I pulled this from my friend, and mentor, and all around amazing woman, Ellen Sandler. The suggestions still hold up-3 years later, so I thought I would share :0)
What Not To Do In The TV Writer’s Room
Ten surefire tactics to lose that plum TV-writing job you finally landed
By Ellen Sandler – March 27, 2007
Aspiring comedy writers spend years grinding away as assistants, pounding out spec script after spec script and dreaming of that holy grail: a staff writing position. Finally, one day they get the job! But then something happens. They do the craziest, boneheaded things. One can only wonder… What are they thinking? Do they want to get fired? Is the money too good? Are they being paid more than they’re worth so they have to self-destruct? Is it too much pressure, and they have to find a way out before people discover they’re a fraud? What’s the deal?
In my years of experience at the writer’s table of many shows — hits you’ve seen and flops I hope you never will — I’ve collected 10 surefire tactics to tank a career. You may think no one would be clueless enough to do any of these things, but I swear that every one of these is something that I’ve actually seen done by a real writer on a real staff of a real TV show.
1. Make sure everyone knows how smart you are
Read The New York Times at the writer’s table, (especially important if you’re in Los Angeles), and be sure to do the crossword puzzle in front of everyone — in ink. If you think they need more proof, brag about how good you are at Scrabble.
2. Bond with your showrunner
That’s your boss, the head writer, the guy (yep, it’s still usually a guy) who hired you and can fire you. Despite being a decade (or more) younger than him, show you can relate by referring to pop culture icons from his era. Make a point to mention how much you loved Seinfeld too, especially because your mother let you stay up late to watch it.
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3. Correct everyone’s punctuation
Grammar too. Be sure to add “-ly” whenever anyone uses an adjective when they should be using an adverb. If your showrunner says, “Let’s do that different,” quickly trill “ly” with a bright smile.
4. Impose your self-improvement on everybody
Don’t just complain about how much weight you’re gaining from all the unhealthy food on the craft services table. Be proactive, and suggest the name of a high-priced nutrition guru who could evaluate the menus and recommend healthy alternatives, or better yet, recommend them yourself. People may resist at first, but assure them that they and their cardiologist will thank you. If even this fails to get the Krispy Kremes and the Pringles off the table, have your own Zone Diet food delivered for lunch, and be sure to “ooh” and “aah” over its health benefits as you consume it.
5. Overdo your enthusiasm!!!
Use at least five exclamation points on every page of your script. So what if it’s not professional? Your dialogue will look funnier!!!!!! And more exciting!!! And how about those interrobangs ?!?!?! Huh?!
Demonstrate your savvy by badmouthing TV whenever you can. Be sure to throw in that TV writing is not “real” writing.
6. Prove you care more about the script quality than everyone else
Shoot down any and all ideas you know are weak, even if you don’t have a fix. Question the logic of a story point, even if it means sacrificing one of your showrunner’s jokes. He’s got to appreciate that you’re not a “yes man,” right? Right.
7. Line up your next job while you’ve still got this one
Nothing tells a showrunner you’ve got a competitive edge like letting him know you’re looking for your next job. If you can manage to have your cell phone ring in the middle of a runthrough, you’ll get his attention. That way, he’ll be sure to overhear you betting with your agent about how many more episodes the show has before it’s canceled.
8. Re-pitch a joke, a line or a story, no matter how often it’s been rejected
Maybe nobody heard it. Keep re-pitching it, louder, and if they still don’t go for it, take plenty of time explaining how good the joke/line/story really is. Sure, the other writers may become impatient, but can you really live with yourself if you don’t fight for your artistic vision at every turn?
9. Agree with the network executive’s notes, even if they decimate your work
This one works, especially if your showrunner is irritated by the notes. Your efforts to soothe ruffled feathers, and your advice on how easy it will be to incorporate the exec’s suggestions will not go unnoticed. How it sits with your colleagues, well…
10. Denounce TV at every opportunity
Everybody knows TV is a stepchild to the film business. Demonstrate your savvy by bad mouthing TV whenever you can. Confess that you never watch TV. Be sure to throw in that TV writing is not “real” writing, not like your one-man show about your crazy family.
Bonus Point: Set your boundaries. In stone.
Work expands to fill the time available, and showrunners are notorious for working the staff overtime. Tell everyone you have theatre tickets, and you just have to be out of there by 7:00 pm. Don’t sacrifice your personal life for your job, because you’re going to need your other interests — a lot of them — to fill the all the hours once your contract isn’t picked up, also known as getting fired.
I did some of these things — okay, many of them, and friends of mine did the ones I didn’t. Yet, we still managed to have careers. You will too, if you learn from your missteps, and more important(ly), if you can laugh about your own failings.
One real tip: That laughing at yourself part? Make it happen sooner rather than later.