Lot 48: the anatomy of a tv show

September 23, 2014

the anatomy of a tv show

it seems like every blogger in blogland is talking about how excited they are about fall tv returning.  and i am right there with them!! i LOVE TV.   you and me ken.  you and me.

for some of you new to the blog, you might not know that i spent a semester in college interning at two production companies in LA.  i learned tons about "the biz" and since you are all so excited about the return of tv (and i am too!!) i thought it would be fun to give you a lesson on how a show goes from an idea to the screen.  because it is a very, very long and tedious process.  but also fast, compared to movies. 
first let's take a good look at the magnificent awkward image i made for you to help you understand.

okay, so as we all know i am an aspiring sitcom writer, let's pretend that little person i drew is me.  i have a brilliant idea for a sitcom.  i call my agent (footnote: if you send a script to a production company, studio, executive, etc. without sending it through an agent or a really nice intern you made friends with, aka me in 2011, they shred it.  they literally put it in a shredder.  they put your dreams in a shredder. and it's all very sad and we would all shed a  tear whenever we had to do it.  which was a lot.  companies have to shred these scripts by law because there is no agent to protect them from you coming up to them and saying "you stole my idea!! i am going to sue you!! bring out the pitchforks!!" so into the shredder it goes. HAS TO go through an agent.) i put manager up there in the diagram only because i didn't want my little stick figure man to be lopsided.  i really am not sure how much kris jenner your manager would be involved.

so, i have this idea.  and there are roughly 20,000 writers who come up with ideas for shows.  at least, that is the number i was told 3 years ago.  some agents will be like "that's a horrible idea, why would you embarrass me like that, get out of my office.  bring me something i haven't heard but the same as everything else." (literally the name of a very good screenwriting book)

before we go off to the races with my idea, i need to explain how the idea is presented.  i verbally present the idea, at this point i haven't written a thing.  okay?  keep that in mind.  poster boards are involved, but i am verbally pitching my show, okay?

so then off you go with your agent to a production company, like the one i worked for,  and you pitch your show to them and they say "i love it!! it's the new parks and rec!! it's brilliant!!" and i say "obviously.  i came up with it. get me amy poehler on the phone."

okay, so now you have two people with you: your agent and the exec at the production company.

are you with me so far?? okay. so then.

you need a studio to make said show.

this is where things get complicated.  let me explain the difference between a tv network and a studio.  a network does absolutely nothing in the creation of the show.  nothing. zilch nada nothin'.  the studio is the one who does allllllllll the work.

examples of studios are warner brothers, sony, fox, etc.  now don't confuse fox studio with fox network.  i have been on the fox lot and touched gloria and jay's trailer of modern family while on the fox lot.  "but lauren!  i don't understand!! modern family is on ABC!!" yes! excellent question student of mine!! the studio  that makes modern family is FOX, but the network is NBC. that is because the studio and the network are totally separate.

okay, so back to me taking over the world. so now i go with my production company exec and my agent and i go to warner brothers stuiod and fox studio and sony  studio and every other studio because it's a tough business out there, you see and there is a lot of rejection.

but then!! when i go with my exec. and my agent to sony they LOVE it and tell me i am brilliant and bring out their on staff masseur and also give me a really good smoothie and i meet jerry seinfeld.(was seinfeld made by sony? idk.. but i picked the sony studio because i really love the location.  and my favorite restaurants are near the sony lot. warner brothers is waaaaaay out there and fox is, well, near the grove mall kind of. "shut up lauren, we don't live in LA, you aren't making sense." FINE)

so then!! me, my agent, my production company exec, and the studio exec. alllll come with me to NBC, ABC, CBS, all the acronyms.  if we are feeling really raunchy we might even go to some cable networks if i want to have some nudity and lots of curse words in my show. and then NBC (chose it cause, duh, the peacock) is like "i LOVE IT!!! bring out the foot rubs and the shirtless men to carry you on a fur plate! oh an why don't we make mindy kaling your mentor!" OKAY. oh wait, her studio is fox.  never mind.

okay.  now that NBC has purchased my idea, i write what is called a story area which is a 3-4 page description of basically what i presented verbally.  then, i write an outline which is usually 6-7 pages and goes through many, many drafts.  once my outline is approved, then i write a script.  now, sidenote, after checking with my friend in LA who works for the CW, he told me that it isn't that unusual to already have the script written when you start pitching.  just know that it will go through dozens and dozens of drafts once your idea is purchased.

 you would think we are done right? that i just explained everything? we are not even close to being done!!! not even close AT ALL!! i am going to separate this into two parts.

**update: here is the second  part of the anatomy of a television show.  you will see that i made a mistake in the first draft of this post and fixed my mistake here, but on part II, you might read information i just told you in order so my readers who have already read this post and are anxiously awaiting the second post aren't confused.  


  1. I love this! That whole studio vs. network thing always confused me, but now I get it!

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  2. This is so cool. I didn't realize what all went into making a show! Thanks for sharing!

  3. Incredible. Part 2, please! Also, 10 years ago I would have killed to have your life. (The part about working for a production company and living in LA and stuff.)

  4. It is interesting! I've always wondered how the process worked, but mainly I want to know how they choose which tv shows stay and which are canceled!

  5. This is awesome! Thanks for sharing. & it's soooo cool you worked at a production company! How did you get into that job (if you don't mind me asking)?

  6. Holy freaking crap. I want to read all about all of this. ALL OF IT. This is crazy fascinating to me! Especially because I love TV show much! Please share all of your knowledge with me!

  7. How exciting. Hollywood is a tough world. I was at a writing conference recently when a Newberry-winning children's author said her book had been optioned MULTIPLE times. She said when your book is optioned, there's something like a 3 percent chance it will actually be made into a movie--but you get money for the option, so it's exciting for that reason. Crazy! That makes you wonder what Meg Cabot must have thought when her book was optioned and things actually started happening with it...

  8. Watching a series on DVD gives you more control, you'll no longer have to subject yourself to those annoying advertisements that appear during telecast.
    south park characters

  9. Thanks you for your nice information. It's really helpfull. For more info go freetvshows


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