What’s that? You think that the most stressful environment you’ve ever been in was the high school cafeteria at noon? Sorry, gang, but, truth to tell, the anxiety level there was nothing compared to…
THE WRITERS ROOM!?!?!?
by David Silverman, MA, LMFT
“The TV industry is uglier than most things. It is perceived as a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs.”
Hunter S. Thompson, from Generation of Swine: Tales of Shame and Degradation in the 80’s.
When you’re on a writing staff you’re constantly challenged to be your best. You have to come up with great ideas, and dialogue, and story ideas, and jokes on the spot. It’s a lot of pressure, especially on your first staff job.
The dynamics of a writer’s room revolves around the showrunner.
They make all the final creative decisions. All the writers in the room are invited to pitch their story ideas, fixes, and lines of dialogue. The showrunner gets to decide.
There’s usually a “star of the room,” who wins the most points, or gets the most jokes in the script. There’s usually a frustrated writer who rarely gets anything in. They feel rejected. However, since all the writers are under contract, they still come in every day. They may just doodle or stare at the clock. Those writers can get kind of depressed.
There are sometimes crazies running the room. Some showrunners will keep you in that room around the clock, all night long, until breakfast. Some will assign you to go off and write a scene, right now, and come back in an hour.
Some showrunners will “steal,” or “co-opt” your story or writing credits, claiming they had significant input in forming your ideas. Sometimes they want their name on every episode in case it wins an Emmy.
In many writers’ rooms the staff will write an entire script from scratch in a day or two. This means everybody breaks the story together and writes every line in the room as a group. Of course, the showrunner has final say.
Normally in the world of the half-hour TV comedy a writer gets two weeks to write a first draft of a script. On “Dilbert,” the TV series that satirized “cubicle life”, we would have story meetings on Friday nights. Once a story had been broken, the writer was sent off to write the sixty page script and turn it in over the weekend.
Two days!? Panic set in. After 48 hours of writing, judgment was passed on the script by the producers….