Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Why I (aspire to) write for television

There's a little meme going round the blogosphere, and Josh and Michael tagged me. So now I have to answer the question of why I want to write for TV, or I get seven years of bad sex or something.

I got into TV writing by default. Sounds strange, but it's a little true. I talked before about how I got a silly all-inclusive scholarship to college (how I miss those catered meetings of fruit kabobs and chicken fingers and idealism). The catch of this scholarship was that I could only be one of four majors: Journalism, Television/Radio, Integrated Marketing Communications or Organizational Communications, Learning & Design (J, TV/R, IMC or OCLD, for short - we lived in acronyms). And I think the latter two have been merged or renamed or something, perhaps to CMD, which is similarly obtuse. The school has a Cinema/Photography department, but at the time you couldn't pick that major if you had the scholarship. Anyway, I began as a Journalism major, since that's why I did in high school: ran my school's news magazine. I was also in charge of the entertainment section, in which I told everyone to listen to the bands I liked, watch the movies I liked, etc. We didn't have a tv station or radio station, so I didn't have any experience with or exposure to those. I also wrote for our city's paper, The Buffalo News. Seriously, LexisNexis me. So I picked Journalism, only to discover that the journalism kids and classes at IC were really politically focused, and I was more interested in entertainment and human interest stories. And in general, I didn't like that it was all about facts, about fitting a story in 400 words. I wanted scenes, people, details. I loved the literary journalism we read in books like
The Art of Fact: A Historical Anthology of Literary Journalism, but we didn't focus on that kind of stuff. Sometimes I would write shells of stories before I would interview people, and already decide what I wanted them to say. Then I would do the interview, and get them to say it. I realized that maybe I should be writing dialogue instead. Even my prose pieces were very dialogue-heavy. So eventually I changed my major - and I had three choices: TV/R, IMC and OCLD. Definitely didn't want to market stuff, or organize/communicate/design stuff. So that left me with TV/R. And within that, I could be video production, audio production, scriptwriting, international somethingorother that nobody did, or I could invent a new concetration if I proved it was different enough from all the others. Hmm. I guess scriptwriting.

So I got into TV writing by default.

Maybe that will piss people off, that I didn't spend my terrible twos sitting and drooling in front of The Cosby Show, dreaming the satin bunny puppet I called "Bobby" was actually a network executive listening to my genius pitch. But I always knew I would write. When I was a kid, I wanted to write picture books. When I was a tween, it was chapter books. Later it was novels. Then newspaper articles. Then plays. Then TV. I've always loved stories.

The parents of a friend of mine wanted him to be a lawyer...but in college, after he'd finished his work and went out and such, he found himself watching movies every day, one after another, often until the middle of the night. And eventually it dawned on him that maybe he should be making movies for a living. Now he's a studio executive, one that my boss proudly claims is "going places." You have to follow your passions. I think I always have been, even when I didn't quite realize it. When I think back to high school, I remember that it took me hours and hours to finish my homework...and not because I was a crappy student, but because I had to do it while watching Dawson's Creek, Smallville, Felicity, Once and Again, ER...and I can tell you I was paying a lot less attention to quadratic equations than I was to that amazing scene where Shane West was crying in the bus station.

I also may or may not have been OBSESSED with the FoxFamily drama HIGHER GROUND, about teens (ahem...Hayden Christensen) tackling their troubles on a mountain. Like, I cried, wrote fan fiction, signed petitions, had all the episodes on VHS tapes and nearly murdered my father when he taped horse races over them.

A few years later, I think my love of TV manifests itself in what I call Hangover Discs. When you wake up that Saturday with the ache of regret, and well, just ache, what do you do? Usually I eat a bunch of stuff, hoping I won't feel hungover. Then I feel hungover, and full. So I turn on the TV and curl up with Seth Cohen or Veronica Mars. They're my Hangover Discs, the characters I will always find comfort in, the shows I can watch over and over.

I want to be a TV writer because there's nothing else I want to do. And so you have something to watch after you overdose on Jager bombs.

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Josh said...

Wait, there was no radio station at your college...

And lay blame for the meme where it's due: BooM will pay for what she has wrought.

On second thought, maybe not.

est1979 said...

Its funny, I find this post really comforting in some odd way because it reminds me that I’ve never met anyone who knew they wanted to write TV or Film until they realized they loved all of the little things about it that make them feel good when it’s good. Seth Cohen, Veronica Mars, Common touchstones; it's what I love about writing, the discovery of the things that make us all the same.

Anonymous said...

Nice post. Reading about your doing homework while watching TV reminds me so much of myself. I did that all the time. In fact, I think I spent an inordinate amount of my nights as a child parked in front of the TV.

Yet, I still found time to read. Go figure.

Susan said...


I think you and I must have crossed paths at least once with our Higher Ground obsessions -- I'll admit I did the fan fiction, have the tapes, and sang its praises, only to be met with many a blank stare.

On another note: your journey has been a fascinating one. Thanks for sharing and best of luck as you continue on.

Laura said...

"I want to be a TV writer because there's nothing else I want to do."

Oh how true that is. I fell into television accidentally as well--I was half-way through a BA in Playwriting when I realized that I really don't like theater enough to claw my way into the industry. Television, however...

Aimee said...

I just stumbled onto your blog. I majored in journalism because I figured if I majored in English I'd just end up having to teach it, which I didn't want to do. So now I have finally realized I don't want to be a journalist, I want to be an essayist; a WRITER. Anyway, nice post.