Ah, the golden age of television! It's an exciting time and only getting more exciting thanks to the many streaming platforms creating new ways and new content for audiences to view. That in of itself is enough to make a screenwriter interested in breaking into television. But how? How do you even get started trying to launch a career as a T.V. writer? Well, you're in luck because today I'm talking all about how to break into the exciting world of television writing!
Getting a job in a writer's room
Now, what does "breaking in" look like for a television writer? When you're just trying to get your career going as a T.V. writer, usually, the goal is to get staffed on a television show. To be a staffed television writer means you'll be working with other writers to develop and write stories for a specific show headed by the showrunner. The showrunner is usually the person who created the idea for the show to begin with. You can't expect to sell your show and become a showrunner instantly; you must work your way up. Early on in your career, you're looking to score one of these positions:
Production Assistant (P.A.)
While it's not a writing job, technically not even in the writer's room, being a P.A. is the start of many television writers' careers. P.A.'s basically run the office, answering phones, organizing, doing coffee and lunch runs, and handling all sorts of non-writing tasks. Working as a P.A. ideally could lead to you then being promoted to…
Writer's Assistants have the critical task of taking thorough notes while brainstorming sessions are going on. Assistants also maintain the show bible, proofread drafts, and may even be asked to do any necessary research. Working as a writer's assistant ideally would eventually lead to you being promoted to a writing position.
Not always in the writer's room because they often go between the writing and production departments, the script coordinator's job is to proofread the various drafts of a script and stay on top of notes and revisions to make sure the current draft includes all changes. Changes can come from just about anywhere – the showrunner, the network, the studio, the writers – so the script coordinator must be very organized and liaise between these interested parties.
A writing position! Staff writers can be involved in brainstorming sessions, working on breaking stories, and character development. You probably won't be able to pen your own script at this point, but at least you're learning and are actively involved in the writing process.
How do you get there now that you know what you're hoping to achieve as a newbie writer?
Networking is critical! You never know what meeting will be the one that sets your career on the right path. Networking can lead to you getting to know agents or managers who could potentially represent you. You’ll need them to submit your work to shows and get staffed.
Networking has the added benefit of allowing you to meet other writers. Having a community of writer friends can be a great way to keep up with the latest writing opportunities.
Screenwriting Competitions and Fellowships
Screenwriting competitions can be an excellent way for writers to break into the industry, network, and gain access to opportunities they wouldn't have otherwise. Some competitions offer mentorships or meetings with industry members, which can be an incredible opportunity for writers just starting. Some television networks offer writing competitions, programs, and fellowships to bring in new writers and mentor them with the hopes of finding a staff position for them at the end of the program. While highly competitive, these programs can be an excellent way for television writers to launch their careers. Some notable writers programs to check out include Nickelodeon's Writing Program, the Disney General Entertainment Content (DGE) Writing Program, and NBC's Writers on the Verge program.
To end up as a writer on a television show, you’re going to need a body of work to show off. That work will get you in the door with an agent who will help you find a good fit for a show. But that writing will not come easy, because meanwhile, you’ll be working hard at one of the jobs mentioned above. You must find time to write, even if it’s in the middle of the night, early mornings, or forgoing time with friends. Your writing work will be EVERYTHING, so don’t think that you can slack on it for a second.
Should I Move to Los Angeles?
While during the pandemic, we saw more writer's rooms become virtual, the common belief is still that Los Angeles is the place to be if you want to make a career out of television writing. I agree, but that doesn't mean there won't be opportunities for T.V. writers outside of L.A. Keep your eyes peeled for chances or opportunities that could come your way, or head to a different screenwriting hub to find options.
Remember, most screenwriters' experiences of breaking into the industry and landing a paid writing job are very different! Rarely do two writers have the same journey to success. Breaking into the television industry is a unique challenge that's full of ups and downs. It’s simply part of the process and one you should fully understand before you jump in. You never know what's going to be the moment that kickstarts your career! Stay dedicated and persistent, and as always, keep writing!