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NIU grad’s episode for Fox series hits the airwaves

July 16, 2014

Mark Valadez

Northern Illinois University graduate Mark Valadez began writing fiction in high school and knew that he wanted to become a writer. Now at 44, he is credited for writing the episode that airs at 8 p.m. (CST) Thursday on the new Fox show “Gang Related.”

The series, which premiered May 22, is about Ryan Lopez, a young Los Angeles police officer, played by Ramon Rodriguez, who is leading a dangerous double life. Lopez is assigned to a gang task force and serves as a mole to take down the Mexican gang leader who raised him after his father died.

Javier Acosta, played by Cliff Curtis, is the man who leads the powerful gang, known as Los Angelicos, and who is responsible for masterminding Lopez’s entry into the police force.

Lopez also views his task force leader, played by Terry O’Quinn, as a father figure and must decide where to pledge his loyalty.

“Inevitably, he becomes torn by his own twisted allegiances, which start to cave in on him,” Valadez said. “He’s plagued with a soul and a conscience, and he feels a loyalty to his brother cops and to his badge.”

As the show progresses, viewers are getting a look at the good and bad traits of the characters.

“What’s really interesting about the show is the level of complexity,” Valadez said. “You’re going to see nobility in some unsavory characters; at the same time, you see the darkness in heroes.”

Although his ideas for scriptwriting come from many places, he considers the newspaper a good source and has used his life experiences and parts of dreams. As a staff writer for “Gang Related,” he has drawn upon his knowledge of police procedures since his father worked in law enforcement and has been assisted by police technical advisers.

Twitter has provided a promotional springboard for the show because fans have been able to interact with the writers and actors.

“It gives a voice to the fans and enhances their investment in the storyline and these characters,” Valadez said.

After earning a bachelor’s degree in communications (media studies emphasis) from NIU in 1992, Valadez taught creative writing and worked in corporate communications for more than 10 years. He also wrote for comic books, published four young-adult novels for a series called “Fright Time” and entered a number of writing competitions.

Cast members of “Gang Related”

Cast members of “Gang Related”

He got a break in 2009 when he was selected for the Disney-ABC Writing Program, which brought him to Los Angeles. The goal of the program is to give writers access to the industry and to nurture their talent.

Through the program, he joined the writing staff of the TV series “Scrubs” during the show’s last season and that led to finding an agent. Following that show, he worked as a staff writer for “Perception,” a TNT series, during its first season.

“I still want to write movies. But in recent years, TV has entered into a new golden age, raising the bar and breaking new ground in long-form storytelling in this medium,” Valadez said. “From a creative standpoint, that’s very attractive.”

Valadez resides in Burbank, but grew up in the Chicago area, primarily Calumet City. He still has ties to Illinois since his parents and other family members are here.

He also stays in touch with former NIU professor Jeffrey Chown, who recently retired from the Department of Communication. Chown helped develop the media studies program, which prepares students for TV, film and video production work.

Chown remembers Valadez excelling in his scriptwriting class. As part of the class, his students had to write a 100-page screenplay.

“Not only was his script one of the best I ever got,” Chown said, “but he was exceptionally helpful in his written commentary about the other students’ scripts.”

The media studies program is noted for its emphasis on critical thinking and creative hands-on media production and creates “an environment where hard-working, imaginative students can find their voice and their passion,” Chown said.

“It was in Dr. Chown’s class that I learned those fundamentals of story structure and characterization that serve me to this day,” Valadez said.