When it comes to the six major TV writing programs – CBS, Disney/ABC, FOX, NBC, Nickelodeon, and WB – there are a few things you should keep in mind. While I’m classifying these TV contest tips as top secret, they aren’t. These contests want you to do well. They want you to present the best application and scripts as possible. They are on your side.
Focus on your bio.
Each program pays special attention to your bio. They take it into serious consideration when evaluating you. It seems obvious, but hearing this surprised me. Writing an attention grabbing bio is unbearably hard in my opinion. You have to encapsulate the best aspects of yourself and shine past the other applicants. And if this sounds like college admin essays all over again, just repress those PTSD flashbacks.
If you don’t make it the first year you submit, keep trying.
The contest administrators remember you. They pay attention to how many years in a row you’ve been submitting, if you are growing as a writer, etc… They take it into account when reviewing your application.
Write the right spec.
When writing a spec of an existing cable or network show, pick something that is on-air and that you are sure will be on air (i.e. picked-up) for another season. Do not write a spec for a show in its first season. Do not write a spec for a show in its 14th season. Most contests prefer second season onward, but writing an older show presents a problem as well. You want to be as current as possible.
When you think you’re done, you’re not. Keep writing.
Keep writing after you submit your script/scripts. If you make it to the next round, many contests will ask for another spec. If you do not have it, you will be eliminated from consideration. They want to know that you have more to offer and that you are constantly writing.
More information on the TV writing programs is right at your fingertips, especially if you join networking organizations. JHRTS had an amazing TV Writing Programs Panel featuring Emerlynn Lampitoc, Jeanne Mau, Karen Horne, Gina Reyes, and Karen Kirkland, where they talked about the process in detail. Also, the South Bay Filmmakers meetup had a guest speaker, Kiyong Kim, who talked about submitting, interviewing, and actually participating in a program. So get out there and network.