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Inside the scribe vibe

TV panelists from tonight's WGA gathering talk current issues

As a prelude to tonight’s gathering at the WGA West Theater in BevHills, we asked a handful of smallscreen scribes/exec producers who are participating in the drama and comedy panels what were some of the biggest issues facing them these days. Answers ranged from dealing with a fragmented viewership, to finding a qualified writing staff, to the demand of doing more with less. And lunch.

Jeff Eastin

“White Collar”

“The biggest issue facing TV writers today is that it’s unclear how long we’ll remain TV writers. Nearly one-third of our audience watches ‘White Collar’ on DVR, and if you ask anyone under 25, it’s hard to find one who watches anything on TV. They watch on Hulu, iTunes or YouTube. I don’t think we’ll be called TV writers five years from now.”

Clifton Campbell

“The Glades”

“One of the biggest challenges facing television writers today is marrying complex character development with familiar franchises that a network can brand and promote. Audiences are happy to show up for procedurals, but thanks to the popularity of rich flawed doctors, lawyers and detectives, audiences demand characters that challenge their expectations, which can often work against plot-driven procedurals. No one wants to be left behind, but there is no magic formula to character-driven procedurals. The gimmick that often makes many of today’s procedurals successful is there is no gimmick.”

Robert and Michelle King

“The Good Wife”

“Unfortunately, the biggest issue is never the most interesting. The biggest issue for TV writers is money: fewer shows, smaller staffs, shrinking writers’ rooms, the constant push to do more with less. The more interesting issue for TV writers is the battle between serialized and self-contained content. One of the reasons cable is perceived as taking more chances than network is because cable scheduling (13 episodes shown in a continuous block) allows for more serialized storytelling, resulting inevitably in a deeper look into character, and more complex interweaving of relationships. It’s not that network writers don’t want to go deeper; it’s that network scheduling (23 episodes pockmarked with repeats) isn’t as friendly to it.”

Graham Yost

“Justified”

“The level of competition is staggering, and not just because there are fewer shows. The problem is that there are simply too many good writers looking for work. There’s little exciting for them in features and few chances to write anything on Broadway, so they come to TV. I think that level of quality makes it harder for an average young writer to get that first job and learn the craft.”

Louis C.K.

“Louie”

“I’m sure its the same as it was for writers any other day. How do you know if you’ll ever have another idea? The one difference today is that the most common writing tool can also be used to buy toys and see people’s genitals and mammary glands. Typewriters and quill pens couldn’t do that. So it’s very distracting.”

Greg Daniels

“The Office” and “Parks and Recreation”

“The biggest issue facing TV writers today is who will replace the star of their show.”

Jenny Bicks

“The Big C”

“Staying employed in a landscape where reality TV and smaller staffs are squeezing them out. And then, if you are lucky enough to stay employed, it becomes about making sure your specific vision, no matter how eclectic, is understood and embraced by all the many layers of people whose job it is to pay for your vision to make it onto the smallscreen. And lunch. Lunch is always an issue.”

Jason Katims

“Parenthood” and “Friday Night Lights”

“There are a lot of choices out there both for artists and for the audience, which is very exciting. However, it has become an increasingly crowded marketplace with so many different kinds of shows and other entertainment competing for attention. Viewership naturally goes down. This makes it harder to justify the costs of scripted shows, which are very expensive to produce. As a result budgets get crunched. Among other things this results in smaller writing staffs, meaning fewer writers getting that much needed opportunity that could change their careers. It also suggests production compromises, like shorter shooting schedules and reduced location days. Additionally, the financial pressure on networks makes it increasingly challenging for executives to hang in with new shows long enough to let them find their voice and their audience.”

John Wells

“Southland” and “Shameless”

“All writers face the same major issues we’ve always had to face: How to get something at least a little bit original on the air when safe programming is always an easier sell. Couple this with the ever-increasing pressure on the economic model in network and basic cable make getting original ideas through the system increasingly difficult, even though the addition of many new basic cable outlets over the past decade have given writers more opportunities.”