1st Edition

TV Writing On Demand Creating Great Content in the Digital Era

By Neil Landau Copyright 2018
    332 Pages
    by Routledge

    332 Pages
    by Routledge

    TV Writing On Demand: Creating Great Content in the Digital Era takes a deep dive into writing for today’s audiences, against the backdrop of a rapidly evolving TV ecosystem. Amazon, Hulu and Netflix were just the beginning. The proliferation of everything digital has led to an ever-expanding array of the most authentic and engaging programming that we’ve ever seen. No longer is there a distinction between broadcast, cable and streaming. It’s all content. Regardless of what new platforms and channels will emerge in the coming years, for creators and writers, the future of entertainment has never looked brighter.

    This book goes beyond an analysis of what makes great programming work. It is a master course in the creation of entertainment that does more than meet the standards of modern audiences—it challenges their expectations. Among other essentials, readers will discover how to:

    • Satisfy the binge viewer: analysis of the new genres, trends and how to make smart initial decisions for strong, sustainable story. Plus, learn from the rebel who reinvented an entire format.
    • Develop iconic characters: how to foster audience alignment and allegiance, from empathy and dialogue to throwing characters off their game, all through the lens of authenticity and relatability.
    • Create a lasting, meaningful career in the evolving TV marketplace: how to overcome trips, traps and tropes, the pros and cons of I.P.; use the Show Bible as a sales tool and make the most of the plethora of new opportunities out there.

    A companion website offers additional content including script excerpts, show bible samples, interviews with television content creators, and more.


    Peak TV vs. Pique TV: The Streaming Smorgasbord

    How to Navigate TV Writing On Demand




    1 Blurring the Lines: Redefining Genre and Tone in the Dramedy

    How Did We Get Here?

    Dramedies and Life on the Cringe

    Female-Driven Dramedies

    You‘re the Worst: The Anti-Romantic Dramedy

    Baskets and Lives in Disarray

    Satire as the Weapon of Reason in Dear White People

    I Love Dick: Exploring the "Female Gaze"

    Master of the Observational: Master of None

    Better Things: Philosophical Vignettes

    Love and Death in Atlanta

    Bonus Content: Further analysis on dramedies, including the rise of the genre, Catastrophe and Casual


    2 The Slow-Burn, Season-Long Procedural: From Murder One and Twin Peaks to The Night Of, Fargo, Search Party and More

    The Season-Long Mystery

    The Mystery Underlying the Crime: The Night Of

    The Good Fight: The Procedural Within a Procedural

    Search Party: Something From Nothing

    Fargo Is a State of Mind

    The Season-to-Season Pivot: Broadchurch

    Truth and Consequences

    Bonus Content: American Crime, True Detective Season 1, Riverdale, Medici: Masters of Florence, Happy Valley, The Fall, Bloodline, The Expanse


    3 Trust Me: The Long Con On-Demand—From The Riches to Sneaky Pete, Patriot, The Americans and More

    The Put Up, The Play, The Rope, The Touch, The Blow Off

    The Masquerade: Sneaky Pete

    The Period Political Masquerade: The Americans

    Entrapment and Reversals: The Night Manager

    All Is Not What It Seems: The Good Place

    The Farce Thriller: Patriot

    Ozark: Who Can a Con Artist Trust?

    Bonus Content: The Path, Younger, Mr. Robot


    4 Dystopias, Multiverses and Magic Realism

    The Constructive/Destructive Power of Ideas: The Handmaid’s Tale

    Our World with a Cautionary Twist

    Crafting the Supernatural/Dystopian Pilot

    Microcosmic Dystopias and the Monster Mash: American Gods

    Portals and Multiverses: Childlike Wonder in Stranger Things

    Surprise and Shifting POV: The OA

    Adjoining Realms in The Man in the High Castle

    Bonus Content: Atlanta, Man Seeking Woman, The Good Place, Game of Thrones, The Young Pope, plus "The Neurotic Superhero"


    5 Story Tentacles: Making Surprising Choices That Yield More Story

    Inevitable Yet Unpredictable

    Keep Your Frenemies Close: Orange Is the New Black

    You Can’t Always Get What You Want . . . Mozart in the Jungle

    A Window Onto a New World: Switched at Birth

    Taboo Relationships in Comedies

    Points of View: The Affair

    Ensembles and Backstories

    When a Flaw Becomes an Asset: Girls

    The Macro/Micro Approach: The Young Pope

    Game of Thrones: The Ultimate Story Tentacle Show?

    The Unreliable Narrator: Mr. Robot

    Bonus Content: Breaking Bad, Scandal, Mad Men, Taxi, plus the Switched at Birth pilot teaser


    6 Spotlight on a Rebel: Ryan Murphy Reinvents the Mini-Series by Embracing His Inner Outsider

    Why Can’t I Be Audrey Hepburn?

    In Television, Tone is Everything

    Reinvigorating a Genre

    The More Specific You Make Something, The More Universal It Becomes

    "No" = A Rest Stop on the Road to "Yes"

    Limitation as an Opportunity and Differentiator

    The Pop Culture Junkie

    The Limited Anthology Series

    Impossible = Possible

    Marcia, Marcia, Marcia

    If You Can Dream Within a Structure, You Can Do Better Things




    7 Character Empathy vs. Sympathy: How and Why We Align With Characters’ Wants and Needs

    Touching the Void

    Nobody’s Perfect

    Examples of Coping Powers

    The Dance

    Reverting to Type

    Judgment, Morality and Perception

    The Insatiable Appetite of the Ego

    Insecure: Authentic as F**k

    Big Little Lies, Guilt and Shame

    Sympathy for the Robot: Westworld

    Hannah, Clay and the Razor’s Edge: 13 Reasons Why

    Alignment and Allegiance

    Bonus Content: Mr. Robot, Getting On, Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul, The Young Pope, Better Things, Animal Kingdom, plus "Empathy and the Female Gaze"


    8 Choosing Between Two Wrongs: Characters Trapped by Limitation

    Creating the Dilemma

    Homeland: The Lasting Effects of Devastating Decisions

    A "What If?" Exercise

    Dilemma and Perspectives

    Politics, Power and Internal Logic: Legion, The Handmaid’s Tale

    Jessica Jones: How Late is Too Late?

    Guilt, Maturity and Aspirations: This Is Us

    The Cleanse and Crossing the Line

    Bonus Content: Bates Motel, Breaking Bad, Queen Sugar, Orange Is the New Black


    9 The Wild Card Character: Power Dynamics and Motivations

    The Wild Card With a Twist: Mr. Robot

    The Wild Card’s Wild Card: Mozart in the Jungle

    The Roommate Soulmate: Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt

    The Pushy Roommate/Friend/Business Partner/Mentor: Silicon Valley

    Disrupting an Institution: The Young Pope

    The Role of Destabilizing Characters: Better Call Saul, The Crown and Goliath

    Bonus Content: Luther, Big Little Lies, Stranger Things, Bloodline, plus script excerpts from Mr. Robot, The Crown, Goliath


    10 Writing Smart Dialogue in the Digital Era

    The Oblique

    Bonus Content: The Profound Power of Silence plus Better Call Saul excerpt

    Idiosyncratic Voices: Empire, Silicon Valley

    Get in Late, Get Out Early

    Verbal and Non-Verbal Communication

    Point of View and Subtext: The Last Man on Earth, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend

    Shop Talk: Brooklyn Nine-Nine

    Naturalistic Dialogue: Profanity in The Wire

    Backstory: What They Don’t Say

    Actions—and Triangulation

    Overlapping Dialogue: Stranger Things

    Economy With Words


    Listening to Our Characters

    Bonus Content: Bones, Orphan Black, The Americans, Scandal



    11 To I.P. or Not to I.P.? That Is the Question: The Value of Intellectual Property in the Scripted TV Ecosystem

    Intellectual Property Glossary

    Breaking (Through the Noise) and Entering (the Zeitgeist)

    The Literary Approach

    Adapting Autobiographical Material

    Bonus Content: A deeper dive into putting a new spin on forms of I.P., from comics to musicals


    12 The Show Bible as an Essential Sales Tool

    That Was Then. This Is Now.

    The Need for Reassurance: From Closed-Ended, Stand-Alone Procedurals to Open-Ended, Slower-Burn Serials

    If There’s a Central Mystery, There Needs to Be a Series Bible

    Networks That Circumvent the Pilot Process (Tend to) Commission Series Bibles

    The Following Networks Still Make Pilots, But Do They Require Series Bibles?Half-Hour Sitcoms Rarely, If Ever, Require a Series Bible . . .

    Drafting the Series Mini-Bible

    Bonus Content: Examples/templates of one-hour drama and half-hour dramedy series mini-bibles, plus how to create a story area document


    13 Trips, Traps, Tropes: Avoiding Rookie Mistakes

    Become Experts in the Genre

    "Great Pilot, But What’s the Series?"

    "It’s Too Wrapped Up"

    "What’s the Franchise?"

    "Who Are We Rooting For?"

    "There’s No Sense of Place or Time"

    "It’s Confusing"

    "The Premise Is Weak"

    "It Doesn’t Feel Authentic"

    "The Dialogue/Style/Tone Are Uninspired"

    "It’s Too Long"

    "The Plotting is Tepid"

    "The Stakes Are Not High Enough"

    "It’s Just Talking Heads"

    "It’s Too Superficial"

    "There Are Too Many Characters"

    "The Good Stuff Appears Too Late"

    Know the Industry—Yet Be Innovative

    The Temptation to Rush

    Bonus Content: "The War Against the Kitchen Sink Pilot," a/k/a "The Premise Pilot Blues"


    14 The Creative Entrepreneur: From Kickstarting a Web Series to Hitting the Big Time

    "Call My Agent"

    Getting an Agent

    Agents vs. Managers

    Advice From the (Staff Writer) Trenches

    Bonus Content: List of the Top Contests and Fellowships

    More Opportunities Than Ever—Yet It’s Never Been More Competitive

    Show Them Your Proof of Concept

    Think Locally, Act Globally

    What I Really Want To Do Is Direct (a Web Series)—Broad City, Key & Peele, High Maintenance, Awkward Black Girl, The Skinny, 37 Problems, EastSiders

    Bonus Content: Advice from Kit Williamson

    Work Begets Work


    About the Author

    About the Editors



    Neil Landau is a bestselling author, producer and award-winning screenwriter who runs the Writing for Television program in the UCLA Department of Film, Television and Digital Media (his alma mater). Credits include Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead, Melrose Place, The Magnificent Seven, Doogie Howser, M.D., The Secret World of Alex Mack, Twice in a Lifetime, MTV’s Undressed and one-hour drama pilots for CBS, ABC, Freeform, Warner Bros., Disney, Lifetime and Fremantle. Neil has served as Executive Script Consultant for Sony Pictures Television and Columbia Pictures. Among his animated films are Tad: The Lost Explorer, which earned him a Spanish Academy "Goya" Award for Best Adapted Screenplay, Tad Jones and the Secret of King Midas (he is working on the sequel, Tad 3), Capture the Flag for Paramount and Sheep & Wolves for Wizart Animation. Neil penned the bestselling 101 Things I Learned in Film School, The Screenwriter’s Roadmap, The TV Showrunner’s Roadmap and TV Outside the Box: Trailblazing in the Digital Television Revolution, which was the first book sponsored by the National Association of Television Program Executives (NATPE).

    "This is like a masterclass in the art of creating television—both now and for whatever 'television' may become. Visionary, insightful and timely."
    —Issa Rae
    , Golden Globe-nominated Writer/Producer/Actress: Insecure, The Mis-Adventures of Awkward Black Girl

    "I'm a longtime fan of Landau! His decades of experience and genuine love of the form shine in TV Writing On Demand. The definitive guide to writing for modern audiences."
    —Damon Lindelof
    , Emmy Award-winning Writer/Producer: Lost, The Leftovers

    "With close to 500 scripted series, the current television landscape takes some navigating. Fortunately, Landau does that with precision, passion and purpose. This book is invaluable."
    Frank Spotnitz, Emmy-nominated Writer/Executive Producer: The Man in the High Castle, Medici: Masters of Florence

    "The television business has changed radically over the last few years and Landau has written an absolutely-essential guide to understanding it. Whether you’re trying to get a foot in the door, or you have a foot in and are trying to keep it there, this book is a must read."
    Sarah Watson, Creator: The Bold Type; Writer/Executive Producer: Parenthood

    "Landau's previous book introduced us to the revolutionaries of the new age of creativity. TV Writing on Demand holds the secrets to becoming one. For writers, students and fans of story-driven entertainment, this book is indispensable."
    —Dr. Nathaniel Kohn, Director, Roger Ebert's Film Festival; Associate Director, George Foster Peabody Awards

    "Neil truly understands how television is changing and what today's creators need in order to transition to tomorrow's landscape. You're in good hands with this book!"

    —Amy Aniobi, Co-Executive Producer, Insecure; Host of "Smart Manners" on Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls’ Network