Self Expression Magazine

How Many Writers Does It Take to Write a TV Series?

By Myfilmproject09

How many writers does it take to write a TV series?
For those of you who might not know, I did 6 TV series, mostly in Canada including Highlander, which had a great following. I only wrote two episodes but pretty good ones. One of them you can catch on youtube.
However I was a story editor on three series and thought I'd give you a little bit of what series work is like. I worked for three Canadian series, although Highlander was a co-production for U.S., Canada and France. 
By the way, I worked on Highlander, the tv show, not the movie with Sean Connery.
The other five series were Lightening Force, Mom P.I., Destiny Ridge (I have a big story on that one)  and a story for MacGyver in the 80's (soon to return in a new format). 
I also worked on two animated action series and don't really remember. 
If you're wondering why I'm throwing around my credits, a bunch of my friends and I sat around one day talking about series work. It all began with Lost.
We were a mixed group of four and one of the directors mentioned that he was watching Me-TV, that channel that shows 60's and 70's series like Gunsmoke, Chips and others. 
His take was that it seemed that there was only one lead writer, the "story editor" and then a whole collection of writers who would turn in a script and the story editor, a writer also, would fix up anything he thought needed fixing up.
Then we talked about Lost which I think nobody knows how many writers there were, at least a hundred. And for the most part, they were on salary for a few years then replaced by "fresh" new writers.
Our thing was- why do they need so many writers?
Two writers wrote all the shows for I Love Lucy in the 50's. And they had 39 episodes each year. Two writers.
So, does having a hundred writers mean that the shows are better?
Of course not.
My best series was Mom P.I. and we had three writers, the show runner who created the show and me and a learning writer. We had 24 episodes for the year. Each of us had two episodes that we would write and then hand off the rest to independent writers.
My job as writer/story editor/senior story editor on all the scripts handed in and then I'd hand it over to the show runner and we'd usually make a few changes. That's it.
The theme of the story was a woman and two kids who worked in a cafe and she would help a private detective now and then. A family show actually but it also had some odd things happening to the family.
For example, one of my scripts had a guy who dropped dead in the cafe. Nobody knew much about him so the story began with them looking for someone who might be a friend.
I know what you're saying, Jim, but you just had a tiny show as compared to Lost.
The two writers on I Love Lucy wrote all the scripts from 1951 to 1961. 10 years!
Sure, Jim, but Lost was much bigger and more complicated?
Gunsmoke ran 20 years with one or two story editors and again, handing out writing jobs to freelance writers. If you think about it, it would be a lot cheaper than having anywhere from 10 to 20 writers arguing in a small room.
But let's leave it here for now. And let's see if having 20 writers with producer credits makes for better shows?
How many writers does it take to write a TV series?

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