More TV Questions and Answers for and from LB

This picture perfectly captures my writing process. And my mental age when I write too.

This picture perfectly captures my writing process. And how old I feel when I write too.

by Larry Brody

Related questions from a TVWriter™ visitor who needs answers.

Actually, she demands answers, as in this particular questioner re-sent her questions when it took me more than two days to respond. You’re a tough one, lady. Which means you’ll probably go far.

Now where were we? Oh yeah:

From MP:

I was just wondering, how long would you say it should take, generally, from idea to a completed hour-long pilot? To a completed spec episode of a series on TV you know well? To a completed 90-page movie? This is including all the steps from idea to completed first draft, outline, treatment, etc. I’m just looking for a rule of thumb for a working writer, I can’t find this kind of estimate anywhere.

From LB:

Ask and ye shall receive.

Since you’re inquiring about conditions if you’re a “working writer,” I’m going to answer in terms of my own experiences as a full-time writer…because I have no experience being any other kind.

So, assuming that TV writing is what you do all day and not something relegated to your spare time, the answers are:

One-Hour Pilot Time

I’ve never written a spec pilot but have been paid to develop and write more Big Media pilots than I probably can remember over the years.

I’d say that it took about 4 to 6 months from pitch meeting to final draft for me to fulfill most of these assignments. I’ve worded it that way because believe me when I say I put in much more waiting time between steps than writing time. It usually took a couple of weeks of meeting time for everyone – network execs, production company, and lowly Larry the writer-producer) to agree on the specifics of the concept and the overall structure of the outline, and then about a week for me to write the step by step story, then another couple of weeks to get any response to the story, followed by another meeting or three for everyone’s notes, and, yes, another week, at least, to do the next story draft.

If everyone liked the next version, or if the notes were minimal, then I’d sit down and write the script. Actual writing time would be about 3 or even 4 weeks, followed by more waiting, more notes meetings, and, usually 2 or 3 more drafts. Second drafts usually took about a week. Third drafts often took longer, maybe two weeks, because that’s when network execs get into re-thinking the entire commitment they’ve made (because they’ve been reading other pilots they commissions and their needs have changed), backtracking on suggestions they made that they now realize don’t work, etc.

I don’t know about other writers, but for me the third draft was usually the final one unless the network put the pilot into production. Then there’d be more rewriting – for the network, for the production company (mostly to deal with budgetary needs), and to address creative suggestions made by the director who’d been hired, the star or stars we’d cast, and the husbands, wives, and significant others of everyone involved. Plus, of course, overnight changes made most days of production, which could either be for creative or financial reasons.

Bottom line: In terms of actual writing time, my experience has been that it takes a couple of weeks of real writer work to get the story where it should be, another 3 weeks to write a first draft, and probably 2 or 3 more writing weeks to “perfect” the script. So we’re talking a couple of exciting yet agonizing months.

Spec Episode of a TV Series You Know Well

Once again I have to start by saying that I’ve never written this kind of spec. All the episodes I’ve ever written were on assignment, and after the first 7 years or so I was the producer of whatever I was writing.

As a producer or supervising producer or executive producer, I knew the shows I was writing very, very well. But I still faced the network, production company, director, cast, production problem hurdles. And, of course, the “Dreaded Dealine Doom” that came with having to shoot something new every two weeks.

With experience, my writing method for episodes became efficient and condensed. I usually would come up with 2 or 3 episode ideas at a time and write up a one page synopsis of each one. Then I’d run them past the network programming person with whom I was working, usually over the phone, at lunch, or, later, via email. After the concepts were approved, I’d write the outlines in two or three days, get approval within another two or three days, and then start writing whichever episode seemed easiest (I admit it), the most fun (because you have to enjoy what you’re doing), or, most likely, whichever episode the network exec said his bosses needed first.

I would write the first draft in 4 days, wait for notes anywhere from 4 hours to another 4 days, depending on internal politics and how much time we had before we had to start prepping to shoot, and then take another couple of days to implement the notes, polish everything, and distribute the result as the Final Draft. Then, as we went into prep and production, I’d get into the daily rewrites to appease the director, stars, and production problems. And by the time I was at that step I was also working on the outline or first draft of the script that would follow the one being shot. Even if it was being written by another staff member because it’s a collaborative business, remember?

Bottom line: If you’re experienced – and desperate – enough, actual writing time for a one-hour episode can take a total of 1 week to develop the story and write the first draft, and maybe another week to revise and polish. But if you’re not experienced and don’t have a deadline – just desperate because what’s the point of writing if it isn’t to feel pang after pang, or wave after wave, of disorientation and terror? – you really should give yourself a solid month to make things “perfect.”

A Completed 90 Page Movie

Is that how long feature films scripts are supposed to be these days? 90 pages? The ones I see often are at about the 105 page mark. Less often, 115 to 125 pages, and even less often than that (but still a thing) 75-90. These are production finals. Maybe earlier versions were longer? Or shorter? I really don’t know.

And, since I haven’t written many feature length films (and no specs) from scratch (as opposed to some behind-the-scenes script doctoring), I really don’t feel qualified to say how long it should take. If you don’t have a gig and a deadline, or a contest and a deadline, the only should that I think should apply is that you write for as long as it takes for you to love what you’ve written and be proud to send it out, show it around, and generally put your reputation and career on the line with it.

Actually, that last bit should really be the answer. If you’re working on spec, hell, consider yourself lucky and dig in and enjoy the process as well as the result. Don’t worry about time. Don’t worry about anything but fulfilling your creative needs and desires. Because if you’re a really good writer, destined to succeed in showbiz, your whole concepts of creativity and writing are going to drastically change.

Whew. This took forever. Sorry to be so long-winded. I’m outta here but will do my best to get to the rest of your questions soon.




TV Diversity – Yay or Nay? Part 2

Here it is: Part Two of Suzanne Chan’s four-part analysis of diversity, or the lack of it, on our television screens. Dig in:

Image found at

Image found at

by Suzanne Chan

There’s a saying: “Perfection is the enemy of the good.”

If we had to wait for perfect policies, works of art, or television shows, we would have a total of close to zero.

I really like television as a form of storytelling, though it comes with many caveats. Some are imposed by commercial and technical restraints. Others are the results of creative decisions. Sometimes a show can excel in almost every aspect, but fall short on some significant ones. Too often, these include decisions about the depiction of women, people of colour, sexual minorities, and other groups that are underrepresented in the mass media.

Last month, I started a four-part series about television shows that I recently fell in love with for their premise, overall writing, and visual style. Two are to be celebrated for their diversity. Two could do better.

I wrote about the near-perfection of The 100 in the first column. This week, I look at The Flash, a show that I love primarily because it’s fun and also for its ethnic diversity. However, the way it represents women is highly problematic.

Read it all at Sequential Tart

Read Part 1

Cartoons: “The Pefect Idea”

You know what the perfect idea is, don’t you? After all, we’ve all had ’em, right? But nobody illustrates them as perfectly as Grant Snider:

The Perfect Idea Capture

See more Grand Snider genius HERE

The SCRIPT SPECTACULAR is Back (public domain image)

Yes, it’s true. As of August 1st, the 2015 Spec Scriptacular has opened for business. As in entries.

The regular entry price is $50, but for the next 3+ weeks it’s Early Bird Discount time, making the cost of each entry only $35. That’s 30% off.

Some Details

Everybody entering the SPEC SCRIPTACULAR up to and including September 1, 2015 automatically is charged the discount price.

Once you’ve paid you have the option of uploading your entry immediately or holding onto/finishing/revising it and uploading at any time up to the very last minute – 11:59 am Pacific Time – of December 1, 2015.

Sign in your 2015 SPEC SCRIPTACULAR Early Bird Entry HERE

Some Backstory

This contest, which began 15 years ago, is for spec scripts of 3 types:

  1. Currently or recently aired sitcoms
  2. Currently or recently aired action or dramatic shows
  3. Original screenplays of any length that can be broadcast as TV movies and original specials

The SS awards $10,000 worth of prizes and bonuses, including free Feedback from TVWriter™ Headman Larry Brody on where each entry ranks in terms of both professional standards and this year’s competition.

As an Entrant, Semi-Finalist, Finalists, or of course Winner you’ll be in the august company of previously unknown writers who over just the past couple of years have been on the staffs of CHICAGO PD, CHICAGO FIRE, PERSON OF INTEREST, THE WALKING DEAD, RIZZOLI AND ISLES, GREY’S ANATOMY, ROME, NTSF:SD:SUV, KILLER WOMEN, ANIMAL PRACTICE, THE LEFTOVERS, and TNT’s upcoming THE BASTARD EXECUTIONER, to name just a few.

Oh, and Some Links


More about the prizes HERE


Break a leg!

Team TVWriter™


A good way (well, as good as any, all things considered) to break into showbiz as a writer is to write indie screenplays. What’s an indie screenplay? There are a lot of criteria we could use to come up with a definition, but the best working one we have is this: Indie screenplays are low-budget screenplays.

So, keeping that in mind:

cinemaOn Writing Low Budget Screenplays
by Paul Zeidman

I recently had lunch with a friend who’s a working writer.

He’s always good for some great “from the trenches” stories of his latest experiences. Those never get old. He also offered up some initial thoughts on some of my current projects. That never gets old, either.

He’d also offered to read one of my older scripts. If he liked it enough, he’d pass it on to some of his industry contacts. But he added this one caveat.

“I’ll read whichever one you want, but don’t send any big-budget tentpoles. There are six people who could actually make those happen, and I don’t know any of them. On the other hand, there are about three thousand people who can work with a small, low-budget script, and I know a lot of them.”

As much as I wanted to send him one of those big-budget tentpoles, I decided it was better to go with one that could be considered small budget. Simple concept, a small number of characters, a handful of locations, no special effects. Since it was also an older script, I added that my skills had definitely improved since then.

Another point he made was that there are a lot of writing assignments available (TV movies, small indie films, etc), and a small script could show you’ve got the chops to handle this kind of work. He admitted it may not be the most glamorous, but I totally understood when he talked about the thrill in seeing his name with a “Written By” credit onscreen.

Read it all at SSN Insider

3 Qualities that Get TV Shows Cancelled

Ever wonder why your favorite series just got zapped off the TV sched? Nah, of course, you didn’t. Because you – like all the rest of it – knew in your heart of hearts that it was because everything you like is just too damn good for TV. Right?

But sometimes it’s something else. No, not a conspiracy to drive you off your nut. Something much more sinister and almost inevitably deadly. We don’t want to give away the most important phrase in the article below, but here’s a hint:

B-d W—–g

In case you didn’t get it:

zapperby Anthea Mitchell

At certain points in the year, anyone that’s been watching a new show with enjoyment knows to prepare for cancellation. This is assuming the series is not one of those classics that’s been on air for sixteen years — though even those can surprise you at times. Cancellation is a constant risk for most shows, particularly those that are new, but sometimes its a risk that follows a series into its fourth or fifth season.

Some shows are canceled before they truly deserve to be cut out, leading either to a rescue from fans as was seen with Arrested Development and Futurama, or years and years of bitterness, as we see in the case of Firefly. Other shows fall into some predictable pitfalls that often lead to cancellation, and those are the shows it’s sometimes hard to feel sorry to see go. Ratings are a huge part of , but what determines ratings are far more complex and have to do with everything from time slots to writing. These pitfalls are fairly predictable, which makes it all the more deserved when a show falls off a network.

One problem new shows fall into that fails about half the time is when it tries to emulate a show that’s far better than itself, pretty much guaranteeing an audience won’t be gained. If the show manages to do a fair job of reproducing what the fans loved about the other popular show, while still maintaining a certain degree of originality, it can snatch up fans who are looking for something similar — particularly if the two shows are scheduled on different days or different times. Sometimes this tactic also helps draw an initial audience, and then as the series’ position becomes more embedded and stable the writers have the opportunity to take more risks and add new material that might not have been part of the initial draw.

Of course, this is risky as well, since often that new material overwhelms what was working and loses its old audience a few episodes into the second season. This is another major problem shows have that lead them to be cancelled — throwing a stylistic or plot change in the show when the viewers aren’t prepared for it, where the change fundamentally shifts directions as a result. Loyalty only goes so far, and early in a show’s creation loyalty doesn’t run terribly deep.

Read it all at TV Cheat Sheet