GREG GARCIA Showrunner, writer, director and creator of hit shows My Name is Earl, Raising Hope, The Millers, and the new comedy series Sprung on Amazon Freevee. Here, he answers two different reader’s questions about how to make it to top dog on a hit series.
I want to be a writer on television, but I have no idea how to break in. I was told showrunners hate it when people write episodes of their shows as spec scripts. How would someone go about getting a gig in a writer’s room and what is the best way to show writing samples?
The first thing you need to do, obviously, is write a script, because that’s going to be your resume. Now, it used to be when I was coming up, you would write a spec script of a show that was on TV and you’d write an episode of that show knowing they’d never do it. It’s just your sample and showing how you can write. And yes, showrunners don’t necessarily like to read episodes of their own show because they’re going to be too critical. You don’t want a showrunner from (in my early days) Everybody Loves Raymond to read your Everybody Loves Raymond spec. You want them to read your take on Modern Family or something that they’re less familiar with.
These days, people write a lot of spec pilots. That seems to be a growing trend. But I am in the minority where I like to read spec scripts. I hired somebody for Sprung off an Atlanta spec script, because I want to know that these writers can come into my show and make it sound like my show. If you’re writing your take of Atlanta and I’m like, “Oh my gosh, Donald Glover’s character sounds just like this.” Then I know you can come to my show and do the same. Whereas if you write a pilot, it could be a good story, it could be funny, but I don’t know if you can necessarily transition to writing my characters.
Once you write a script, you have to get it in front of people and there’s different ways to do that. You can cold send it to agents and hope that somebody reads it and likes it. You can try to get a job as a production assistant and be around the writers. That’s what I did. And then hand them your script and hopefully they’ll like it and maybe give it to an agent. I always say you want to try to be around the people who you want to be, and hopefully they’ll help you get there if they see a little talent in your writing.
What’s the difference between a television producer, a showrunner, and a show creator? Or are they all the same thing?
In many cases, they’re the same thing. In my case, it’s the same thing. I create the show, I produce the show, and I actually direct the show too, and I’m the showrunner. Usually, in television, the person that creates the show is the showrunner. They’re just the highest level of writer on the show, and they’re also in charge of running everything: Casting, editing, they’re hiring the director, they’re on set. As a showrunner, you are in charge of every possible thing there is.
Now, there are some instances where somebody will create a show and they are younger or less experienced, and then a showrunner will be brought in to be above that person. Say, you’ve written for a couple of years on a show, you sell a new show, you get it on the air, but the network or whoever is like, “You haven’t really run a show yet.” So, then they’ll bring in a seasoned showrunner to work alongside you. That person will kind of be running things.
There is a big difference between writing and show running. It’s two different skills. And some people can do both. And some people decide that they’re a better writer than showrunner, because you go from just the creative aspect of writing to running a small business and making sure the trains are moving on time and worrying about the budget and managing departments and department heads and people, and there’s conflicts, and you need to get in the middle of that and make peace. And a lot of writers are like, you know what, I like just writing the script in my office and I don’t need all that hassle. But other people step up and really enjoy the job.
The showrunner job is very stressful, but the benefit is you do get to have the freedom to do things the way you want. As a writer, to get to the point where you can get what’s in your head onto the screen without a lot of interference, that’s a pretty cool thing.
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