HOW DID THEY COME UP WITH
THE PROFESSIONAL TV
PROFESSOR NATHAN DEWITT, MFA
HOLLYWOOD – A UNION TOWN
â€¢ These are the labor unions which keep people employed and treated fairly in the entertainment industry and keep Hollywood running.
â€¢ Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers
â€¢ American Federation Musicians-Local 47
â€¢ American Federation of Television & Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA)
â€¢ Director’s Guild of America (DGA)
â€¢ International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE)
â€¢ Location Managers Guild International (LMGI)
â€¢ Motion Picture Editors Guild
â€¢ Motion Picture Sound Editors
â€¢ Producer’s Guild of America
â€¢ Screen Actor’s Guild (SAG-AFTRA)
â€¢ Teamsters – Location Managers, Drivers, Dispatchers, Autoservice Personnel, Mechanics, Couriers, Chef Drivers, Animal Trainers, Wranglers, Warehousemen
â€¢ Writers Guild of America (WGA)
THE WRITING STAFF
â€¢ Though there are increasingly exceptions to this rule, like FXâ€™s LOUIE, the first season of HBOâ€™s TRUE
DETECTIVE or THE WHITE LOTUS, most TV shows are not written by one person alone.
â€¢ Once a show is sold and the network agrees to produce multiple episodes, a writing staff is assembled
by the showâ€™s creators and the network.
â€¢ Most shows employ a team of writers or Writing Staff, all of whom work together in the Writerâ€™s Room
to break story and hone episodes.
â€¢ These Writers have various titles which indicate seniority, experience and salary or pay scale within the
Writing Staff, according to the Writers Guild of America.
THE TV WRITING HIERARCHY
â€¢ SHOWRUNNER / EXECUTIVE PRODUCER- The CEO of a roughly $100 million operation. They hire
writers, production staff, editors, deal with the network executives, advertisers and stakeholders. This is
often the creator of the TV show. Often a young creator is paired with a more seasoned Showrunner.
Sometimes a Showrunner will take over a show after the Creator leaves.
â€¢ CO-EXECUTIVE PRODUCER â€“ Is the Executive Producerâ€™s wingperson.
â€¢ SUPERVISING PRODUCER â€“ Takes care of the daily production management of the TV show.
â€¢ PRODUCER and CO-PRODUCER â€“ Is responsible for a particular episode.
â€¢ EXECUTIVE STORY EDITOR â€“ Pitches stories to networks and deals with rewrites and story notes.
â€¢ STORY EDITOR â€“ Deals with writers to modify stories to the networksâ€™ requirements.
â€¢ STAFF WRITER â€“ Is in the writersâ€™ room and actually writes their assigned episodes, but does not get
â€œWritten Byâ€ credit.
â€¢ WRITERSâ€™ ASSISTANT â€“ Types and distributes story notes arising in the writers room.
â€¢ While the duties listed here are rough estimates, as with any team endeavor, roles and duties are often
â€¢ These titles are standardized and carry with them Writers Guild of America minimum pay scales.
â€¢ At the start of a season, the Writing Staff needs to come up with a lot of ideas for stories.
â€¢ The Writing Staff meets in the Writerâ€™s Room and Writers across all levels pitch their ideas for episode
stories. Pitches are basic ideas for episodes and the degree to which the ideas are complete varies from
Writer to Writer, from idea to idea.
â€¢ In serialized drama, the Writing Staff outlines the entire season before they write a single episode.
â€¢ The Showrunner decides which ideas they like best and assigns episode scripts to Writers. Usually, the
Writer who pitched the idea will get the opportunity to write the script but not always.
â€¢ The Writer of the script must now prepare a Beat Sheet for the episode. They usually have 1 or 2 nights
to write this up.
â€¢ 1 or 2 days after pitching the idea, the Writer submits a Beat Sheet to the Showrunner and Writing Staff
â€¢ Beat Sheets are the basic elements of the story. They tell the story of the episode in about two pages
by boiling it down to its smallest moments and stringing them together.
â€¢ By using a two-page format for the story, itâ€™s much easier and faster to look for weak spots and much
easier to rewrite than an outline or the entire script.
â€¢ The Writing Staff works to improve the story of the Beat Sheet by offering feedback and suggestions on
ways to improve the story.
â€¢ After the Beat Sheet is approved by the Showrunner, the Writer will have 3-5 days to write the Outline.
OUTLINES â€“ FILLING IN THE STORY
â€¢ Expanded from the Beat Sheet, the Outline is a 10-15 page prose document which tells the story of the
episode, scene by scene. Each scene gets a slug line (scene heading) and a prose description of the
content of that scene follows.
â€¢ Sometimes, lines of dialogue will be included in the Outline if the joke is funny or itâ€™s a very important
moment in the story. But, generally, the Outline has little dialogue. Itâ€™s more about character-based
choices driving the plot at this point.
â€¢ Again, this document is much easier to offer feedback on or edit than a completed script.
â€¢ The Outline is given to the Showrunner and Writing Staff, who meet as a group and give feedback.
Together, they rework the outline.
â€¢ This reworking may involve small changes or an entire rewrite, in which the staff works together to outline the
story of the episode while the Writerâ€™s Assistant takes notes.
THE IMPORTANCE OF OUTLINES AS PRE-PRODUCTION
â€¢ The Outline gives everyone a road map for the episode. More than a Beat Sheet, the Outline feels like
the episode is going to feel.
â€¢ The Outline is the first piece of creative material given to the Network for budgeting, standards and legal
â€¢ Pending network approval, the Outline allows for pre-production to begin. Casting begins, sets are built
and locations are scouted, a shooting schedule is made.
â€¢ Itâ€™s important to note, all of this production is done in-house by a team of experts who work together all
the time. Shows employ set designers and builders, lighting experts and casting agents, all of the
elements necessary to facilitate production are already up and running. Thus, this is a fast-paced
process. Itâ€™s industrial.
â€¢ One way to look at American Television is as factory-produced works of art.
â€¢ Once both the Showrunner and the Network have signed off on the Outline, the Writer is sent off to
write the Script. The writer will have 5-7 days to write this script.
REASONS FOR REVISION
â€¢ Story: Changes make the story more engaging and or satisfying
â€¢ Humor: Changes make the story funnier.
â€¢ Characterization: Changes make the characters feel more authentic or â€˜truerâ€™, more relatable or
otherwise charismatic or engaging.
â€¢ Budget: A proposed scene or storyline costs too much money to produce.
â€¢ Legal: There are many reasons the legal department may change elements of script. Some names may
be too close to commonly known names, some locations or referenced businesses may bear too much
resemblance to actual businesses, some jokes or storylines may be seen as offensive or otherwise
problematic for censors and the sensibilities of advertisers, etc.
â€¢ Logistical: A desired element of talent, set or effect is simply not available.
A FACTORY PRODUCED WORK OF ART
â€¢ Letâ€™s check in with our timetable quickly. The Beat Sheet took
1-2 days, the Outline took 3-5 days and the Script took 5-7
days. So, at most, it has been two weeks since the Writer
pitched this idea, and in all likelihood itâ€™s been closer to 10
days. Nonetheless, the script is due.
â€¢ A TV script is between 30 and 39 pages if itâ€™s a comedy and 50
and 65 pages if itâ€™s a drama.
â€¢ Again, the Showrunner and Writing Staff review the script, but
this time itâ€™s part of a Table Read.
THE TABLE READ
â€¢ At the Table Read, the script is read aloud with the actors. The Writer, the Showrunner and the Writing
Staff all take notes about what moments or jokes are working.
â€¢ The Network Executives may sit in on the table read and have thoughts about the story. These thoughts
may range from story suggestions to legal issues, censorship issues or other concerns the network may
have with the content of the piece.
â€¢ Depending on the Show and the experience of the Writer involved, either the Showrunner or the Writer
will be responsible for the Final Draft. They will have 1-2 days at most to complete this revised draft.
â€¢ Most likely rewritten by The Showrunner, the Final Draft of the script is the draft that goes to the
Network and the actors, though the production schedule has already been made.
THE TV WRITER ON SET
â€¢ Film is very famously a Directorâ€™s medium. The Director is head honcho. Both on set and off, he or she
is in charge of everything.
â€¢ Television is a Writerâ€™s medium. Behind the scenes, the Showrunner is the head honcho.
â€¢ But on set, the Writer of the episode is the one in charge.
â€¢ They may be responsible for working with actors, guiding the director, even helping to frame the shots.
â€¢ Peak TV exists thanks largely to brilliant Showrunners like David Chase, David Simon, JJ. Abrams and
Damon Lindlehof, Shonda Rhimes, Matt Weiner, Tyler Perry, Vince Gilligan,, Tina Fey, Jenji Kohan and
too many others to name. These Showrunners operated with a specific artistic vision we most
commonly associate with Feature Film Directors.
â€¢ The production of the episode takes anywhere from 1-10 days, depending on the type of show.
â€¢ Multi-camera sitcoms are usually shot in a single night while more sophisticated dramas tend to take
THE WRITER IN POST PRODUCTION
â€¢ The produced footage must be assembled and readied for air. This process is called Post Production.
â€¢ During Post Production, the Writer may sit in on editing sessions with the Editors and the Showrunner to
make sure his or her vision of the story is captured. The writer and showrunners have input on every
decision of Post Production in most instances.
â€¢ Eventually, the episode will air and the writer will receive his â€œWritten byâ€ credit and payment.
â€¢ This process plays itself out for every episode of the season.
â€¢ Created by Matthew Weiner, ran on AMC from July 19, 2007 to May 17, 2015.
â€¢ The pilot was originally written on Spec and used to get Matt Weiner his job on THE SORPANOS in 2002.
(Heâ€™d been writing for multi-camera sitcom BECKER at the time).
â€¢ Years later, the idea was pitched and sold to AMC.
â€¢ Mostly unknown actors and actresses. Characters reveal themselves over time. This show uses Mystery
to reveal character.
â€¢ Uses the period piece like Science Fiction, using the past to examine issues facing Americans today.
â€¢ Identity and memory, fact v. fiction, feminism, sexism, adultery, alcoholism, Racism.
MAKING MAD MEN
â€¢ Aesthetic is true to the era. No Steadicams, no hand-held cameras. The set was designed to
accommodate dolly shots.
â€¢ Costumes and set design were as important and camera angles. Production design is a huge element of
this showâ€™s success. Very formal visual grammar.
â€¢ $2-2.5 Million budget per episode.
â€¢ Estimated revenues for the series are in the $250 Million range.
â€¢ 16 Emmyâ€™s, 5 Golden Globes, the first ever basic cable show to win an Emmy for Outstanding Drama
â€¢ An excellent example of a center-cut pilot.
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