Breaking into TV writing is about as mysterious a process to most of us as nuclear fusion. The biggest mystery of all is how one goes about getting an agent.
Here’s what knowledgeable people will tell you to do:
1. Enroll in film school.
2. Move to L.A.
3. Grovel till you find work as an assistant in a writer’s room on a show.
4. Grovel till one of the writers takes a look at your specs.
5. Pray your script will make the writer laugh/cry so hard he’ll introduce you to his agent.
That path only works if you’re 18. What if you’re not? And have a full-time job doing something else entirely, plus a mortgage, plus a husband and kids, and you live 3,000 miles from the Hollywood sign?
Here’s a short version of what happened to me.
In 2007, I was a journalist, a staff writer for Time magazine. I had just published an article I thought—for no good reason at all—would make a super cool TV series.
My book agent—who had hoped the article would turn into a super cool book—sighed and introduced me to her friend, a TV agent in Hollywood. He called. I pitched the idea. He totally got it. He asked for a treatment.
I said, “What’s a treatment?”
I could say that was the start of my brilliant career as a TV writer, but that would not be true. That pitch died a gruesome death, but not till two years later, during which I continued to work at Time. Meantime, I took classes and workshops and read everything I could on how to write a TV script. I finally quit my full-time job in 2009.
In 2010, I went to L.A. for staffing season. That’s the month or so in late spring when new TV shows hire their writing staff. My agent set up a ton of meetings, but I wound up not staffing because all, and I mean all, the jobs that year were in L.A.—which is kind of a long commute from New Jersey.
But it wasn’t all for nothing. Because the most important meeting my agent set up was with the guy who would become my manager.
Whoa, whoa, you’re saying. Why would a broke-ass writer without a single credit need or deserve a manager? And what’s the difference between an agent and a manager anyway?
That’s a timeless question, and a tricky one. I can only speak for myself: my agent is my connector and negotiator. He’s my link to networks and producers as well as the other people and projects his powerful agency represents. My manager represents me. (Think Ari and Eric in “Entourage.” Without the drama.)
So that’s how I met my TV agent. I now have two at the same agency. And my manager. They hooked me up with my lawyer. They’re all great guys.
That’s a lot of commissions for said broke-ass writer, you’re thinking. But you know what? Ten percent of zero is zero. If I earn nothing, they earn nothing. I hope to earn them a little something someday.