Studio 60/30 Rock...? TV Writing by the numbers
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?
Q: How many pilots get greenlit for shooting?
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?