Today’s Wonder of the Day was inspired by Olivia. Olivia Wonders, “Could a kid make a TV show?” Thanks for WONDERing with us, Olivia!
Hi! I'm Michael Price, and I'm one of the writers of The Simpsons. I've been a TV writer for 15 years, and I've written about 35 scripts for live action and animated TV shows. So do you want to know what it's like to write a TV script? I'll tell you!
Being a television writer is a lot of fun... and also a lot of long hours and hard work. Not the kind of hard work that involves physical labor — we mostly sit around all day either at our computers or in a room with other writers — but hard thinking work.
Most TV shows have a writing staff of between seven to 12 writers. Most of these writers are listed as Producer, Supervising Producer or Co-Executive Producer in the credits at the beginning of each show.
Those titles usually mean that the person is a writer who has been working a while and has a very good agent. An agent is someone who helps writers and actors find jobs.
Each member of the writing staff will write one or two scripts a season for the show he or she works on. The rest of the time, he or she will work on improving the scripts that the other members of the staff write.
Being a TV writer means you spend some time alone working on your very own script, but most of the time it means with the rest of the staff working on everyone else's scripts. Let's look at how a script gets on TV!
Every TV script begins with a story idea. The writer comes up with several ideas for what can happen to the characters in the show he or she is writing for.
Then the writer will “pitch" the story idea out loud to the other writers on the staff. The other writers will respond to the idea by pitching their thoughts and constructive comments.
Hopefully, the story idea will be approved by the head writer, who is usually called the "executive producer" or “show runner." Once the story has been approved, the writer writes the script and it goes on TV... not yet!
The writer and a few others will then take a day or two to “break" the story. This means they go through the plot points of the story very carefully to make sure it all makes sense. They want to make the script the best and funniest it can be (unless it's a drama show, which you most definitely don't want to be funny!).
Then the writer writes the script and it goes on TV… not yet!
The writer now goes off to write an “outline." This is kind of like an outline you might do for a report in school. It is fairly short (about 10 pages) and contains all of the scenes and suggestions for what the characters will say in those scenes.
This gives the show runner a chance to see if the story is heading in the right direction. The writer then meets with the show runner to get his or her notes on the outline.
Then the writer writes the script and it goes on TV... not yet!
The writer does write the script, but it's not yet ready for TV. Writers usually get two weeks to go home or to a coffee shop or anywhere they like (I know one writer who likes to write his scripts on a yellow legal pad while waiting in line for roller coasters!) to write what's called the “writer's draft" of the script.
The writer's draft is usually around 40 pages for a 30-minute show. Once the writer turns in the script, it then goes to “rewrite." That's right — now everyone else on the staff gets to take a crack at it and make it tighter and funnier (unless, you know, it's a drama — then I guess they make it sadder).
This takes place in the “Writers' Room," where the rest of the staff, guided by the show runner, goes through the script one line at a time, “punching up" any dialogue or story points that need improvement. This process takes another week or two.
Finally, after several “passes" at the script, including a “final polish," the script is read by all of the actors at a “table read." Then that script is filmed and put on TV... not yet!
Based on how well the table read went (did the story make sense, were the lines all funny — or, if it's a drama, sad), the writers go back to the Writers' Room to rewrite some more. They stay at work until the script is finished for the next day's rehearsal — no matter how late into the night that might be!
This goes on for another day or two of rehearsal, until, finally, the script is “locked"... and THEN it is filmed and put on TV.
Then the writing staff starts all over again on the next week's show. This goes on (for most shows) for 22 episodes. At that point, the show goes on “hiatus" until the next season, and the writers go home and get to know their families again.
And that's how a TV script is written!