Friday, February 27, 2009  

How Do I Become a Television Writer? Part 1

You laugh at their jokes and love their characters. Jerry and Kramer. Lucy and Desi. Will and Grace. Week after week you sit and their lives become part of yours. When they laugh, you laugh. When they cry, you cry. And when they fall in love, you fall in love.

You’ve fallen under the spell of the television writer and the shows they create. Over the generations, millions of Americans have included their favorite shows as a staple part of their weekly routine. The stars that we create from the actors and actresses in these shows become part of American popular culture. But who creates these characters? Who comes up with these stories? Who are the people that think up the situations and write those crisp lines of dialogue that become etched in our collective psyche? The answer is the television writer.

Except for the few awards shows such as the Emmys or People’s Choice Awards, we never see these writers in public. Like the wizard behind the curtain in ‘The Wizard of Oz’ they go to work day after day, creating the entertainment we love. But how exactly do they do it? What exactly is the process involved and more importantly for some that crave to see their own words on screen…how does one become a TV writer?

Writing a television show is not an easy process. While there are variations from show to show, typically a group of writers has the work shared among them with greater responsibility, title and compensation the further up the chain of command on the writing staff that you go.

Writer Positions

Typically a writer is responsible for one or more episodes that he is assigned to write. A show runner, who is usually the head writer overseas this staff and splits the required episodes up among his writing staff. The show runner is responsible for a number of things. Chief among these is overseeing the show’s story ‘arc’ or how the various shows will come together to move the show in a direction during the season. The Show runner is also responsible for the overall quality of the writing in the individual episodes in a show and is often either the creator of the show or someone that has mastered the ‘voices’ of the characters and the show’s concept and able to guide the other writers to a finished product that is worthy of the show to the public.

As a staff writer, you are given a salary to write ‘on staff’ and are usually responsible for specific episodes that you are writing and in charge of. As part of the staff however, you are also expected to read the other writer’s material and brainstorm for ways to make them better, to improve dialogue and to contribute to the overall material of the show.

Often a show will bring in one or more freelance writers to work on episodes that the staff does not have time work on or on a particular idea that the Show runner likes. While not on ‘staff’, they usually do not give input to other episodes and are responsible for their particular episode only. A freelance assignment however is a precursor often to being invited to write full time on staff on a show. Many staff writers and Show runners started off their careers writing as an assignment or freelance writer.

It goes without saying that working on a top show can be a rewarding, exciting and lucrative career. But how does one learn to be a television writer? What is involved? Where can you go to learn and what tools are either necessary or useful to have?

With Degrees in Film, Real Estate Finance and Development as well as a PhD in Psychology, Robert Levin writes expert articles covering a broad range of issues. Some of his websites include:,,, and