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Arts & Entertainment

TV Writing Fellowships Explained: 4 Tips for Aspiring Writers

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Dec 7, 2020 • 4 min read

Television screenwriting is a notoriously hard industry to enter, but sometimes all it takes is the right opportunity. Television writing fellowships take place throughout the year, and with well-written samples, you can land yourself a coveted spot in one of these programs.

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What Is a TV Writing Fellowship?

A TV writing fellowship is a program that serves as a springboard for emerging writers to hone their craft and break into the entertainment industry. Fellowships are typically paid opportunities where TV studios offer new writers mentorships, hands-on experience, and workshopping opportunities with industry professionals to help them advance their careers.

While staffing in a writer’s room or developing your own television series is not always guaranteed, writing fellowships can provide invaluable education, experience, and connections that will only serve to benefit the TV writer’s career in the future. Popular TV writing fellowships include NBC’s Writers on the Verge, Nickelodeon Writing Program, CBS Writers Mentoring Program, Warner Bros. Television Writers’ Workshop, HBOAccess Writing Fellowship, Disney/ABC Writing Program, and the Sundance Writer’s Lab.

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What Are the Benefits of a TV Writing Fellowship?

A television writing fellowship is a vehicle for aspiring screenwriters to get their foot in the door by helping them develop their TV writing talents. The main benefits of a TV writing fellowship are:

  • Real-world experience: Some fellowships function like a writers lab, creating simulated writers rooms to provide hands-on experience and mock pitches to test a writer’s presentation skills.
  • Valuable advice: Fellowships can provide feedback and mentorship on a writer’s spec script or original pilot script development.
  • Networking opportunities: Fellowships can provide networking capabilities, putting developing writers in touch with the right industry professionals (like showrunners, professional writers, agents, or network executives) who can help them progress their writing careers.
  • Showcases new voices: Fellowships give writers from diverse backgrounds the opportunity to carve a career path in the industry. Some fellowship programs are aimed at diversity and inclusion and only allow women or diverse writers to enter, which can help level the playing field and provide other unique voices with a way forward in their own careers.
  • Prepares writers for staffing: The main goal of a TV fellowship is to prepare writers for staffing. After the fellowship concludes, the writer should be ready and available to work in a staff writer position for a television show or have the relevant know-how and experience to guide their own path.
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4 Tips for Applying to a TV Writing Fellowship

There are many different writing programs for amateur television writers to choose from, and it’s important to know what each one has to offer. When applying for a TV writing fellowship, keep the following in mind:

  1. Do your research. Figure out the kind of fellowship that best suits your needs. Some fellowships can be a one-month program, while others may require one-year participation. Some programs may require relocation to Los Angeles or New York, while others might only be available for students. In a few cases, some fellowships are only available for writers from diverse backgrounds. Read the fine print on all submission guidelines to ensure you’re applying to the right program.
  2. Prepare your writing samples. After you’ve carefully read the submission criteria for the fellowship, select (or write) your samples. If the program wants a feature film sample and a live-action drama, don’t submit two animated half-hour comedy pilots. Keep your submission relevant and on target for the program. Before submitting your samples, reach out to your writing peers or close friends with industry knowledge to see if they’ll read your scripts and give you notes. You can only submit once, so you need to ensure that your sample has a strong story, good character development, and is free of grammatical errors.
  3. Gather your materials. In addition to any samples you’ll provide, read the requirements of the application carefully. Fill out any necessary forms and supply a short biography, resume, and a personal statement or letter of interest upon request. You don’t want to risk disqualifying your entry over a technicality.
  4. Devote time to your bio. Most fellowships require a short biography that helps the selection committee know more about you and your writing journey. These bios are typically 500–1000 words long. It can be tempting to phone in this part of the application process as you ready your script, but you shouldn’t. While a script will showcase your talents, your bio showcases who you are and your specific experience. This is your chance to sell yourself. Avoid being too dry or too humorous—opt for a balance. Don’t just focus on your writing accomplishments—note any defining personal achievements as well as any adversities you have faced (that you’re comfortable with sharing) and how you persevered. You’ll be able to use the bio to apply to multiple programs, tweaking it to meet each program’s requirements.

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