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TV Writing 101: Comedy vs. Drama

At the beginning of your career, choosing between comedy or drama could mean very different TV writing career trajectories.

The business of comedy is different from the business of drama. There is more crossover these days, but still the number of people doing both is small.

Therefore, gearing your first two sample scripts toward one genre or another is important.

And here I want to give you some insight regarding what those differences are so you can make an informed decision.

First of all...

Why do I have to choose?

Traditionally, comedy TV writers wrote comedies and drama TV writers wrote dramas. There was no crossover at all. Then dramedies happened.

And now writers are more free to go from one genre to the other.

But that's not true for everybody. Coming up in comedy will make it much harder to cross over to drama, and vice versa.

In addition, when you're first starting out, it's hard to convince somebody you're a great comedy writer if you have one comedy script and one drama script.

Therefore, for the first two TV script samples you write, you should stick to one genre.

So, what are the differences between these writers' rooms?

Comedy writers' rooms vs. Drama writers' rooms

Comedy writers' rooms are very funny. Sounds obvious. And this is because there are a lot of people who know how to pitch their jokes really well.

There may even be stand-up comedians or improv performers in the room.

These are people who know how to perform and get nail their pitch better than most writers, who are, for the most part, better on the page.

But what comes along with these comedy writers' rooms is often a lot of competition. Everybody's competing for the best laugh.

The prose is not as important as the joke and how the joke is delivered in the room.

This can create some contentious, anxiety-inducing rooms. Comedy is so subjective. So, everybody's always trying to prove their humorous worth to the showrunner and to the room.

Now, do contentious, difficult situations exist in drama writers' rooms? Of course! But they're not as pervasive.

The rooms are less performative and writers don't feel like they have to be "on" all the time.

This can create some much less stressful writers' room environments. But again, it all depends on the writers.

The difference in your TV writing career

The TV industry is in such a weird place right now that it's hard to tell what will be a steadier career. When I was coming up in the industry in the last ten years, there was a clear better trajectory... drama.

Comedy TV shows, even if their ratings were okay, were getting cancelled faster and faster. Therefore, I spent most of my time as an assistant jumping from show to show.

Drama TV shows had their fair share of cancellations. But they generally had much more seasons to work with.

A friend of mine told me this when I first started working in TV: "All my friends who came up in drama have families and houses. All my friends who came up in comedy are broke and single."

The TV industry is in upheaval right now and it's not clear where it's going to land. But for now, I wanted to inform you about the past to see if it gives you a clue to where you want to go.

The difference in your writing style

There is no longer as much difference between dramas and comedies as there used to be.

If you think back to the multicam days, think of the difference between NYPD Blue and Frasier, a classic drama and a classic comedy.

Today, think of the difference between Breaking Bad and Barry.

If you put all four of these shows on a spectrum from very comedic to very dramatic...

Breaking Bad and Barry would be much closer together than NYPD Blue and Frasier.

Therefore, while there are certainly differences in the writing style and you should pay attention to what you gravitate towards, having some drama in your comedy scripts is not a bad thing, and vice versa.

Image Source: Wikimedia, Mingle Media


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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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