3 Ways the Writers' Room is Changing
When it comes to television, the success of a show hinges on writers in the writers' room. And these wrtiers' rooms are getting smaller.
05 November, 2018 | Posted by:
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When it comes to television, the success of a show doesn’t hinge on the actors, the producers, or even the network. It’s the writers' room.
The actors, the producers, and the network do contribute a great deal to a show dying a horrible death though. The last one on that list contributes the most. Anyone remember Firefly?
The point is, writers are what give the show it’s meat. The dialogue, the scenes, the action, the emotions, all of that is produced by the writers' room.
The producers provide the money, and the director gives the whole production a goal. And the network makes the “smart decisions.” These smart decisions usually end a show. Anyone remember Almost Human?
It’s the writers that provide all the important parts that make a show a show.
The funny one-liners, the jokes, the turns of phrase, the speeches, and the list goes on. Without a writers' room, the show wouldn’t exist.
Ironically, it’s the writers who get the least amount of credit.
This team of creatives sit down day after day and do the hard work of writing. While writing is seen as a creative endeavor, make no mistake, it involves hard work. I speak from experience.
And it’s so frustrating to see all the hard work of the writers get thrown away when a network decides a show “just isn’t right.”
Anyone remember Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip?
It starts with a well-loved sketch comedy show, Studio 60, getting shaken up. To fix the public relations disaster, the showrunner hires a well-known producer-writer duo. Played by Matthew Perry, Matt Albie is the writer. He’s got awards, he’s proven himself, he’s what the producers think will save their show.
Albie, like most writers, is always battling his creative demons.
The first Monday after being hired, Albie is tasked with writing his first episode.
Walking into the head writer’s office, he sees the previous occupant put up a neon sign. Turning it on, he finds a famous quote there.
“Time flies like an arrow. Fruit flies like a banana.”
On top of it is a running clock, letting him know how much time he has until the next episode airs.
And the rest of the episode all his creative demons and writing problems are summed up with that running clock.
Should Have Gone With a Writer’s Room
The ironic part is this doesn’t accurately portray how a real television production works. And yet, it’s on television.
In a real studio, Albie would have leaned on his writers' room. It was more dramatic to have him go it alone. But in real life, the less drama there is the better.
This writers' room would have already had ideas they were working on and getting ready for them to test out. Ideas would have been bouncing around as multiple writers thought of different ways to convey an idea. Or how to make an idea better.
The writers' room is an integral part of the production process.
Possibly the most integral part.
But it’s changing.
In this era of Peak TV, more and more shows are being produced. The vast majority of these shows are short and sometimes don’t last long.
Until recently, an idea would be pitched to a producer. If the producer liked the idea, that person would put together a budget and pull in writers to help write a pilot. The pilot would get produced and pitched to a network. If the network liked it, they’d order a set of shows along with the pilot and air it for the next season. If the show did well, it’d get picked up.
There’s a lot of “ifs” in that last paragraph.
Anywhere along the way, a show could have gotten derailed or canceled. This meant the loss of money and time invested to create it.
This was called the “pilot-model.”
Now shows are being created with more than just a pilot shot. Sometimes there is no pilot at all.
The choice for many production companies is to go with a mini-room.
Writers’ Rooms usually had a lot of writers in them.
Now the common trend is to have a room with four or five writers working on a single project to come up with possible scripts for episodes. Sometimes they hash out an overall arc. Other times its coming up with ideas to build upon for more shows and possibly later seasons.
Other times a mini-room means a group of writers will only be employed for a short time as they work to write out multiple scripts for a show so the producer has an idea of what the show will look like beyond a pilot.
Sometimes it means both.
The major complaint here is that mini-rooms do not provide a stable income for writers. By their nature, they will only last for a short time.
Another complaint is that the process doesn’t work for some producers. Either they’re used to the old way, or they’re not liking what’s coming out of the room.
On the upside, mini-rooms have their advantages.
Writers’ Rooms are Getting Smaller
An obvious point, but it bears mentioning.
With fewer writers in the room, the most common praise is “greater intimacy.” Meaning, they feel comfortable talking about heavy-subject matter.
When writers feel comfortable with each other, they can get to some very deep issues and ideas. This isn’t as common with a large room of writers.
It also helps when a smaller group is hashing out ideas as it’s easier to manage. A cohesive storyline can form faster and work can pick up. What may have taken a season to write may take half or a quarter of the time.
More Writing Opportunities
With more writers' rooms popping up, more writers are needed to fill them.
The pool of chances just got bigger.
Aspiring writers without the right connections would have a better shot of getting their work in front of a producer. And believe me, having connections in the business makes a world of difference when it comes to getting started.
Why do you think Miley Cyrus became famous? It couldn’t have been because her dad was Billy Ray Cyrus, right?
More Chances for Marginalized Voices
The push for more voices from different backgrounds is gaining steam.
Yet, there women and minorities are still only accounting for about a quarter of the content coming out of Hollywood.
With more writing opportunities available, through mini-rooms, more writers from these backgrounds have a chance. A chance to get their writing in front of producers.
Maybe the industry will finally shift?
We can hope.
Mini-Rooms Becoming the Norm
With any change in the industry, there are those who love it and those who hate it.
The biggest argument against mini-rooms is they’re turning the industry into a gig economy.
There is some truth to that, but as more and more companies outsource and get leaner, it makes sense this would happen.
On the upside, there are more chances for aspiring writers to make an impact. And that’s not a bad thing at all.
With the wave of content still rolling strong, there will be a need for more and more writers. As well as people who will want to watch them. So make sure you have a reliable connection and decent download speed. Check out the best internet deals to save you some time and money.
As for Matt Albie of Studio 60, he did manage to pull off the show.
Though unrealistic, the ending had a touch of cosmic fate.
As he watches the audience applause and the cast bow, he smiles and walks away from the window.
Only to hear the sign click.
He looks back.
The timer has rolled over and it’s counting down to next week’s episode.