Troy DeVolld’s Reality TV Pro Tip Grab Bag

by  Troy DeVolld

Hi, all.  Gee whiz, it’s been a while… I feel like a ghost on my own blog.

Thought I’d pop by with a grab bag of pro tips that aren’t long enough for their own features, but that have been hard-won lessons along the way.  Enjoy.

A 44-minute docusoap typically keeps its pace best at 12-15 scenes.  Don’t overload it.  More is not more.  More is too much.

You can’t tell five stories in an episode with a cast of five people.  People can participate in others’ stories, but it’s best to keep to an A,B,C and maybe single-scene D story.  Yes, if you have a one-scene nonsequitur moment that you want to use (maybe because it’s funny), it probably belongs at the top of Act 2.

Get somebody in the room who hasn’t seen the edit to watch down your rough cut.  You know the material and your brain fills in the gaps in logic and story based on that familiarity.  Let fresh eyes that you don’t have to answer to get a look.

Stick up for the show, not just your ideas.


Troy DeVolld is a Larry Brody buddy, former senior story producer of Dancing with the Stars, and all-around true master of the reality TV genre. This article originally appeared on his Reality TV blog. And while you’re thinking about him, why not buy his book, Reality TV: An Insider’s Guide to TV’s Hottest Market?

Time to Get Your Script in for the Humanitas Prize Competiiton

The Writers Guild of America wants us all to know that “HUMANITAS is pleased to announce a Call for Entries for the 43rd annual HUMANITAS Prize Awards. The winners will be announced at the HUMANITAS Prize Awards held in February 2018.”

Well, not exactly all of us. The Humanitas Prize has been a profoundly important contest over the years, but it has a catch. A production based on the submitted teleplay “must have had a national release on Television (Broadcast, Cable, Internet and Satellite),” and a screenplay must have been released theatrically in the year of the contest, in this case, 2017.

So, yikes!, yeah, to enter you’ve got to be some kind of a pro. While you’re mulling that over, here are the full deets:

Submissions open: September 1, 2017
Deadline: September 30, 2017
*Teleplay or film must be aired or released between January 1, 2017 and December 31, 2017.
*Episodes that air AFTER submission period are eligible for consideration and will be kept confidential.

The winners receive both a trophy and a cash prize at our annual HUMANITAS Awards Ceremony, which will be held in February 2018. The total annual amount of the awards is $70,000 and is divided among the following seven categories:

Feature Film Screenplay
Sundance Feature Film Screenplay
60-minute Teleplay
30-minute Teleplay
Feature Documentary
Children’s Animation
Children’s Live Action

Submission Guidelines:

  • Teleplay or film must be aired or released between January 1, 2017 and December 31, 2017.
  • $100 entry fee per submission.
  • No limit to the number of submissions.
  • Credits must be redacted from script.
  • Teleplay must be written and produced in the English language for U.S. Television (Broadcast, Cable, Internet and Satellite).
  • Teleplay must have had a national release on Television (Broadcast, Cable, Internet and Satellite).
  • Feature film screenplay becomes eligible in the year in which it receives a U.S. theatrical release.
  • Documentary entrants must submit digital content through web-based award judging portal.

For over four decades, the HUMANITAS Prize has empowered writers with financial support and recognition to tell stories which are both entertaining and uplifting. HUMANITAS encourages writers who create contemporary media to use their immense power to:

Encourage viewers to truly explore what it means to be a human being.
Challenge viewers to take charge of their lives and use their freedom in a responsible way.
Motivate viewers to reach out in respect and compassion to all their brothers and sisters in the human family.

“HUMANITAS exists to recognize, encourage and empower writers who teach us how to embrace our common humanity by way of their unique and powerful voices. These storytellers help us to consider our place in the world, and examine our own moral compasses. In this day and age, now more than ever, it is a noble mission.”
-Cathleen Young, HUMANITAS Executive Director

Submissions will be accepted on our website starting September 1, 2017.

If you have any questions, contact those in the know at info@humanitasprize.org or 310-454-8769.

Oh, and as long as we’re talking about contests, don’t forget – even if your television script hasn’t been produced this year, it’s totally eligible for TVWriter™’s very own PEOPLE’S PILOT 2017 Writing Contest. As long as the script will work as a pilot for any of the currently available electronic media that all of us are so addicted to as viewers.

The place for People’s Pilot 2017 info is HERE

Who luvs ya, baby?

Pioneer TV Writer Susan Silver Talks About ‘Hot Pants in Hollywood’

And if the headline above doesn’t make you keep reading, Susan and we at TVWriter™ are going to feel awfully…cold? Apologies, and now to the main event:

How To Thrive Despite Your Fears
by Jeryl Brunner

We all experience fear and self-doubt, no matter where we are in life. But Nelson Mandela said, “The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”

Take the barrier-breaking television writer Susan Silver. She was one of the first female TV scribes to find herself in coveted male-only writers’ rooms. The Milwaukee native hit Hollywood and amassed impressive credits writing for The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Maude, The Bob Newhart Show, The Partridge Family and other hits.

Throughout her life, so many moments filled Silver with fear, which began when she was a child. “I was overprotected to the point of paralysis. Thus, I was fearful of a lot of things,” she explains. “I was called high-strung by teachers, nervous by school nurses, and I was always in tears from slights either imagined or real from friends.”

In her recent delicious memoir, Hot Pants In Hollywood: Sex, Secrets & Sitcoms, she describes being the consummate “scaredy kid” who was afraid of everything. The fears continued to her adulthood. ‘Somehow I overcame my fears,” explains Silver. “Or continued in spite of them.”

But she didn’t let any of that get in the way of her dreams, especially when the odds were stacked against her, just by virtue of being female.

When she was a casting director for Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In, she desperately wanted to be a writer on the hit variety show. However she was told that wasn’t an option because all the writers were men. They insisted that they would be uncomfortable having her in the motel room where they worked because they needed to be able to “fart and strip down to their underwear.”

Instead of backing down, she found a way to spend time with the writers and soak up their knowledge when they were fully clothed and in their offices. And ultimately she had her manager at the time (the great director Garry Marshall) submit her to be a writer for a new female-focused series, The Mary Tyler Moore Show. She was hired.

Whether she was working as a TV writer or meeting Bill Clinton in the Oval Office during his presidency or approaching Israeli President Shimon Peres in Israel when he was surrounded by guards, Silver always found her inner chutzpah.

Throughout Hot Pants in Hollywood, Silver reveals the innovative ways she was able to get what she  wanted despite her fears. “What gave me the idea that I could accomplish anything, have a life filled with iconic celebrities and success beyond my wildest fantasies?” she asks in the book.  “My scaredy kid still lives inside me. But if you talk fast and carry yourself tall they won’t find out… maybe….”

Read it all at Forbes

Unblocking John Ostrander!

 

Do you recognize this man? How about his name? Does it mean anything to you? Just wonderin’….

by John Ostrander

A sad fact of a writer’s life is writer’s block. That’s when you sit down and look at the blank page or the empty screen and go “I’ve got nothin’.” Some form of that can happen every time you start to write. The really bad version can go on for a long time, maybe for years. Not only do you not have an idea, you feel that you can’t write, that you could never write, that you will never write, and what the hell were you thinking when you thought you could write.

There are things you can do when the malady strikes, some less useful than others. Crying, swearing, cursing, screaming are all options but you eventually run out of energy and then you’re back at square one – the damned blank page or screen.

Not all solutions work for all people and what work’s in one situation may fail in another. That all said here are some things that I’ve tried that sometimes work.

Do not panic! Seriously, calm down. It only feels like life and death. You’ll write again. Relaaaaaax.

Do something else. Staring into the abyss (a.k.a. that blank page or screen) until you’re cross-eyed only hurts your vision. Go do something else. Something physical. I’ve been known to wash dishes when I get desperate. Go for a walk or a run. Don’t read, watch TV, play video games, text or call someone. You’re looking for something that will shift your mind into neutral. Something that will silence the chattering monkeys in your skull.

Work on something else. I generally have three or four different projects working at the same time. If I get jammed up on one, I’ll go to another. If I get jammed on all of them, I revert to the rule above. Play with a cat. If nothing else, it may amuse the cat.

Check the basics. If I stall out on a plot, it generally means I’m making a Writing 101 mistake. I haven’t done the basics regarding plot construction or building a character. I tell myself that I’ve done this for so long that I can skip a step or two. That’s hubris talking and hubris is a lying bastard. Or maybe I’m so late with the deadline I don’t have time for all that. Wrong again. When you’re running late you only have time to do it right once. Take the time. Do the work.

Write about it. Yes, that’s exactly what I’m doing here. I sat down to write this week’s column and had nothin’ so I wrote this column about having nothin’. A rather Seinfeld column. Seriously though, as a writer you put into words that which exists only in your mind and heart. It’s most likely will be nothing you will ever read again or show to anyone but the physical act of putting words – any words – down can be therapeutic. Yes, it most likely will be crap. Let it be crap. Write it and flush it.

Get paid for it. At one time, I thought I had a serious case of writer’s block. Had it for years. Nothing came, nothing worked. Then Mike Gold offered to pay me for a story (my first printed work, as it turned out). Boy Howdy, that block just evaporated. Funny how motivating a paycheck can be. Knowing someone will give you the real coin of the realm for your writing can be awfully encouraging.

I hope all this has been a little help to some of you but – hey, I’ve got this week’s column so I’m good.

See y’all next week.

Unless I hit a block.


John Ostrander is one of LB’s favorite writers in any medium. Don’t forget to read his most excellent blog at ComicMix, where this piece first appeared. You can learn more about John and his masterworks HERE

Writing Gig: Editorial Asst/Writer Wanted

by TVWriter™ Press Service

How-To-Geek, One of the interweb’s most interesting and, yes, even informative tech websites is looking to hire an editorial assistant-writer. The gig is being offered as freelance, but with a contract and the hope of everybody involved that it can “transition into a full time role in the future.”

According to the HTG’s Lowell Heddings, you’ll need to “meet at least move of these criteria.” And those criteria are:

  • Good writing skills. If I asked you to write an article about the best way to edit the Windows Registry you should be able to write something coherent on the subject even if you’ve never opened the registry before.
  • Solid understanding of technology. You don’t need to be an expert, but if I asked you to program a VCR you should probably know how to Google what a VCR is and whether time machines exist and then just ask me if I want to schedule a recording on a DVR instead.
  • Great Research Skills. If I wanted to know what the best doctor is for laser eye surgery in DC, you should be able to cut through the marketing and ads and figure out which one I should go to so I won’t end up with an eye patch. (I seriously would like to know this)
  • Stick-to-it-ive-ness. If I give you a really boring task that is going to take a week, you should see it through to the end even if it takes two.
  • Sense of Humor. I am very sarcastic, and I have extremely strong and sometimes controversial opinions on things. Android is a dumpster fire. If you are easily offended we aren’t going to work well together.
  • Willingness to Speak Up. One of the worst things you can have as a CEO is a group of people who don’t think for themselves and never have any ideas to contribute.
  • Be a Self-Starter. When I give any programming or server task to our programmer Keanan he just goes and figures it out without having to ask me a bunch of questions or needing hand-holding. It’s amazing. Be like Keanan.

To find out more and actually apply for the job, hie thyself HERE

And once again  – meaning we say this every time we post about potential employment – if you pursue this one please let us know how it goes. The Good. The Bad. And the Fug-Ugly.

We think this is a cool op at a really cool site. Good luck!

500 Scripted TV Series Rocking On-Air This Season

That we’re living in The Year of Peak TV is indisputable, but we here at TVWriter™ do have a question: Is the fact that all these shows exist and are in need of writers (whether they realize it or not) the good news? Or is it the bad?

FX Networks Honcho John Landgraf

Scripted Series Tally Brings Viewers and Networks Another Record Year
by Michael Schneider

Peak TV still hasn’t peaked. According to FX Networks chief John Landgraf, as of August there have been 342 scripted programs via broadcast, cable, and streaming services this year – up from 325 at this time last year.

That puts the year’s tally racing toward a landmark 500 scripted shows in 2017, up from 455 in 2016. (There were 216 series in 2010, so the number has already doubled.)

But here’s where things might still explode before the end of the year: Streaming services have run 62 series to date (up from 51 this point last year), but have announced an additional whopping 79 shows. It’s unlikely all of those series will premiere before the end of the year – but if they did, the number would be 141 streaming shows, up from a total of 95 last year.

If that’s the case, Landgraf projects that the full series tally could rise to 534 – and, he pointed out, that’s before Apple even announces its TV plans under its new programming bosses.

“Yeah, it’s going to continue to grow,” Landgraf told reporters at the Television Critics Association press tour in Beverly Hills.

Among other year-to-date numbers, the broadcast networks have aired 127 scripted shows this year, up from 118; premium cable has run 25, up from 23; and basic cable has had 130, a tick down from 131 at this point last year. (The broadcast network rise seems to be from the increased addition of short-order series at the broadcasters, which have increasingly borrowed the limited-run series strategy of its cable counterparts)….

Read it all at Indiewire

Allie Theiss: Daniel Thomsen’s Approach to TV Writing Success – Part 1

by Allie Theiss

Writer Daniel Thomsen has been at the top of TVWriter™’s radar for a long time and has worked on some of this  minion’s favorite shows (TIME AFTER TIME, WESTWORLD, ONCE UPON A TIME, among many others). I’m delighted to have had the chance to talk to him about his enviable career.

When did you realize that you wanted to be a writer?

I grew up during the 1990s, in the rural rustbelt, before there was much attention given to writers in television. I was a passionate STAR TREK fan, but all that meant was I watched every new episode of TNG and DS9. It fed my storytelling imagination, but I didn’t pay attention to the names of the writers or anything like that. It just never occurred to me that I could write stories to make a living. That wasn’t my world.

I went to college in Boston for business and technology, and fiction writing was always just a (secret) hobby. Living in a big city for the first time exposed me to theater, music, and art. I started to see that people from all walks of life could participate in creative work.

And then, as luck would have it, I graduated right as the first “dot com” bubble collapsed. All the jobs I was hoping to get as a Web technology worker disappeared, and I was faced with a crisis that turned out to be very liberating: I could either stick around in Boston and wait for the economy to bounce back, or I could move to Los Angeles and try to turn my writing hobby into a career. There didn’t seem to be much to lose, so I packed up my car, drove across the country and gave it a shot.

Why did you pick the TV business to showcase your creativity?

There were a few reasons. First and foremost, the years I spent in business school gave me a very practical approach to starting my career, no matter what field it was in. One of the first questions I asked myself was: “How can I work my way up the ladder and get in the door?” I didn’t always have a lot of insight or awareness back then, but one thing I was very smart about was never assuming that “writer” could be an entry-level job — I didn’t have the experience, the training, or the connections.

I did some research and discovered that television had paying jobs for people who wanted to apprentice — production assistants, writers assistants, script coordinators, etc. I could move to Los Angeles and make enough money to pay my bills (barely) while learning the ropes of TV writing. In contrast, when I looked at the world of feature films, I didn’t see those jobs. Frankly, I wasn’t confident enough to be a guy who sat in his apartment, wrote spec scripts and counted on the fact that one of them would eventually win the lottery.

That’s a fairly emotionless answer, so I should also point out that I’ve always loved television more than movies. I grew up in a rural area of the country, and it was a long drive to get to the theaters. I like serialized stories, and I like that television can build rich, lifelike worlds the audience can keep coming back to week after week. To me, movies can feel very transactional. But when a great television show ends, we feel a genuine sense of loss. That’s powerful motivation for me as a writer.

What do you find challenging about writing TV shows for the fantasy/sci-fi genre?

Honestly, I think we’re in a GREAT era of television for fantasy and sci-fi. People are taking chances on unique, ambitious genre stories. Ten years ago, when I was working on THE SARAH CONNOR CHRONICLES, the challenge was that we needed to draw a huge number of viewers because we were on the Fox network in primetime. But we didn’t want to make a summer blockbuster; we wanted to tell a story for true fans of genre — an allegory that took Sarah and John Connor’s fight against Skynet and framed it as a mother’s endless fight to raise her child.

If we had done the show in 2017 and the same number of people watched it on Netflix or Hulu or Syfy, we probably would’ve been able to do more episodes. The economics are better now, and they allow storytellers to take more chances.

Today’s TV landscape is an embarrassment of genre riches. If the biggest challenge today is coming up with the idea that’s ambitious enough to make noise in the crowded marketplace… that’s an awesome challenge to face!

How did you first break into TV?

I hope LB won’t be too embarrassed for me to include the detail that he provided a lot of knowledge and assistance in my early career. When I moved to Los Angeles, I didn’t know a single person, but I knew LB from his online classes, and his advice pointed me in the right direction.

I got a PA job in a writers’ office on a show called BIRDS OF PREY, spent my first year in LA getting lunches and coffee during the day, and delivering scripts at night. It was hard work that barely paid the rent, but I met a group of writers that directly paved the way for my future career. My various assistant jobs led to a freelance script assignment for a show called CLOSE TO HOME. The freelance script led to an agent and, after an anxious year of taking meetings, my first staff job on THE SARAH CONNOR CHRONICLES.

But the only reason I got that staff job is the woman who created BIRDS OF PREY (and met me as the young idiot delivering her coffee) made a phone call that got my script read by the creator of SARAH CONNOR. From my first day on the job as her PA to my first day on the job as a staff writer, it was about five years of just scraping by.

I tell people who want to do this that, unless they have an incredible connection, they should expect to put in at least five years of networking before their break. Looking back, I’m proud of the way I hustled, but the hustle wasn’t everything — I got a few lucky bounces, too. It could easily have taken me a few years longer.

How does being a TV writer now compare to how you thought being a TV writer would be in regards to the way you have to write and not just the politics of showbiz?

The biggest adjustment to writing on staff is accepting that your ONLY job is to deliver your best, most creative ideas in the voice of the showrunner. When you’re thinking of ideas to pitch in the room, your thinking is always framed by, “How would the showrunner want to tell this story?” When you’re sitting down at the computer to write lines, you’re not just writing the lines that would otherwise come naturally to you. When you’re on set, and someone asks you a question, you’re answering on the showrunner’s behalf.

It’s a very tricky skill to learn, and there’s a balance to it, because most showrunners want you to incorporate some of your own voice into your work as well. But when I say balance, I mean 85% showrunner voice, 15% personal voice. Sometimes even less, depending on the job.

A staffing career isn’t like being a rock star. It’s like being the rhythm guitarist who plays alongside a rock star.

(Not coincidentally, I think that’s why so many more people are now trying to join the business as creators rather than as staff writers. The creators are the rock stars.)

It isn’t over yet. Join us next week for Part 2 of this conversation with Daniel Thomsen and the Big Question: “What path do you recommend a budding TV writer take to get hired onto a show?


Allie Theiss, is a TVWriter™ Contributing Writer and one of TVWriter™’s Recommended Writers. Check out her daily Story Prompts, Book Marketing ideas, and Script Magic on Instagram. Learn more about her HERE