last tuesday i went to a panel at the academy of television arts and sciences (atas) that had the directors of all of the main tv writers programs: ABC/Disney, Warner Bros, NBC, CBS, Fox, and Nickelodeon. i don’t think they’ve ever all been in the same room before!
i really wish the event had been held in a larger forum because there was a lot of great info. atas didn’t really promote it either. i only knew about it because karen (the director of the nick fellowship) was speaking in the panel so she added us to the guest list. since only 100 people were let in, i thought i’d share some of what i remember from that night. sorry if the tidbits aren’t well organized.
HAVE A GOOD SPEC
pick a good story. they gave accounts of specs they still remembered many years later because it was so original and so well done. one example was a spec of cheers that the panelist still remembered.
you want the spec to be as evergreen as possible. example: around season 2 of the office, everyone was writing specs of pam and jim kissing and getting together. that was too obvious of a story.
don’t do stunt specs. the point of a spec is to show you can write in the tone of an existing show. a stunt spec doesn’t show that.
your A story should feature the main character. don’t fall in love with a side character and do a spec where the main story revolves around that person. it may work, though, for an ensemble show.
shows that are old and they don’t want to read anymore – house, entourage. office. i think they said curb your enthusiasm. also, one of the panelists thought the tyler perry shows weren’t good ones to spec.
shows they like – modern family. don’t remember what other shows. i think this is less important than the shows they don’t like.
don’t pick a show that’s too obscure.
if you’re doing comedy, don’t spec shows like weeds or nurse jackie. those are more like dramas and are not true comedies.
besides getting you into one of these programs, your spec is also what they use to try to sell you to a show to get you staffed. make sure you pick a show that shows off your voice and talent and is also something that can get you work.
number of people they accept.
nick takes up to 4 a year. (it’s been 3 for the past several years)
disney takes around 8. usually half comedy, half drama, but that’s flexible.
nbc took about 8 entities. writing partners, 2 people count as 1 entity. of the 8 this year, 3 were writing teams.
if you don’t get in one year, don’t give up. keep trying. they like seeing you improve.
don’t submit the same script. if you didn’t get in one year with that script, and you submit it again, they’ll question your judgement in addition to your writing. personally, i wouldn’t bother rewriting a script that didn’t get in. i would write a whole new script.
have original material besides specs. it could be a pilot, short story, or a play. check the guidelines for each different program.
diversity doesn’t only mean skin color.
there’s no quota for age, sex, ethnicity. they’re all blind reads. good scripts make it to the next rounds.
sell yourself. what makes you unique? what experience do you bring to the table?
FIND OTHER WAYS TO BREAK IN
the odds are you won’t get into one of these writing programs. there are only a handful of slots, and they’re extremely competitive. but that’s not the only way in.
best path would be to become a writers assistant in the room. to get that, you usually have to start as a pa and work your way up.
AGENTS / MANAGERS
at nick, you’re not allowed to look for representation while you’re in the program. they don’t want to lose you to another network while they’re investing so much time into grooming you for their shows.
the other ones help find you representation.
the rate of fellows getting staffed on shows: warner brothers – i think it was like 80%? i don’t remember the exact number, but it was high. disney – 100% for the past 5 years or so. i don’t know how long those jobs last though.
some people end up doing one of these programs, then go through another.
– – –
i’ll add to this if i remember anything else. if anyone else was there that night, please feel free to leave comments with your notes.