How to Develop a TV Show

By the ever-wise – and ever-funny – Ken Levine. So you know this is true:

by Ken Levine

Got some interesting comments on a piece I posted about visiting the DMV. You can read it here if you missed it or repressed it. thimk

A number of you suggested the DMV might be a good setting for a sitcom. You talked about all the wacky people the staff could encounter, etc. There must be plenty of goofy anecdotes that a writer could draw from. It’s an arena ripe for comedy.

You’d think it was a natural.  And it might be.

But it’s also a big trap.

What you’ve developed is a setting not a series. Good shows start from characters.

So how would I develop this? I keep a file of interesting settings, funny possible characters, fragments of ideas – a lot of stuff I’ll end up never using. In that file, among the crap, will be the DMV.

Let’s say that some time later I’m developing a series about a character who feels trapped. How does a person cope while trying to escape the chains of his life? I need to give him a job. What’s an arena that’s soul sucking and suffocating? Well, there are many to choose from, but that too is a trap. You need a boring job that won’t be boring for the audience.

Probably a good start is a work environment where he has to deal with the public. That also distinguishes it from THE OFFICE. So now I’m running through situations where the public is involved.

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Dennis O’Neal Watches His Character’s Translation from Comics to TV


Gotham’s Doctor, Batman’s Saint
by Dennis O’Neal

You may have seen it yourself: the scene a while back in which James Gordon and Dr. Leslie Thompkins stand in front of their police department colleagues getting very well acquainted. It happened during an episode of Gotham and although the television Leslie wasn’t the Leslie Dick Giordano and I introduced in Detective Comics #457, I didn’t mind. I know that television shows are not comic books: they have different techniques, strengths, weaknesses, and that the story being told there on the tube wasn’t our story and that serialized characters have to evolve if they are to survive for decades, as Leslie has.

In the weeks since the television Leslie was introduced, we’ve seen her become her own person – witty, intelligent, feisty. Independent. I’d happily watch her if her name were Honorifica Flabdiggle, especially if Bertha, like Leslie, were played by the talented and truly lovely Morena Baccarin.

She was created – Leslie, not Honorifica- to serve the plot of the particular story we were working on, to supplement Bruce Wayne’s biography, and to add an element to the Batman mythos.

I had a real person in mind when I was writing Detective #457, someone I’d once met named Dorothy Day. Dorothy began her professional life as a journalist, wrote a novel, lived the Greenwich Village life. In 1939, she cofounded The Catholic Worker, an organization located in a section of lower Manhattan not much frequented by the white shoe crowd. The Worker had three missions: to serve the poor by providing food, shelter and clothing; to help drunks get sober; and to protest war – all war, any war, and any violence.

We incorporated Dorothy’s pacifism into Leslie. There wasn’t much; I can’t recall any particular story in which it was a major element. But look for it and you could find it.

What the fictional Leslie did for Bruce Wayne was to serve as a surrogate for his murdered mother and to give him information; she told him that not everyone believed that violence solved problems. If Bruce had existed – these are fictions, remember – he might have been sympathized with Leslie’s convictions and regretted his own dependence on violence, while having nothing he considered to be another viable modus operandi.

I don’t expect to hear Dr. Leslie Thompkins endorsing Dorothy Day’s convictions. Gotham is a venue for action/melodrama, after all, and not a pulpit. And there are reasons why we respond to this sort of entertainment and they’re not too distant from the reasons our wonky species hasn’t gone the way of the dinosaurs. But still…what would be wrong with giving the video Leslie a pacifist leaning or two? She could maybe slip them into a subordinate clause where nobody would notice them anyway. And they would give the character Ms. Baccarin and her cohorts are so ably creating a nuance uniquely her own.

Just asking.

14 Tips On Networking In Hollywood – Part 2

Last week, we brought you Part 1 of this invaluable article. Here’s the rest. Whatever you do, don’t lose this. Bookmark it! Print it out and file away!

We mean it:

part-2-networkby David Silverman, MA, LMFT

Networking is an anxiety-provoking, but necessary activity for anyone aspiring to Hollywood jobs (or any job). It’s especially difficult for writers, who aren’t known for being outgoing and comfortable around large groups.

Knowing what to expect from the experience will, in itself, reduce the stress involved. As stressful as making new friends in large gatherings in a not-so-friendly town can be, I hope considering the following advice will help reduce your anxiety.

9. Don’t hand a business card to everyone you meet.

You don’t want to come off like you’re selling yourself to everybody. Don’t be pushy or loud. Definitely have cool looking business cards with all your contact information on it.

If the conversation goes really well with a particular contact, and you’re both writers, or if you’re talking to an agent, director or producer, end the conversation with, “let’s stay in touch.” Give the other person your card. If he gives you his card, even better.

10.  What if you’re talking to a celebrity or well-known producer?

If you’re talking to someone you’ve heard of, remember your preparation. Talk about their films (always being positive.) You might want to ask a question. Better yet, ask a specific question like,  “I really liked that film, I was wondering how you were able to get close enough to film that rhino?”

Remember, no matter how new to this you are, you want to come off like an working professional: you want to give the impression “you’ve been writing freelance screenplays for a while.” Don’t ask them to take a “selfie” with you, or autograph a book.

Act like you’re used to seeing celebrities like them. Don’t come off like a tourist. You may have to practice this in front of a mirror before the event.

11.  Don’t hand your script to anyone at the event.

Even if the person you’re talking to asks if they can read your screenplay, don’t give it to them at the event, even if you have a trunkload of scripts in your car. This sends a message that you’re desperate.

The best case scenario would be if you have an agent or manager, tell your contact you’ll call them in the morning and have your agent send over the script. If you don’t have representation, just get their business card and send it over in the morning, or email it.

12.  Make sure you know how to follow up on the first meeting.

When you get home, write a few things on the back of the business cards you collected. Just some personal or business details or something interesting they said, to remember each person by.

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Leesa Dean: Tips from YouTube

Adventures of a Web Series Newbie – Chapter 94
by Leesa Dean

youtubeThis week I went to a workshop that was part of series called Build Your Channel and held at and run by YouTube in their NYC offices. This event had been previously scheduled a few weeks back but they had to change the date because of the blizzard. The series is intended to help creators broaden audiences and this one specialized in Channel and Video Optimization. It was packed.

Since I’m planning on releasing a series later this year and promotion and audience building is what my main focus is this days, I was chomping at the bit to check this out.

Turns out a friend, Robin, who’s in the process of upgrading her site was also going so we met and went together. They took us a few flights down to a special classroom, set up just for these workshops. Which was pretty impressive. They had refreshments and about 120 people were there.

The instructor went over the section from the YouTube Playbook on audience building and expanded on it. Sections included Channel Design, Thumbnail best practices, metadata best practices including keyword placement, collaborations, annotations, playlists and more.

Truthfully, I knew a lot of the material already. But it was a great refresher and enabled me to tweak some of the promo ideas I’m working on, to adhere to some of those best practices and think out the box more with the material/plans I’m developing.

And, at the end, Robin and I discussed possibly hooking up to do some type of collab. Which might be interesting.

Anybody out there who’s planning on releasing a web series, I strongly urge you to check out all of this information (there are videos online addressing it) and if you’re either in NYC or LA, please attend the workshops. They’re free. And very valuable.

All the Stats You’ll Ever Need About TV Pilot Season 2015 – So Far

We’re writers. And we have great ideas for TV series. Ideas we want to sell. But it behooves us to do our level best to learn what Big Media wants, and thinks it needs, and, above all, is paying all those BIG $$$ for. Here’s what we know so far:

the numbers tell the story

by Leslie Goldberg


Total orders: 83 (95 in 2014, down 12)
Dramas: 40 (45 in 2014, down 5)
Comedies: 43 (50 in 2014, down 7)
Single-camera: 24 (32 in 2014, down 8)
Multicamera: 16 (17 in 2014, down 1)
Hybrid: 1 (1 in 2014, even)
TBD: 2
Series orders 2014: 54

ABC: 25 (27 in 2014, down 2)
With numbers largely in line with last year, Paul Lee‘s Disney-owned network has put a focus on funny and semi-autobiographical family fare. Looking to replicate the success ofBlack-ish and Fresh Off the Boat, the network has half-hour family vehicles starringJermaine Fowler (and co-starring Whoopi Goldberg), Ken Jeong and Fortune Feimster to take its diversity push a step further. Additionally, the network is putting its diversity stamp on John HughesUncle Buck with an all-black cast and is teaming with the NBA for a buddy comedy starring Pitch Perfect‘s Skylar Astin. On the drama side, ABC has the tried and true: cops, doctors and plenty of mystery thrillers to go with big swings including oil drama Boom, biblical saga Of Kings and Prophets and Fox import Runner,based on the Turkish cartel drama.

Dramas: 12 (13 in 2014, down 1)
Comedies: 13 (14 in 2014, down 1)
Single-cam: 8 (10 in 2014, down 2)
Multicam: 5 (3 in 2014, up 2)
Series orders 2014: 14 (8 dramas, 6 comedies)

NBC: 22* (27 in 2014, down 5)

Following its midseason strategy, NBC put its focus on drama development this pilot season as the network could conceivably opt to pass on its 2014-15 drama slate including State of Affairs. Bob Greenblatt‘s network will look to Ugly Betty creator Silvio Horta to help add diversity to its roster of procedurals that also includes a guardian angel drama fromMark Burnett and Roma Downey. Of its 13 comedies, NBC is also targeting families and diversity in both its concepts and castings, including Eva Longoria‘s straight-to-seriesTelenovela.

Dramas: 9 (9 in 2014, even)*
Comedies: 13 (18 in 2014, down 5)
Single-cam: 7 (14 in 2014, down 7)
Multicam: 6 (4 in 2014, down 2)
Includes two straight-to-series orders: Telenovela and Shades of Blue, down two year-over-year.

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5 Questions with a Writers’ PA on a network drama

As entry level jobs go, being a writers’ assistant is A1. Unless, that is, you’re an ornery, dull, arrogant, stupid SOB who has never learned the First Element of Showbiz Success…which we now will reveal to you cuz TVWriter™ is the absolutely Best Place to Come for All Your Entry Level Needs.

Anyway, Element of Showbiz Success #1: Suck up.

This article gives us some insights into how:

Just a typical day in the life of a PA

Just a typical day in the life of a PA

by Amanda

A Writers’ Production Assistant on an upcoming drama on a three-letter network was kind enough to answer 5 questions about her job:

What’s your background?

I grew up in the south and I didn’t attend any film school. But I did go to college and my degree is actually on the other end of the spectrum from film: Health and Physical Education. It’s funny looking back — Google and trial-by-fire were my film education. For two years before I decided to pursue writing professionally and move to LA,  I was a coach and teacher. I looked around and told myself I didn’t want to do this for the next thirty years of my life, so after my second year I packed up and moved to LA.

I did do an internship for a summer at a production company, but I got in right on the brink of that big intern lawsuit so I was lucky to be able to do that and not need it for college credit. I was already living in LA at the time. Funny enough, I had a staffing meeting at this company and made friends with the exec and when I saw the listing for an intern at that company I emailed her and was like, “So… what are the requirements?” And she told me to start the next week.

How did you get your current job as Writers’ PA? 

This is actually my first industry related job. I kind of went about it backwards so I apologize to anyone leaning in to get all the good secrets to success. I actually went on a staffing meeting for this show and had made a good connection with the creator, so when I didn’t get the writing position, I emailed to see if they needed any assistants since they were about to start up and they did, so he hired me. I originally got the staffing meeting because I had a manager and agents. I had reps when I moved out, but have since changed management companies and agencies. My team is really great and the get my material out there and really champion me. I know that’s not the case for everyone (I’ve been on the opposite side) but I really give them credit where it’s due.

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