TV Writer Career and Salary Facts

Explore the career requirements for TV writers. Get the facts about daily duties, education options that could prepare you for this career field, salary potential and the competitive job market to determine if this is the right career for you. Schools offering English Reading & Writing degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is a TV Writer?

A TV writer is someone who prepares scripts and screenplays that will be used in television productions. Every time you watch your favorite television show, you are experiencing the work of TV writers. TV writers are creative and they are skilled wordsmiths. They are able to combine text effectively. A bachelor's degree in TV writing, screenwriting or a related field (such as English or communications) is preferred, and those preparing to become TV writers may want to work on their college's radio and television programs to gain practical experience as well. This is a very competitive field, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) forecasts a decline in TV writing jobs from 2014-2024.

Education Required Bachelor's degree preferred
Education Field of Study Screenwriting, TV writing
Key Skills Collaboration, planning storylines, writing compelling scripts
Job Growth (2014-2024) -3% (decline for broadcast television writers), -10% (decline for cable television writers)*
Average Salary (May 2015) $59,920 (for radio and television writers)*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

What Will My Job Duties Be?

As a TV writer, your job will be to collaborate with a group of other writers to develop characters and storylines for a particular show. You will work under the guidance of a showrunner, or the individual who created the show. He or she is generally responsible for hiring writers and assigning them particular episodes to write. Most TV writers work together to plan seasonal storylines for dramas and comedies, and then work independently on each individual episode.

How Will I Find Work in the Field?

Television writing is a competitive business. In order to find work in the field, you will typically have to move to either Los Angeles or New York. Your first task will probably be to find a literary agent who can get you a job on a television show. It is very difficult to find work without engaging an agent. To find an agent, most TV writers submit samples of their writing, called specs. Specs are sample episodes of half-hour comedies or hour-long dramas that are currently on the air. As an aspiring TV writer, you should work on developing a strong spec that will showcase your talents and secure you work in the industry.

What Education Will I Need?

There is no one educational path that can secure you for a job as a TV writer. Successful TV writers move into the industry from all sorts of previous backgrounds, including teaching, law practice and publishing. Some schools do offer bachelor's and master's degree programs in screenwriting and TV writing that can prepare you for work in the industry.

Most degree programs in TV writing are offered through schools in California or New York. If you choose to enroll in such a program, you will learn how to craft scripts, develop characters, create stories, revise scripts and more. Many such programs also offer classes that can provide you with an overview of the film and television industry.

What Will My Salary Be?

Your salary in TV writing is dependent on whether you are working in broadcast television or cable, when the show airs, how long it is and whether it has a large or small budget. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, radio and television broadcasting employed 1,630 writers in May 2015 and they earned an average annual salary of $59,920. According to the Writers Guild of America, a labor union that negotiates standard contracts for screenwriters and other media professionals, you are entitled to earn $26,043 as of 2017 for completing the story and teleplay for one half-hour episode of network primetime television. Completing an hour-long episode of network primetime television will earn you $38,302. Meanwhile, for a ninety-minute episode, you could earn $53,890 for the story and teleplay (www.wga.org).

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

The work of editors, reporters and technical writers all have aspects that are similar to the work that television writers do. Editors must be skilled wordsmiths, and know how to reorganize information and make technical corrections so that a text is presented professionally. Editors frequently work with writers, reviewing their work. Reporters research news stories and write articles relaying their findings. They also need to be skilled wordsmiths and understand how to put written text together in a way that is effective for their audience. Technical writers need to be skilled writers, but they focus on writing informational documents, such as instructions on how to operate equipment or how to assemble a product. A bachelor's degree in a field such as English, journalism or communications is required for all of these professions.

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