This is a good, solid breakdown of useful info for fledgling TV writers. Especially for those who haven’t yet read TVWriter™’s own Writers’ Bulletins and The Basics of TV Writing right here on this site.
Oh hell, read ’em all! Learn everything you can! And then don’t forget, ahem, THIS.
A STEP-BY-STEP GUIDE TO STARTING YOUR CAREER
by Script Reader Pro
In the world of TV script writing, a “spec” usually means a sample episode of an existing show. It’s also known as a “TV spec”, “sample episode”, and “spec episode”, and for the sake of clarity we’re going to use the latter.
Writing a spec episode is the traditional way writers use to break into television writing, but it’s less in vogue now than a few years ago. This entails writing an episode of an existing TV series that showcases your ability to write current characters that people know and love, in a way that feels real and familiar, yet fresh.
It means writing characters with pre-set voices and personalities in order to demonstrate that you are not only a powerful writer with an imagination, but also one who can follow the rules, and this means following the show’s formatting structure and overall “voice” of the show.
Writing a spec episode of, say, Modern Family, would require you writing all the families as we know them now, with their quirky character personalities, breaking the fourth wall, documentary style, etc. and all within intertwining, compelling and funny stories.
A while back, this was by far the best way to break into writing for television. You’d write a spec episode of a series you loved, and then submit that work through your agent or manager for consideration for a staffing position.
If you “totally got” the way Ross and Rachel bounced off each other, or had a terrific take on an episode of Law & Order, and you were able to execute a sample script of those shows with confidence, then chances were pretty good that you would be happily considered for a staffing position on that show, or a similar one.
Executives and showrunners would hire writers who could effectively emulate the tone and voice of the show they were staffing, and a spec episode was the best way to measure that ability.
But times have changed, and so too has the professional strategy for breaking into television writing. In Hollywood today, spec episodes are much less popular than they used to be, and some showrunners now only read spec pilots for original shows.
This is not to say, however, that writing a spec episode is a complete waste of your time as you’re still building your writing chops, and will also be able to use it as a sample of your writing ability that could get you noticed.
Fellowship season (more on this later) is a prime example of an avenue you can pursue that looks exclusively for spec episodes from exceptional aspiring writers. But let’s bring things up-to-date with another strategy you can use to begin a career writing for television…
How To Write For TV: The Spec Pilot
This is a TV script written on spec for an original show you’ve created from scratch and is also known as an “original spec”, “sample pilot” or simply a “pilot”. Again, for clarity, we’ll be sticking to the term “spec pilot”.
It’s easy to imagine that writing a TV show that’s compelling and original is as simple as writing a feature screenplay, but shorter. Unfortunately, you’d wrong on two counts: not only is writing a feature about as difficult as it gets, but writing a television pilot is in some ways even more difficult….