Simple Guide to the TV Writers' Room Hierarchy
Who is a part of a TV show's Writers Room, and what is the hierarchy of each position?
Television is currently in a clear Golden Age. It has never been this good, and there have never been as many opportunities for screenwriters to join the coveted location where the magic happens — the Writers' Room.
First and foremost, to work as a TV writer, you need to move to Los Angeles. There are certainly exceptions, with shows whose writers' rooms are based in places like New York, Chicago, Atlanta, Canada, or whatever other cities house production facilities for television. However, 9 out of 10 times, it's LA.
If you're writing for features, you can technically live anywhere while writing. But as a television writer, you have to be in the room.
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Each writers' room will have its own process. Some try to keep a 9-5 schedule (which usually means 9-8 or so) for the benefit of all so they can get home to their families. Others expect the writers to stay late, even if that means working 12-hour days and beyond.
Staffing season in Hollywood runs through April and May every year. That is when showrunners are looking for writers by reading sample scripts submitted by the representation of the writers. In June, the hiring can begin because everyone knows what shows have been greenlit, canceled, or picked up.
This tradition is shifting slightly, due to the expanded platform of cable networks and streaming channels, both of which are continually developing projects every month.
When you are hired for a show, you step into an uber-collaborative environment.
You’re no longer writing on your own. You’re conceptualizing, developing, outlining, breaking a story, and writing with a room full of people. It’s competitive. It’s intimidating. And everyone is doing whatever they can to stand out the most.
With that in mind, here we offer a simple guide to who is in the writers' room, and what the hierarchy is within that room — starting from the top and moving to the bottom of the writers' room totem pole.
1. Executive Producers/Showrunners
The Admirals of the show.
The lead Executive Producer of the series is also referred to as the Showrunner — and that is precisely what they do. They run the show.
The Showrunner is the individual that has the final say in all aspects of the series — scripts, staff hiring, casting, budget, schedule, and everything else. While the producers, story editors, script coordinators, and staff writers do much of the leg work, the Showrunner calls the shots and makes the final decisions.
If you compare the writers' room to a feature film production, the Showrunner's role is best compared to a combination of a movie's Executive Producer and Director.
2. Co-Executive Producers
The Generals of the show.
Any non-showrunner Executive Producer works as the Showrunner's Number One. They are the second in charge of the series and are usually the last to read the final scripts before those scripts are sent to the Showrunner for final approval.
Depending upon the series, the Co-Executive Producer can also give final clearance for script drafts — in place of the Showrunner. Sometimes Showrunners delegate the power of decision-making to their Co-Executive Producers if they are working on multiple projects. More significant broad-stroke decisions will always fall on the Showrunner's shoulders, but the Co-Executive Producers are there to take on as much as needed.
3. Supervising Producers
The Colonels of the show.
If you're a staff writer, this is the highest position to shoot for before you hit the big league of becoming an Executive Producer.
Supervising Producers are upper-level writers that handle extensive responsibilities, usually working with the writing staff directly through the many hours of story development, breaking story, and actual writing of the episodes.
In short, it's a more hands-on leadership position. You're in charge of the room when the Showrunner and EPs aren't available.
The Captains of the show.
Producers are seasoned writers within the writers' room. They've been promoted by accepting additional responsibilities beyond writing scripts. They'll have a say in casting, production, and the creative direction of the show. Staff writers will answer to them.
The Lieutenants of the show.
Co-producers answer to the producers and work much as Co-Executive Producers do with Showrunners — they handle various delegated duties that a producer passes down to them.
They are still writers but are slowly moving their way up the totem pole as they are battle-tested with additional duties and decision-making that staff writers are not responsible for.
6. Story Editors
The Sergeants of the show.
Story editors are writers that have been with the show for a while and have taken on a leadership position within the room. They are next-level staff writers that benefit from WGA-stipulated pay and credit guarantees. They work on salary and get paid for individual scripts.
The biggest difference between a Story Editor and Staff Writer — beyond better pay — is that Story Editors are guaranteed to be credited for at least a single episode each season.
7. Staff Writer
The Corporals of the show.
You could make the argument that Staff Writers are more like Privates — doing the basic grunt work of the writing — but within the hierarchy of the writers' room, they're not the lowest on the totem pole (see below).
Staff Writers are there to develop and break story. They work with other Staff Writers to do so under the direction and authority of the above positions.
A majority of the time, they'll never get credit for their participation — at least not until they begin to work their way into a Story Editor position.
The more intimidating part of being a Staff Writer is that they are always the first to go when budget cuts or writing staff shakeups happen.
And as a staff writer, you may have supplied key story or character elements to an eventual script, but if you’re not actually the assigned writer to write the script for that episode, your work will be uncredited, and your pay will consist of your weekly salary.
8. Writers' Assistants
The Private First Class of the show.
Assistants are tasked with taking notes throughout the brainstorming sessions of the Staff Writers and Story Editors. As those people break story, the Assistants are there to take notes and organize all of the ideas and concepts.
They will also be asked to handle the proofreading of the scripts as they merge the notes and staff writing pages into a cohesive formatted script.
Assistants may also be asked to handle any necessary research needed before, during, or after the writers' room tries to break story on the script.
9. Writers' PAs
The Privates and Grunts of the show.
They don't write. They don't take notes. Instead, they run most of the office by answering phone calls and working as gofers. PAs get coffee, order lunch, stock the kitchen, organize the writers' room after the whirlwind of the workday, and handle any basic tasks that don't involve any type of writing.
Read ScreenCraft's The Different Lifestyles of Feature Screenwriters and Television Writers!
Now that you know the inner-workings of the writers' room, you hopefully understand that most TV writers have to pay their dues by working their way up the writers' room hierarchy. Chances are you'll bounce around from series to series, moving up the ladder as you do.
The key is to keep your eye on the prize, don't let your focus waver, and do everything that you can to get noticed.
Ken Miyamoto has worked in the film industry for nearly two decades, most notably as a studio liaison for Sony Studios and then as a script reader and story analyst for Sony Pictures. He has many studio meetings under his belt as a produced screenwriter, meeting with the likes of Sony, Dreamworks, Universal, Disney, Warner Brothers, as well as many production and management companies. He has had a previous development deal with Lionsgate, as well as multiple writing assignments, including the produced miniseries Blackout, starring Anne Heche, Sean Patrick Flanery, Billy Zane, James Brolin, Haylie Duff, Brian Bloom, Eric La Salle, and Bruce Boxleitner. Follow Ken on Twitter @KenMovies
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