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Starrleena Magyck

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Writing for Daytime Television
By Starrleena Magyck   
Rated "G" by the Author.
Last edited: Monday, February 22, 2010
Posted: Monday, February 22, 2010

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An essay on how to break into writing for daytime television.


                    VALERIE L. HARVEY

                       ENGLISH 122

                      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,, 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

the dead".

    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

prompts" (Wiggins).

    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.

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