Some Advice for TV Writers

Sep 6, 2004  •  Post A Comment

Warner Bros. Television’s writers workshop has been around since 1976, but for the first time, the program is putting into words what prospective TV writers need to do to write a solid spec script.

In October, Syracuse University Press will publish “Starting Your Television Career: The Warner Bros. Television Writers Workshop Guide,” a 96-page book written by Deborah Pearlman, director of Warner Bros. Television writers workshop, and former writers workshop administrator Abby Finer. Ms. Pearlman reads thousands of scripts each year to find the handful of writers who make it into the studio’s drama and comedy workshops. The workshops are popular because they may lead to a staff writer position on a Warner Bros. show. Ms. Pearlman, who has run the workshop since 2001, said she got the idea for the book after reading too many submissions that lacked basic fundamentals.

“I read a great script where there were so many typos I couldn’t recommend [the writer],” she said. “There’s a lot of bad material coming in. I remember distinctly a conversation with Abby. I said, `I wish we could send out a pamphlet,’ jokingly. She said we should write a book. I slept on it and came in the next day and said I thought we really should.”

Unlike many of the writing guides on the market Ms. Pearlman said, her book skips most anecdotes and gets right into the technical aspects, breaking down exactly what a writer needs to do in terms of creating a story line that tracks through a script. It also focuses on doing the research before the writer types the first page.

“We come from a place of picking a show that you like, picking an appropriate story line for that show and trying to make it as much like it is on television as possible,” she said.

Ms. Pearlman was surprised that Warner Bros. was enthusiastic about the project from the beginning.

“Everyone we came across whose support we needed climbed on board,” she said.

Because of the book’s modest size, Warner Bros. was fine with it coming from a smaller college publishing house rather than a high-profile Time Warner subsidiary. “This is a manual,” she said. “This isn’t `Harry Potter.”‘

The collegiate connection is a good metaphor for the book, which Ms. Pearlman said is not meant to replace the workshop but rather to prepare writers for what they will need to make it into the program. “This is the prerequisite reading for the class,” she said.