Within the first few minutes of Tuesday night’s Master Class, HOMELAND executive producer and writer Meredith Stiehm shared her first failure: A spec script she had sold for NORTHERN EXPOSURE inevitably did not get produced despite her attempts at multiple revisions. The lesson? Get back up and do it again.
It was the first of many lessons shared by Stiehm, who parlayed that first failure to a staff gig on BEVERLY HILLS, 90210 and then NYPD BLUE, which she credits as the show that made her career and instilled in her an approach to writing for television.
“[NYPD BLUE co-creator David Milch] once said to me, ‘Television doesn’t demand quality, but it doesn’t preclude it either’ and that was back when network was really all there was,” said Stiehm. “That always stuck with me. If you’re doing it, why not do the best you can do.”
The event, moderated by CSI:CYBER showrunner and WGF board member Pam Veasey, offered more insights from what to expect when choosing a career in TV writing to tips on how to impress a showrunner.
“If you are considering television writing, you are not writing TV by yourself. If you are interested in being on staff, you will get your heart broken day after day if you think your scenes, your words are going to be preserved,” said Stiehm. “Your writer’s draft will not be the shooting draft. It’s a collaboration and you have to look at it with a little bit of reserve.”
Having both transitioned from staff writer to showrunner, Stiehm and Veasey offered tips on how to pitch your way into a writing job, among other practical advice.
“Start with what’s interesting is the first part of your pitch and having confidence,” advised Veasey. “Be sure, positive and unwavering about your idea. Let your characters take you through your pitch and know who you’re selling to.”
“I find it nerveracking and awful to pitch. I write a script and I refine it and memorize it and act the whole thing out to my cat,” added Stiehm.
When it comes to writing for HOMELAND, Stiehm embraced her role as the only female in the writers room, where she was naturally designated as the “Carrie Keeper.” “Claire [Danes] and I have an affinity. She likes the writing and we work well together,” said Stiehm. “I like being that person. That’s my big contribution to the show.”
Audio of the full event will be posted soon. Until then, enjoy some photos below and check out more upcoming events!