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Studio 60/30 Rock...? TV Writing by the numbers

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A little foreshadowing for you: The Nov/Dec issue of mental_floss (due to hit newsstands any day now) has a fun Scatterbrained theme: TV

So, to get you all in the mood, I thought I'd ask a professional TV writer some questions and give you a little inside look at what "scribes" actually do"¦ "˜cause you can bet your TiVo it ain't like what you see on Studio 60 or 30 Rock.

Allow me to introduce, then, Aury Wallington, a friend, a colleague, and a really funny writer. She's written for Sex and the City, Courting Alex, Veronica Mars, and just had a new, splendiferous YA novel come out called POP! (Razorbill Books), which you can read all about over at her website: AuryWallington.com.

Go check out our Q&A, after the jump...

Q: A 30-minute network comedy is actually how many minutes minus commercials? How about a 1-hour network drama?

A: A comedy is around 22 minutes; a drama is around 45 minutes. But contrary to the old adage that 1 page of script equals 1 minute of screen time, a 30-minute multi-camera (sitcom) script is usually around 45 pages, a 30-minute single camera script is around 34 pages, and a 1-hour drama script can be as short as 45 pages (Nip Tuck) or as long as 80 pages (Gilmore Girls.)

Q: How many writers are usually on a drama? comedy?

A: Dramas: 6-8, comedies: 10-12, but it can be more or fewer, depending on the show and the show-runner (executive producer/head writer).

Q: How long is your average work day?

A: Dramas "“ 10am "“ 7pm. Comedies "“ 10am "“ 1am.

Q: What's the longest day you've ever had at the studio/office?

A: 31 hours. 10 am Wednesday to 5 pm Thursday

Q: How many days off a week do you get?

A: 2 (weekends), but I work 7 days a week (writing or coming up with story ideas to pitch or reading other writer's scripts on at home Saturdays and Sundays.)

Q: How much money does the lowest paid writer earn? Average? Highest?

A: Staff writers (the lowest position) make $3000 a week. They don't get paid extra for any scripts they write, but they do get residuals. Story editors (the next level up) make $5000 a week, get $20,000 for each comedy episode and $30,000 for each drama episode they write, and get residuals. After that, salaries are negotiated by your agent, and are usually paid per episode as opposed to per week. The executive producer (head writer) of a hit network show can make millions.

Q: What percentage do you give to your agent? To your manager? To your lawyer?

A: Agent "“ 10%, literary manager "“ 10%, business manager/financial advisor "“ 5%, lawyer "“ 5%

Q: How many seasons before a show is considered a hit? Gets to syndication?

A: 1 episode (Grey's Anatomy was considered a hit after only the pilot aired.) 5 seasons is definitely a success. 100 episodes for syndication (although now some shows sell to cable stations with far fewer episodes "“ for example, My So Called Life has aired on MTV and The N, but only had 19 episodes "“ not even a full season.)

Q: How many jokes need to be on every page of a comedy script?

A: 8 (which is the average number of lines of dialogue on a page "“ because every single line needs to be a joke) or: 100%

Q: How many pilots get ordered per season?

A: 100s

Q: How many pilots get greenlit for shooting?

A: 12s

Q: How many pilots go to series?

A: A handful (sorry these aren't exact numbers—it changes so radically every season and depends on each specific network and studio. If I had to guess, I'd say around 200 are bought, 60 are made, and 15 make it on air. But these are wild guesses, and the exact info isn't available "“ I tried my agent, the Guild, and a pal at a studio, and none of them could give me specifics"¦)

Q: On a scale of 1 to 10, how happy are you this Q&A is over?

A: Um, a billion?

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Noriyuki Saitoh
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Art
Japanese Artist Crafts Intricate Insects Using Bamboo
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Noriyuki Saitoh

Not everyone finds insects beautiful. Some people think of them as scary, disturbing, or downright disgusting. But when Japanese artist Noriyuki Saitoh looks at a discarded cicada shell or a feeding praying mantis, he sees inspiration for his next creation.

Saitoh’s sculptures, spotted over at Colossal, are crafted by hand from bamboo. He uses the natural material to make some incredibly lifelike pieces. In one example, three wasps perch on a piece of honeycomb. In another, two mating dragonflies create a heart shape with their abdomens.

The figures he creates aren’t meant to be exact replicas of real insects. Rather, Saitoh starts his process with a list of dimensions and allows room for creativity when fine-tuning the appearances. The sense of movement and level of detail he puts into each sculpture is what makes them look so convincing.

You can browse the artist’s work on his website or follow him on social media for more stunning samples from his portfolio.

Bamboo insect.

Bamboo insect.

Bamboo insect.

Bamboo insect.

Bamboo insect.

Bamboo insect.

[h/t Colossal]

All images courtesy of Noriyuki Saitoh.

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History
P.G. Wodehouse's Exile from England
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Hulton Archive/Getty Images

You don’t get more British than Jeeves and Wooster. The P.G. Wodehouse characters are practically synonymous with elevenses and Pimm’s. But in 1947, their creator left England for the U.S. and never looked back.

Pelham Grenville Wodehouse, better known as P.G., was living in northern France and working on his latest Jeeves and Wooster novel, Joy in the Morning, when the Nazis came knocking. They occupied his estate for a period of time before shipping him off to an internment camp in Germany, which he later said he found pretty pleasant:

“Everybody seems to think a German internment camp must be a sort of torture chamber. It was really perfectly normal and ordinary. The camp had an extraordinarily nice commander, and we did all sorts of things, you know. We played cricket, that sort of thing. Of course, I was writing all the time.”

Wodehouse was there for 11 months before being suddenly released to a hotel in Berlin where a man from the German foreign office named Werner Plack was waiting to meet him. Wodehouse was somewhat acquainted with Plack from a stint in Hollywood, so finding him waiting didn't seem out of the ordinary. Plack advised Wodehouse to use his time in the internment camp to his advantage, and suggested writing a radio series about his experiences to be broadcast in America.

As Plack probably suspected, Wodehouse’s natural writing style meant that his broadcasts were light-hearted affairs about playing cricket and writing novels, This didn’t sit too well with the British, who believed Wodehouse was trying to downplay the horrors of the war. The writer was shocked when MI5 subjected him to questioning about the “propaganda” he wrote for the Germans. "I thought that people, hearing the talks, would admire me for having kept cheerful under difficult conditions," he told them in 1944. "I would like to conclude by saying that I never had any intention of assisting the enemy and that I have suffered a great deal of mental pain as the result of my action."

Wodehouse's contemporary George Orwell came to his aid, penning a 1945 an essay called “In Defense of P.G. Wodehouse." Sadly, it didn’t do much to sway public opinion. Though MI5 ultimately decided not to prosecute, it seemed that British citizens had already made up their minds, with some bookstores and libraries even removing all Wodehouse material from their shelves. Seeing the writing on the wall, the author and his wife packed up all of their belongings and moved to New York in 1947. They never went back to England.

But that’s not to say Wodehouse didn’t want to. In 1973, at the age of 91, he expressed interest in returning. “I’d certainly like to, but at my age it’s awfully difficult to get a move on. But I’d like to go back for a visit in the spring. They all seem to want me to go back. The trouble is that I’ve never flown. I suppose that would solve everything."

Unfortunately, he died of a heart attack before he could make the trip. But the author bore no ill will toward his native country. When The Paris Review interviewed Wodehouse in 1973, they asked if he resented the way he was treated by the English. “Oh, no, no, no. Nothing of that sort. The whole thing seems to have blown over now,” he said.  He was right—the Queen bestowed Wodehouse with a knighthood two months before his death, showing that all was forgiven.

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