The first thing you have to do is learn your craft. Take classes, preferably taught by people who have had some success as TV writers. There’s no point taking a class from someone who isn’t an experienced TV writer themselves.
You’d think that would be common sense, but you’d be astonished how many TV courses are taught by people who don’t know the first thing about writing for television or who, through a fluke, sold a story to Manimal twenty years ago and think that qualifies them to take your hundred bucks. Even more surprising is how many desperate people shell out money to take courses from instructors who should be taking TV writing courses themselves.
There’s another reason to take a TV writing course besides learning the basics of the craft. If you’re the least bit likeable, you’ll make a few friends among the other classmates. This is good, because you’ll have other people you can show your work to. This is also good because somebody in the class may sell his or her first script before you do… and suddenly you’ll have a friend in the business.
Many of my writer/producer friends today are writers I knew back when I was in college, when we were all dreaming of breaking into TV some day.
A writer we hired on staff on the first season of Missing was in a Santa Monica screenwriters group… and was the first member of her class to get a paying writing gig. Now her friends in the class suddenly had a friend on a network TV show who could share her knowledge, give them practical advice and even recommend them to her new agent and the writer/producers she was working with.
Another route is to try and get a job as a writer/producer’s assistant on an hour-long drama. Now only will you get a meager salary, but you will see how a show works from the inside. You’ll read lots of scripts and revisions and, simply by observation, get a graduate course in TV writing. More important, you’ll establish relationships with the writers on the show and the freelancers who come through the door. Many of today’s top TV producers were writer/producer assistants once. All of the assistants I’ve had have gone on to become working TV writers themselves… and not because I gave them a script assignment or recommended them for one. I didn’t do either.
The first step towards getting into pitch a TV producer for an episodic writing assignment is to write an episodic teleplay on spec.
By that I mean, a pick a show and write an episode for it.
Although there are some producers who prefer to read screenplays, most showrunners, agents, and network executives want to read an episodic teleplay. Even if your spec feature script has acceptable levels of dialogue, characterization, and structure, people thinking of hiring you will still wonder “yes, but can he handle my characters? Does he understand the four act structure?” An original piece can demonstrate that you have a strong voice, but it doesn’t show whether or not you blend that voice with ours. Can you write what we need without losing whatever it is that makes you unique? That’s why we need to see your talents applied to a TV episode. To someone else’s characters. To someone else’s voice.
How do you pick a show to spec? Easy. Pick a show you like. Odds are, if you’re thinking about trying to become a TV writer, you already know what show you want to spec — you just don’t know you know. It’s the one you watch every week, and when it’s over, you find yourself thinking: That was pretty good, but wouldn’t it be cool if —"
Don’t worry about what’s hot and what’s not – choose a show you feel a connection to, one that you “get.” With some exceptions: