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Write to TV, 2nd Edition

Book Description

Learn to craft smart, original stories and scripts for a variety of television formats and genres, including comedy, drama, pilots, animation, made-for-TV movies, late night, and reality television. Hear directly from studio and network executives, agents, and managers on what they’re looking for in new writers and how to avoid common pitfalls. Gain access to sample outlines, script pages, checklists, and countless other invaluable resources that will help you break into the industry and put you on the path to immediate success.

In Write to TV, Second Edition industry veteran Martie Cook offers practical advice on writing innovative television scripts that will allow you to finally get that big idea out of your head and onto the screen. This new edition has been updated to include:

    • Tips and techniques from industry vets Jay Leno, Norman Lear, Paul Haggis, David Magee, Susan Rovner, Tal Rabinowitz, Jonathan Littman, Peter Jankowski, Steve Stark, and Doug Herzog that you can immediately apply to your own projects
    • Expanded coverage of writing pilots, pitching, writing webisodes, writing for tweens, writing for late night, and rewriting

    • Useful advice for navigating the confusing television hierarchy, including how to network, get an agent, land that first writing job, and even "do lunch"
    • 25 new interviews with writers and producers of hit shows such as New Girl, Parks and Recreation, The Blacklist, Curb Your Enthusiasm, CSI, The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, and many more
    • An all new companion website (www.writetotv.com) featuring blog updates, industry trends, a Q&A discussion forum with the author, and many other resources

Table of Contents

  1. Cover
  2. Half Title
  3. Title Page
  4. Copyright Page
  5. Dedication
  6. Table of Contents
  7. Preface
  8. Acknowledgments
  9. Introduction
  10. Part I How Hollywood Works
    1. Chapter 1 An Overview of the TV Industry
      1. Out With the Old, in with the New
      2. Get on the Ball
      3. It’s Called Show Business for a Reason
      4. What are Television Sweeps?
      5. Staff Writing vs. Freelance Writing
      6. Do you Have to Live in L.A.?
    2. Chapter 2 The Spectacular Spec
      1. Writing for Existing Shows is Your First Step
      2. What is a Spec Script?
      3. Choosing a Spec Script That Will Work for You
      4. Studying the Show Before You Write
      5. Getting Your Hands on a Sample Script
      6. The Reason Your Spec Probably Won’t Sell
      7. One Down (Sigh!) at Least One More to Go!
      8. Time to Flip
    3. Chapter 3 Getting Your Scripts Read
      1. Plastering the Town with Your Work
      2. The Initial Meeting
      3. The Invitation to Pitch
      4. What Happens if They Buy Your Story?
      5. Will You Write the Teleplay?
      6. Odds are They Won’t Steal Your Ideas
      7. How Much Will You Make and When Will You get Paid?
      8. Where Does it all Lead?
  11. Part II Comedy
    1. Chapter 4 Situational Comedies
      1. What it Takes to Write Comedy
      2. Checklist for Funny
      3. How Sitcom Writing Staffs Work
      4. The Make-Up of a Sitcom Staff
      5. Multi-Camera Comedies vs. Single-Camera Comedies
      6. A Week in the Life of a Sitcom Staff Writer
      7. How a Freelance Writer Fits in
    2. Chapter 5 Developing Your Sitcom Story
      1. Getting Started
      2. The Importance of a Good Story
      3. How to Create an Original Story
      4. Making Original Stories Work for Existing Shows
      5. Study Up
      6. Beating Writer’s Block
      7. Stories to Stay Away From
      8. Making Sure it Hasn’t Been Done
      9. Physical Comedy
      10. Sight Gags
      11. “A” Stories, “B” Stories, and the Occasional “C” Story and “D” Story
      12. Conflict is King
      13. Remember Who You are Writing for
      14. Getting Feedback
      15. Checklist for Story
    3. Chapter 6 Sitcom Structure
      1. The Importance of Story Structure
      2. Classic Two-Act Structure vs. Modern Three-Act Structure
      3. Cold Openings
      4. Tags
      5. Big Block Comedy Scenes
      6. Creating Twists
      7. Running Gags
      8. No-Fail Sitcom Structure
      9. Example of Structure
      10. Checklist for Story Structure
    4. Chapter 7 Outlining Your Sitcom Story
      1. Why You Must Break Your Story Down Act-by-Act, Scene-by-Scene
      2. What a Good Outline Should Accomplish
      3. Good Writing is Key
      4. Format Matters
      5. How Long Should an Outline Be?
      6. Only Tell What Happens When it Happens
      7. Pass on Passive Voice
      8. Leave Out the “We”
      9. Sample Outline for Sitcom
      10. A Few More Rules
      11. How Multi-Cam Shows Differ in Format
      12. Reading Your Work, Out Loud
      13. Getting Feedback on Your Outline
      14. Checklist for Story Outline
    5. Chapter 8 Scripting Your Sitcom
      1. Formatting Your Sitcom Script
      2. The Difference between a First Draft and a Shooting Script
      3. Formatting the Single-Cam Script
      4. Formatting the Multi-Cam Script
      5. A Word about Covers
      6. Scene Writing from Start to Finish
      7. How Many Jokes Should you Have on Each Page?
      8. Setting Up Jokes and Paying Them Off
      9. Why Smart Jokes Will Get a Bigger Laugh
      10. Where Do Good Jokes Come from?
      11. Incorporating Universal Humor
      12. Should You Avoid Jokes that Could Be Considered “Offensive”?
      13. Beware of Jokes that Center Around Current Topics
      14. In Comedy Three’s a Charm
      15. Alliteration
      16. Comedy that Goes Against Character
      17. Putting the Audience in a Superior Position
      18. Don’t Forget to Blow
      19. The Dreaded Punch-Up
      20. Watch Where You Step
      21. Time to Cut
    6. Chapter 9 Other Kinds of TV Comedy
      1. Writing for Animation
      2. Writing for Late Night
      3. Sketch Writing
      4. Stand Up and Improvise
  12. Part III Prime Time Drama
    1. Chapter 10 Plot-Driven Dramas
      1. Ripped from the Headlines
      2. The Importance of Creating Authentic Worlds
      3. Getting the Facts: How to Research Cops, Lawyers, Doctors, and Others
      4. Colleges and Universities
      5. The WGA
      6. Creating Powerful Protagonists and Antagonists
      7. Building Conflict and Jeopardy
      8. One-Hour Dramatic Structure
      9. Scripts for Cable Vary Slightly
      10. How to Structure Your Plot-Driven Drama
      11. How Index Cards can Help (And Why Studios Order So Many)
      12. Checklist for Plot-Driven Drama
    2. Chapter 11 Character-Driven Drama
      1. All about Character
      2. Serials
      3. How Structure for Character-Driven Dramas Differs from Plot-Driven Dramas
      4. Why Colored Index Cards are Key
      5. Everything in Your Life isn’t Fit for the Screen
      6. How to Dramatize Personal Experience
      7. Checklist for Character-Driven Drama
      8. The Dirt on Soaps
    3. Chapter 12 Formatting for Prime Time Drama
      1. Sample Outline for Prime Time Drama
      2. Scripting Your Prime Time Drama
  13. Part IV Creating Original Series
    1. Chapter 13 The Television Pilot
      1. Why You Should Write a Pilot
      2. How Pilot Season Works
      3. Network Schedule: Friend or Foe
      4. Why Some Cable Networks Operate Under a Different Time Clock
    2. Chapter 14 Finding an Original Premise
      1. Networks Long for Longevity (Or at Least a Big Hit)
      2. Knowing the Market
      3. Tapping into Future Trends
      4. Adding Your Own Unique Point of View
      5. A Tall Order: Introducing Characters and Premise All in One Episode
      6. Premise Pilots vs. Non-Premise Pilots
      7. Big Love
      8. Know What’s Out there
      9. Sample Treatment for a Pilot
      10. Kyle’s Turn
      11. Laying Out Your Show’s Future
      12. Note to Self: You Don’t Need to Know What’s Going to Happen in Episode 111
      13. First Pages
      14. Riding Coattails
      15. Checklist for Pilots
    3. Chapter 15 Selling an Original Idea
      1. The Big Idea
      2. Developing the Big Idea
      3. Disappointment Knocks
      4. Back to the Drawing Board
      5. Time to Put it Out There
      6. Preparing the Pitch
      7. Pitching to the Studio
      8. The Deal
      9. Attaching Showrunners
      10. Working With the Showrunners
      11. Network Pitches
      12. The All-Important Script
      13. Green Light, Red Light…What’s it Gonna Be?
      14. My Takeaway
  14. Part V Made-for-TV Movies
    1. Chapter 16 Made-For-TV Movies
      1. Hallmark is the Benchmark
      2. Target Audience for TV Movies (Think Pink)
      3. Most Common Types of TV Movie Stories and Why They Work
      4. Stories to Stay Far Away from
      5. Breaking into the TV Movie Business
      6. Adapting True Stories
      7. Protagonist vs. Antagonist
      8. Bringing Novels to the Screen: How to Get the Rights
      9. Should You Write a Mini-Series?
      10. Don’t Make Your Two-Hour a Four-Hour
      11. Structuring Your TV Movie
      12. Stories that Can Double as Feature Films and TV Movies
      13. Classic Three-Act Structure
  15. Part VI Characters
    1. Chapter 17 Creating Complex and Compelling Characters
      1. Character Broken into Threes
      2. What is Backstory?
      3. Characters Based on Real People
      4. Some of the Finest Characters are not Human
      5. Why it’s Important for the Audience to Like at Least Some of your Characters
      6. Creating Characters with Opposing Viewpoints
      7. Minor Characters Matter
      8. How to Write Quirky Characters (And Why Audiences Love Them)
      9. Character Bios
      10. Twenty Questions to Ask Yourself About Each Character
  16. Part VII The Tween Market
    1. Chapter 18 Tapping into Tweens
      1. The Premise
      2. The Characters
      3. Tween Talk
      4. Tickling a Tween’s Funny Bone
  17. Part VIII Dialogue
    1. Chapter 19 Writing Dialogue That Dances on the Page
      1. First and Foremost: Dialogue Comes from Character
      2. Dialogue is Like Ping-Pong
      3. Incorporating Character Catch Phrases
      4. Diverse Dialogue
      5. Talking the Talk
      6. Swear Words and Slang
      7. Right-on Dialogue: Wrong!!
      8. Watch Out for Names
      9. Keeping Dialogue Where it Belongs
      10. Why Using Dialogue to Reveal Backstory can be Deadly
      11. A Piece of Advice About Devices
      12. What to do When all of your Characters Sound Alike
      13. Checklist for Dialogue
  18. Part IX Rewriting: A Necessary Evil
    1. Chapter 20 Rewrite the Heck Out of It
      1. Your Own Private Table Read
      2. The Road Ahead is Filled With Notes
      3. Things to Look for on your First Pass
  19. Part X How to Pitch your Comedy, Drama, or Made-for-TV Movie
    1. Chapter 21 Essentials of a Great Pitch
      1. Who Will Be in the Room?
      2. Don’t Forget to Google!
      3. Why it’s Essential to Be Early
      4. Dress for Success
      5. Practicing your Pitch
      6. Controlling the Room
      7. A Couple of No-Nos
      8. The Use of Index Cards and Note Pads
      9. Reading the Room: Why No Usually Means No
      10. Going With the Flow When the Story Starts to Change
      11. Be Prepared for Questions
      12. The Pros and Cons of Putting your Pitch on Paper
      13. Practice Makes Perfect
    2. Chapter 22 Pitching Ideas for Existing Series and TV Movies
      1. How Many Ideas Should you Pitch?
      2. The Order of your Stories
      3. How Much Detail Should you Give?
      4. Example of a Pitch
      5. What to Do if They Don’t Buy Anything
      6. Respecting the Big Foot
    3. Chapter 23 Pitching Pilots
      1. The Big Idea
      2. Brevity is your Friend
      3. The Emotional Connection
      4. The Heart and Soul of your Pitch
      5. Some Sample Episodes
      6. Sell it Like a Used Car Salesman
  20. Part XI Writing for the Web
    1. Chapter 24 Writing the Web Series
      1. TV Series vs. Web Series
      2. Creating your Web Series
      3. Think Small, But Outside of the Box
      4. Sizzle Reel Nice
  21. Part XII Reality Television
    1. Chapter 25 Writing for Reality Television
      1. Reality Television is Not New
      2. Why Reality Television is Here to Stay
      3. Why Americans Have Become Reality-Obsessed
      4. Documentary vs. Game Show
      5. Reality is a Producer’s Game
      6. How to Write a Treatment for a Reality TV Show
      7. The Ethics of Reality Television
  22. Part XIII The Business Side of Television
    1. Chapter 26 Agents, Managers, and Entertainment Attorneys
      1. Why you Need an Agent
      2. What Agents Actually Do
      3. How Much Does an Agent Cost?
      4. Don’t Pay People to Read your Work
      5. Referrals are the Way To Go
      6. Why Writers Can Be Protective About Their Agents
      7. Choosing an Agent Who’s Right for you
      8. Los Angeles or Bar Harbor? Does it Matter Where your Agent Is?
      9. Agents Who Take Unsolicited Scripts
      10. Do you Need a Manager?
      11. Entertainment Attorneys
      12. Querying Agents and Managers
      13. Sample Query Letters: Good and Bad
      14. Making Sure you are Ready
      15. Patience is a Virtue
      16. Should you Put your Script on Web Sites?
      17. Checklist for Getting an Agent or Manager
    2. Chapter 27 The Writers Guild of America
      1. What is the Writers Guild of America?
      2. How do you Become a Member?
      3. Key Things the WGA can do for you
      4. How Residuals Work
      5. What is Arbitration?
      6. In the Event of a Writers’ Strike
      7. How to Protect your Work
      8. Miscellaneous Guild Benefits
    3. Chapter 28 Writing Teams
      1. Should you Get a Writing Partner?
      2. The Pros of Partnerships
      3. Being Responsible for Someone Else’s Career
      4. The Cons of Partnerships
      5. How to Choose a Writing Partner
  23. Part XIV How to Get Your Foot in the Door
    1. Chapter 29 How to Get Work as a Television Writer
      1. Why you Need a Plan (And a Back-Up Plan)
      2. The Importance of Internships
      3. Contact Everyone you Know and Tell Them What You Want
      4. Entry Level Jobs That Can Lead to your Writing Break
      5. Ways to Uncover Entry-Level Jobs
      6. Resumés and Cover Letters
      7. How to Write your Resumé
      8. Sample Resumé
      9. How to Write a Killer Cover Letter
      10. Five Paragraphs to a Good Cover Letter
      11. Sample Cover Letter
      12. Generating Informational Interviews
      13. When a Company Says They’re Not Hiring (Baloney!)
      14. The Power of Overnighting your Resumé (Even if you Live One Block Away)
      15. Brushing Up On Phone Etiquette
      16. Why It’s Important to Get the Assistant’s Name
      17. How and When to Use Voice Mail
      18. How and When to Use E-Mail
    2. Chapter 30 Getting the Interview
      1. Preparing for the Interview
      2. Controlling the Interview
      3. Confidence is Key
      4. The Power of Snail Mail Thank-You Notes
      5. Placing the Dreaded Follow-Up Call
      6. Turning a “No” into a “Yes”
    3. Chapter 31 Congratulations, You’ve Got the Job…Now What?
      1. Some Tasks May not Make you Smile
      2. Even the Most Mundane and Menial Tasks can Lead to a Break
      3. Finding a Mentor
      4. Taking Responsibility for Your Goof-UPS
      5. Remember Your Goal: Get a Writing Schedule and Stick to it
      6. How Long Should you Stay in an Entry-Level Job?
      7. Planning the Next Step
    4. Chapter 32 The Power of Networking
      1. Keeping in Touch is Job Number Three
      2. Order Your Own Personal Note Cards (You’ll Need Them)
      3. Stock Up on Business Cards
      4. Creating Your Own Little Black Book
      5. The Importance of Sending Holiday Greetings
      6. How to do Lunch
      7. Who do you Invite?
      8. Taking the Lead
      9. When and How to Ask for What you Really Want
      10. Who Pays?
      11. Should You Bring Your Spec Scripts?
    5. Chapter 33 Other Things That Can Help You Succeed
      1. Get Yourself Out There as Quickly as Possible
      2. Writing Buddies
      3. How to Turn Up Contacts When you Think you Don’t Have Any
      4. Attend Seminars and Conferences
      5. Using Technology to Get YOUR Work Seen
      6. Enter Your Work in Contests
      7. Use Your Talent to Help Others
      8. Learn to Be a Good Critic
      9. Off to See the Wizard (Or Five Months to My Dream Job)
      10. Not Giving Up on What you Want
      11. AWord to Women
      12. Take Care of your Mind and your Body
      13. Oh, The Places You’ll Go! The Warmth and Wisdom of Dr. Seuss
      14. Some Final Thoughts
      15. Some Leftover Pearls
  24. Index