Writing for Daytime Television
edited: Monday, February 22, 2010
By Starrleena Magyck
Rated "G" by the Author.
Posted: Monday, February 22, 2010
Become a Fan
An essay on how to break into writing for daytime television.
WRITING FOR DAYTIME TELEVISION
VALERIE L. HARVEY
JULY 6, 2009
PROF. CHRISTINE HILGER
Viewers have been watching daytime television for many years.
The audience has gone from women who stayed at home to including men
and sometimes even young adults. Writing for these such shows will
show the history of daytime television, how producers and writers
obtain their stories, and how to get into writing for daytime
When daytime television first started, the target audience was
the housewife who stayed at home taking care of the children and
keeping a clean house while the father was out in the workforce making
a living to support the family. The typical housewife watched these
stories (as many viewers refer to them) while doing their daily chores.
While the husband was out earning a living, networking with the
public, the housewife only had the characters on the television to
relate to. She didn't get out much, except to do the weekly or monthly
grocery shopping or take the children to doctor appointments.
Now days, the world of daytime television has changed. No longer
is the target audience geared toward the housewife in the home. She,
too, is now in the workforce, earning a living. Now daytime
television not only has daytime
serials, but it also has talk shows, children shows, and game shows to
compete with. There are more avenues in place to watch daytime
First, there was the VCR to record shows. Now, in age of digital
programming, there is the DVR, or digital video recorder. One can
simply set the DVR to record a selected show or shows. Another option
is now the cable channel, SoapNet, which airs selected daytime serials
later on during the day for the viewer who cannot miss their shows.
There is another option for those who like to surf the world wide web.
One can now view daytime television, or other shows, on the internet.
So, in the age of modern technology, the viewer has more options to
view their shows without missing a single episode.
There are many reasons to write for daytime television. Kate
McCardell credits Jane Atkins, a writer of such soap operas like "Days
of Our Live" and "Santa Barbara", with saying this, "It was over-the-
top stories she heard growing up in the south, that inspired her to
write, which eventually led to a career writing for soap operas"
(McCardell). One can pull stories from anywhere, like the news or
family stories like Atkins did, or from real-life stuff.
McCardell also relates that "other writers pull their ideas from
old television that they grew up watching while Atkins inner library
was made up of tales told by her story-telling relatives" (McCardell).
This seems to be where most writers get their ideas. Take a look at
all the remakes that are coming out from old television shows like,
"The Land of the Lost", "The Brady Bunch", "The Partridge Family", "The
House on Haunted Hill", etc.
Even though soap operas have been around for quite some time,as
Chuck Barney states,they will never die out. "Soaps have
bee around before TV even began, and they'll continue to be around.
There are so many talk shows and game shows you can watch" (Barney).
Take a look at the soap opera "Passions" and what Michael Logan, TV
Guide, says, according to Barney, "Still Logan sees signs of hope. In
the case of "Passions", he's encouraged that the show was saved rather
than killed. He also sees the emergence of the cable channel Soapnet
as a positive development" (Barney).
The fans also have a big influence on whether or not a soap opera
will make it. "For evidence of undying passion, Kathy Carano,
http://www.pinevalleybulletin.com, looks to super soap weekend, an
annual event in Orlando, Florida, where fans flock to meet their
favorite stars of ABC daytime shows" (Barney). Fans can meet their
favorite stars of daytime television and even get a meeting or signed
There are other reasons for the stagnation of daytime television
like the fact that women--the target for such shows--who are no longer
in the home and in the workforce, either by choice or to have a career
(Barney). Another reason for this predicament that "Logan credits, or
blames, is the soapy nature of many prime-time serials, where viewers
can get their fix, like 'Ugly Betty', 'Grey's Anatomy', and 'Desperate
Housewives' (Barney). Still "others blame creative stagnation, for
example, from Livermore resident Kathy Harris, who has been watching
'The Young and the Restless' since the early '80s, says she is fed up
with 'preposterous' storylines now playing out on the show"
There is a way to solve this, however. "Maybe (replacement)
writers would see a character or a storyline in a different way, Pam
Powers says. Maybe it would be like bringing in a second-string
quarterback, who, in some cases, could do even better" (Barney).
Sometimes, another voice needs to be heard in order to strenghthen
the story. Writers get bogged down or run out of ideas, so maybe fresh
ideas from other writes would help bring tired storylines "back from
Learning to write for television, no matter if it is daytime or
primetime, is knowing how to say it. As Grant Wiggins says, "The point
of writing is to have something to say and to make a difference in
saying it" (Wiggins). "The task demands makes a further point about
authentic writing: Say it concisely, have a great empathy for your
client/audience, and pay close attention to context" (Wiggins). "In
other words, get serious, really serious about Audience and Purpose"
(Wiggins). "That's what 'authentic assessement' in the teaching of
writing amounts to: Ensure that students have to write for real
audiences and purposes, not just the teacher in response to generic
Here is a list of Authenticity in Assessment Demands. "1.
Engaging and worthy tasks of importance, in which students must use
knowledge effectively and creatively to achieve a result. The tasks
are either real-world or replicas and analoguous to the kind of tasks
faced by professionsin the field of adult citizens and/or consumers"
(Wiggins). "2. Faithful representation of the contexts facing workers
in a field of study, or the real-life 'tests' of adult life. The
options, constraints, and access to resources are appropriate, not
arbitrary. In particular, excessive secrecy and unrealistic limits on
resources, methods, and time are minimized by the student that has
appropriate opportunity to clarify the task, plan, rethink, consult,
rehearse, and revise" (Wiggins). "3. Nonroutine and multistage
tasks, real problems, recall or 'plugging in' is insufficient. The
challenge requires thoughtful and methodical use of a repertoire of
knowledge and skill, understanding and good judgment" (Wiggins). "4.
Tasks that require the student to produce a quality product and/or
performance, for a real or realistic audience and purpose, the criteria
should thus relate to achieving the appropriate effects--the 'doing' of
English or math well" (Wiggins). "5. Transparent or demystified
criteria and standards, any realistic test presumes self-assessment are
thus fully knowable in advance. Questions and tasks may be discussed,
clarified, and even appropriately modified through discussions with or
formulative feedback from ones 'audience' " (Wiggins).
According to Wiggins, "real writers are trying to make a
difference, and find their true audience, and cause some result in that
readership" (Wiggins). He also says that "the point is to open the
mind or heart of a real audience--cause a fuss, achieve a feeling,
startsome thinking". He makes another point "as he makes an informal
study among friends: In the last year, what writing did you do? What
writing did you have to do?" (Wiggins). Here are some of his answers
that he derived: "1. A marketing plan and justification for a new
pharmaceutical product. 2. A memeo on the health plan so employees
can make informed decisions. 3. Write-ups of medical case history to
assist specialist doctors and the family in judging treatment options.
4. An employee manual to ensure everyone knows their rights and
responsibilities. 5. A eulogy for a mother's funeral. 6. Blog
entries on the political campaign. 7. A letter to a credit card
company, with documentation, on why a charge to an account was
inaccurate. 8. A proposed scope of work for a district professional
development plan, to be voted on by the school board. 9. A software
user's manual. 10. Legal briefs for pending trials. 11. A request
to a college for a reconsideration of a financial aid award amount.
12. A proposal to a state education agency to fund a statewide
project" (Wiggins). Wiggins says that "You cannot succeed as a writer
without empathy. Leaving aside a journal or diary, you are rarely--
never?--writing for yourself" (Wiggins).
Diane Shader Smith has a way for freelancers to break into
writing for daytime television. As she says, "most are usually hired
to do a specific number of scripts. If the producers like what they
see, the writer may get a contract" (Smith). She says it is possible
for a writer to be hired through contract with a headwriter, executive
producer, director, or network executive, but most go the traditional
route and get an agent (Smith). According to Smith, "in order to
determine which agents specialize in daytime, watch the credits of a
soap, learn the names of the writers, and call the writers Guild to
find out who represents those writers" (Smith).
" 'She says the guild will always provide the name of a writer's
agent', says Cheryl Rhoden, director of public affairs for the Writers
Guild of America West' " (Smith). "Rhoden also suggests writing a
letter of inquiry to an agent stating the type of material a writer
wants to submit and give a brief biographical background (be sure to
include a self-addressed, stamped envelope)' " (Smith). "Once you find
an agent who likes your what you've written, you can rely on him to get
your work into the hands of the proper people at the studios" (Smith).
"If all goes well, one of the networks will commission a trial script
or breakdown, referred to by industry insiders as a sample. (A script,
in this instance, is the dialogue in the form of a 35-to-40 page
shooting script. A breakdown is a story outline for a single show
shown in narrative form, and runs about 10-12 pages.)" (Smith).
" 'The sample is everything,' says Agnes Nixon, creator of of
'All My Children,' 'One Life to Live,' and 'Loving'. 'Being a great
writer is no guarantee that someone can do the job, she says.' 'You
have to see if a writer can write for preconceived characters' "
(Smith). Some can expect to get an assignment, typically for two to
six shows. Although most writers start in soaps by writing dialogues,
some writers start with outlines. Rarely does a writer come in at the
top, as headwriter, without years of training as a staffwriter. A
headwriter must have a combination of skills (Smith).
"The headwriter (or headwriters) is usually responsible for the
long term projection and the week-by-week main thrust.)" (Smith).
"Outline writers have to be creative storytellers who understand the
characters who have been created, Dobbins says. They must be
structuralists, she adds" (Smith). "Outline writers have to take the
story and break it down into the five days in a week, whereas,
scriptwriters must be good dialogists who can hear the voices and must
be creative enough to enhance the outline" (Smith). "Freelancers are
typically hired to be dialogue writers. Most are assigned a 35-to-40
page script each week, which they write at home, with little or no
contact from anyone at the studio other than the headwriter" (Smith).
" 'All My Children' scriptwriter Michelle Patrick emphasizes that
soap writers must enjoy solitude. The energy of dressing up, putting
on pumps, pearls and makeup, and schmoozing at the office is opposite
to the energy of sitting down, really focusing, really hearing the
characters speak" (Smith). "Tom Citrano, former associate headwriter
for 'General Hospital', says that the first things a soap writer needs
to learn are the basics" (Smith). " Study a show, the structure of a
day, he says. He insists that a writer should know how many acts a
show has, what each scene is about, and which story is the most
important out of numerous stories played in a day's show. This teaches
a writer how to give a plot weight" (Smith).
"Citrano also suggest paying attention to scene openings and
closings, to the tag-punch at the end of a show and to what humor works
and what doesn't" (Smith). "He also says a good way to practice
writing dialogue is to watch a show for a while and then, some weekend,
write your own outline for the first show that will take place the
following week" (Smith). "See where the Friday show ended, and take it
one step further by writing a 12-to-20 page breakdown for a Monday
show" (Smith). "Then write the scenes and compare them to what
actually happened" (Smith).
"Soap agent Marie Stroud cautions that those wanting to write for
this medium know the format for a one-hour show like the back of their
hands" (Smith). "Each episode contains 18-24 scenes. The opening
segments, used to lure the audience, are called teasers, and are
shorter in length than any of the scenes that follow. All 60-minute
shows have teasers as well as six acts; each act includes two or three
scenes each labeled A, B, and C. Each drama is divided into three
stories, ranked according to their importance. The first, or main
story, is usually introduced in teaser C and continued in Act I, Scene
A. Cliffhangers are used to carry over the audience through commercial
breaks, and are added at the ends of the teasers in acts 3 and 6. In
addition, the front page of every script must include the following
information: The show's title, episode number, tape and air dates,
creator, producer, writers, directors, and complete cast, including
designated extras. Page two provides a list of all scenes and the sets
in which they play" (Smith).
There are perks involved in writing for this medium. "Perhaps
the most alluring part of writing for soaps is the pay. Although the
exact amount a writer earns is contingent on his experience and duties,
the Writers Guild of America has established minimums that all network
soap writers must receive" (Smith). "The minimum for a long-term story
projection when written by a writer other than the headwriter are as
follows: $9,546 for three months or less, $14,320 for three to six
months, and $19,092 for six to 12 months" (Smith). "For a 60-minute
show, the minimum fee for a script is $2,038; the minimum for a
breakdown is $1,017. The minimum for rewriting or polishing a script
or breakdown is 30% of the script or breakdown fee" (Smith).
"Writers of serials like the actors they write for, often have
contract guarantees that assure them of a predetermined amount of work
each week. Even if the writer isn't needed to do all the work
contracted for, he is still paid for it" (Smith). "Daytime TV
contracts also include cancellation clauses that protect writers.
Contracts run on 13-week cycles, and writers whose contract are
renewed must be notified four to six weeks before the contract's
termination" (Smith). "The Guild contract protects new and aspiring
writers, as well. If a sample script or outline is assigned, the Guild
scale calls for the writer to be paid 50% of the regular script or
breakdown minimum fee. If the script is produced and aired, the writer
must be paid the full minimum" (Smith). Most producers, agents, and
writers currently working in soaps stress that there's always room for
new talent" (Smith). "What you need is knowledge of the form, the
ability to write fast, and ear for dialogue, and a merciless sense of
suspense. This last element is key: If a writer can keep viewers
coming back, the networks will keep coming back to the writer"
Writing for daytime television can be an excellent area to write
for. The history, how writers obtain their stories, and the format
involved in writing for soap operas, as well as the perks for writing
for this medium make it an alluring way to break into daytime
Kate McCardell. (11 March). Soapswriter Was Inspired by Southern
Tradition. McClatchy-Tribune Business News.
Chuck Barney. (2 December). Will Soaps Slip Away With Their Writers?
McClatchy-Tribune Business News.
Smith, Diane Shader. (1995, January). The Lucrative World of Soap
Opera Writing. Writer's Digest, 75(1), 30.
Grant Wiggins. (2009). Real-World Writing: Making Purpose and
Audience Matter. English Journal, 98 (5), 29-37.