How do I create my own TV show?

STEP ONE: Determine if your future show will be drama or comedy.

Generally, dramas are one-hour, comedies are half-hour. Each genre has it’s own story structure. It’s hard to switch from one genre to the other once you begin down the path. Think of the genre you choose as a train which you won’t be able to get off for about 20 years.

STEP TWO: Watch a lot of television (with a critical eye).

Stick to shows in their first to third seasons. As you watch, question the storylines and character motivations.

STEP THREE: Pick two shows and write an original episode of each.

In television writing, this is called a Spec Script (Spec scripts are totally different in movieland). You’ll use these scripts as a calling card to show that you can write a decent story without violating the world of the show.

Some ground-rules:

  • Don’t spec a show that is beyond its fourth season, since by then everyone in town will have read hundreds of specs for that show.
  • Don’t spec a show that is just starting its first season. God forbid it gets cancelled.
  • Don’t spec a show that is not doing well, ratings-wise.
  • Don’t add or kill characters to the show. You want it to be as close to a normal episode of the show as possible.

Ideally, it will be a show that people know and love, so that when they read your spec script, they think “yeah, I could see this as an episode.”

Important Note: your spec script will NEVER be seen by the actual writers/creators of the show you’re spec’ing. For legal reasons they can’t even look at it. The goal is not to get a job on the show you’re spec’ing.

STEP FOUR: In the summer and early fall, submit your spec scripts to literary agents at WGA-signatory talent agencies.

Making sure they are a guild signatory will help you not get fleeced. Summer/early-fall is the off-season in TV land, so that’s usually when agents are open to taking on new clients.

Guild-Signatory Agents and Agencies

STEP FIVE: Work with your agent to polish your scripts and submit them around town.

The goal here is to setup pitch meetings at existing shows, where you will throw ideas at them. If they like your ideas, they’ll hire you to write the episode as a freelancer writing from home.

STEP SIX: Get hired by an existing show to write a freelance episode.

Write a great episode of the show. You’ll be working with one of the story editors (senior writers) on the show, to make sure the episode is consistent with the tone, voice, and world of the show.

You’ll get paid episodic television script fees per the WGA schedule of minimums.

STEP SEVEN: Get hired as a staff writer on the show.

This is the same as being a freelance writer, except now you get to write as a member of the shows writing staff. You get paid a weekly salary (but it’s technically an advance on any scripts you write).

STEP EIGHT: Get promoted to story editor.

Now you will work with freelance writers to fix their scripts. You also get paid a weekly salary that is separate from the pay you will also receive for any scripts you write.

STEP NINE: Keep getting promoted through the story editor chain.

The chain is roughly as follows:

  • Story Editor
  • Executive Story Editor
  • Co-Producer
  • Producer
  • Supervising Producer
  • Co-Executive Producer
  • Executive Producer
  • Showrunner

STEP TEN: Once you get promoted to around Co-producer level in the story editor chain, you can start pitching you future show idea to studios and networks.

Good job. You did it. You went from nothing to something.

*This is most definitely not “easy.” Sorry.


TV Writing:

Comedy Writing:

Drama Writing:

Running a Show:

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