Kelsey writes: I was wondering if you could provide any more insight on working for an agency vs. having an assistant job on the set of a TV show, whether you think one is more effective or a faster way to go about eventually getting a staff writing job. Also, do you think there is any value in getting an assistant-type job on a show you don't really want to write for?
No assistant job leads directly to being a writer. There is no sure-fire path, which is why I'm jealous of all my friends and cousins in medical school. (But then I turn away at the bloody scenes in Grey's Anatomy and I figure I'm doing the right thing.) The best job is to be a writer's assistant on a tv show because you'll be surrounded by writers with agents who all know you want to be a writer. You will learn a lot, and if they all like you they will help you out. But it doesn't automatically mean you'll be given a freelance episode or be promoted to staff writer. it's just a good POSITION to put yourself in. The problem is, these jobs are super hard to get and you will probably not be able to find one for your first job. Being a PA or Office PA might be the job to lead you to this job. Or maybe being an assistant in current or development at a studio or network - but again, those are often not really entry level jobs either.
Working at an agency is probably less ideal for a writer - but might be easier to get. It is still a good job because you learn what people are looking for in scripts, but you cannot work at an agency with the intention of getting repped there. If you even say in the interview that you're a writer you probably won't get the job. (There are plenty of aspiring writers working at agencies, but they're smart enough to know what agencies want to hear.) You have to think of it as a learning experience and gaining contacts. Like I've said before, agency assistant gigs are seen as entry-level, and that's why I ended up there. I would have rather been an assistant at a studio or prodco or on a show, but I couldn't find a job like that - it seemed that everybody wanted agency experience. You won't necessarily want agency experience to be a PA or office PA on a tv show - but those jobs tend to be harder to find. In terms of comedy or drama, I think it would be best to work on the show that you'd most like to write for... but you may not have that luxury in finding the job. I don't know - other people will more experience might want to comment on this. For sure, the assistant experience will be transferable (except maybe if you're a writer's assistant on a comedy - I've heard that sitting in a comedy room and writing all the jokes being pitched is kind of a specific thing, and I've also seen writer's assistant job postings looking for specific multicamera vs. single-camera comedy experience). But other general assistant stuff is usually universal. No assistant experience is transferable into a writing gig. Nobody cares how well you rolled calls or scheduled meetings - it's has nothing to do with writing a great script or being a helpful member of the writer's room. I have heard that it's good to have "room experience," to know how it all works...but generally it seems that the reason it helps to be an assistant is that you will learn a lot about the process and meet the people who can help you or do you a favor or give you an opportunity. A showrunner might make his assistant a staff writer because he likes the person and knows the assistant is a talented writer - but I don't think only being a good assistant will make you a staff writer. It's similar at studios, networks, etc: it's kind of a weird, counter-intuitive rule, but generally nobody gets promoted for being a good assistant - they get promoted for proving they can do a good job at a higher position. This means going beyond the assistant duties of answering phones and scheduling - it's finding new material, discovering new talent, reading everything, giving good notes, writing a great spec, etc., depending on the particular job. (Now, I'm not saying you can be a crappy assistant - that will get you nowhere!)