Television is currently in its golden age. With platforms like HBO and Netflix revolutionizing the medium, TV shows have met the scale and engagement of film. Who is creating these incredible TV shows we all know and love? Where do they come up with this stuff? In the writers room of course. In this article, we’ll breakdown the what’s and who’s of the writers room and give you a glimpse into the creation of television’s best shows.
Writers room jobs
The inner workings of the writers room
There is a certain mystery to a writers room. Much of it has to do with the fact that it is exclusive. Writers are selected carefully before they are let into a show’s writers room. Although different writers rooms operate in different ways, they all fall under the same definition.
WRITERS ROOM DEFINITION
What is a writers room?
A writers room is the room in which the writers of a television show pitch, brainstorm, and workshop episode ideas together. Writers rooms vary on how they are run depending on the show’s showrunner. However, they are where most of the ideas for an episode or a script are born. Writers often bring in outlines or scripts to pitch in the writers room which are elaborated on and workshopped before being passed on through the production pipeline.
Who leads a writers room?
- Showrunners/Executive Producers
- Co-Executive Producers
- Supervising Producers
Hollywood writers room
Members of the writers room
If you watch the credits of any television show, you’ll be able to find the different members of the show’s writers room. They are all titled with different credits based on their experience and work on the specific episode.
A showrunner does exactly that — run the show. While many other roles do a lot of the leg work, the showrunner has the final say about every decision. Scripts, casting, schedules have to all be approved by the showrunner before the production moves on. The showrunner is often the creator of the show and the writer of the original pilot script.
Co-executive producers are the showrunner's right hand person. They often are given authority to make final decisions of a show’s episode if there are multiple projects occurring at once. Co-executive producers are typically the last person to read a final script draft before it is handed to the showrunner for approval.
When co-executives and showrunners aren’t in the writers room, the supervising producer runs the show. They are the upper level writer that leads the story development and actual writing of the episodes. They are typically much more hands-on with the staff writers.
Producers are experienced writers in the writers room. Producers are tasked with more responsibilities than just writing. These responsibilities can vary from casting to direction. Staff writers answer to producers.
Co-producers are to producers as co-executive producers are to showrunners. They assist producers with their responsibilities. It is typically a transitory role that staff writers seek when moving up in the hierarchy.
Story editors are writers that have been on the show for a while. They are met with a salary in addition to payment per script. They often take a leadership position within the writers room and carry more authority than a staff writer.
Staff writers are the idea generators of the writers room. They constantly collaborate with other staff writers to come up with story ideas, workshop scripts, or supply various plot lines for a single episode. They are often under-credited until they work their way up to becoming a story editor. While staff writers might come up with the foundation of a script, they rarely write the final draft of the episode.
Writers assistants are delegated more rudimentary tasks such as note-taking during brainstorm sessions and proofreading scripts. Becoming a writers assistant is a great way to break into a writers room. However, it is not guaranteed that you will move up.
At the very bottom of the hierarchy is the writers PA. They do not write. They get coffee, answer phones, and make copies. While it is not a glamorous job, it is a job that gets you closer to a writers room.
While these roles fall into a larger power structure, not all writers rooms are as militant as they sound. To get a better understanding of what a more relaxed writers room looks like, here is TV producer Bill Lawrence explaining the roles of a writers room.
While these are the typical members of a show’s writers room, every writers room differs to some degree. Smaller shows have less members while large shows could have over a dozen members. Each one is brought on to provide value to the show’s writing process. Some writers rooms even break up into smaller groups depending on the needs of the show.
Hollywood writers room
What happens in the writers room
Although different writers rooms operate in different ways, they all function to create the best stories. This means that a writers room must be an environment that encourages writers to pitch, spitball, and brainstorm in every imaginable direction without limits. Few shows demonstrate the limitlessness of storytelling on television than Rick and Morty.
The show’s episodes cover everything from inter-dimensional travel, dog’s taking over Earth, and even the notorious Pickle Rick. How do they come up with these wild ideas? It all begins with brainstorming.
Co-creator of Rick and Morty Dan Harmon is notorious for both challenging and encouraging his writers to take stories in any possible direction. Another writers room that does this is that of The Office.
Actor, producer, and writer B.J. Novak discusses what their writers room calls a “Blue sky period” in which any and all ideas are pitched.
After ideas are pitched and selected, they are outlined and taken into a script. These drafts are handed upward to receive notes and feedback. The script is edited. Often it can be taken into a rewrite by a higher up writer. The process is perpetuated until everyone finally approves of the script.
The creative environment of a writers room sounds appealing to many. But it can be incredibly arduous to break in. How exactly does a writer break into a writers room? Unfortunately, there isn’t a single answer. But there are some key paths to keep in mind.
Tv writers room
How to get into a writers room
If you ask one hundred staff writers how they broke into the industry, few stories will be the same. Every person has their own path, but each undoubtedly takes a combination of hard work and perseverance.
A great break-in story to learn from is Mindy Kaling's. Check out this video in which she discusses her journey into the writers room of The Office and reflects on how she felt early in her career.
A good start for anyone in the industry is by getting a job as an assistant. This can be a writers assistant or production assistant. These jobs are a stepping stone and will help you network and learn from the best in the industry.
Lastly, Los Angeles is the land of television. Moving to LA and getting a job as an assistant will not guarantee access to any writers positions, but it will get you a whole lot closer to one.
What It Means to Be a Showrunner
What are the responsibilities of a showrunner? Well to run the show of course. This means script development, production, and overseeing editing. We break all the responsibilities of a showrunner in our next article.