Aspiring comedy writers spend years grinding away as P.A.s, pounding out spec script after spec script and dreaming of TV’s holy grail: a staff writing job. Then finally, they get the job! On staff of a prime time TV show. And something happens. They do the craziest, boneheaded things. One can only wonder… What are they thinking? Do they want to get fired? Is it too much pressure? Are they looking for a way out before anyone discovers they’re a fraud?
Here’s 10 surefire ways to "Make a Big Impression in the Writers Room and Lose That Plum TV Writing Job You Just Landed":
1. Let everyone know how smart you are.
Do the New York Times crossword puzzle at the writer’s table in front of everyone--in ink. A surefire way to make people look up to you. Sure. Fired!
2. Suck up to your showrunner.
Despite being a decade (or more) younger than him, show him you can relate. Make a point to mention how much you loved Seinfeld, too. Especially because your mother let you stay up late to watch it.
A surefire way to bond with your showrunner. Sure. Fired!
3. Correct punctuation – everyone’s.
Grammar too. For example: verbally add “-ly!” whenever anyone uses an adjective where they should be using an adverb. If your showrunner says “Let’s do that different,” jump in with a cheery “ly!” and a big bright smile. A surefire way to become a valued member of the staff. Sure. Fired!
4. Improve things -- for everyone.
Complain about how much weight you’re all gaining from the junk food on the craft services table and recommend a switch to healthy alternatives. If this fails to get the Krispy Kremes and the Pringles off the table, bring in your own gluten-free, vegan snacks. People may resist at first, but assure them that they and their cardiologist will thank you. A surefire way to win over everyone. Sure. Fired!
5. Make your script sing!
Use at least 5 exclamation points on every page of your script. Your dialogue will look funnier!!!!!! And more exciting!!! And how about those interrobangs?!?!?! Huh?! A surefire way to convey your enthusiasm. Sure. Fired!
6. Speak up when you know something’s not working.
Question the logic of a story point even if it means sacrificing one of your showrunner’s jokes. He’ll be impressed by your integrity. A surefire way to demonstrate how much you care about making the script the best it can be. Sure. Fired!
7. Let your showrunner know the town is hot for you.
Nothing sparks a showrunner’s competitive edge more than overhearing a conversation with your agent about your next meeting. If you can manage to have your cell phone ring in the middle of a run-through he can’t help but notice. A surefire way to get your contract renewed. Sure. Fired!
8. Fight for your ideas.
Re-pitch that joke or line. Maybe nobody heard it. Keep re-pitching it. Louder. If they still don’t go for it, take up time explaining how good the joke/line really is. Sure, the other writers may be impatient at the moment, but they’ll be impressed with your tenacity. A surefire way to gain respect in the room. Sure. Fired!
9. Agree with the network executive’s notes.
This is an especially good tactic if your showrunner seems irritated by the notes. She’ll be grateful for your ideas on how easy it is to incorporate the exec’s suggestions. Plus: You establish rapport with the network executive and you’ll become the go-to person on the staff. Your showrunner is bound to be relieved to have you take the network heat off her. A surefire way to gain her appreciation. Sure. Fired!
10. Maintain your standards.
Everybody knows TV is a step child to the movies in Hollywood. Demonstrate your savvy, by bad mouthing TV whenever you can. Throw in your sophisticated opinion that TV writing is not “real” writing, not like your one man theatre project about your crazy ethnic family. A surefire way to show you have high standards. Sure. Fired!
Bonus Point: Don’t let the job take over your life.
Work expands to fill the time available, and showrunners are notorious for working their staffs overtime. But you’re entitled to a personal life. Tell everyone you have Laker tickets and you have to be out of there by 7:00. Set firm boundaries; a surefire way to get the respect you deserve. Sure. Fired!
Okay, by now you’re sure no one would be clueless enough to do any of this, but I swear to you, every one of these things is something that has actually been done by a real writer on a real staff of a real TV show. When your lucky day comes and you find yourself on staff, you’re going to do some head-smackingly stupid thing too. It’s okay. Breathe deep, and keep going. I made some of these very gaffes, and my friends made the ones I didn’t and we still managed to keep working on big hits and huge flops. You will too, if you learn from your mistakes and more important(ly!), if you can laugh about your own failings!
Meet the Author: Ellen Sandler
Ellen Sandler was nominated for an Emmy as a Co-Executive Producer of Everybody Loves Raymond. She has created over 20 pilots for ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox Family, Oxygen and the Disney Channel and has consulted internationally on pilots for the ABC Australia; the CBC Canada; Media Marketing, Dubai; and MediaCorp, Singapore. A writer/producer on more than a dozen prime time TV shows, she is the author of The TV Writer’s Workbook (Bantam/Dell).
Ellen is also a playwright and director. Her most recent theatrical project was her adaptation of N.Y. Times food writer Mimi Sheraton’s book, The Bialy Eaters, which st...