Break Into TV Writing, The Time is Now

written by Carl Slaughter

What kind of alternative universe is this where there are too many writing gigs and not enough writers?

“BROADCAST NETWORKS ARE OPEN TO PITCHES†BUT WHERE ARE THE AVAILABLE TV WRITERS? †A non-writing producer told me he has never gotten so many “not available” answers from TV lit agents when inquiring about writers.”

This quote from Deadline Hollywood is from a few years ago and the number of networks and shows has continued to explode.

Not only has the volume increased, the quality has increased.

David Fincher, director of such famous movies as The Social Network, and Fight Club, was lured by Netflix with a hundred million dollar budget and a thirteen episode commitment for House of Cards, the hit political drama starring Kevin Spacey.

Fincher’s comment on the drastically changing landscape of television drama: “AS TELEVISION BECOMES MORE AND MORE LIKE LITERATURE†” [Emphasis added.]

Mary McNamara, TV reviewer for the Los Angeles Times, describes the phenomenon even more vividly: “The film industry is having a tough time producing anything other than franchise fodder and Oscar bait, while HIGH PRODUCTION SCRIPTED TELEVISION IS BUSTING OUT ALL OVER. Actors will tell you they follow the stories, and IT’S PAST ARGUING THAT SOME OF THE BEST STORIES ARE BEING TOLD ON TELEVISION. But actors and writers and directors, like most of population, also follow the love. And right now, audiences are in love with television. Truly, madly, deeply, and in ways difficult to sustain in film or the theater. EPISODIC TELEVISION IS REGULARLY DECONSTRUCTED IN A WAY ONCE RESERVED FOR SHAKESPEARE OR THE ROMANTIC POETS. Meanwhile, the people creating the shows we’re all mad for are similarly lionized.” [Emphasis added.]

“The Berlin Wall was a thing of chicken wire and Kleenex compared with the barrier that once stood between film and television in America.” – Mary McNamara, LA Times TV reviewer.

I have counted seventy Hollywood actors, most of them A-Listers, who have switched from films to television. The studios are reducing the number of movies. Meanwhile, 48 television networks are offering scripted episodic dramas series. The only people outside the industry who can keep track of the number of shows are journalists on the TV beat.

Television is where the storytelling is and television is where the job security is. It’s only a matter of time before the likes of Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts join the party.

But it’s also only a matter of time before this situation equilibrates. The number of shows will decrease and the number of writers will increase. The time for print writers to make the transition is now.

The networks are not only desperate for writers, they are hungry for concepts. So here is an opportunity to not only make $40,000 per episode as writers, but to also create and oversee our own meaningful projects as visionary storytellers.

The TV literary departments of talent agencies have turned into a game of musical chairs. Agencies are laying off film agents and stealing one another’s TV lit agents in an effort to adapt to the television revolution. But I finally tracked down the key agents of the TV lit departments of the major agencies.

Josh Hornstock, UTA (LA); Mike Jelline, UTA (LA); Nancy Gates, UTA (NY); Ian Greenstein, Resolution; Katie Cates, Resolution; Mark Gordon, ICM; Ruthanne Secunda, ICM; Debbee Klein, Paradigm; Amy Retzinger, Verve; Roy Ashton, Gersh.

After reading the profiles of and interviews with these agents, I settled on Debbee Klein as the best agent to help print writers break into screen. Based on what I’ve read, she has the reputation and the stability and she’s client oriented.

I also recommend Ari Emanuel based on these comments in Current Biography: “Ari is relentless. There’s no more loyal a guy for his clients. He’ll beg, borrow, and steal to get his clients what he wants.” “With Ari, it’s all about the bottom line. In a business deal, he’s going to try to kill for you and it’s just going to be about putting as much money in your pocket as he can, until you tell him that there’s something else that’s important to you.”