What Exactly Does “Written By” Mean?

Hint from LB: Not what it used to.

Oh, man, this article really makes me feel old:


by Justin Halpern

The other night I was sitting and watching television with a good friend of mine. He works as a paramedic and couldn’t give two shits about the entertainment industry. We were watching a rerun of The Simpsons, specifically, the one where Sideshow Bob tries to kill Bart and destroy television in Springfield. It’s one of those classic Simpsons episodes where every line is quotable, and afterward my friend said “Whoever wrote that one is a fucking genius.”

“Well, I’m sure the whole staff wrote it,” I replied.

“Then why does one guy get credit?” he asked.

It occurred to me that if you have a real job that matters to the world and you’re not just writing dick jokes all day, you may not be familiar with the inner-workings of a TV writer’s room.  So I thought today I’d shed some light on how an episode of TV is “written.”

TV writing is incredibly collaborative. At the start of the year, usually some time in June, we all sit together in the writer’s room and mostly talk about Game Of Thrones, but definitely not about the show we’re being paid to write on. (Side note: What the fuck do they talk about in the Game Of Thrones writers’ room?)  We also drink a ton of LaCroix, which is barely flavored sparkling water that is a gift from the goddamn lord and you should purchase right away.

At some point, though, we are forced to talk about the show.  Usually the creator of the show will talk about the kinds of stories they want to tell, and more specifically, what the show IS. This is incredibly important.  The reason there are so many dog shit shows is not, I believe, because there are so many bad writers. There are great writers on bad shows and bad writers on great shows. (Check out the writing staff of your favorite show on IMDB and start clicking through their credits.  They will undoubtedly have some stinkers if they’ve worked long enough.) A lot of shows end up stinking because premise of the show is not clear, nor are the characters, and you’ve limited time to figure out how to make the show work. It’s like the reality cooking show “Chopped,” where they take very good chefs, then hand them a basket of confusing ingredients and ask them to make something delicious in a short amount of time.  It’s hard to make a tasty dish when you’ve been given ricotta cheese, a pig’s butthole, and thirty minutes.

So after hopefully everyone feels comfortable with what the show IS, the staff starts to pitch stories for potential episodes.  This usually starts with people throwing out something very simple, like “I thought it might be funny if X character really wanted to do BLANK but it happened to be on the same day as Y character’s birthday.”  FEEL FREE TO STEAL THAT GOLD FOR YOUR SCRIPT.

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Oh, Justin, Justin, we know what you’re doing here, man. And we luv it!