I would like to write for a certain television show. I have studied all the episodes throughout the years, watched the characters evolve, and I have written my own episodes in my spare time for practice. How would I get ahold of the production company to find out about working for them? My school doesn’t have the resources to help so I need to do it on my own. What is the best way to approach the producers?
Although it does happen occasionally, usually a writer is not hired for a show based on a script he wrote for that specific series. That is, someone is not hired for THE PRACTICE based on an spec script for THE PRACTICE. Instead, he might get hired based on a sample episode of THE WEST WING, SIX FEET UNDER, or another one-hour drama.
Which is weird on the face of it. Why wouldn’t David E. Kelley want to read a writer exploring the characters and plotlines he created? There are a few reasons.
First is the possibility of lawsuits. If the spec episode you wrote ends up resembling a later episode of the series, the producers don’t want to be liable. Even with signed releases, a lot of producers use this as a reason not to read submissions of their own show. My assistant, Dana, used to work on SMALLVILLE, which categorically refused to read any sample SMALLVILLE’s for just this reason.
Second, a producer for THE BERNIE MAC SHOW is going to be comparing your sample episode to the dozens he’s read or written himself. He may have all sorts of criteria for quality that aren’t readily apparent to someone outside the show: how the kids are used, how often Bernie should talk to camera, et cetera. You would be going in at a disadvantage relative to another writer with a sample episode of a similar-but-different show, like GREG THE BUNNY or MY WIFE AND KIDS.
So what are your sample scripts good for? Well, they could help you get a job on another show you like. They could help you get a television agent or manager, who will happily read scripts from any show. They could also give you lots of good experience, since people write what they like better than what they hate.
Most television shows choose their staffs during the aptly-named "staffing season," generally late April through the end of May. If you’re good on the phone, it’s worth calling the production company during that time and finding out what scripts the producers are reading for staffing, so you’ll know if you’re in the right ballpark. But almost no network show will take submissions from an unrepresented writer, so finding an agent and/or manager will need to be your first step. In previous columns, you can read a lot of discussion on that.