An insider writes about TV writing for a publication that’s as outsider as you can get…and there’s much here for all of us newbies to learn:
by Trai Cartwright
“Want to learn how to write for TV?”
This question came from Jay Tarses, a legendary Hollywood TV writer and the old curmudgeon I was now working for. “See those shelves? Read those.” The shelves he pointed to were 8 feet tall, just as wide, and packed solid with TV scripts. I’d never even seen one before, much less 7 million of them.
I was young and new to all things Hollywood, but I knew a god when I saw one, and I also knew good advice when I heard it. I got to reading. And writing. By the end of my time with Jay, I’d written 12 specs, and my road into TV was assured: I’d work for Jay as an assistant, in a couple years I’d get an episode writing assignment, in five years I’d be on staff, churning out three or four episodes a year.
Because that’s how it worked.
Except when your boss’ show doesn’t get picked up. It was meant to be Steven Bocho’s latest, a police vice department comedy. Yes, comedy. (No wonder it didn’t go.) But what I learned was invaluable.
I went on to study TV as business with an agent’s assistant and creatively with William Rabkin, the showrunner for “Monk.” I even did my time in 20th Century Fox’s salt mines under the godfather of reality TV, Mike Darnell.
But another shot at a career as a TV writer never evolved.
Hacking in was just too hard. I turned to feature writing and producing instead.
Well, flash forward 20 years and it’s not so hard to hack in anymore. In fact, TV is the hottest place to be, no matter where you live or what your experience is.