“TV is where the writing is,” William Rabkin told a room full of Media & Communications Studies students on our Providence campus. “TV is where you can tell a story about anything.”
Rabkin, the assistant director of the MFA for Writing and Producing for Television program at LIU Brooklyn, visited JWU to deliver a talk titled “Breaking into Television—And Staying in Once You’re There.” With more than 30 years of experience in the television industry, if there’s anyone that can talk TV, it’s Rabkin. His many writing and producing credits include “Monk,” “Psych,” “Spencer: For Hire,” “Martial Law,” and “Diagnosis Murder,” among many others.
In television, writers control everything, Rabkin argues, but the academic training for this type of role had been virtually non-existent before LIU Brooklyn’s program launched in 2010.
It's like throwing a solo violinist into the middle of an orchestra
“MFA programs sell this romantic idea of the individual bearing their soul, whether they’re a novelist or a poet,” Rabkin said. “But that isn’t the case for a television writer. They’re thrown into the writer’s room and it’s like throwing a solo violinist into the middle of an orchestra. Great writing gets young writers in the door, but they’re usually lost once they get in there.”
Rabkin not only described the MFA program at LIU Brooklyn and its unique training, but also shared insider advice regarding how students aspiring to work in the television industry can “break in” and what producers and head writers are looking for in their staff.
“Television writers have to be able to write in the voice of the show [they’re working on], but it’s all about balance,” Rabkin said. “Because if you can only write in one voice, we [showrunners/producers] don’t need you. You need to bring something to the show that no one else can. You need to be able to write and create in a group while maintaining your individuality. It’s not easy.”
Scripts can go where you can't
Rabkin went on to explain the process of writing and producing a television episode from start to finish, and also shared many stories about his own personal experiences; from re-writing scripts and storylines for demanding actors to having his own pitches shot down.
With over 400 scripted shows available to the public, there is a desperate desire for new voices, Rabkin argued. “The industry is changing,” he said. “Ideas are cheap. It’s better to be writing than pitching. Not only does it really show people what you can do, but scripts can go where you can’t. Good scripts will get passed around from writer’s room to writer’s room. That can’t happen with a pitch.”