Sarah emailed me to point out that there have been some potentially upsetting changes to the "eligibility" section on the application:
The Disney | ABC Writing Program is not a training program. We are looking for writers who demonstrate the potential to be staffed on network and cable television outlets. Prior professional work experience in the entertainment industry is recommended. Post college experience preferred. Although one completed script is required for consideration, the ideal candidates should have a body of work consisting of no less than two spec scripts and at least one original sample.
This professional writing program is open to all individuals who are at least eighteen (18) years of age and who possess evidence of identity and United States employment eligibility for the duration of the program. Writers with Writers Guild of America (WGA/west or WGA/east) credits are also eligible for this Program.
If candidate advances to final stages of interview process, the review of additional scripts and referrals from working entertainment industry professionals will be required.What? You need three scripts, professional experience and industry referrals? And WGA members can apply?
Don't freak out. Honestly, I don't think the program is working any differently than it has in the past, or that they're accepting different kinds of people than they have in the past few years. They've just put it in writing. The program was never known to accept 22 year-olds fresh out of film school who have only written one script. Why? This is a serious program. Afterward, the program will send you out on meetings with showrunners and try to get you staffed on a show. They want people who have done their homework and understand how TV works. People they won't be embarrassed by. People who are ready to work on a writing staff. Are you ready for that? Many of us aren't - at least not yet.
By "experience," I don't think they mean only professional writing - it could be a PA job. At one of the ABC Fellowship info sessions last year, Frank Gonzalez said that assistants on shows are ideal candidates because they understand how TV shows operate. The program had selected people with no industry experience in the past and found it difficult to prepare these people for professional meetings. I know it's not the easiest thing in the world to get a job right now, but I can see why they would do this. They don't want to send out someone who isn't ready and have that person fail. It looks bad for the program, and it could damage the relationships between the program and showrunners.
I admit that the experience and "industry referrals" requirements are a bit perturbing to me, at least in terms of this being a diversity program. If the aim of the program is to seek out diverse voices, it seems strange that they would be afraid to reach outside of people who already have connections in Hollywood. This is one of the reasons I'm so passionate about WriteGirl. We're getting at girls early, teaching diverse teens who never knew they had stories to tell that they DO, and that we want to hear their voices. As a kid, my parents and teachers were extremely supportive - but not everyone is that lucky. Not everyone grows up thinking, sure, I can be a TV writer - and that might be one of the reasons why we need more diversity in writers' rooms.
That being said, you could argue that anyone serious about TV writing (and anyone with enough determination to succeed in such a competitive field) needs to seek out their own industry connections. Isn't that what I've been saying on this blog for years? I made my own connections. Move to LA. Get a job. Find some alumni from your school. Go to networking events. Meet some people. I didn't have any connections when I started out here...I applied for an internship on the internet, and that's the position that ultimately led me to my agency job, my manager and the producer/director I'm working with.