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.
Table of Contents
Peak TV vs. Pique TV: The Streaming Smorgasbord
How to Navigate TV Writing On Demand
PART I - SATISFYING THE BINGE VIEWER:
NEW GENRES, FORMATS AND TRENDS
1 Blurring the Lines: Redefining Genre and Tone in the Dramedy
How Did We Get Here?
Dramedies and Life on the Cringe
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
PART II DEVELOPING ICONIC CHARACTERS:
RELATABILITY AND AUTHENTICITY
7 Character Empathy vs. Sympathy: How and Why We Align With Characters’ Wants and Needs
Touching the Void
Examples of Coping Powers
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
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
Overlapping Dialogue: Stranger Things
Economy With Words
Listening to Our Characters
Bonus Content: Bones, Orphan Black, The Americans, Scandal
PART III CAREER STRATEGIES IN THE EVOLVING TV MARKETPLACE
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"
"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