How to break into TV writing

I don’t actually know how to break into TV writing. Just so we’re clear up front, I’ve never attempted it.

The one thing I do know about getting into television is that you need to write sample scripts. I have always been told that one should write scripts for existing shows, and that those scripts will be sent to producers of other shows (reading a sample for your own show is a conflict of interest).

I read a bunch of industry-related blogs. John August, Wil Wheaton, Peggy Archer, and Jane Espenson, to name a few. Jane writes for television.

Last week this came up on my bloglines: Jane in Progress — It Finally Sinks In.

Other than that thing about The Office, though, which *is* still apparently *the* half-hour to have, my predictions were wrong. For the first time since I’ve been asking the question, I was told that the agent wasn’t recommending *any* established shows at all! Spec pilots, as well as original plays and short film scripts were *all* that she recommended for young writers putting together their collection of samples.

My totally uneducated prediction: this won’t work well. So don’t put away that half-finished Deadwood episode yet.

Anyone with further insight?

7 thoughts on “How to break into TV writing”

  1. No insight from the inside, but I’d say today’s enviornment is probably more open to spec samples than at any other time, because most successful shows right now are unconventional. Lost, 24, Heroes, etc., are all pretty unique.
    But, if you’re hoping to get into sitcoms, write specs for sitcoms, and I’d venture to bet that sitcom producers probably want to see scripts based on existing shows.

  2. I have a ton of friends who’re all into this stuff, but I’m just happy being a random poster on a number of blogs.

    Who needs to actually write for a living?

  3. It’s a moving target in a fickle business. Next year it might be spec Maori tattoos, so save room on your face.

  4. Read as many scripts as you can from shows that are either a success now or have been recently (critical as well as commercial). It’ll give you a feel for what producers expect from writers.

    Then write. Don’t worry about your first draft – you’ll hate it, but every first draft blows. It’s what you do with it after that that counts.

  5. Go back to law school. Unless you are willing to be a writer’s assistant and fetch coffee for (a few?) years…..

    Having Ivy league degree and/or being Jewish doesn’t hurt either. (hey I’m no bigot/racist, I’m just sayin…)

  6. The general rule for specs is that it should be a show new enough to not be played out, but also established enough that it won’t be cancelled by the time your script gets read. Right now a good comedy to spec would be How I Met Your Mother, or maybe My Name Is Earl. The Office is very hot, but possibly too hot and verging on oversaturation.

    I’m also hoping that the agent that Jane talked to is misguided — a spec shows your ability to write for an existing show and characters, which is what a TV writing job is all about. It’s something of a different skill than writing an entirely original script, although certainly the two have a lot in common as well.

    On the flip side, I can see how it would be a risky proposition to spec a show like Heroes, which seems to have its plotlines planned out for the next two years.

Comments are closed.