A Short Look at What’s Expected When You Join a TV Series Writing Staff

The RuneScape Staff of Darkness
The RuneScape Staff of Darkness

by Larry Brody

Here we go with another question about what goes on once you’re in the biz. Hang on!

From DP:

Having read your book, Television Writing from the Inside Out, a few times, I know you mention that when you first started, your outlines left much to be desired and that it wasn’t until you’d been working in the Industry for several years that you really cracked the secret of plot construction.

So my question is this: Once you finally make it, how long do the powers that be give you to perfect your craft? Were you just lucky to have someone there that didn’t axe you right away, or is it pretty standard that you get a little leeway at first. When the time comes that I get a staff writing job, do I need to be able to consistently write a perfect script or will the people I work with give me the benefit of a learning curve?

From LB:

The biz cuts nobody any slack. No matter how new you are. But if you put yourself out there and get a gig, odds are that you’ll be just as good as more experienced staff members because, believe me, it’s damn hard to break in unless your work gives a showrunner a damn good reason to hire you. (Or unless you’re related to her or him….)

On the other hand, the best thing about writing staffs is that nothing is done alone. Most showrunners will neither expect nor want you to do a whole outline and then submit it to them. The plotting will be preceded by hours of meetings, some of those hours exciting, others stultifyingly dull, during which the basic structure and individual beats of the storyline will be thrashed out by you and the rest of the staff together, after which it’ll be your responsibility to flesh them out and deliver an outline for the network not-so-creative-execs to read.

And, the best thing about this is that if something that sounded great in the meeting suddenly bugs you when you have to actually incorporate it, you’ve got access to your boss and co-workers for further discussions about what to do. That goes for the next step too, the writing of the script itself. You’ll have to type in the actual words yourself, but no one expects it to be perfect when you turn it in. Your fellow staffers all know that there will be more notes and more meetings and the inevitable final rewrite or polish by the showrunner.

Truth to tell, the showrunner is the staff member under the most pressure. She or he is the only one who’s expected, by the higher-ups, to get the writing right every single time. And when you get offered that particular position, odds are it will be because everyone knows you’ll deliver. (Even if you yourself aren’t all that sure.)

Don’t fear the committe, dood. Useit.

Thanks for the question, DP, and thanks to everyone else for sending in their questions as well. I’ll be back with more answers as soon as I can.


Author: LB

A legendary figure in the television writing and production world with a career going back to the late ’60s, Larry Brody has written and produced hundreds of hours of American and worldwide television and is a consultant to production companies and networks in the U.S. and abroad . Shows written or produced by Brody have won several awards including - yes, it's true - Emmys, Writers Guild Awards, and the Humanitas Award.