TV Virgins Learn the Lay of the Land 

(April 2, 2012) 

By WGAW Member Cynthia Riddle 

Photo Credit: Sharline Liu
(L-R:) Event chair Cynthia Riddle, ICM’s Mark Gordon, Chris Ord & Matt Corman (Covert Affairs), WEC Chair Jeff Melvoin (Army Wives), Jenny Bicks (The Big C), Lee Aronsohn (Two and a Half Men), Graham Yost (Justified)  

With the television staffing season looming, the recent Writers Education Committee's "TV Series for Virgins" drew an impressive panel that included comedy showrunners Lee Aronsohn (CBS’ Two and a Half Men) and Jenny Bicks (Showtime’s The Big C), drama’s Matt Corman and Chris Ord (USA’s Covert Affairs), Graham Yost (FX’ Justified), and ICM TV series agent Mark Gordon.

Moderated by WEC Chair Jeff Melvoin, executive producer of Army Wives on Lifetime, the session yielded some invaluable advice for Guild members going out for TV staffing season:

The first step is a strong writing sample. 

The current trend is to submit original pilot scripts (rather than spec episodes of "series on air," as in past years). These showcase a writer’s ability to create memorable characters as well as dialogue. Some of the most salient points:

  • According to Gordon 90% of the showrunners he deals with will only consider original pilots.
  • Bicks will look at spec episodes of existing shows in addition to an original pilot sample. She won’t read feature scripts. She suggested writers get to know a mid-level staff member on a series they admire, which eventually may lead to a job.
  • Aronsohn, whose sitcom is what he jokingly calls "gang written" in the writers room, is open to alternatives; he even hired a funny blogger who demonstrated a skill for comedy.
  • Corman and Ord are open to reading a variety of samples, and have even read poetry in the past.

A call for a meeting often signals to a writer that the job is “theirs to lose:” 

  • Do your homework and really know the show you’re being considered for (but don’t offer your critique, only your complements).
  • Don’t namedrop or try too hard.
  • Be the kind of person someone will want to work with all day.
  • Send a thank-you note; it’s much appreciated by a busy showrunner who has taken the time to meet with you.

The good news, as Yost explained, is that in television writers are "the bosses." And the best storytelling these days is happening on the small-screen, said Gordon. With that in mind, we hope Guild members who attended the WEC’s TV for Virgins event will heed the advice of panelists and go out there and land their next job on a series.

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