Every Friday Ken Levine answers questions submitted by readers. Below is his explanation of the writers room schedule.
Ken, I’d love to see you plot out the time frame of a television season. When does the writing start? When do the actors show up? Do you get a kid in school sized Christmas break?
In very general terms, the writing staff will usually converge right after Memorial Day. They’ll spend the early summer breaking stories and preparing scripts. Production begins late July or the beginning of August. There are built in hiatuse weeks for the actors that vary from show to show. On multi-camera series they generally come after every third or fourth episode. On MASH we had week long hiatuses after seven or eight episodes.
I stress that these are production hiatuses. Actors are off but not writers. We take those weeks to desperately try to catch up. Dave Hackel, the showrunner of BECKER used to fine any actor who says to a writer “So where did you go during the hiatus?” The answer: While the actor was in Hawaii the writer was in the fucking office for sixteen hours a day!!
If you’re a first-year show you hold your breath that you’ll get picked up for the back nine. That comes around the beginning of November.
Thanksgiving is really the first break for the writing staff. And then a week or two the end of the year for Christmas when the show shuts down for the holidays.
Then the big crunch. From the first of the year until the end of March or beginning of April you churn out shows with little or no breaks. By the last month you’re generally on fumes.
Once the show wraps for the year the showrunner still has a few weeks of supervising post production on the last few episodes. And generally he’s done by the end of April. A week in St. Johns Hospital and then he’s ready to go to Hawaii.
If his show is a big hit he can relax for two months. But if his show is on the bubble then in early May he has to go to New York to lobby for his show’s pick up for the next season. Then it’s home, another week at St. Johns and maybe a nice long weekend in Santa Barbara before the cycle begins again.