So the other day you were watching reruns of Three's Company, when it hit you: "This is so lame. Even I could write better stuff than this crap." Maybe you could get a job writing for a TV sitcom. How hard could it be to write for Friends? You have friends, you drink coffee, your mom thinks you're funny . . . why not get paid for it? And now that you think about it, being a TV sitcom writer is a pretty sweet way to make a living. You get to live in a big house in Hollywood, hang out on the set, hobnob with celebrities, and maybe shoot a few hoops with George Clooney between takes. Picture it now . . . "And the Emmy for best writer on a sitcom goes to: You!" But before you rent a tuxedo and write your acceptance speech, you better get the real scoop on what it's actually like to be a sitcom writer in new Millennial Hollywood.

P.S. - For those of you who are a tad slow, "sitcom" stands for "situation comedy" . . . you know, the shows on TV that clear up all of life's problems in 22 minutes.


Let us tell you this right at the start: it is incredibly difficult to become a sitcom writer. The market is extremely competitive, with thousands of people trying to break into the business. However, with some perseverance, luck, and good advice (such as the advice we give), you'll at least boost your chances of success.

First of all, there's no degree you can get that will increase your chances of being a sitcom writer. Anyone can do it if they have the talent . . . which is both good and bad. It's nice that sitcom writing tends to be based on talent, but it would also be nice if there were some training course that could guarantee your admittance into the big leagues. Sure, many are Ivy League graduates from Yale and Harvard (Conan O'Brien is one of 20+ Harvard graduates who has written for The Simpsons), but others are former stand-up comics, and others are people who just decided wanted to give it a try. You don't even have to be a funny person, just a funny writer.

So, you aspiring writer you, here are some facts about the industry you're thinking of joining:

  1. How much will I get paid?The Writer's Guild standard pay for a half-hour episode of network television is $17,076. Keep in mind that your agent gets 10%, and the government gets roughly another 20%. Pay varies for weekly staff writers (who don't necessarily write their own shows, but work on the shows that others wrote), but the minimum is around $1200 a week. Of course, it goes way up from there.

  2. Do I have to live in Hollywood? Chances are, yes, eventually. It just happens to be where most of the sitcom writing work is. Even if a show shoots out of New York, it's generally based and staffed in LA. Furthermore, there are tons of connections to be made in Hollywood that you just can't get anywhere else. This is where blind luck plays a part. You meet someone in the grocery store checkout line, talk a little bit, suddenly find out that he's a TV producer, and he'd like to see your work. He'll give you the right name to put on the envelope to make sure that the right people give it consideration. By no means will it guarantee you anything, but it's better than a poke in the eye. However, you should also keep in mind that if you're just starting out, you can start from anywhere. You don't have to be in Hollywood to tape a show, know it, get a script software program, and write a spec (that is, your "try-out" script). First get noticed, then worry about moving.

  3. Is it a stable job? OK, this is where confusion often enters the picture. If your script gets bought, you will get paid for that one script. It's just like freelancing. This almost never happens. Rather, your script will function as a sample of your capabilities, and if someone likes it, you'll be asked to join the writing staff of a show. That means that you become a full-time writer for the show, working on your own scripts and scripts that other people send in.

    But think about how many shows are on TV . . . many of them are on the air for only an episode or two, many never make it to the end of the season, and even more never get renewed for a second season. Furthermore, when a show isn't doing well, writers are often the ones that get blamed (and fired). So as you've probably figured out, IT IS INCREDIBLY UNSTABLE. Most sitcom writers live in a perpetual state of fear, never knowing when their show will be cancelled and if they'd be able to get another job afterward.

  4. What kind of writers get hired? Several reports have come out recently talking about the characteristics of sitcom writers. Most sitcom writers are white males between 21 and 35 years old. Because advertisers value young dollars, the TV industry is constantly on the lookout for young writers (to bring young eyeballs to the screen) to up the "edginess" factor. Women tend to have a tough time breaking into the business because of an idiotic Hollywood stereotype that "women aren't funny." While women should never be deterred from trying to become a sitcom writer (it's estimated that ¼ of TV writers are women), they should nonetheless be prepared to face an incredibly male-dominated (and often misogynistic) industry. Our advice: stay strong, and use the power of your ovaries.