Riding Bitch

The daily musings of a writer.


3 Tips for TV Line Producing

The other day I sat in on an inspirational conversation with the Line Producer of a popular half-hour comedy television show. The Line Producer is the person who “tows the line” of the budget, meaning she makes sure episodes are delivered on time and on budget. I won’t get into everything she said because they’re too specific to television production, but here are a few universal nuggets:

“Coming under budget is a bad thing because it means you’re producing scared.”

When you have a budget and deliver the episode way under, it means you’re not very good at your job. You over-estimated how much things would cost originally (i.e. inflated the budget). Then you committed the cardinal sin of not using all your resources on the screen. The studio wants a great show, a hit show. If you deliver $10,000 over budget you won’t get in trouble. If you deliver $100,000 under budget, you will.

“Line producing is like playing 3-D chess in space with math.”
As a line producer, your job is to protect the showrunner’s vision, protect the studio’s money, and keep your crew happy. You’re the one who signs the checks, so you better be sure you’re responsible for them. You have to be great with numbers, great at solving problems and managing people. You have to be comfortable making big decisions and small decisions. You also have to be willing to use the carrot and the stick.

“To be a good line producer, you must have self esteem.”
No one will believe your words if you don’t. You have to believe in yourself and your abilities. You should be able to go home and sleep well at night, not worry about your work. This isn’t to say things don’t come up. They will. But feel confident in your decisions and know that whatever happens, you know how to fix it. Believe your words.

At the end of the lecture, she mentioned having been inspired by the Robert Frost poem The Road Not Taken.

Here it is:

The Road Not Taken
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim
Because it was grassy and wanted wear,
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I marked the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

– Robert Frost

Happy creating!


Anatomy of a Television Pilot

For those unfamiliar, a “spec” television script is written for an established show. A “pilot” is written to sell an original, new show, be it comedy or drama. I’ve written mostly film screenplays to date, and one spec television script (for the show HUNG). These days I’m writing my first ever television pilot, and I gave it to my manager two weeks ago for notes. She sent me back three television pilot scripts to read, all being produced this year on major networks, all similar in tone to mine and to each other, but with distinctly different plots.

Reading these scripts was incredibly helpful and inspiring. They were all great scripts, easy to read and compelling. I will watch these shows. More importantly, they were very well structured and well-developed… both areas in which my own script needs improvement.

The following are some things I picked up from these scripts:

They were all one-hour dramas, one clearly meant for cable, the other two meant for network. How could I tell? Because of the controversial subject matter, curse words, nudity, etc.

They were 62, 67 and 69 pages long, respectively.

They all had 5 acts. An Act is basically how the show is divided (like chapters). On channels with commercials, the commercial breaks separate the Acts.

Each Act ended with a twist that made me want to know what happened in the next Act. Put another way, each twist propelled the plot in a different (forward) direction. And the Really Big Twist was on the last page of Act 5, the last-minute or two of the pilot. This is what gets viewers hungry to know what happens in the next episode.

I’m going to focus the rest of my analysis on Script A because it had the clearest structure.

Script A was 62 pages long and had a total of 79 scenes:

Act 1 – 17 pages, 16 scenes
Act 2 – 8 pages, 4 scenes
Act 3 – 15 pages, 28 scenes
Act 4 – 11 pages, 10 scenes
Act 5 – 11 pages, 21 scenes

You can tell from this that Acts 3 and 5 had a lot of very short scenes, indicating perhaps a chase sequence. In general, scenes are no longer than 2 or 3 pages (most are shorter).

The narrative set up of Script A was established in Act 1. So, basically by the first commercial break you have an idea of the show’s main dilemma and the main characters.

The characters were established as follows:
5 main characters were introduced in Act 1
1 main character was introduced at the top of Act 2
1 main character was introduced at the top of Act 3
1 minor character was introduced in Act 5

The title of script was explained in Act 4.

The location of the story shifted dramatically in Act 5. It’s hard to say if the whole show was going to move there or if it was just for the pilot (me thinks the latter).

Without knowing anything further, you basically now have a rough structural guide to a one-hour dramatic television pilot script. Obviously, these numbers are not set in stone and you can deviate from them. Personally, I don’t plan to deviate from them that much because I want my pilot to resemble the pace of Script A.

But you need more than a rough guide. You need to read some scripts for yourself, preferably scripts that are similar in tone to yours.

Here are three sites for free scripts you can download:


Try breaking a couple down like I did and see what you come up with. If you have more tips and/or advice, by all means chime in.

Happy creating!


Query Letters – 30 Do’s and Don’ts

On Industry Fridays, posts will relate to purely professional matters, including writing, producing, directing, books, film and television. This week is about the Query Letter.

A query letter is a formal letter you send to an agent, publisher or editor to try and get them interested in reading your book manuscript or hiring you to write the book. The letter should include:

  • The topic of the work
  • A short description of the plot
  • A short bio of the author
  • The target audience

Based on your query letter, the literary agent or editor then decides whether to contact you and request to see the manuscript. The query letter is possibly the first (and last) piece of your writing the agent or editor will ever see, so it’s important to get it right. It is literally the first step towards getting your manuscript published.

There’s tons of information about query letters on the internet, but here is a great free handbook by Noah Lukeman that explains how to write a great query letter. http://www.lukeman.com/greatquery/download.htm  Did I mention it’s FREE?

Below are 30 simple bullet points re writing the query letter (that are explained further in Noah’s handbook):

1. Open the query letter with a reference to a book the agent sold

2. Make sure you have a clear “hook” or logline of the concept of your book

3. Mention the genre of your book

4. Make comparisons to other books in the genre

5. Explain why your book is different than these other books

6. Describe the plot in no more than three sentences

7. Do not use character names

8. Do not mention subplots

9. Describe your bio in five sentences or less

10. Only include relevant information in your bio

11. Do not mention minor credits in your bio

12. Do not make your bio overly personal

13. Put any publication credits in italics or caps

14. Do not pitch more than one book

15. Do not have more than three paragraphs total

16. Do not exceed one page with your query letter

17. Do not quote your own book in the query letter

18. Do not include small talk

19. Do not be self critical

20. Do not mention givens

21. Do not include endorsements from family, friends or barely known authors

22. Do not include lots of underlining

23. Do not include lots of bolding

24. Do not include lots of italics

25. Do not use a font that’s too big or too small

26. Do not use unclear or colored font

27. Use good quality paper

28. Use a good printer

29. Remember to date the letter

30. Use letterhead instead of including contact information in the body of the letter

Below are a few examples of successful query letters (i.e. letters that got agents to read the author’s work and/or led to publishing deals). You’ll notice that some of them break one or two of the above rules, but in general, they stick to them.



Finally, if you’re curious how to find agents to send letters to, here is a link to the 2013 Guide to Literary Agents (available from Writers Digest, Google, Amazon and more). http://www.writersdigestshop.com/2013-guide-literary-agents?lid=cswdblog13

Happy creating!