Author Topic: What you need for TV writing  (Read 1040 times)

Daniel Botha

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What you need for TV writing
« on: June 06, 2013, 08:04:00 PM »
This came across my desk this morning. An interesting read for those wanting to get into the TV industry. Got some surprises buried in there as well. I've copied and pasted it to this thread because I received this information through an email subscription and I thought it was worth sharing.

"With the announcement of our new TV Writing Class, I've been receiving a lot of questions about what you need to do to break in to the TV Writing Business.
 
Television is a special kind of beast, with highly specific parameters that vary from show to show.
 
Unlike feature film producers, TV showrunners and producers aren't just looking for a script with a great hook and a unique voice.  They're looking to see if you can play by their rules, and adapt your talent to the unique requirements of their show.
 
Thinking about writing an episode for your favorite show?  Don't do it!
 
You'd think the best way to show a TV producer how well you'd fit in for a staff writing position would simply be to write an episode for their show.  But unfortunately just the opposite is true.
 
TV producers are terrified of being sued, especially if one of the ideas from your script ends up appearing in one of their episodes.  For this reason, no TV producer or showrunner will even consider reading a sample episode of their own show.
 
Instead, they will gauge your ability to meet their needs by requesting two sample episodes (often referred to as spec episodes, since the writer is writing them speculatively), from two different shows.
 
But you've got to be careful which shows you pick!  Here are 5 steps to choosing the right spec to write.
 
1.  Make sure you pick a show that's in the right genre.
 
A showrunner for Big Bang Theory is going to have no interest in your Downton Abbey spec script, no matter how brilliantly executed it may be.  Proving your value as a prospective staff writer requires choosing a show that let's you show off your ability to shine in that genre, so a showrunner can see how clearly you'd fit in on his or her staff.
 

Make a list of the qualities of the shows you most would like to write for, and then ask yourself, what other shows are closest to them in tone or style. 
 
Ask yourself who the target audience is for the show of your dreams, and consider what other shows are targeting that audience. 
 
Watch them all, and think about which are going to bring out the best in you as a writer.  Which are the most exciting for you to write?
 
Those are the ones to choose.
 
2. Make sure you pick a show that is currently running.
 
Hollywood is a "what have you done for me lately" kind of town.  No one wants to read a spec script from a cancelled series.  And even if you're writing for a big hit, you want to make sure your spec script feels like it could fit right into the current season, and doesn't feel like it's dated in any way.
 
Old news is bad news in television, and when producers see a spec episode that doesn't feel current, they assume you either don't know what's happening in the industry, or that you're peddling old scripts rather than generating new ones.
 
TV Producers and Showrunners want to hire ambitious writers who can keep their shows current, write quickly and generate material on demand.  So keep your writing samples fresh. And when they start to get stale, write new ones.
 
All that work will only make you a better writer.  And will also help you be prepared to wow everyone when that door finally does open for you on your first staff job.
 
3.  Make sure it's a successful show.
 
Hollywood producers care about dollars.  They want to read episodes of shows that have been successful, not for the flops that no one is watching.  And most importantly they want to read episodes of series they have seen, so that they can evaluate your skill in reproducing the essential elements show authentically.
 
So when considering your spec episodes, pick the series that everyone is watching, and then dazzle them with your ability to fit in with their aesthetic.
 
 4.  Think about your own aesthetic.
 
Remember, a Producer or Showrunner isn't just evaluating your talent as a writer.  They're considering how you're going to fit in with their current team, and how faithfully you can reproduce the qualities that matter to them in their own show.
 
So the most important thing is to choose a series for your spec episode that is going to bring out the best in you as a writer, and showcase your talent.  Don't ever write a spec episode for a show you hate, no matter how appropriate it might be.  Write a spec episode for a show you love.
 
You'll not only have more fun.  You'll also be a lot more likely to write a script that can wow a jaded producer.  Because you'll be writing something that's truly in your heart.
 
5.  Don't just write two spec scripts.  Write a whole bunch of them.
 
As a writer on a series, you're going to have to be able to generate new material every single week, working at a frantic pace.  So you might as well get used to it now.  You'll not only build your library, you'll also be far more likely to end up with two spec scripts that are truly spectacular.
 
Make a list of all the series on the air that you'd like to write for, and write a spec script for each of them.  Then when you mix and match, think not only about what your best spec scripts are, but also about what the different pairings say about your abilities as a writer.
 
Remember, producers and showrunners are not just looking for great writers, they're looking for writers who can produce on demand, work under pressure, and fit in so perfectly with the existing staff that no one could guess their episode was written by a different writer.
 
What are the best combinations of script to demonstrate those qualities in you?
 
Stay tuned for the next installment of this series, in which I'll be discussing the 3 Biggest Mistakes that writers tend to make in writing a spec episode.
 
In the meantime, if you'd like to learn more about writing for TV Comedy, please check out our fantastic new TV Writing Class, with acclaimed Showrunner Jerry Perzigian, starting Monday, June 24th.
 
It's the only class of its kind, run exactly like a writers room on a real TV series, taught by a showrunner with over 25 years experience on some of the most successful sitcoms in television history, and featuring the work of 12 talented student writers!
 
Happy Writing!"
 

Alex

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Re: What you need for TV writing
« Reply #1 on: June 06, 2013, 09:39:54 PM »
Hey Dan,

Thanks for the post.

I did find this a good read though have to say it is all based on a writer working for a production company and writing what they demand.

It does not touch on a writer developing his own series and marketing it to the Production Companies which does occur often.

I would not go down the path of writing for a PC unless it was developing my own series that they where producing. That is my opinion as I don't need a job working for them, and would prefer to be writing my own material that I am passionate about.

I may be in a minority with my opinion though I am at an age where I would rather be doing what I want to do. Time is precious.

One again thanks Dan for the post.
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Daniel Botha

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Re: What you need for TV writing
« Reply #2 on: June 07, 2013, 05:53:36 AM »
I think Jacob Krueger may have been dropping a few hints, Alex. If there's one thing that was made clear in that email from him, it was this: People with their own ideas don't often get into the TV industry purely because of a lack of experience. Perhaps that is why he didn't mention what you need?

Alex

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Re: What you need for TV writing
« Reply #3 on: June 07, 2013, 04:11:44 PM »
I think Jacob Krueger may have been dropping a few hints, Alex. If there's one thing that was made clear in that email from him, it was this: People with their own ideas don't often get into the TV industry purely because of a lack of experience. Perhaps that is why he didn't mention what you need?

I do realize that though would still rather write my own stuff and enjoy doing it rather than have a guy breathing down my next over what I am doing.

TV is a tough industry and many of the production companies that sell to the networks, do their own stuff.

I'm writing a Sitcom for the fun of it really, if it goes anywhere then so be it.
I HAD A BLAST DOING IT AND THAT'S ALL THAT MATTERS.

Regards Alex
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Daniel Botha

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Re: What you need for TV writing
« Reply #4 on: June 07, 2013, 06:55:36 PM »
That is absolutely 100% correct, Alex. Writing is supposed to primarily be for the fun of it, no doubt about that. I wasn't disagreeing with you, just saying that those who do want to write TV scripts with the intention of breaking into the industry, they should probably be aware that experience plays a big factor.

Dan

Alex

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Re: What you need for TV writing
« Reply #5 on: June 08, 2013, 12:24:36 AM »
Thanks Dan,

I didn't think you where disagreeing with me.

I know you all to well.

Alex
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TheEmboogie .

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Re: What you need for TV writing
« Reply #6 on: June 12, 2013, 04:39:42 AM »
Hi guys,


By the "spec another show" rationale, you can paint yourself into a corner.

1. How do you know which showrunner is going to read you? (unless you have a relationship or a Manager/agent).
2. if you want to write for Modern family, why would a show runner read your "Community" spec? Each show has a tone and this is just as important as the writing.

I have been listening to interviews with a number of prominent showrunners and there is a real shift to reading original spec  material from writers rather than spec episodes.

Comments?

Mr. Blonde

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Re: What you need for TV writing
« Reply #7 on: June 12, 2013, 04:45:44 AM »
I'm going to guess the logic stems from them being able to see if you can handle writing within a box (that's really what TV writing is) and if you can re-create characters. If they do like it, they'll probably give you a test run. That's just the way I always took it.
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Daniel Botha

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Re: What you need for TV writing
« Reply #8 on: June 12, 2013, 02:17:44 PM »
Welcome, TheEmboogie (curious as to where that username came from??)

I believe that like any other industry and any other line of work, the folks working in the TV industry are just as eager to find new talent then what a regular job would. Sometimes, TV shows need a new pair of eyes and maybe, just maybe a spec writer is where it's at.

Welcome to WA :)

Dan

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Re: What you need for TV writing
« Reply #9 on: August 01, 2013, 06:50:12 AM »
will pass this along to my students, thank you. bb

Manowar

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Re: What you need for TV writing
« Reply #10 on: September 09, 2013, 01:44:33 AM »
Everything I've gathered from my brief affair with TV writing more or less echoes what that article states. Writing a spec is fine, just don't expect the producers or showrunner of MODERN FAMILY to read your MODERN FAMILY episode for reasons you mentioned. Instead, that spec, and hopefully several others from that show and from others like it, will show your chops at writing half-hour sitcoms if you're looking to break into TV writing. They become a part of your "resume" for lack of a better term when A. you're trying to land a job as a TV writer, or B. you're trying to shop around your own sitcom pilot.

I haven't heard of a newbie who's actually SOLD a TV spec (though I wouldn't be surprised if it has happened); rather they're used to show you can adapt to a TV world's universe and that you have a command of that writing style and language. Watching multiple episodes helps a great deal to get the voice and tone down. But you really need to read scripts from the actual shows not only to get as close to the shows' rhythms and nuances, but to also learn what you have to do if writing your own show's pilot. For example, many newbies don't break up their TV scripts into proper acts (Act 1, End of Act 1, Act 2, etc) like they should to indicate commercial breaks. If they read the actual scripts, they'd know they need to use the Act breaks, how many Acts are typically used for a particular show, and how long each Act lasts.

I've heard it bandied about that you should have a couple different original TV pilots to offer along with three or four specs of similar shows in your portfolio as a calling card to getting a TV writing job. Don't know how accurate that is, so hopefully someone actually in the TV biz could elaborate--without flogging me too badly for where I may have been wrong.

I love saying flogging, btw.

« Last Edit: September 09, 2013, 01:50:06 AM by Manowar »

Alex

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Re: What you need for TV writing
« Reply #11 on: September 09, 2013, 11:21:30 AM »

If any of you guys are keen on TV and have a few minutes to spare, then I would appreciate if you have a read of my 30min Comedy Sitcom and let me know your thoughts.

http://forum.writerarena.com/index.php/topic,6245.msg8960.html#msg8960

Regards Alex
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Khamanna

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Re: What you need for TV writing
« Reply #12 on: September 09, 2013, 06:02:50 PM »
Hey, Alex, I'd read it again unless it's the same thing and not a rewrite. So, what is it - did you rewrite it?

Alex

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Re: What you need for TV writing
« Reply #13 on: September 09, 2013, 06:06:43 PM »
Hey, Alex, I'd read it again unless it's the same thing and not a rewrite. So, what is it - did you rewrite it?

Hey Khamanna,

The one you originally read was a one hour sitcom and this is now a 30 minute sitcom !!!!

I have stripped out parts and made it a bit more punchy.

Appreciate your offer and hope you enjoy it.

Regards Alex

PS Might want to post on the other thread once you read it !!!!
« Last Edit: September 09, 2013, 06:10:41 PM by Alex »
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It takes 15 years to be an "Overnight Success"

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