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What script samples do you need to be a TV writer?

Updated: Feb 21

When you're a TV writer, your scripts are your calling card. There's a tremendous amount of legwork you need to put into meeting the right people and nestling yourself in the business.


But after that networking is done, you can't have nothing to show for it.


You need to have scripts to show, and they need to be good. Let's start with the obvious... in order to be a TV writer, you need to have TV scripts.


But what those scripts should be is a little less obvious. The types of scripts you have and how many of them you have matters and it could help guide what you write for your next script.


To be a TV writer you need at least two scripts


Two scripts is the absolute minimum. You may be thinking, "but I wrote one awesome script and I want to lead with that. People should pay attention to that."


You're right. An awesome script can open some doors. It's what happens next that matters.


See, when most executives and reps read an awesome script from an unknown writer, their immediate thought usually isn't "I want to put this into production."


Their company may not be looking for this exact type of script, they might not know anybody looking for a project right now, or they may not know anybody's who's staffing.


So, for the most part, your script is going to be used as a sample to get yourself out there as a writer, to start connecting and meeting people.


That's why, if you get somebody to read your script and they want to meet with you, the likelihood is that they're not necessarily interesting in moving forward with this script, but they are interested in you as a TV writer.


That's why they'll ask, "what else you got?" To make sure this isn't a one off, they want to know that you have the goods and that they should keep you in mind for future opportunities.


If you don't have a second script to show them, you've just proven yourself to be too green for them to keep in mind. Therefore, you need to have at least two scripts.


Those two scripts need to be TV pilots


TV pilots are the TV writer samples these days. You may have heard talk of TV specs - scripts that writers used to write of TV shows that are on the air.


Writers back in the day used to write an episode they made up of The Sopranos, for example, and that would be their sample. With the exception of a few studio workshops, those days are over.


Nobody is looking at specs - not agents, managers, showrunners, executives, producers, nobody. So, that means your scripts need to be pilots.


So, what is a pilot?


TV pilots are season one, episode one of every show you've ever seen. And for your yet to be produced TV show, it's the episode that sets up your entire series.


TV pilots are notoriously the hardest episode for a TV writer to write.


You need to set up every single character that's going to be important in the series, set up the season arcs, set up the character arcs, and set up the episode's arc, all in a finite amount of time.


Therefore, when people read a well-written TV pilot, they know the writer has accomplished something very hard.


Okay, so we've established we need to have two TV pilot scripts as samples. The next bit of information is a little unconventional and might be a little uncomfortable to hear.


Your TV pilot samples should be in the same genre


I can already hear the hesitation. You're a renaissance person. You want to write comedy and drama. Plus, there's so much dramedy on TV these days that the lines are getting blurred.


And you're right. But that's only the rule for those who have established themselves already.


You're still trying to make a name for yourself, and you still need other writers, execs, and showrunners to think of you when a project comes their way that you would be good for.


So, let's take this scenario...


You've written an animated comedy and a procedural drama. An agent has read them and likes both of them.


A project comes their way that's a comedy and they need to staff up a whole room of writers. You might be perfect for this!


But you don't come to the top of the agent's mind because, "are you the animated comedy writer, or the procedural writer?"


They can't classify you in a snapshot and, therefore, you don't come to mind for any job. Unfair? Absolutely. But it's the reality of a fickle business.


After you have a few scripts under your belt, by all means, branch out. But in the beginning, it's best to lean into one genre and stick to it pretty closely.


Understanding what you like to write makes you a better TV writer


The more you write, the more you'll understand what you like to write and your voice as a TV writer. And, at the end of the day, that's what matters most.


If you are writing in your voice, what you like to write, and how you like to write, then you are way more likely to write something specific to you that somebody else will pay attention to.


It's the unique material that pokes through. Keep that in mind as you write your two TV pilot scripts.

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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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