TV Writing On Demand : Creating Great Content in the Digital Era book cover
1st Edition

TV Writing On Demand
Creating Great Content in the Digital Era

ISBN 9781138705715
Published January 30, 2018 by Routledge
332 Pages

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USD $48.95

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Book Description

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




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


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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