Do you have an amazing idea for a show? Perhaps you’re the kind of person that watches television with a harsh critic’s eye, constantly remarking at the low quality of the content that makes it to air. Or, you’re an avid fan of a show and wish they’d introduce characters from your imagination. The television world in Hollywood is indeed a nebulous place, purposefully, and great care is taken by studios and agencies to keep outsiders out. But, there are ways to get original ideas read by Hollywood insiders and potentially join the ranks of the elite screenwriters that make a living writing for the small screen.
Write all the time and get your work published.
I asked my agent who the last client he signed was and why. He responded that he had signed a blogger who’d developed a significant following online. Hollywood loves the concept of pre-awareness, that writers have an audience already in place, eager to read their next piece. The internet has truly democratized the platform for writers to get their work read and enjoyed and to build a significant fan base. Yahoo, AOL and Demand Studios, just to name a few, offer potential writers the ability to make money as well as build a following of loyal fans. The CBS sitcom, “$h*! My Dad Says” was originally a Twitter account with an enormous fan base.
Read television scripts, watch television series, and familiarize yourself with the format.
Television writing is such a rigid form of writing and is subject to very unique constraints such as commercial breaks and program length. The best television writers would argue that, like great poets, they find tremendous freedom in such restrictions. Get to know where act breaks fall. Study and understand the nuances of rising action, climax and resolution as it relates to television drama. Study how great television shows build scenes, leave cliff hangers for commercials, and explore character without boring the audience. Also, familiarize yourself with the specific genre of television you aim to write. Half-hour comedies are radically different in form and style to hour-long dramas. And, network dramas, those aired on NBC, CBS, FOX, ABC, and The CW, differ greatly from content aired on cable, or subscription-based channels. There are sources online that offer television scripts for sale or to download for free. If you happen to be in Los Angeles, the Writers Guild of America, West has a library filled with television scripts.
Finding representation is one of the toughest challenges facing new writers. Agents are the gate keepers to Hollywood because they can submit material to the studios as well as broker deals on behalf writers. Agents are licensed and regulated by the state of California and can only accept ten percent of their clients’ fees. Managers, however, are not licensed by the state and their fees may vary. Most of the prominent agencies have strict policies about reading unsolicited material. A simple Google search, however, will reveal a host of agencies that will read material from anyone.
Move to Hollywood.
It’s extremely difficult for writers who live outside of the Los Angeles area to get taken seriously by agents, managers and studios. One of the first things a potential agent or manager will do is meet, face-to-face, with their new client to ensure that the relationship can work. Because the majority of top studios and agencies are located in the LA area, you’ll have to be here to make that meeting and although it’s possible to commute from nearby metro areas, television writing functions like most corporate full-time jobs. Unlike filmic writers, television writers typically meet Monday through Friday at the studio with the other writers on the show’s staff.
Network with television writers.
Most of the writers working in television were hired by their good friends. Television writing is unique in that the majority of the crafting of the script is done in a writers room by a team of writers. Writers rooms can be very close-knit or explosively toxic. For the show to function well, the team of writers needs to gel and work well together. For this reason, most executive producers, typically the creator of the show, hire writer from among their trusted friends. The best way to become friends with executive producers and showrunners, the person charged with the overseeing the production of the show, is to run in the circles they run in. Get active in charity organizations, community events, PTA groups, gym memberships, country clubs, even religious groups in the Hollywood area and you will meet television writers. Also, explore your own group of personal relationships. Check to see if any friends or acquaintances in you social group works in the entertainment industry.