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Getting Your Script From Paper to Television

By Billy Hulkower

Writing for television can be a daunting process, but with enough preparation and tenacity, your work could make it to the small screen.

So, you want to write for TV? Well, start writing. You've got no time to waste.

You need at least one spec script (a script written for a particular program) to show for yourself, and two is better. It's okay to write with a friend, as long as all your writings are with the same friend, and you plan to seek employment together.

There are only a handful of viable shows to write for in any given year, so choose your target carefully. A viable show is one that is popular enough that most people have seen it a couple times, but one that hasn't been around so long that television execs are sick of it. Examples for the 1999-2000 season include "Everybody Loves Raymond," "King of the Hill," "Ally McBeal," or "The Practice."

The script has to be formatted properly, and follow the design of the show. If the show you're writing for always has a scene in which every character appears, your spec needs to have one, too. If the show you're writing for consistently has one major plot and two minor plots, well, that's what your spec should have. The best way to grasp a show's formatting is to read several scripts. These can be found at the Writer's Guild of America in Los Angeles, or if your local university has a cinema program, the library may have some teleplays.

In addition to spec teleplays, many television producers like to read an original piece-this can be a screenplay, a pilot teleplay, or a stage play. And, of course, it doesn't hurt if the stage play gets staged and reviewed. A book of sketch comedy pieces is another acceptable writing sample.

Unfortunately, writing your samples is less than half the battle. According to the Writers Guild of America, there are only about 1,200 writing positions in prime-time television, and the industry prefers insiders to newcomers. In a good year, 120 new writers may receive staff positions. In a bad year, the number can run as low as 50 or 60.

Most agents will not read unsolicited materials, and without an agent, you can't get hired. If you aren't loaded with connections, network by nabbing any television job you can get your hands on. Keep in mind that television hiring takes place from April to June each year, and a number of mid-season positions open up between December and February.

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