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Bayside writer brings everyday heroes to small screen

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With a husband in law enforcement, a sister who is an emergency room nurse, and a paramedic brother, O'Connor's family's workplace war stories help her generate storylines for the NBC show "Third Watch." "Even if I get a germ of an idea, I'll call my sister to see what she thinks," said O'Connor, who is a writer-producer of the show. "And my brother's out in the field, so I get the interesting medical and human drama."O'Connor grew up in Whitestone, where her family settled after leaving Ireland in the 1960s. "My dad was a carpenter, my mom was a stay-at-home mom," she said. "I have no connection to the entertainment industry, but I always loved writing."O'Connor went to school for communication arts at New York Institute of Technology in Old Westbury, L.I., where the writing program was geared toward media. "I started writing screenplays instead of short stories," she said. "You get a lot of creative energy from it, from the constant push and pull."After college she started working on the legal drama "Law & Order" as an assistant to a writer-producer on the show. It was there that she began to learn the craft of television writing."I would sit in on the story meetings," O'Connor said. "Television attracts a lot of great writers, and I was learning from those guys. You just feel like you take something from each writer."After writing for other shows, including "100 Centre St." and "Monk," O'Connor decided to approach John Wells, who conceived "Third Watch.""The creator of 'Third Watch' is an ex-cop from Chicago," she said. "He offered me a job when the show was picked up for a third season." Wells is also responsible for the hugely popular shows "ER," a medical drama set in a busy Chicago hospital, and "The West Wing," a political series based on a fictional presidency."Third Watch," which airs at 9 p.m. Fridays on NBC, is a gritty drama based on the adventures of emergency workers who take the late shift that the show is named after. "I really have enjoyed it. I also love the show. I love that it's in New York," she said.Although the soundstages for "Third Watch" are in Brooklyn, O'Connor said much of the show is shot in the five boroughs."I like the outer boroughs," she said. "Manhattan has gotten so much play. There are so many other really interesting locations."The show's producers initially sent her to the West Coast, where the show's six other writers are based."I was in L.A. during the first year of my contract, but it was hard with my family here," she said. "Everyone's here, and I was depriving their kids of their relatives."O'Connor eventually returned to New York and moved to Bayside with her husband and two children. "I feel fortunate the editors let me stay in New York," she said. Because she is the only writer in New York, O'Connor joins video conferences for story meetings with her West Coast colleagues and represents the writers at casting calls in New York.Now in its sixth season, "Third Watch" is enjoying a good time slot and increasing popularity."We never know if it'll get picked up again, but there's a big fan base," O'Connor said.Unsurprisingly, O'Connor's own favorite shows are the tough-as-nails dramas "The Shield," "The Wire" and "The Sopranos.""I really like dramas, hard-core dramas that are character-driven and have a moral impact," she said with a sheepish smile. "A lot of legal insiders, lawyers and cops always have moral and ethical dilemmas."Though her show's firefighters, police officers and paramedics are the kind of everyday heroes that many children admire, O'Connor admits "Third Watch's" mature situations make it inappropriate for the young."I have two kids, and I can't let them watch 'Third Watch,'" she said with a chuckle. "My 6-year-old son probably knows it's about cops, but that's about it."Reach reporter Sophia Chang by e-mail at news@timesledger.com, or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 146.

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