The average American household watches 7.25 hours of television every day. But you are anything but average - you watch 12 hours every day! Just look at all of the important things you know:

  • You know who shot J.R.
  • You know who killed Laura Palmer.
  • You remember how Lucy told Ricky that they were going to have a baby.
  • You can recite Susan's "snake-and-rat" speech from the Survivor finale verbatim.
  • You remember exactly where you were when Susan Lucci finally won her Emmy… and you wept.

We know - you're not like other aspiring TV wannabes. This really is your destiny. You cherish every close-up of a tear falling, every dramatic pause, every laugh track. You're the kid who started making home movies at the age of five; you were handed the video camera at family events and were director, producer, and star. You know that you were meant for TV!

Yeah, you and thousands of others. We hate to be the ones to break it to you, but you're a dime a dozen. There are thousands of college students, college graduates, and even those with post-graduate degrees lining up each year for the opportunity to land some kind of job on a TV show. The competition is fierce, but don't fret - we can help you get your start. Almost all TV producers, writers, directors, and executives start out in the illustrious entry-level position of Production Assistant (or "P.A." to those in-the-know). Here's how to open that first door.


Day-to-day tasks

You know that a P.A. gig is your best chance to get into the television biz, but do you really know what the job entails? We're not going to beat around the bush: a P.A. is a glorified schlepper. The work is crappy! But think of it this way: This is your hazing ritual into the Fraternity or Sorority House of TV. Once you're in, you're in. You'll make connections, move up the ladder, and when the show gets cancelled after 4 weeks, you might have met someone who can help you into a better position on their next crappy show.

The following are some of the exciting tasks you may be asked to do. (Note that all of these are based on true "Hollywood" stories):

  • Peeling carrots… on location… at the back of a rental truck… in a rainstorm.
  • Leaving the set every two hours to insert quarters in the meter where the director's car is parked.
  • Purchasing $200 of extra chunky mashed potatoes and then covering an actor's costume in the goop.
  • Endless hours of chopping fruits and veggies for the snack table.
  • Packing boxes for four days straight, moving the boxes out, bringing in new boxes, unpacking new boxes.
  • Driving around the city picking up props and delivering packages.
  • Bringing straws to talent who cannot drink their water and mess up their lipstick.
  • Defrosting frozen meat with a hair dryer for a show segment.
  • Cleaning up "the mess" horses leave behind on an animal program.
  • Dubbing tapes.
  • Delivering tapes.
  • Picking up tapes.
  • Dubbing new tapes.
  • Watching dubbed tapes for hours to make sure that there aren't any technical glitches.
  • Sitting around and doing absolutely nothing until someone screams at you.

We know what you're thinking. "Whoaaa there, Charlie, I didn't go to college and pay thousands of dollars getting a degree/post-graduate degree to peel fruit all day!" Well, you're right and you're wrong. The day-to-day tasks are downright mundane, boring, and ARE probably beneath you. But on the other hand, you have little-to-no production experience. Your film degree is worthless. In fact, some individuals will confess that they prefer hiring P.A.s without film degrees because they come in knowing that they know nothing instead of believing they know everything.

And with this great news, here's another word of warning: Millions of dollars are spent on TV productions, and there are people whose heads are on the line. One mistake could throw the entire production off track, off schedule, and - undoubtedly - off budget. Word of a newbie P.A. screwing up and costing the production time and money will spread like wildfire, your name will be impugned, and you will never work in this town again. So please acknowledge that you are being set up to fail. Things go wrong on the set daily. Mostly, those things will be the P.A.s' responsibility. It might not even be your fault, but you're at the bottom of the food chain, so you'll get blamed. So grow a thick skin and get ready to take blame graciously.

We're not trying to be negative; it's just that most people expect to be sitting next to the director, offering tips on how to make Friends even funnier, only to be devastated when they end up watching the second assistant director's car for 5 hours to make sure it doesn't get towed. And while most of the work is annoying, it's also an INCREDIBLE opportunity for you to learn how a TV show gets made. That's why so many people start out this way-when you're a PA, you'll learn about the whole process, from beginning to end. And if you're good, you might get to do the really cool things like sitting in on production meetings and observing the director or editor working.


Based on the types of tasks you will need to do, you can bet you won't be making the big bucks in this position. A generous average for New York City is around $150 dollars a day or about $500 a week. It could be less, rarely much more. The work is not steady (who knows when a show could get cancelled?), there is no guaranteed income, no 401(k), no health benefits. You could go a month or two (or three) without work. Many P.A.s end up living at home, living with many roommates, or living in not-so-desirable locations. The lucky ones have their lives subsidized by their parents or spouses, but not all of us are so indulged. At the end of the day, you could have a more steady income and lifestyle pumping gas or waiting tables than you will as a P.A.

Still want to be a P.A.? If so, then you're the exact kind of determined individual most productions are looking for! So read on.


Newsflash: The TV business is located predominantly in Los Angeles and New York. If you ask folks in "the biz" (or the employed ones, at least), they'll ALL try to convince you that to be a player, you HAVE to move to L.A. first, and if that's not possible, then to New York. We tend to agree. But as we mentioned earlier, chances are your salary will barely cover your cost of living in these two wallet-draining cities. If money is not an object, though, start packing now. (And give us some of that trust fund coin while you're at it.)

If you're too short on cash to make the trek right now, take heart: Most towns and smaller cities have at least one or two local networks. You can also often find small production companies, PBS stations, commercial/advertising production companies, and even industry support facilities (post-production or special effects houses) where you can get your start. In other words, just because you don't live in L.A. or N.Y.C. doesn't mean you won't be able to find P.A. work; it just means that you will have fewer opportunities.

The opportunities you do find, though, might not be as shabby as you'd think. Many people underestimate the power of a small-town gig. Large media companies often have strict hierarchies that are clearly divided by function, making it difficult for an office P.A. to learn anything about what is going on on-set. A P.A. at a smaller company, however, may be given the opportunity to work closely with a director, editor, or producer in the matter of one week. Granted, you might be working on a public access show about dog grooming - in Kansas - but at least the director will know your name.


The easiest way to land your first P.A. job is by getting the people who do the hiring to know you. There are two main routes you can use:

Consider getting an internship
Network, network, network

Consider getting an internship

Many TV interns are able to parlay their experiences into paying jobs. Why? Production managers and coordinators, producers, and directors often maintain loyalties to the folks that they have worked closely with in the past. In other words, if you build good will with your supervisors, they just may remember you the next time they're gearing up for production.

Clearly there is one obvious drawback to interning - working for free. You might not even get transportation fare or a lunch allowance! (But hey, at least you can sneak carrot sticks while you're peeling them for the "talent.") In exchange for your hard labor, you'll probably get college credit, which means essentially that you're paying them to work. Because the law frowns upon people working with no remuneration - and believe us, interning is work - many larger media companies have special internship programs where you must prove that you are receiving college credit. Some companies will allow you to intern for free even if you're not getting college credit, but these companies are exceedingly rare (and potentially shady).

As an intern, you'll probably feel as if you're being taken advantage of. You're right! But keep in mind that there's a big difference between "taking advantage" and "really taking advantage." If you find yourself picking up dry cleaning, walking your boss' dog, or babysitting any kids on a regular basis, you are being taken for a ride. Especially if you're asked to do all these things in a g-string.

But we digress: you still need to know how to find an internship in the first place.

  • If you're looking for a showy, flashy, "big city" internship, your best bet is to visit the network sites directly and search for info on their internship programs. While we can't do all the work for you (lazy ingrate), we've gathered a few links to get you started:

    NBC internships

    Time Warner / HBO internships

    ABC/Disney internships
  • If you're looking for a small-town gig (like the aforementioned public access show on dog grooming), check out Here you can search for internships by location, as well as get the insider scoop on companies by reading profiles of "real" interns who've been through the schlepping. Another way to go is to dial up your local television station and ask them about internship opportunities.

Network, network, network

If you haven't interned (or if you have and weren't offered a paying job), you are going to need to find someone who will offer you that coveted first P.A. position. As we said earlier, there are tons of people lined up for these jobs, so you will need to network like crazy. This could take weeks. In fact, you may spend months working your tail off trying to land a P.A. job. And, without fail, the first P.A. you meet is going to tell you that his or her mother/father/aunt/uncle/cousin is a friend/relative/business associate/neighbor/significant other of the producer/director/production manager/receptionist, and his or her mother/father/aunt/uncle/cousin called the producer/director/production manager/receptionist who got him or her a job in one day. Get the point? This is a business wrought with nepotism, and connections are everything. Don't panic though. Here's how to play the game:

  • Take stock of who you know through your immediate family, your family's circle of friends and your own circle of friends. If that doesn't lead you to anyone, begin talking to your friends' families, your neighbors, and your doctors/lawyers/shopkeepers down the street. If you studied communications or TV/film studies at college, try to get back in touch with your professors.

  • If you don't know anyone at all, it's OK - you're not out of the game yet. Make a list of all the production companies you can find in your local yellow pages and online. Go to your local library and find copies of Hollywood Reporter, The Ross Reports and Variety. These magazines should list which shows are in production, and where.

  • In this field, you need to make a face-to-face contact. You can send in random resumes or contact Human Resources Departments, but you won't get too far. One way to get "in" is to request informational meetings with individuals who do the hiring, or influence the hiring. Go armed with research about the person you're meeting and the company itself. Look well groomed. P.A.s wear jeans to work, but for this meeting, you must be stylin'. Ask questions about the people themselves and the company. In the end of the meeting, the person might ask you for your resume, so have it with you! If they don't ask, don't offer. The person you meet with may also suggest some other people to contact - if they don't, ask for suggestions yourself.

  • Follow up by writing a note (to whomever you met with) thanking them for their time. Hopefully, if you have enough informational meetings, someone will think of you the next time they are gearing up for production.


Congrats! You've landed your first P.A. position and you're on the set. Look around, watch and learn. This is your shot at getting into the business of television and your attitude is everything. Your life will belong to production and crazy production schedules. Say goodbye to your friends, significant others, and family members because you may not see them for a while. You see, a good P.A. always says "YES."

An example:

It's 6:45 p.m. and production has just wrapped. Your supervisor asks you to make a set of tape dubs. You need to leave at 6:50 to catch your train home. What do you say? "Sure, no problem." Now, you've missed train number one. Train number two leaves at 7:30. It is 7:15, the director asks you to make 15 copies of a script and collate them all. Your answer? "I'd love to, absolutely, you got it, I'm on it, my pleasure."

You may not get home tonight until 1:00 a.m.

Certainly, your supervisors understand you have a life. And insisting you need to leave once or twice for personal reasons is acceptable. But a person who leaves more than a few times is definitely frowned upon. Rolling your eyes, sighing, or making flippant, cocky retorts means you're toast. Supervisors rehire those who say "YES" all the time. They rehire the people who stay late, who don't complain, and will clearly do anything to make it into this club. Remember that very time you say "no," someone right behind you will say "YES."

Another example:

You have been working with a director on the set. You are now just visiting his office for the first time. He has asked four P.A.s to go out and buy him his favorite oatmeal bread because it is not available immediately when he wants it. He screams when he can't find his papers and blames it on everyone around him. Pointing at you he bellows, "You there, I don't know your name. My script notes are gone and I need them NOW! And, where the hell is that damn oatmeal bread?"

Your response? "I'm on it. I will relocate your notes and track down that bread. Is there anything else I can do for you?"

If you do not know where the notes or bread are, find out who to ask and where to begin looking. Figure it out fast! And remember, smile. You're as happy as a clam to help in any way.


Once you're nestled into your new position, notice just how many people it takes to make this production work. This is your chance to figure out where you fit in! Are you the type of person who likes being on set or do you prefer being behind the scenes in the office? Do you want to learn how to edit or are you a lighting kinda guy (or gal)? Do you think you'll ultimately be someone in a coordination role or someone with a distinct specialty, like camera person? Think hard about your personality and what kind of work will really make you happy in the long run. The second and third P.A. positions you take will help you forge a path in the direction of your desired career. Here are some additional P.A. roles to think about:

  • Office P.A. This P.A. works in the production office. The types of jobs that can stem from here are coordinator and subsequent manager-type positions-production, logistics, or administrative.

  • Department Assistant (D.A.). Some large production companies, like MTV Networks, have positions in other related departments. You may be a department assistant in marketing, publicity, or development. If the set isn't for you, this is a great entry-level job.

  • Assistant to the "_______". In the TV world, this is simply a glorified name for secretary/personal assistant. Like P.A. work, the hours can be grueling and the tasks mundane. But you are the right-hand person to a highly important individual and will learn a lot about the business itself and the power players involved. One drawback is that great assistants are hard to come by, and many bosses do not want to let their assistants grow into new roles. Another problem with is that the people in power in this glamorous TV business are often downright insane and may drive you mad. Many, many, many tears have been shed by assistants. That said, these positions can lead to Associate Producer roles, Creative Affairs or Development roles, Distribution roles, and many more.

See a trend here? Most P.A. positions lead to future jobs that are decidedly behind-the-scenes. There are two basic categories of employees in the television business: Talent and Facilitators of talent. A P.A. role will guide you toward the latter. If you believe yourself to be the next great television writer, for example, a P.A. job is probably not a perfect route for you. (We do suggest, however, that you read our wonderfully-crafted article entitled "SYW be a sitcom writer?".) Doing some P.A. work to understand the system and to build a network of contacts is a great idea, but in the end, your P.A. work will not land you a writing gig. (Unless you assault the people you meet with a fistful of writing samples. Couldn't hurt.)

So get out there, network, and nab the P.A. job of your dreams. By the way, we like our iced tea slightly chilled…NOT TOO COLD!… with just a twist of lemon.