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TV Writing is a Business First and an Art Second

TV writing is networking

Episodic TV can be a beautiful medium. There's something about longform storytelling that beings you into a world and makes you familiar with characters like nothing else can. It makes you feel, makes you understand, and makes you familiar with dynamics you may not have known before. At its best, it makes you look at the world in a brand new way. This is art. There's no doubt about that. And for those pursuing TV writing, the heart of that art starts with the script.

However, how you break into TV writing is often not at all about your script.

The myth of the undeniable screenplay

I've heard countless stories about screenplays that were so good, that broke the form, or that were undeniably the second coming. They rose the ranks, got passed around town to every executive at every studio and every agent at every agency. These things happen... rarely. Extremely rarely. But what these stories often miss (because it sounds better to discount this first part) is the legwork it takes to get this script in front of the first person who signed off on it.

And that comes from the anti-artistic side of the business, the more corporate part of the business that most artistic writers would prefer not to do. And that's...


For nearly every script that was so inconceivably good that it couldn't help but be passed around town until someone makes a huge offer on it, there are years of networking and building relationships around that. Executives and agents almost never take a flier on an unknown. But if they've built up a solid network of people who can vouch for them, all of a sudden, this script, which everyone ignored before, suddenly is great. Of course, in Hollywood, there's also the nepotism route, which skirts right around those years of networking because you already have a name or connections from birth. But for most people, it's this key part of the industry that is ignored, and that is the one most important thing they can do, even more so than writing screenplays.

What does it mean to network in TV writing?

Because of these stories Hollywood likes to perpetuate of the lonely screenwriter far from LA being plucked from obscurity because of an amazing screenplay, many up-and-comers don't feel the need to come to LA or New York in order to pursue their dream in person. This is incorrect. You can do all the writing you want and submit to all the competitions you want. But if you're not in LA, looking for work, networking, building relationships and doing the things that would be suggested in any other field, you will remain an outsider, or a hobbyist.

People don't like hearing this. But it's true. I've heard many executives and showrunners discuss what projects they're going to pursue and who they're going to hire. And if somebody is not living in a major hub like Los Angeles or New York, they have a very hard time deciding if this person is serious about this career. Do they really want this, or did they just throw their hat in the ring and get lucky?

If you looked at any other type of business, simply working on your own project at home and hoping for an incredible job would be ludicrous. Let's say you want to be a top consultant and get hired by the top companies. But you're not looking for work. You're just beefing up your portfolio. And you're not planning on moving to New York, where the top consulting firms are. How is anybody supposed to take you seriously? More than that, how is anybody supposed to find you even if you are an amazing consultant?

The connections are everything, and that's even more true in TV because...

When it comes to TV writing, nobody knows what's good

William Goldman said it best, "Nobody knows anything." Nobody knows what's going to be a hit and what's going to be a flop. Nobody knows what's good writing and what is not. There are certain hallmarks of beginning screenwriters, and there is great writing. But it's all subjective, even the stuff that's considered "undeniable." Those screenplays needed somebody in the industry who's well respected to get behind it. Only then could everyone else jump on board. So, what's even more important than writing something that somebody might conceivably consider good is getting it around enough so that somebody can vouch for your script, and more importantly, vouch for you.

This is not an artistic venture. This is a business. Treat it as such.


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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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