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What does a Television Writer do?

By K. Testa
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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A television writer creates original material for television shows. There are numerous types of shows for which a TV writer can contribute his or her talents. For example, a scriptwriter often writes stories for television dramas, comedies, and soap operas. A television writer might also be a broadcast journalist, focusing primarily on television news programs. These professionals frequently begin their careers by assisting other writers. After proving his or her experience and talent, a TV writer can often work his or her way up to a supervisory position, earning full editorial control over a series and its writing staff. Educational requirements vary by position, but writing talent and practical work experience are generally considered just as valuable as a college degree.

Someone interested in a career as a scriptwriter has many television genres from which to choose. Comedies, dramas, and serials — also known as soap operas — are examples of typical network TV shows. Some networks feature other kinds of shows, such as talk shows and game shows, which also employ professional writers. Additional types of shows, such as documentaries, reality shows, and made-for-TV movies, can appear on both network and cable TV channels. News channels usually focus primarily on news and current events, typically requiring a distinct form of writing talent.

The work environment for a television writer can vary. Scriptwriters usually start out by pitching their ideas for new shows to networks. Alternatively, a writer might be hired to work on an already existing show. Depending on the type of show, the television writer might work individually or with a group of other writers. Job titles can vary as well. Writers who move up and become supervisors may come to be known as series producers or editors.

A television writer might develop his or her material using a variety of research methods. For most types of shows, the writer creates the characters and their dialogue as well as the story lines. The most common advice given by professionals in the field is to watch all kinds of TV shows and note which ones are successful. Most writers continuously hone their skills by writing often.

A formal college degree is usually not required to be a television writer. There are numerous opportunities to learn how to be a TV writer by taking courses and workshops online. Many aspiring writers also read books and study on their own. Continuing education opportunities often consist of watching current shows for ideas as well as reading reviews and critiques in entertainment publications.

Someone hoping to become a successful television writer can usually gain additional experience by completing an internship. One of the most common strategies is to work as a writer’s assistant. Often, it is helpful to be located in one of the cities known for its television production opportunities. For example, New York City and Los Angeles are two likely destinations in the U.S. for pursuing a career as a television writer.

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Discussion Comments
By croydon — On Jan 13, 2014

@bythewell - The only drawback is that you're not writing about your own characters and you have to stick to the established setting and characters of the show you're writing for.

Plus the general story line is usually already going to be established, so you also have to work around that. I mean, it depends on what kind of writing you're doing. If you're a comedy writer the episodes are usually not going to have a long term story to worry about anyway.

By bythewell — On Jan 13, 2014

@clintflint - It seems like most shows have a permanent staff of writers who take on most of the scripts and maybe call in a guest writer now and then, like Neil Gaiman writing for Dr. Who. I think that they used to allow more freelancing but I doubt that's the case now. If a studio allowed freelancing today they'd probably end up with rooms full of unsolicited scripts (if they don't already).

TV writing must be very satisfying if you get on the right show though. You can really follow a story line through and develop the characters in a way that you wouldn't be able to in a play or in a film.

By clintflint — On Jan 12, 2014

If you have always dreamed about writing for television and the movies, it might actually surprise you that television pays much better. In fact I read a book recently where the television script writer joked that he's always wanted to write for the movies but he just couldn't afford it.

Partly this is because of the way the writer's guild works. If you even get a small credit for re-writing a script you end up being paid a fairly large amount. Of course, you have to break into the industry in the first place, which is no piece of cake. And it seems to be fairly complicated from what I've read. You can't just wait until a studio puts a sign in their window for "writers wanted".

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