PSA: So You Wanna Be a TV Writer
A letter of advice in the worst of times from a comedy scribe
I’m a TV writer who writes for The Ankler under a pseudonym for obvious reasons. Today’s edition is for the muckety-mucks who read this newsletter to send to your kids and poor friends to talk them out of working in this business.
The editor Nan Graham has said that before he started writing Mao II, Don DeLillo “told me he had two folders: one marked ‘Art’ and the other marked ‘Terror.’” DeLillo’s folders were literal and filled with pictures. Mine are on my Desktop (I don’t fuck with the Downloads folder) and are filled, respectively, with scripts and unreimbursed medical bills. You can probably guess which one is bigger.
It’s not the best time to become a TV writer, or any kind of writer, really. It’s also not the worst. That would probably be the Stalin-era Soviet Union or the waning days of the Florentine Republic, when the Medicis threw Niccolo Machiavelli in prison and ordered him to be tortured by strappado. (The strappado was a device used to secure victims’ hands then lift them off the ground and dislocate their shoulders. It’s now mostly used in porn and fitness classes at Orangetheory.)
It’s getting harder to make a living as a TV writer, but people keep trying to do it, and with good reason. It’s a great job. My grandfather was a coal miner. My other grandfather died falling off an oil rig. Getting paid to eat peanut M&Ms and argue about whether a train goes choo-choo or whoo-whoo is a luxury few people enjoy. The process by which those people are chosen is arbitrary and unfair. This is the reality of elite institutions. There are way more qualified people than there are cool jobs.
So the first question to ask before “How do I get staffed?” is…