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TV Writers' Room: A Day In The Life

A writers' room is the hub of creativity in every TV show -- where ideas are expressed, thrown around, molded, and eventually take the shape of an episode of TV.


A writers' room is also an 8-16 hour non-stop business meeting around a conference table.



These two things are true simultaneously and it means that a writers' room is a difficult thing to put into words.


It's at times hilarious, stimulating, boring, offensive, friendly, familial, combative, and crazy-making.


If you're thinking about becoming a TV writer, it's good to know what a TV writers' room looks like, since writers' rooms have traditionally been the key to steady income in a TV writer's career.


Based on numbers alone, it's much easier to staff on a show than it is to sell your own show.


I have worked in 14 different TV writers' rooms across networks and streamers. I've worked for shows on CBS, NBC, Fox, Netflix, ABC, and AMC. I've worked on the Warner Bros. lot, both CBS lots, the Sony lot, the Universal lot, and a slew of other Hollywood offices around town.


And though each individual show may have subtle differences, there's a flow to the writers' room that remains consistent across all TV shows.


There's a hierarchy, there's a system, and there, very generally, are hours that most shows adhere to.


In this post, I want to take you through a day in the life of a writers' room, so you can understand what your day to day will look like and better ascertain if this career is for you.


The Beginning of the Day in a TV Writers' Room


It's 10AM and the writers assemble.


It's almost always 10AM. I don't know why. But it is.


The writers congregate around the conference table and... begin work? No. They kibbitz and kvetch.


The first 15-30 minutes is almost always catching up, joking around, and general fluffy talk before getting down to business.


The PA will generally come in during this time and ask where the writers want to go for lunch. They'll take everybody's order get it ready for pickup.


In the meantime, the showrunner will eventually quiet the room and tell the writers what they want to talk about.


They may pick up where they left off the previous day or it may be on to a new episode.


This talk could be around new story ideas, it could be fleshing out a character arc, it could be putting the final touches on the nearly completed beats of an episode.


All the while, the showrunner is the one deciding what the room talks about and guiding the conversation in the direction they want it to go.


For some dramas, or in the early stages on a comedy, this type of talk happens all day long. For comedies that are further along in the process, things tend to change in the afternoon.


Lunch Break


You've been in the room for 2.5-3 hours and it's time for a break.


Some writers' rooms tend to eat all together at the table in the room. So, even the break isn't that much of a break. Others go for walks to get outside, or just get the hell away from one another.


Being around the same people all day long can understandably be a lot.


The Afternoon Rewrite


For comedies that have an episode coming into production soon, generally, the afternoon is spent working on that episode's rewrite.


This is an episode that has come and gone in the writers' room. Let me explain...


The whole room talks through the episode idea together and even constructs an beat sheet of it. Then, one writer, the writer of that episode, takes it out of the room and writes a story area, an outline, and eventually the script.


At this stage, the script has come back into the room to fix any lingering story issues and to punch it up (i.e. make it funnier).


Therefore, with the script pulled up by the writers' assistant or script coordinator on the two big TV screens in every room, the writers will make changes to the script on the fly.


As a writer on staff, you are pitching to the showrunner who is then deciding which parts they like and want to put into the script, which they then relay to the writers' assistant at the computer.


These sessions can last a long, long time. And if it's crunch time and this episode is about to go into production, this could mean some very, very late nights.


My first day as a PA, I got in at 10am, stayed with the writers until 3am, then started printing out and delivering scripts and returned home at 7am. I experienced morning rush hour twice in one day.


Alt Room (Exclusive to Comedy)


Now, during this rewrite process, often the writers' room gets split up into an A room and a B room.


While the A room, full of the upper-level writers, continues to work on story fixes, the B room, full of the lower-level writers, is given a bunch of jokes to pitch on.


The showrunner will highlight a bunch of jokes that they're not too sure about. Then the B room will pitch 5-10 alternative jokes, or "alts," for each one.


The best ones are selected to be put into the script.


Dinner (no) Break


If dinner is ordered, that means it's gonna be a late one. There's generally no break for dinner because nobody wants to stay any longer than they have to, but they do need sustenance.


The Writers are Excused


Finally, when the script is in good enough shape, the writers will be sent home, leaving usually only the showrunner or maybe one other high-level writer, to review the script one more time and then send it out.


One Big Conference Meeting


Though a lot of different scripts, ideas, and stories are tackled during the day in a writers' room, one fact remains.


The entire day is spent sitting at a table talking to the same 6-18 people all day long.


It can be grueling, it can be fun, it can be annoying, it can be hilarious.


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Hello!

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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