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11/01/2005 - BOOK REVIEW: WRITING THE TV DRAMA SERIES - How to Succeed as a Professional Writer in TV

"WRITING THE TV DRAMA SERIES - How to Succeed as a Professional Writer in TV"
Book Review by Matthew Terry
Published by: Michael Wiese Productions
ISBN#: 1-932907-06-8

When I first started writing screenplays 20 some odd years ago I was told a myriad of ways of breaking into Hollywood. 1. Write a feature. or 2. Write a Made-For-TV movie and hope that it gets turned into a series. or 3. Write a Television Pilot and hope that it gets picked up.

I tried all three. My Made-For-TV movie was about a cop and a reporter pairing up for a "Seattle's Most Wanted" type infotainment show. My Pilot was about teenagers working at a fast food restaurant "Ace Burgers" (based on my experiences working at an "Artic Circle." Do "Artic Circle" restaurants even exist anymore?

It was on the strength of "Ace Burgers" that I got my first agent (who turned out to be a dork). Since that time I swore off of Television and have pressed on exclusively writing feature film scripts. Did I make the wrong choice?

"Writing the TV Drama Series" is an excellent book if you live in L.A. and want to write television shows.

Written by long-time teacher, and successful writer, Pamela Douglas, reading the book is like taking her class and a very fascinating class it is.

The first thing she does is have "guest speakers" - interviews with some of the biggest and best in the world of TV Drama (Steven Bochco and David Milch - to name two of the seven) and then she breaks down the myths and realities of writing for television - working with a team, working as a freelancer and some of the pit-falls of working in Hollywood.

Though a fascinating and informative read, and one in which I spent the entire time reading wondering if I could dive back in, I found that the overall view of working in Television to be a little TOO optimistic. Certainly if you are taking her class - you are at USC - you are already in the world of Hollywood. You go to the nearest Coffee Shop and you will find a screenwriter. But what does that mean for a writer like me (based out of Seattle)? And the bottom line stance of: "Just keep writing, don't give up and you'll make it!" Sounds like a teacher in the last five minutes of the final class (and as a teacher - I've had a tendency to say those words myself).

NOTE: At the end of the book she interviews a number of former students 6 months, three years and seven years after graduating. It is in those stories you see the excitement of the future (6 months), the struggles to continue (3 years) and the success - for some - borne out of persistence (7 years). It is in these interviews where you see the most reality.

What the book does best is explore a world that many of us don't see or know about. The "Guest Speakers" I found to be the best part of the book. I really felt like they were just telling it "like it is." I think that the book could have been better with even MORE guest speakers - or longer interviews.

But the book also explains a lot of the inner-workings of television and television writing. I learned quite a bit about the process - though I still felt it was a process that I really could not participate in.

Ms. Douglas does a very good job in the details of this book, telling stories of both triumph and failure - her own and others. She does make a convincing argument to keep going and keep writing and she ends each chapter with "Summary Points" to help you re-fresh what you've just read. She also provides a number of resource links and a glossary for your use - always a nice touch.

Bottom line: This is an excellent book if you live in L.A. and have a desire to write for the television drama. For others, like me, use the book as a way of exploring a different part of Hollywood that you may not know much about and dream about that day where your feature is turned into a Television Series. For that fact alone, it is still a very good book.


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