Daily Dojo

How Television Shows Are Created - Parts One & Two

A writer-guy I really dig, Paul Guyot, who used to have a blog that I really, really dug . . . has guest-hosted on another blog and wrote a truly stellar post at Murderati called How Television Shows Are Created - Part One . . .

Here’s an excerpt:

“You (meaning the writer, though there are other non-writing entities that do this) have an idea for a TV series. Stop Guyot. You forgot the checklist. Ah, yes. Before we continue, there’s a checklist of things that are REQUIRED for you to move beyond simply having an idea for a TV series.

Item 1 – You must have a place of residence in Southern California. You may be able to swing a NY residence, but if you are truly starting out, it’s SoCal or nothing. X has covered this. Look it up, people.

Item 2 – You must have an agent. A legitimate agent. “Bob’s Talent & Pet Agency” in Pacoima is not legit. Your cousin acting as your agent is not legit. Some guy you met online who claims to be a manager is not legit… unless he can show you at least three working clients. Having 17 unemployed clients does not count. Besides, managers are for actors, or people who can’t get real agents. I know exactly one working screenwriter who has a manager (along with an agent), and that writer hates the manager. You don’t need to be with Endeavor (though it helps), but you must have an agent that is capable of having their calls returned.

Item 3 – You must have NO LESS than two samples of your writing. And I mean samples of one-hour episodic television writing. Three is really how many you should have, but you can get away with two if both are brilliant. Nowadays they should be original specs – meaning, they should be pilot episodes of some idea of your own. It used to be you needed specs of shows currently on the air (hit shows), but that’s more about getting a staff job, and we’re talking about how series are created. Oh, and it’s a good idea that neither of your samples are the show you are trying to sell. They can be, but it’s a slippery slope.

Item 4 – You must have the ability to check your ego. It’s okay to have an ego, but you must be able to sit across from an idiot who is telling you what’s wrong with the thing you wrote and, while you know with every fiber of your being that what is being said is complete horsepucky, you must be able to nod your head and say, “That’s interesting. I’ll take a look at that.” If you cannot do this, sell your SoCal residence, fire your agent, and burn your two specs. You will not make it.

Okay, you’ve got the checklist covered. So, here’s how a television series winds up on the air.

You have your great idea for a series. You tell your agents about it, and if they’re good agents, they say they love it regardless of their real feelings. See, agents don’t know shit about anything but agenting, and they can be deadly to the creative process. If your agent ever wants to give you notes on something you’ve written, or tells you it’s not a good idea, or that there are already three ideas in town just like it, don’t listen to them. Just tell them to set up the meetings.”

It gets even better after that . . . go visit, young white-belts, go now.

Paul has a follow up called The Network Pitch (Television Writing, Part 2) up as well, so read part one and then come back read part two.

Here’s an excerpt from that:

Eventually, all the bullshit subsides for a moment. This is what I call the gloaming of screenwriting. This amazing phase when you’ve gotten your location, your cast, and everything else set. And you show up on the first day of shooting and before you’ve even taken a bite of your breakfast burrito, your entire life has been worth it. All the shit you’ve ever swallowed and slugged through… all the humiliation you felt at the hands of Michelle Brady back in fifth grade when you confessed your love for her and she laughed at you; how your parents locked you up in that juvenile criminal rehab facility and you took the screwdriver that that guy Tony had smuggled in up his butt, and unscrewed the mesh over the window and escaped, running eleven miles back home; all the endless drivel you endured about needing something to fall back on; and how freaking right you were when your high school principal threatened to deny your diploma if you didn’t rat out your friends, and so you stood up in her office and said, “So what, I’m not going to Columbia University, I’m going to Columbia Pictures,” and walked out, never graduating… yes, yes, yes! You were right, and it was all worth it because:

An actor comes up to you, and asks YOUR opinion about a scene. You feel incredible. Even if it’s Scott Baio, you feel incredible. And it gets better when you go to the set and they have a chair for you. And the sound guy brings over your own set of headphones. And a PA asks if he can get you a bottled water – cold or room temperature? Note: Feature writers rarely make it to the sets of their films, television writers are always there.

That is all.

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