Pam Douglas Winner of the Humanitas Prize


Writing the TV Drama Series

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Paperback: 309 pages
Publisher: Michael Wiese Productions; Third Edition, Revised edition (October 1, 2011)
ISBN-10: 1615930582
ISBN-13: 978-1615930586
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From the MWP catalog:
Whether you're a screenwriter wanting to create an original series, a film school student aware that real careers are on television staffs, or a writer trying to break in, here is the complete guide to the unique craft of writing drama series for television. Learn how the industry works from the experts who work in it, told with candor and wit. The 3rd Edition builds on the book's reputation by bringing the very latest information, insights, and advice from major writers and producers.

WRITING THE TV DRAMA SERIES has become the leading resource around the world for anyone who wants to create television drama, as well as for screenwriting classes and workshops. Offering practical industry information and artistic encouragement, the book is both nuts-and-bolts and inspiration. The new edition also leads readers into the future and engages provocative issues about the interface between traditional TV and the opportunities opening in emerging media.

Preface to the Third Edition

In times of great change, the question is: what remains?

In 2005, when the First Edition of Writing the TV Drama Series was published, the rules of TV were knowable and clear. Hour dramas had four acts with commercial breaks every 13 minutes or so. A network TV season was usually 22 episodes that ran from September to May. And viewers sat on living room couches to watch their TV sets, tuning in to their favorite programs at the times when the programs were scheduled for broadcast.

Back then, I wanted to tell you how to get into this field and do good work once you're here. That much remains.

By the Second Edition in 2007, many of the rules had changed — but the rules were still clear. On broadcast TV, hour drama shows went to five or six acts; basic cable was offering scripted series that followed traditional paradigms; on premium cable, HBO and Showtime always won the critical awards, and their commercial-free model had become a distinct form of its own. Pilot opportunities for new writers had blown open, but the pilots themselves were written and made the same way they'd always been.

Back then, I wanted to tell you how to use the new rules to write well and succeed. That remains also. For the Third Edition, I initially thought I'd update the major shows, add a few fresh interviews, and reflect more of what's happening in alternative forms and on the Internet. But as I researched this edition, I discovered that almost everyone — from showrunners to struggling writers to industry executives to new media creators — were no longer merely adjusting the rules. Now they were asking basic questions: What is television? What is drama? What is a series? What are the delivery options? What are our obligations to the audience? Does a mass audience exist? Even what is reality? And yet, after the smoke clears, more remains than appeared at first. No matter whom I asked about the future of television, the name of Aristotle, the ancient Greek philosopher, kept being invoked, not only by writers of great drama series, but by someone doing Webisodes and someone else making "Unscripted" shows. Though Aristotle set out the principles of drama thousands of years ago to describe archetypal tragedies in the plays of his time, those essential dramatic principles remain today. The writer's skill at storytelling, understanding what drives human beings, the guts to touch the passions, fears and aspirations of viewers, and honestly portray the universal issues of our lives — that content still relies on the art, craft, and insight of people who write.

So this Third Edition will present it all: the traditional basis for writing TV drama juxtaposed with new forms, traditional delivery systems seen in the light of current technology, and interviews with "Guest Speakers" whose ideas diverge from each other more than in past editions. These range from deep social reality that concerns the creator of The Wire, to nuts-and-bolts from a producer of so-called "Reality" shows, and from working writers coping with a shifting marketplace to programming decisions by the President of AMC cable who is part of shifting that marketplace.

In the past I paraphrased All About Eve, advising readers to hold on to their seat belts. But in zero gravity, the challenge is instead to go with the flow as you explore an evolving landscape. In a world afloat, it turns out that the TV drama series is something that does remain.

What's New In This Edition

If you're familiar with the Second Edition, you'll notice how much has been updated. Though the chapters on craft present the same essential principles, small changes occur throughout, replacing older shows with current ones and considering the Internet and new platforms in all subjects. Among the larger changes, the book has gone from seven chapters to eight. The final chapter that was a brief treatment of new outlets in the Second Edition is now a full chapter dealing with the future of TV drama on the Internet, the impact of new delivery potentials on writers, and an international perspective. Since the book has become global, I thought that expansion would be significant. Entirely new "Spotlight" sections include one on "Dramedy" and one on "Unscripted/Reality TV." Also the "Procedurals" section is more comprehensive and now includes House and The Good Wife as well as CSI. The Pilot section has been amplified as well.

Among the fresh interviews, I'm especially proud of landing one with Charlie Collier, the President of AMC Cable TV. I never had a network president in the book before, but the rise of basic cable as a phenomenon made this relevant. Other new interviews include: David Isaacs (M*A*S*H, Mad Men), Michelle and Robert King (The Good Wife), David Simon (The Wire), and others. In the Reality segment I have a candid interview with a Reality producer, and other writer-producers have been quoted throughout.

I re-interviewed Steven Bochco, and edited his earlier interview to blend with this one. I also re-interviewed my former students, creating a unique longitudinal study of what happens to film students in the 14 years after they graduate.

To make room for all these enhancements, I had to edit out some interesting material from the Second Edition. Interviews with the producers of Lost, Battlestar Galactica and Deadwood are gone, as is the blogging chapter on Grey's Anatomy. Instead, I incorporated portions of those in other chapters. My motivations for working so hard on this Third Edition are partly in response to how much television is evolving, and partly in response to the respect with which this book has been met, for which I'm grateful. Not only has it been recognized as the premiere book on the subject worldwide, but I've discovered that it has two distinct readerships. The main one, of course, is people who hope to become writers, both students and the general public. But we're gradually accruing a second audience: people reading for insights into contemporary media. For example, Critical Studies scholars and Communications analysts have been referring to this book, and my interviews (including those for the international translations) have asked more about the nature of dramatic television than about how to break in or how to write a scene. That's a little different from a few years ago.

I wanted this new edition to be truly comprehensive in order to keep its mantle as THE book on this subject.

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