Wednesday, December 17, 2014
Advice for young writers trying to break in
But beyond that..
Immerse yourself in the industry. If you want to break in to sitcoms, watch every sitcom (at least once or twice). Know who is on staff on all these shows. Know their background. Did any of these working writers go your college? That’s a connection. Utilize it. Are any of these writers from your hometown? That’s also an in. Do you know if they are rabid New York Jets fans (although I don’t see how anyone could be this season)? You get the point. Do your due diligence.
Information is so much more accessible these days due to this interwhozits thing the kids all yammer about. IMDB is invaluable, as are industry websites. You don’t have to buy Variety or the Hollywood Reporter anymore to keep up on who sold what to whom. Nowadays if someone sells a pilot pitch it’s a big story.
What are the networks buying this development season? There are some clear trends. Have you spotted them? Who are the writers the networks are buying? Why is that important? Because if you know the style of the writer you can get a sense of what the networks are looking for.
Which current shows are on the way out? Which are on the way up? I would not recommend writing a spec PARKS AND RECREATION. The show is ending its run this season. But the announcement of that was made months and months ago. You should not be surprised that it is going off the air. (If you are writing a spec PARKS AND REC, don’t junk it. Just know it will have a very short shelf life.)
Who is Wendi Trilling? You hope to sell a pilot to a network? It behooves you to know who Wendi Trilling is.
If you’re going to spec an existing show, binge watch it. Take copious notes. How do they construct their stories? What joke forms do they use? Go to the effort of obtaining a copy of one of their scripts. Know their specific format, the general lenth. FINAL DRAFT has the templates of many current series. Take a minute to scroll. See if yours is among them.
If showrunners are speaking at the Paley Center or UCLA or WGA or Walmart, go see them. If they’re interviewed on podcasts, go listen to them. If they’re interviewed by the TV Academy or WGA for their archives program, go watch them. Attend conferences. Read how-to books on writing. Read scripts. Assemble support groups of fellow aspiring scribes. Sit in all-night diners debating THE MINDY PROJECT for four hours.
Know your history. Just as today’s ballplayers need to know who Jackie Robinson and Ted Williams were, wannabe sitcom writers need to be aware of Larry Gelbart, Nat Hiken, Jim Brooks, Alan Burns, Norman Lear, Garry Marshall, Jerry Belson, Phil Rosenthal, David Crane, Marta Kaufman, Bill Persky, Sam Denhoff, Danny Arnold, Tom Patchett, Jay Tarses, Diane English, Treva Silverman, Susan Harris, Steve Gordon, Carl Reiner, Madelyn Pugh, Bob Carroll Jr., Fred Silverman, Brandon Tartikoff, Gene Reynolds, Linda Bloodworth, Glen & Les Charles, Sherwood Schwartz, Bud Yorkin, and many more. Tina Fey did not invent TV comedy. There were people before her. And I don't mean Amy Poehler.
I suppose the big question aspiring writers have to ask themselves is – is this a full-time commitment or a hobby?
If it’s a hobby, something to do to fill your spare time, that’s fine. And why knows? If you’re super-talented you might get lucky. But truthfully, that's like winning the lottery. For the most part, success comes to those who almost treat breaking in as a full-time job. And if you’re a newbie to this, let me tell you, those are your real competition. Young writers who are passionate, driven, and know everything that’s going on around them. They eat, breathe, and sleep television. You stand a much greater chance of success if you’re one of these people.
Yes, it’s hard work with no guarantee of reward. But I will say this – someone has to break in. We all did. Why not YOU? As always, the very best of luck. Thank me when you win an Emmy.