Sitcom Writer

Sitcom Writer

SitcomWriter

Los Angeles, CA

Female, 33

For over ten years, I’ve had the extreme pleasure of being staffed on several half-hour network sitcoms, rising in the ranks from Staff Writer to Co-Executive producer. My writing partner and I are now developing our own material.

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Last Answer on December 19, 2012

Best Rated

What's the typical salary range for writers on network television shows?

Asked by MarioOC almost 6 years ago

On a network sitcom that goes a full season a first-time writer probably makes about $150K. It is not crazy for a high-level writer to make over a million a year.

If you could work on any show -- past, present, or future -- what would it be?

Asked by Cracked almost 6 years ago

I'd want to work on a show that's on for ten years. That's Emmy-winning. That doesn't know the meaning of the words "Too broad." That's hours are 11-5. And that films at a studio a block from my house.

Comedians and writers constantly bash network executives for not having a funny bone in their bodies yet trying to meddle in the creative process. Have you found any network execs that DIDN'T fit that description?

Asked by diesuitdie almost 6 years ago

Yes. There are absolutely people who give good notes. I will also say even the people that don't "get it" and give bad notes are worth listening to. No pilot is perfect and a good writer should always look for ways to make it better. But yes...a lot of the notes we get are dumb.

Do writers and the network execs think audiences are getting smarter in their TV preferences, or is there an underlying assumption that the public is and always will be "dumb?" (p.s. If you need me I'll be watching Honey Boo Boo.)

Asked by St. Nielsen almost 5 years ago

I think that there are two reasons you watch scripted TV. You either want to turn your brain on and be engaged. Or you want to turn your brain off and be relaxed. (Now a show like honey boo boo....I have no theory on) I don't think the public is stupid. I think that after a hard days work you put on something like Two and a Half Men because it's easy. You don't have to think. You can just enjoy and shut your mind off. Can't blame them for that. It's why the Food Network is on my TV like 22 hours a day. And I personally don't think Audiences are becoming smarter. I think they've always been smart. They just have more options now a days (thank you cable!). Twin Peeks, Northern Exposure, Buffy... all had hard core fans. And those fans have just moved on to Homeland, Community and Downton Abbey etc. But you didn't ask me what I think. You asked what the execs think. I don't know. But I do know that in development the simplest ideas are always the ones they want to buy (I can't tell you how many times an idea is bought because the title is funny). They are also aware that the critically acclaimed shows don't get nearly the ratings of the "easy" shows. (Modern Family the exception).

Has anyone ever pitched you an idea that you thought was viable enough to show around?

Asked by TiredTeacher about 5 years ago

I don't let people pitch me ideas. There are a limited number of ideas in this world (relationship, workplace, crazy family etc.). The odds that I (or someone else) pitch/produce something that is similar to your idea are high. I don't want anyone thinking I "stole" their idea. Having said that, most ideas could be tv shows. Well written, good characters, funny. That's what makes a great show. Not some amazing premise. Think of Everybody Loves Raymond. What was the premise? A man stuck between his wife and his mother? Not original. But well done.

Is reality TV here to stay?

Asked by RealTV almost 5 years ago

It's here to stay. And is that such a horrible thing? When it's done right it's pretty dang good. And when it's done poorly you can change the channel. The honest truth is at least on my staff - we all talk about Top Chef or Real Housewives of Beverly Hills almost as much as we talk about Game of Thrones or Downton Abbey

What was your background in preparation for becoming a TV writer?

Asked by Netta_D almost 6 years ago

I went to film school. I took one basic writing class. It was a waste of time. You can learn structure from a book. You learn how to be a better writer by writing. You learn how to be useful in a writers' room by being in writers' rooms. You can't be taught a sense of humor. There were benefits to going to film school. I met my writing partner there. I joined a sketch comedy group which was great practice for professional writers' rooms. Moving to Los Angeles was less scary since there were so many classmates who had or who were also making the journey.

Other than the ability to write well, what are the other important attributes you look for when hiring writers?

Asked by mom w/pen almost 5 years ago

Not including things like draft writing and story breaking I would look for decent human beings. You're going to be with these people for a long time so they have to be nice. I'd want people who are funny to talk to. People I would want to be friends with outside of work. I'd also want people with humility. People who don't think they know everything and are very supportive of others' ideas. I'd want people that don't think too highly of our position on the show. In TV writers are treated like we're the top of the totem pole and a lot of writers feel that they are. I would want to work with people that realize how important everyone on set is. And appreciate how hard they work. I would want people that could pull long hours. I get it if you have to leave early one day for a school play or something like that, but 99% of the time I expect you there into the wee hours of the morning if that's what it takes to get the job done.

I think the quality of the Colbert Report over the past 3 or 4 years has been through the roof (superior even to the Daily Show). Do "insiders" respect the writing on his show (and his abilities personally)?

Asked by SC almost 6 years ago

Stephen Colbert is a genius. Plain and simple. I think most people in my industry with agree.

Is your job 100% creative, or do you really have know the business side of it to excel?

Asked by N*A*S*H about 5 years ago

When you are a lower level writer it can be a lot about the creative. Your main job is to pitch jokes, maybe some stories and just basically be an asset in the room. You're also not trying to sell scripts, you're trying to sell yourself so you get to write what you want to show who you are as a writer. Once you start moving up the ranks you bet your butt it's about the business. During development it's not what you think is a great idea. It's what you think they think (network and studio execs) is a good idea. The way you keep you soul alive during this process and the countless notes is by telling yourself once I'm allowed to actually write I can make it more "me". It's weird that the more you do this job the less you actually get to write.

How are new sitcoms chosen for airing? I assume it's very competitive...so why are so many of the new shows so terrible?

Asked by kristelia almost 6 years ago

The final call is the head of the network. You might write the greatest script ever. Everyone loves it. It's a sure thing! Then the network president sees it and he's not a big fan of that joke on page four. So it's dead. Never to see the light of day. Transversely: If the network president gets a chuckle from men in drag then Work It makes it to the your prime time line up.

What show have you worked on where you were virtually positive it would succeed, but it wound up getting cancelled or never aired?

Asked by TVTime almost 6 years ago

I assume everything is going to fail until it doesn't. Call it a defense mechanism.

Do fights about jokes in the writer's room get heated?

Asked by Sue about 5 years ago

OMG yes. Hours are long. Deadlines are fast approaching. You're tired. You're stressed. What's the best way to take it out? Argue with someone over which dick joke is funnier. It happens all. the. time.

You mentioned "the journey" that many of your colleagues made to become writers. What percentage of folks venturing out to LA to become writers actually succeed in making a decent living at it?Of those who drop out, what do they usually end up doing?

Asked by ronmexico almost 5 years ago

Honestly I have no idea. I can't imagine that number is very high. It might creep up toward the 30-40% mark if by "decent living" you mean any money whatsoever. There are so many more outlets now a days. Cable, internet, podcasts etc. But most of those outlets are not going to buy you a house in the hills. Actually some of those outlets aren't going to pay you enough for a studio in the valley. As for what they do when they drop out... I've seen people try to make a go at it as a standup. I've had friends take corporate jobs. I would say the biggest majority go on to get their teaching degrees. I guess it's the same as graduating from college...just a few years later.

What do you think was the most underrated sitcom of the past 10 years?

Asked by Trevor almost 6 years ago

This is tough. I think Strangers with Candy, an old Amy Sedaris show on Comedy Central should have gotten the audience of a 2 and 1/2 Men. I think Spaced a British show starring Simon Pegg is close to perfect. Actual American Network Sitcoms? Right now not enough people watch Community (perhaps too insider?). And not enough people watch Cougar Town (perhaps they still think it's a show about an old woman humping young boys?) in my humble opinion.

What made you choose to become a writer? What would you reply with when people said it was too hard to make it as a writer?

Asked by Hunter about 5 years ago

I always knew this is what I wanted to do. I assumed it's what everyone wanted to do. And since everyone can't be a sitcom writer they "settle" for being a doctor, lawyer, indian chief whatever. Imagine my surprise when I discovered people actually want to be things like doctors and save lives instead of writing dick jokes. Crazy. How would I reply to being told it was hard to make it as a writer? I guess I'd say I can't imagine doing anything else. This is my dream job. It's worth putting in the effort. Someone has to be the lucky one who gets to do it. Why not me? But I'd also say that I'm not under any illusions of this being a cake walk. I came to Los Angeles knowing that if I didn't find meaningful writing work in five years I'd go back to the East Coast and re-think my career choices. I wanted to be a writer. I didn't want a career as a want-to-be writer.

Any notable downsides to being a sitcom writer?

Asked by Jerry2011 almost 6 years ago

I have my dream job and I still hate it about half the time. The hours suck. Plus it's very hard when you really love a joke or an idea and your boss says “no.”

Do most showrunners or producers prefer to hire writing partners or teams as opposed to one writer? Is it true if you write with a partner you still get paid the same amount per script as a solo writer?

Asked by ColeD almost 6 years ago

If you are in a partnership you get paid as if you were one writer. You split the salaries, the script fees, the residuals. I am a co-executive producer (the second most senior position on staff). There have been occasions when I take home less than the story editors (the second lowest position). That is a huge chunk of change people. Why do I do it? I have a built in joke beater. A therapist (I was horrible today - no you were great). A friend on those awkward first days. Pitching is easier/more fun with a partner to share the floor. Showrunning with someone you 100% trust is a freaking blessing. But above all I think she's an amazingly talented writer and I think she feels the same about me. As good as our writing is individually, together we're even better. As for your first question - I've never been on a show with more than one other writing team. There aren't a lot of us. (they don't last long. See: splitting paychecks above). I know some showrunners love having them. My partner and I can each run our own rooms so they really are getting two for the price of one. But I know others don't like having a pair that are more loyal to each other than the show. So I guess I wouldn't team up just to make myself more marketable. Only team up if you truly feel like the other person makes your writing exponentially better (once again see: splitting paychecks above)

I have always adored shows from the 1950's such as "I Love Lucy" and "The Honeymooners." As they were both performed "live," why was there canned laughter as well? Hard to believe, these shows originated 60 years ago and are still in syndication. What do you think was the true secret of their incredible success?

Asked by LuckyLady almost 6 years ago

The laugh track question I can't answer. As to the second question: 1. They are well written. A well written show is timeless 2. They have amazing actors creating unforgettable characters. 3. They are simple premises and simple ideas so no matter what the year it is gettable and relatable and you can watch one episode and know everything you need to know about the show - which makes it all the more sad how today the development process is all about "Big ideas!" "big worlds!" (I'm not bitter...I swear.....okay....maybe a little)

How much room do actors have to improvise lines or give input on their character's plotline?

Asked by jojo almost 6 years ago

It depends on the show and the clout/fame of the actor. Speaking for the shows I've worked on - we want the actors to do the lines as written. If you want to pitch a joke/change a word you can do it for a take - if it's funny we'll use it. But do the lines as written at least once. 99% of actors are not as good at improv as Steve Carrell but a big percent of actors think they are. As for plotlines - if the star of the show is a big name they usually will come in and talk to the writers about where they see their characters going. Everyone else usually finds out what's happening when the scripts come out.

Do you prefer to write solo, or in collaboration with a group?

Asked by Junebug77 almost 6 years ago

If you want to write solo, write dramas or movies. Comedy is a communal effort. Yes, you do get to write alone sometimes, but that just feels like a little break where you get to sleep in and type in your underwear. The majority of your time is being surrounded by very funny people eating snacks.

Charlie Sheen chaos aside, what on EARTH is so special about "Two-and-a-Half Men" that's made it as successful as it's been? Seems just as by-the-numbers as the next sitcom, what is it that's created such a huge audience?

Asked by JP almost 6 years ago

Sometimes I like to be the bigger person and think why do I get to decide what sitcom is funny/original/worth the ratings? I mean if millions -MILLIONS- of people love Two and a Half Men they can't all be wrong. Then I watch Two and a Half Men - and I'm as stumped as you are. My best guess is that it's easy. You get home from a hard day at the office and sometimes it's nice to not have to think. The characters are basic. You know what they're going to do. The plot lines are easy to follow. You know what's going to happen. And it's chock full of extremely dirty jokes that we're not allowed to do on other shows so it send those "They went there" shivers down your spine. Also there are fart jokes.

What types of shows have you written for?

Asked by Netta_D almost 6 years ago

I’ve written everything from crappy multi-cameras that didn't make it through the first season, to Emmy award-winning single-cameras that I am proud to have on my resume.

Do most sitcom writers start by being a writer's room PA or Writer's assistant?

Asked by funnygirl almost 6 years ago

Short answer -If not most at least a good chunk. If you're starting from scratch it is the easiest (not easy) way to get on a staff. Most of the shows I've been on the most senior writers' assistant gets to write a script. If it's good you might even get moved up to staff writer. At the least you learn the ins and outs of a writers' room. You meet all the writers and if you have any talent we are all dying to help you out. (that is 100% sarcasm free - we know how hard the assistants work and we want them to succeed) I would say the second most common way to get your foot in the door is through one of the fellowships or writing programs some of the networks and studios offer.

Given the explosion of so many great hour-long dramas (e.g. Breaking Bad, Homeland, Justified), is there any concern that shows like these will start eating into sitcom audiences?

Asked by walterwhite almost 6 years ago

No. You know what's funny? When I started working in sitcoms (about 10 years ago) I was told I just missed the sitcom Boom. The era of Friends and Seinfeld etc. where sitcoms were king, sitcom writers got huge deals and you had your pick of jobs. It's not like that anymore. It hasn't been for a long, long time. But recently I've seen sitcoms getting a little more heat. Modern Family - CBS's whole line up - The New Girl. Sitcoms are getting ratings again. So I would say it's kind of the reverse of the question. I have faith sitcoms are making a resurgence.

When did you know you wanted to become a TV writer? Which shows inspired you most?

Asked by Wes about 5 years ago

In high school, I was talking to a friend who mentioned she wanted to be a doctor more than anything in the world. I assumed she meant anything in the world except a TV writer. Nope. She actually wanted to be a doctor. Up until that moment, I just assumed everyone would write TV if they could, just like everyone would rather be rich or thin. But since this was the real world and I was middle-class and chunky, I would settle for veterinarian. As soon as I realized this passion of mine was unique (ish), I never looked back (though I'm still chunky). There were a lot of shows I loved growing up: The Simpsons, Mystery Science Theater 3000, Strangers with Candy, Mr. Show ... but I think what really helped my sense of humor was watching stand-up comedians with my dad when I was really young. I'd use his stomach as a pillow and I knew something was funny when my head would shake from his laughter.

Have you ever heard of someone not "in the business" randomly writing a sitcom pilot or script that has gotten picked up?

Asked by HobbyScriptWriter almost 6 years ago

I can't think of any comedy scripts where this happened. I think CSI is an example of it on the drama side. But, and I cannot over emphasize this... It is EXTREMELY hard to do.

Assuming the pilot gets picked up, do most sitcoms start with a definitive timeline (e.g. this story will take 3 seasons to tell), or is it more wait-and-see approach?

Asked by Write As Rain... about 5 years ago

Whoops. Sorry for the delay. When a pilot gets picked up nine times out of ten it is only given 13 episodes. If it does really well it gets the "back nine" for a full season. If it does badly it's canceled even before those episodes are shot. So new shows rarely think past those first 13. Also each show and show runner is different. I've been on shows where each episode is a crapshoot. And I've been on others where the first thing we do is figure out what major thing will happen to each character and decided a time line to introduce that major thing and when we will pay it off. I have never been on a show that's thought past the season it was working on more than a wistful "Maybe in season six X and Y will start dating..."

What's one current sitcom that you think is really pushing the envelope in ignoring typical formulas and breaking new ground?

Asked by francine almost 6 years ago

This is a hard one. Maybe I've been doing this too long, but everything feels done. Some do it better than others (30 Rock comes to mind), but no one is breaking any new ground.

Do most of your writing colleagues come from stand-up? What other disciplines tend to produce TV comedy writers?

Asked by GorgeousGeorge almost 6 years ago

There is the occasional stand-up on a writing staff, but it's far from the majority. I would say there are a lot more people with improv backgrounds.

Can any sitcom in the color television era outshine NBC's current offering Whitney for the "dollars-spent-advertising to actual-quality-of-show ratio" blue ribbon?

Asked by Kyle almost 6 years ago

Have faith! Of course there can be!

Who was the toughest actor you ever had to write for, and what made it so difficult?

Asked by ALF almost 6 years ago

I don't want to name names. But one that comes to mind was a fine actor, great with the dramatics. But was not as funny as the rest of the cast. Unfortunately they saw themselves as the the comedic lead and since they were the big name attached what they saw mattered. I can't tell you how many times scenes would come back with the note "funny up ACTOR NAME".

I have a great idea for a sitcom but don't want to share it because someone else might take the idea and use it for them selves. What should I do to introduce it to someone that will not take it from me or try using it themselves. Who can I trust?

Asked by wilcox over 4 years ago

 

What do you believe landed you the job aside from your sense of humor.did you go to an ivy league collegeour is there a large degree of luck involved?

Asked by Ashi almost 4 years ago

 

I want to pitch a idea for a sitcom. I have some scrips written for my show as well for other famous sitcoms. How do I get in contact with an agent or a producer?

Asked by Luis about 4 years ago

 

What's the salary base for unexprienced writer during the first season? And an actor?

Asked by Luis about 4 years ago

 

Is there a market for someone wanting to write a podcast comedy, or is better to go for the production companies? I'm slightly agrophobic, you see.

Asked by Paul over 1 year ago

 

Do you need an assistant? Very likely not, but can you hire one just for the sake of it, see whether s/he can make it to the sitcom writing staff? Your time is valuable so ask for a small fee to consider the 'application', just an idea.

Asked by @curbexcitement about 4 years ago

 

How do you know if you have the potential to be a sitcom writer? A few times a week some really funny scene/punchline will just come to me when I'm with a group of people, but I don't know if I would be able to sit down alone and think of something.

Asked by Tim about 3 years ago

 

Is there a general rule of thumb in sitcom writing as far as how many laughs should come per minute, and what's the longest you should ever go without at least one laugh line?

Asked by dday13 over 4 years ago

 

When a writer must be fired, who among your staff is responsible for doing the actual firing? Have you yourself had to fire anyone?

Asked by jack tripper almost 5 years ago

 

Is it intentional or unintentional that most shows are filled with various "mistakes"? It's difficult to watch a show without my boyfriend pointing out flaws in them. He jokes and says for me to send in his resume. Is there such a job for that?

Asked by Barb TN over 4 years ago

 

Is it possible to become a comedy writer without any schooling? I notice a lot of writers went to college or took improve classes. What about a secretary with dream of comedy writing? Any advice to get started?

Asked by Newbie with a dream almost 4 years ago

 

Nowadays, do you think women are more, less, or equally likely to land sitcom writing gigs than, say, 5-10 yrs ago?

Asked by annamul almost 5 years ago

 

Awhile ago, I heard that sitcom writers sometimes put jokes into shows that aren't funny, but that will cue the studio audience to laugh. Is this true? Do sitcom writers have a name for these nonfunny jokes?

Asked by EddiePF almost 5 years ago

 

Seriously, how does someone who knows no one in show biz pitch a pilot for a sitcom? In NY.

Asked by Deb over 3 years ago

 

How do I pitch my sitcom pilot to OWN

Asked by Lola almost 4 years ago

 

I have a great idea for a sitcom that I have never seen done before...Color Me Green..is what I titled it...have the pilot episode intact...just looking for a pro partner who knows the biz to help callow orate and pitch it to a network..where do I?.

Asked by George about 4 years ago

 

How much would one realistically expect from a pilot that gets picked up?

Asked by Khiosha about 4 years ago

 

Why do some sitcoms still use a laugh track? Isn't that a relic at this point?

Asked by showgazer almost 5 years ago

 

Hi, congratulations on your partnership and developing your own material.
How do I get a network job as a low level writer?

Asked by Kissyfit4U over 3 years ago

 

How do TV writing partners negotiate a contract between each other after creating a sitcom?

Asked by Kath almost 4 years ago

 

I have recently completed a half hour TV comedy. It is my first attempt at writing based on my experiences as a young adult. I am not a writer but feel the concept has merit. I am looking for a writer to partner with. What would my next step be?

Asked by sparky over 4 years ago

 

I heard a TV show I was to hop on isn't going to hire a Writer's PA. Is this common? How will that writer's room function? Who will get lunch? I can't see a Writer's Assistant doing the grunt work and writing filler dialogue.

Asked by Unpaid Intern over 2 years ago

 

Do you think that a clever sitcom like "Community" didn't gain alot fans and recognition because the comedy wasn't straight forward as "the Big Bang theory"

Asked by Vmann79 about 1 year ago

 

I wrote two sitcom spec scripts. People say they are funny and smart. I can't, however, show them to anyone from the industry - they all say they don't read unsolicited material. What I am supposed to do?

Asked by Boris about 4 years ago

 

how did you break into the world of sitcom writing, how did you begin ?

Asked by abdou lord over 4 years ago

 

Is getting a college degree in television/film writing a waste of money considering many people don't get hired?

Asked by a person about 4 years ago

 

Other than shows getting cancelled, what are the most common reasons writers get fired?

Asked by SCkelly over 4 years ago