Organization. She had not quite given up on television, though, and as the WB folded and merged with the UPN network to form the CW network, Kauffman flew solo in the creation of "Steps" (2007). Inspired by her mother's life, the drama series traced the history of a family of dancers who run a dance studio.