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COURSE NAME: "Writers’ Workshop: Screenwriting for Episodic Television"
SEMESTER & YEAR: Fall 2018

INSTRUCTOR: Brian Thomson
EMAIL: [email protected]
HOURS: M 12:30-3:15 PM
PREREQUISITES: Prerequisite: EN 110 with a grade of C or above

Writers' Room is an immersive workshop-style course that places students in the shoes of a television writer working to break a season's worth of story and write a screenplay that advances the program's plot and develops its themes while maintaining characterization and tone consistent with the vision of the showrunner. Students will learn how to pitch ideas, collaborate with others writers (giving and taking notes) and express themselves in the voice of the show. The course covers the economic, historical, and aesthetic foundations of contemporary television writing and production and will prepare students to evaluate, develop, and pitch series ideas for episodic television, evaluate and develop episode ideas in a collaborative working environment in line with the tone of the show and produce effective written material (pitches, summaries, show bibles, screenplays) that adhere to professional standards.
At the beginning of the course we will look at several theories of story structure, investigate how different genres work in episodic programming, and how the network/cable/new media nexus influences which stories get told (and how they get told) and which ones wither on the vine. We’ll explore how episodic and television scripts differ from film scripts before examining how different writers’ rooms organise the business of breaking and tracking story over anywhere from 8 to 24 episodes per season. Then we’ll develop an idea for an episodic program and begin compiling a show bible as we break the story for each episode in the season. As the course progresses, students will be assigned individual episodes to write and then revise on the basis of table reads. At the end of the course we will address professional issues including what all of those “producer” credits at the beginning of a television show really mean, whether to write a pilot or a spec script when first looking for work, career paths in episodic writing, the changing broadcast/on-demand landscape, and alternatives to work-for-hire.

By the end of the course students should be able to:

Understand the economic, historical, and aesthetic foundations of contemporary television writing and production [LOS 1, 2, 4]

Evaluate, develop, and pitch series ideas for episodic television [LOS 8, 10]

Evaluate and develop episode ideas that maintain consistent characterisation and tone in a collaborative working environment [LOS 8, 9, 10]

Produce effective written material (pitches, summaries, show bibles, screenplays) that adhere to professional standards [LOS 9, 10]


Script outline 20
Episode script 40
Pilot pitch and document 20
ParticipationYou will constantly be required to pitch plot ideas, character arcs, dialogue, jokes, etc. Fail to contribute at least three ideas on any day and you will lose 5 points on your final grade up to a maximum of 20 points. 20

AWork of this quality directly addresses the question or problem raised and provides a coherent argument displaying an extensive knowledge of relevant information or content. This type of work demonstrates the ability to critically evaluate concepts and theory and has an element of novelty and originality. There is clear evidence of a significant amount of reading beyond that required for the course
BThis is highly competent level of performance and directly addresses the question or problem raised.There is a demonstration of some ability to critically evaluatetheory and concepts and relate them to practice. Discussions reflect the student’s own arguments and are not simply a repetition of standard lecture andreference material. The work does not suffer from any major errors or omissions and provides evidence of reading beyond the required assignments.
CThis is an acceptable level of performance and provides answers that are clear but limited, reflecting the information offered in the lectures and reference readings.
DThis level of performances demonstrates that the student lacks a coherent grasp of the material.Important information is omitted and irrelevant points included.In effect, the student has barely done enough to persuade the instructor that s/he should not fail.
FThis work fails to show any knowledge or understanding of the issues raised in the question. Most of the material in the answer is irrelevant.


You get two absence. Every absence thereafter is 10 points off your final grade. 
Deadlines are strictly enforced. Every day late is 15 points off your grade for a given assignment.

You cannot make-up a major exam (midterm or final) without the permission of the Dean’s Office. The Dean’s Office will grant such permission only when the absence was caused by a serious impediment, such as a documented illness, hospitalization or death in the immediate family (in which you must attend the funeral) or other situations of similar gravity. Absences due to other meaningful conflicts, such as job interviews, family celebrations, travel difficulties, student misunderstandings or personal convenience, will not be excused. Students who will be absent from a major exam must notify the Dean’s Office prior to that exam. Absences from class due to the observance of a religious holiday will normally be excused. Individual students who will have to miss class to observe a religious holiday should notify the instructor by the end of the Add/Drop period to make prior arrangements for making up any work that will be missed. The final exam period runs until ____________
As stated in the university catalog, any student who commits an act of academic dishonesty will receive a failing grade on the work in which the dishonesty occurred. In addition, acts of academic dishonesty, irrespective of the weight of the assignment, may result in the student receiving a failing grade in the course. Instances of academic dishonesty will be reported to the Dean of Academic Affairs. A student who is reported twice for academic dishonesty is subject to summary dismissal from the University. In such a case, the Academic Council will then make a recommendation to the President, who will make the final decision.
John Cabot University does not discriminate on the basis of disability or handicap. Students with approved accommodations must inform their professors at the beginning of the term. Please see the website for the complete policy.


Since CW&DMA 334 is a workshop, I have arranged the schedule below in terms of the amount of class time we will be spending on various activities.

Stage One (approximately 3 hours) 

An overview of the industry- basic cable, premium cable, VOD, and broadcast- and excerpts from Showrunners documentary
Procedurals and serials, single camera and multi-cam, limited series and miniseries
Heroʼs journeys, monomyths, story circles, antagonism matrices, and other occasionally useful ideas about story structure
Teasers, cold opens, act (commercial) breaks, buttons, tags and other facts of the format for (small) screenwriters

Stage Two (approximately 5 hours) 

What is a television idea? 
Pitching a series 
Developing a pilot 
Creating a show bible 

Stage Three (approximately 20 hours) 

Breaking story for episodes (number will be determined by enrollment) 
Continue compiling the show bible
Produce outlines for episodes
A refresher on screenwriting best practices 

*Students will begin writing episode scripts on a rolling basis as episode outlines are completed 

Stage Four (approximately 15 hours) 

How to give a good note (and what to do with a bad one)
Table reads and critiques

*Students will revise scripts and turn in final drafts on a rolling deadline 

Stage Five (approximately 2 hours) 

Students will pitch their own original series and turn in a summary/show bible and/or pilot script for the final examination