Arts & Entertainment

Tips for Writing Television

Judd Apatow

Lesson time 11:33 min

Writing an entire season of television can be a daunting task. Judd gives you guidance on how to familiarize yourself with writing for this unique format, plus insight into how he and his collaborators plan a full-season arc.

Students give MasterClass an average rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars

Topics include: Deconstruct Your Favorite Shows • Determine the End of the Season and Work Backward • Take the Opportunity to Explore Characters Deeply


I met this producer when I was a young, not good, comedian who encouraged me to write a television pilot. And he was someone who had done a fair amount of TV. Very old-school. Maybe he did shows that were like Barnaby Jones-type shows. And he said, you should write a pilot. And there was no reason for me to write a pilot. I wasn't a writer, I wasn't part of that community. But I sat down with my friend Joel Madison, a great comedian from the Midwest, and we wrote a pilot for our favorite young comedy people, The Higgins Boys and Gruber. So how I approached learning to write that pilot was, I had somebody, I don't remember who, hunt me down scripts of Taxi. And I read 50 scripts of the TV show Taxi. And then I had someone else hunt me down the Simpsons scripts. Now, the Simpsons had only been on one season. But I got all the scripts for those 13 episodes. And I read all of them. But what I did was, I would read Taxi episodes and as I read them, I would outline them on another piece of paper. First scene, this happened, second scene, this happened, third scene, this happen. Here's how they resolve that story. And after doing that on a bunch of episodes, I realized that there was a structure. Oh, they set up the problem on scene one, and then they made it worse in scene four, and then there was a big blow up in scene six, and then on scene 11 there was some sort of resolution grace note. And I could see how they were structuring their A and B story, and sometimes a little C story. So without taking a class, I just cracked the code of how they were telling stories. So Joel and I wrote a pilot for them. Nothing ever happened with it, but I think we realized, oh, you can write one, this is what one looks like. And we thought it was OK. It was a decent sample of our writing. But most importantly, it made us realize it's possible to start a script and finish it. That's the main thing we got out of it. Like, oh, you can write something. That almost seems like a sitcom. Oh, people do this. We could be better at it, but this is it. Every year, when a writing room gets together, there are different problems that need to be solved. You have to both come up with ideas for individual episodes and an idea for the arc of the season. So you might have a show like Love, where it's about a relationship and they come together, but very slowly. And the point of the show is, we're going to show you everything that happens in between the things you normally see. So if they meet each other and don't talk for two weeks, we're going to show you the two weeks. So with Love, we do-- the first episode would be where you meet Gus and Mickey. You would see the end of their previous relationships. You would see how they react to that. And then events would happen to them. And at the very end of the first episode, they both go to the same mini-mart at a gas station and meet. So the last second of the first episode is just them meeting. ...

About the Instructor

No joke: at age 15, Judd Apatow took a dishwashing job at a comedy club to watch the acts. Today, he’s the comedic genius behind hits including The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Knocked Up, Bridesmaids, and Freaks and Geeks. In his first-ever online comedy class, the Emmy Award winner teaches you how to create hilarious storylines, write great stand-up, and direct movies that leave audiences laughing.

Featured Masterclass Instructor

Judd Apatow

Judd Apatow teaches you how to write, direct, produce, and perform comedy for film and television.

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