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How much money can you make writing for TV?

TV writing salaries

TV writers make wildly different amounts of money. Two writers can even have the title on different shows and be making incredibly different amounts. It's also the case that just because you're working one month and making good money, it doesn't mean you're making money the next. So, within the pantheon of TV writer-dom, the difference in salaries are enormous. Still, you can narrow down what you can expect to make as a writer in a few ways, including where you're working, what title you are, and how long your job lasts.

I believe in transparency, particularly in the entertainment industry where much of what happens goes down behind closed doors. And for anyone coming into the TV industry, wanting to break into the field, knowing what to expect and what not to expect means everything.

So, let's look at the first major defining factor when it comes to salaries...

TV Writing on Network vs. Cable or Streaming

Network has always been and still is the place where TV writers get paid the most. And there are two reasons for this. The first is that in the WGA contract, it's stipulated that the highest salaries are for network shows. This is due to years of negotiations (network TV has been around forever), the smaller budgets of many cable shows, and the advent and tumultuousness of streaming that hasn't allowed the numbers to catch up yet.

To give you a sense of salaries on network TV shows, the staff writer, the lowest level writer in the room can make between $4,362 to $5,567 as a standard minimum weekly salary. That's a lot of money! And the numbers go up from there. Showrunner/EPs, the highest level of writer, and the leader of the writers' room, can make upwards of $30k-$40k per episode. (At a certain point when climbing the writer ranks, your salary changes from weekly to episodic.)

So, the numbers are really big for network. That's the first reason network writers get paid more. The other is that there are far more episodes being produced of network TV than anything else. A full season on a cable or streaming show typically runs 8 episodes these days. But a full season of network TV is still 22 episodes. Therefore, instead of a writers' room lasting for 2-3 months, it lasts of about 9 months. That's a lot more time working and a lot more money in your pocket.

Not All TV Writing is Covered by the WGA Union

Another major difference is between union shows and non-union TV shows. The WGA covers shows that are produced above a certain budget threshold. Now, for most of what you watch on TV, the shows are above that threshold. On the major streamers and networks, there's nothing that falls below it. But on smaller streamers, there are. And some of those shows aren't covered by the WGA at all. The writers on these shows, both because of the lower budgets of the productions and because they don't have union protections, make far less than writers on WGA-covered TV shows.

And there's also animation...

Animation fits into this weird gray area that lives between two unions. Some shows are covered by the screenwriters' union, the WGA. Meanwhile, other shows are covered by the IATSE Animation Guild. Those in IATSE make far less than those in the WGA. The differences are striking. And some animated shows aren't covered at all. Therefore, animation TV writers, by and large, make far less than live-action TV writers.

Episodic Fees

You know on the credits of TV shows where it says "written by" and then a writer's name? This is a whole new source of revenue for writers. Even though writers get a weekly or episodic salary, they also get money when they write an episode. And that money can be big. Here's what it looks like for network TV as of right now:

30-minute TV script fee: $29,823

60-minute TV script fee: $43,862

That's a lot of damn money! Now, those numbers go down by about $10k on cable TV shows and streaming has a whole different algorithm to figuring it out. But if you're on a TV writing staff, you're likely getting a script to write, and that will come along with this big fee on top of your regular salary.


The last source of income for writers that I'm going to discuss are residuals. This is money that you make after you've worked on a show and your TV show airs. Now, residuals were big back in the day. If you worked on a TV show and your show sold into syndication, meaning it was being played all the time on many different channels, you were making a lot of money. Like, you could live off of residuals alone type of money. But those days are over. So, instead, a few thousand dollars might come your way from a network TV show, which was the case for me, or even nothing from a streaming TV show, which was the case for me.

So, what does this mean for up-and-coming TV writers?

Basically, you're never going to be able to predict your salary. This is an artistic profession. A lot of nice creativity comes along with that, but a lot of financial unpredictability and uneasiness comes along with that as well. For those breaking into TV writing, it's great to know what to expect, and what to strive for. But it's also important to question if this is what you want. TV writing sounds like a fun job. But if the volatile fluctuations of your salary should be something that you don't mind contending with.


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I'm Anton, a TV writer and author of Breaking Into TV Writing, a book about the business of TV writing and how to get your foot in the door.


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