Wednesday, March 04, 2009  

How Do I Become a Television Writer? Part 2

While there is no one ‘right’ way to learn to be a TV writer, many start out by watching enormous amounts of episodes of the ‘type’ or ‘genre’ of show they would like to write for. They break the stories apart structurally to learn what makes an effective story. They analyze dialogue and the characters voices so as to be able to write ‘in voice’ of the characters on a show.

There are many books available that give a good fundamental background to television writing. Two that I recommend are 'Writing TV Sitcoms' by Evan Smith and 'Successful Television Writing' by Lee Goldberg. By watching shows and writing the scenes down on index cards, an aspiring TV writer will slowly learn the fundamental parts of the structure of the shows they want to write for. Taking classes is another way to learn. Whether attending top writing programs at schools such as NYU, USC or UCLA or local programs or seminars held by industry professionals, the key to success is to keep writing. The more you write the better you become.

The Tools

While using a typewriter and paper or a word processing program such as Microsoft Word can be used to write a television episode, these days most writers use dedicated screen and television writing software. These programs automatically format your script into an industry accepted format that producers and other writers are used to seeing. All the books mentioned above give examples of proper script format and it is highly advised to purchase at least a few TV scripts to familiarize yourself with the format and its specifics. Some of the more popular screenwriting software includes Final Draft and Movie Magic Screenwriter. Other ‘plug-in’ formatting options are available to use along Microsoft word and other program but they don’t provide the sophistication, flexibility or compatibility that the major programs provide. All working television writers use professional formatting software, usually one of the two mentioned.

How to get work as a television writer.

So you’ve put your dues in. You’ve written script after script, learned story structure and dialogue and the words and story flow off your page gripping the reader without a boring or slow spot to be found. How do you now get work as a television writer? The short answer is…it’s not easy, but it’s possible. Typically, a working television writer has an agent or manager that helps him meet the working professionals in the industry and shows his ‘spec scripts’ to the hiring producers.

In order to get an agent interested you’ll need a minimum of two, but preferably more ‘spec scripts’. These scripts should be the very best writing you can do and be of existing shows that are viewed as the most popular and most respected out on television at the time. You don’t want to do a spec script of an outdated or off the air show because producers are not interested in seeing anything but the shows that are at the top of the game at the moment. At the same time you often don’t want to write an episode of a particular show with hopes of writing for that show. Chances are it will never happen.

First off all many shows have policies that they will not accept submissions of episodes of their own show. This is because first, for legal reasons they don’t want someone to claim that they stole the idea for an episode in case they happen to already be working on something similar and secondly…as much as you might think you wrote a perfect or great episode of that particular show…the Show runners…who created the show in the first place know the show better. No matter how great you think yours is, they will always think they are a step ahead of you and set impossible levels of achievement to an episode of their show.

Instead you should be thinking of creating a portfolio of spec scripts that are of a similar type but a different show. For instance, let’s say you are interested in writing sitcoms. Write a few spec scripts of some of the top sitcoms out at a particular time. Most likely if you do get an agent or manager you will be meeting to work on a brand new ‘lower’ show when you are starting out and not a top show. The writers on top shows are usually very experiences and have been around for years putting their dues in. You need to work your way up to that. Landing a job on an off-network show and getting experience is what it’s about at first.

How do I get representation?

So how do you get an agent to have your work shown? There is no simple answer to this. There are many ways people have gotten agents and managers that have launched their careers. Some people know a great contact. Others enter and win contests for screenwriters. Others write query letters asking for representation. Still others come up with their own creative ways to convince an agent that they are able to make money for them as a writer and get themselves represented. Often you will have to start at a smaller agency and as you become more successful you will move up to a larger more established agency. There is no magic to it. It’s hard work, perseverance and a little luck.


Pursuing a career as a television writer can have many rewards. You can make fantastic money, work with interesting, creative people and create worlds and characters that may resonate with millions of potential viewers. The journey is long and hard but if you are one that truly craves to pursue your dream, it can be worth that long route. Always keep in mind that true talent raises to the top eventually. As those that have inspired me have insisted I remember when pursuing my own dreams. Never give up. Never ever give up…and you will succeed.

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