TV Showrunners Share Their Writing Secrets!

A wise and helpful review from one of TVWriter™’s favorite writers who no one over here knows. (Cuz if we did, we’d be recruiting her to work for us.)


So You Want To Be A TV Writer
by Charlie Jane Anders

The “writers’ room” of a television show is a magical place, where creativity flows and awesome ideas are generated. But how do you keep “the room” happy and focused? Some of the top showrunners, including Joss Whedon, share their secrets in this exclusive excerpt from the book Showrunners.

The book Showrunners: The Art of Running a TV Show by Tara Bennett is out now, and it includes interviews with Joss Whedon, Damon Lindelof, Ronald D.Moore, Terence Winter, Bill Prady, Shawn Ryan, David Shore, and Jane Espenson, among others. It’s based on the documentary of the same name. Below is an excerpt from the section on writers’ rooms…

Lessons in Practice

At the exit of every writers’ room there is accumulated wisdom for every writer to put into action at the next job. If those writers eventually become showrunners themselves, there are myriad techniques that can be employed to get the best creative results from their staffs.

J.H. WYMAN, Showrunner: Fringe, Almost Human

I’m all for small rooms. I’m a quiet thinker. I like to consider things a lot. When you have a room of 12 or 15 people that are like, “And this or that,” what it’s great for is that you get a whole bunch of great ideas. They come and they’re from anywhere. They run the gamut from being on-topic to off. Then you look at it and go, “I never would’ve thought of that,” and that’s great. What it also does is it derails you a lot of times because if you’re really trying to chase the rabbit of what you’re trying to say, you get a lot of different people who don’t really want to chase the same rabbit. Then all of a sudden you become shapeless. It’s my job as showrunner to say, “No. Wait guys. We need to focus on this.” It’s much easier to sit with the writers and actually just have two minutes of literal silence and just think about it. It’s so much easier to stay on theme and everybody gets it. It’s really become my favorite thing ever.

JAMES DUFF, Showrunner: The Closer, Major Crimes

I remember telling [TNT EVP] Michael Wright when we first pitched the show, “Right now, you’re only going to see the best I can do. Wait until I get into a room with seven really smart people, and then you can see how good the show can be with lots and lots of really smart people working at it,” and that’s what we’ve tried to do. We’ve tried to elevate the show every episode and we’ve hired people and we put together a team that’s dedicated to that principle.

I think part of the reason why the writing staff hasn’t changed is that the effort that every individual makes is recognized and appreciated. Everybody wants somebody to appreciate their contributions, and here, the writers are very much appreciated, not just by me—that would be natural, of course—but also by the actors and by post and by production. We are without hierarchy here, so that there are no factions and no separate camps.

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