From Shonda Rhimes's MasterClass

Teach Yourself TV Writing

Shonda discusses the importance of knowing your television history and how you can learn some of the fundamentals of storytelling on your own.

Topics include: Television vs. Film • Read and Dissect Scripts • Rules of Television


Shonda discusses the importance of knowing your television history and how you can learn some of the fundamentals of storytelling on your own.

Topics include: Television vs. Film • Read and Dissect Scripts • Rules of Television

Shonda Rhimes

Teaches Writing for Television

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I always say, film is for the director. It really is. The director makes all the decisions. It's the director's vision. What's in the director's head is what's on screen. In television, what's in the writer's head is what's on screen. In film, the director fires the writer; in television, the writer fires the director. That's the joke-- which isn't really that funny if you think about it. Nobody wants to get fired. But it really is this medium in television where, when I think to myself, I want it to look like this-- interior, operating room, day-- they build the operating room that I imagined. And that's fantastic. I love the fact that I can have an idea and that idea can get realized that quickly. That is extraordinary. I think I love the intimacy of TV. You know, we spend more time with people in their living rooms-- my characters are in people's living rooms-- people spend more time with them than they do with members of their own family. You know, if you watched Grey's, you spent more time with Cristina Yang than you probably did with some of your closest friends. So when she left, you lost a friend. And psychologically that is true. Emotionally that is true. But also, you went on the journey that she went on; you learned things from her. You were with that character. There was an intimacy there. And it means that the world becomes a little bit smaller, to me. You know, 60 countries of people and 207 languages, that show. That means that the world is a much smaller place than we thought it was, because it means that all of those people are watching the same shows at the same time and caring about those characters. The storytelling in film is very closed-ended, obviously. You've got three acts. You've got your hero on a journey and that journey has to end. There's always sort of a very short character arc for your characters. A television show, what's wonderful is that your character-- your lead character or your lead characters, depending on how you're telling the story-- can go on sort of an endless journey. It's an endless adventure that you get to tell for as long as you'd like. I've been telling Meredith Grey's journey for 13 seasons now, and it's been going on and on and on. And so you get to watch a character grow and change and evolve, which is exciting. It's just a different level of activity, I think, and inner character development. I think all the writing is the same. It's not that the writing for television and the writing for movies is so different. I think any lesson I learned writing for movies is very similar to writing for television. Storytelling-- the art of storytelling is fundamentally the same, which is, if you are not writing from character, and what would a character do and is this actual human behavior, then you're not writing honestly. It's not going to resonate, and...

Make Great Television

When Shonda Rhimes pitched Grey’s Anatomy she got so nervous she had to start over. Twice. Since then, she has created and produced TV’s biggest hits. In her screenwriting class, Shonda teaches you how to create compelling characters, write a pilot, pitch your idea, and stand out in the writers’ room. You’ll also get original pilot scripts, pitch notes, and series bibles from her shows. Welcome to Shondaland.


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

The MasterClass has been a great experience. Shonda was such an inspiration and a wonderful instructor. This class really help me understand the writing process and what to expect in Hollywood. She offered useful tips to improve as a writer and great advice on how to succeed in television.

All I can say is wow. Thank you Shonda! So many insights and levels of inspiration. I'm glad this was the first Master Class I took. I will definitely refer back to certain lessons again and again. And also the pages of notes I took. The clips really helped to drive some of those points, by the way. #futureshowrunner

This class has helped me understand the process of pitching as well as the importance of characters having their own voice.

I was inspired from lesson 1 all of the way to lesson 30 and I remain inspired. I picked up my pilot episode, I read it over and then I revised it. I saw what worked and what didn’t and what didn’t even need to be in there. I got a lot from this and I would recommend this class to everyone. It was a awesome experience!


Derricke C.

It is really good to know that all the TV I have watched over the years wasn't wasted time. Now though, I see I need to start looking at shows with a more critical eye. I liked what Shonda said about reading the news to get ideas and understanding how stories are told.

Donald P.

I agree with Shonda on knowing the TV craft. I have always known how television shows are often credited for the writer or writers and/or creator/creators. I think of the days of Steven Bochco, Stephen J. Cannell and Aaron Spelling. I am happy I am finally attending this Master class almost 3 years late but better than never.


I was glad to hear her comments about Mr. Sorkin. He used The West Wing as a case study in his class, but my favor Sorkin series was, and still is The Newsroom. I know every episode. And although he says he would rewrite every one of them if he could, I see what he means, but it is still my favorite. I am looking forward to seeing the difference in Ms. Rhimes' process. I already have a headstart on those old television shows, but I have a lot to do with respect to reading old scripts.


I echo her thoughts about wanting to having this type of advice earlier in the writing process.

Jacelyn J.

Learn the Rules in order to create your own rules. Read Read Read!!! Read the news, tv pilots, and dissect them thoroughly. Study the craft and the type of TV Show you wish to create: Procedural or Serialized and/or make up something new that works best for your story. Study the TV Pilots that speak to you and the way you like to tell your story. This was great! All confirmation of what I innately know. Thanks so much Shonda!

Mikaylynn W.

So I am back again and I fell in love with the TV Shows Atlanta on FX and Grownish so these are two shows on my list to dissect. Both shows just feel fresh and different to me as well as extremely relate able. I also have great Netflix recommends I leave below as well. - On My Block - Gossip Girl - YOU -Russian Doll -Stranger Things -Haunting of Hillhouse ( If you like something scary).

Shaun N.

When I did this before, I pulled apart Ugly Betty which I can really recommend. I think I'll do The Marvellous Mrs Maisel this time, as I think that show's pilot and debut season is note perfect!

A fellow student

Wow. Very exciting. I will probably never actually write a tv show or a pilot but I do enjoy listening to master's of the craft talk about their approach to their craft. Making a character smarter than the audience is similar to what Dan Brown was talking about and reminds me of Frasier where the 2 main characters are smart and not even relatable but at the same time completely relatable.

Laura A.

Loved this. I'm taking this for a very different reason than I suspect a lot of people are. I am a media critic and analyst. I'm done some teaching on film studies, and a lot of writing, but it's very much based on what other film theorists have written. I have found over the years that the interviews I have done with actors, directors, writers/showrunners, etc have taught me a lot more about the process than I have learned anywhere else. So I'm taking this not to learn about how to write a TV script but how to understand more of the writing process behind that script. This lesson has been very helpful as background for that because the process for becoming a good critic requires the same process as Shonda describes for writes: research and analyze the good and the bad and understand what made it good and bad...and know what is out there in both categories. Right now, I'm doing the process she describes around the West Wing with Criminal Minds--and analyzing a single character (geek Spencer Reid, because I write primarily for geekier audiences). It's fifteen years of TV character development and there's actually a lot of it, and it's frankly very well done both by the writers and, as I am finding out in my research, by the actor. Understanding that dynamic, and how it changes over the course of a series, and how even the lack of attention to a character allows that character to change without you noticing is fascinating.

Lenci W.

I love the idea of dissecting scripts. It offers a completely different insight into the shows I love. I an intrigued to see how this process goes for shows that I believe didn't work.