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Cheer up, TV Writers! These Are the Good Old Days

It's a great time to be a smallscreen scripter. No, really.

TV writers aren’t known for their sunny dispositions and optimism. Indeed, read the vanity-card messages from Chuck Lorre — who’s producing four shows for CBS next season — and even he sounds glum and morose at least half the time.

So before fall series begin premiering and getting canceled, here are a couple of words scribes seldom hear, and perhaps even more rarely say: Cheer up.

Despite the lingering frustrations associated with their craft — and the even more nagging sense since the 2007 writers strike that studios have concocted new and ever-more-creative ways to shaft them — it’s hard to deny this is in many respects a boom time for writers, fueled by a variety of factors.

In an April speech at the Independent Film & Television Alliance conference, former CBS Entertainment chief and now Hemisphere Film Capital chairman Jeff Sagansky dubbed this “a golden age for independent television,” citing an explosion of new platforms, tax incentives and international co-financing among developments that have helped producers get their projects made.

Indeed, websites like Netflix, Hulu and Amazon have all become more aggressive about financing original production, and international funding has made a diverse array of additional programs possible — in the case of fare like Cinemax’s Strike Back or ABC’s Motive, enlisting U.S.-based writers to shepherd projects commissioned elsewhere.

Admittedly, a lot of these new programs are dreck, but on a percentage basis, when weren’t they? And just try to think of a time when there would have been an avenue to produce something as narrowly pitched as HBO’s Mike White series Enlightened or Rectify, a Sundance Channel series that appears to be daring the audience not to change channels (or worse, nod off) with its slow, hypnotic pace.

The advent of social media has also afforded writers the kind of public acclaim and attention (as well as direct conduit to their fans) that often eluded them. And if something like Twitter at times represents a double-edged sword for the creative community, the millions who follow various showrunners no doubt have a heightened appreciation of their role in crafting storylines.

In that regard, writers are clearly identified as the primary creative force in what’s arguably regarded as the most ambitious filmed-entertainment medium, with plenty of analysis citing TV’s ascent relative to a tentpole-driven movie business. Just as the “film by” credit remains nettlesome to writers in movies, there’s no debate over who receives the “created by” designation in TV — or the fact writers are increasingly empowered to chart a multi-season path for their babies (thanks in part to the Lost team), including their conclusions.

Granted, there are still plenty of indignities associated with the business. Shrinking writing staffs remain a source of concern, along with the “How do we get paid?” questions vexing the industry — and the armies of forensic accountants required to sort out where the money comes from and goes under today’s elaborate, multi-tiered business models.

In the balance, though, there’s a lot to savor right now about being a TV writer. And just to add an ominous cliffhanger to this little ray of sunshine, those reaping the rewards should try to enjoy the good times … while they last.

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