Art and business are two realms Janet Knutsen has always been drawn to, and her job as unit production manager on Boston Legal has provided her with “a miraculous place where I can live in both worlds.”
It might be figuring out how to budget an episode set at a remote Canadian fishing resort, or devising an economical way to shoot an outdoor protest demonstration featuring 100 topless females. Whatever the challenge of the week, Knutsen is the mediator between the artistic goals and financial realities of a given episode.
“The UPM puts the script through the money machine and asks, ‘how essential is every element?’” she explains. “You want to be sure an episode isn’t going to cost more money than you have to make it.”
A Minnesota native, Knutsen says the job found her as much as she found it. “I studied piano and hoped to be creative, but in high school I won the best business student award,” she laughs. “I like working with money, and coming from the Midwest I feel like I’m just born frugal.”
Her artistic bent drew her to the University of California at Irvine in the late ’70s, where she studied film and heard about the Directors Guild-Producer Training Plan. “I clearly remember thinking, ‘I can do this, this is for me.’” She passed the test in 1979, and got her first break as a trainee on the movie Nine to Five.
By the time she was married, Knutsen wanted to travel less and start a family—and television was the ticket. She was an AD for five years on Sisters, then found a home on The Practice, which morphed into Boston Legal, now in its third season at Manhattan Beach Studios.
“For the UPM, a long-running show has its challenges,” says Knutsen. “It gets more expensive, because everyone’s salary goes up. You want to be as responsible as you can on both sides—to the people putting up the money and the creative people making the show.”
Knutsen directed a few episodes of Sisters earlier in her career, so she really knows the ropes. “Boston Legal uses a lot of repeat directors, but we try to bring in at least a couple of new people each season,” she says. “I have a lot of interactions with them during the seven-day prepping stage. I love to hear what each director has in mind, and we kind of meld ideas."