What Happens WHILE Your TV Show Is Airing

Last time I covered what happens prior to a TV show being broadcast. This article is about all the things that happen during the airing of the show. By that I mean during the run of the show – while the episodes are rolling out week to week. Here are some of the things that normally unfold and some of the things that are happening during the run of American Crime this season:

Continuing to write episodes: 
Many shows premiere and are still in production. That was the case on Covert Affairs when I was on the show. For shows like that, the writers’ room continues and the staff works to outline and create the next several installments in the series until the season finale is completed. This depends on scheduling and the number of episodes that have been ordered. For American Crime, we completed production on our 8-episode season in December, so the work on the series was finished by the time it started airing a few weeks ago.

Reading articles and reviews:
Many of the people involved in American Crime have been reading the press about the show. It can be gratifying to read positive reviews. Of course, it can be challenging if something you love is derided by critics, but that’s part of the game. In the world of acting, especially if I was in a play, I wasn’t interested in reading reviews until the performances were over. I didn’t want those opinions to affect my work night after night. But in the world of TV – where the work is finished and in the can, I want to know what the prevailing critical opinion is. This year, American Crime got some stellar reviews (like this one). Those are a joy to read.

Reading Facebook and Twitter:
There’s a unique opportunity to find out what an audience thinks as the show unfolds, too. This can be really fun or a drag, depending on the thoughts of the tweeter or Facebooker. And, frankly, the opinions of viewers can be all over the place. At the same time, there’s no other art form I can think of that allows such direct and ongoing commentary. Reading this stuff can be an interesting view into the mind of the audience. And it helps to have a thick skin.

Live Tweeting during the broadcast:
Each week, as the show airs, several of us on the production team are live tweeting. Actors, writers and producers post to Twitter during the show each week.  And we comment on the tweets of others who are chiming in as the episodes unfold. It’s particularly fun to live tweet during the East Coast airing of the show (which is 3 hours earlier than the West Coast broadcast) because I’m not actually watching the show – so I don’t really know what’s happening when. (Of course, having read each script, I know what the story is.) In that case I’m usually riffing off something people are already talking about. Twitter audiences seem to enjoy tid-bits about the production, comments about the writers room or the theme of a given storyline. It’s like a creator commentary in 140 characters or less. Follow my Twitter feed @harpercreates and you can participate live on Sunday at 10pm / 9pm Central.

Checking the ratings: 
The Nielsen ratings are still the standard for measuring how many viewers and watching and what age those viewers are. It’s fairly standard for TV industry types to be watching the (ratings) numbers each week. You can follow along too, by checking tvbythenumbers.com, which lists weekly and daily TV ratings numbers. The idea here is that the larger the number, the more likely a show will be renewed, and since there’s no guarantee that a show will stay on the air, it’s something that people pay attention to.

Conversing with friends and family about the program:
One of the interesting things about working on a TV show is that, for a long time, you’re sworn to secrecy about what the storyline is and how it unfolds. So there’s nothing like finally being able to talk to friends and loved ones about the show you’ve been working on for months. It’s a great joy to find out how the material lands on people I care about. I do this with a sense of detachment, even as I ask for people’s take on the show.

Updating your IMDb page: 
When your show airs, you can update your listing in IMDb, the Internet Movie Database. With an IMDb Pro account, you can make changes in your profile and credits. Most shows have their basic information populated (by the producers) as the show airs. But not everything gets added. (This year, the producers added me to the list of the writers on the show, but my official title – Executive Story Editor, which shows up so each week in the credits, is something I add to the listing for each episode.)

Working on whatever is next: 
All my colleagues at American Crime are hard at work on something else. I am too. It’s a good practice to be hammering out a new piece while your TV show is running. This creates a sense of forward career movement, and allows a writer to flex his or her muscles in some new dramatic adventure.

This one is easy to forget, since writers are often consumed with solving the next problem and facing the next challenge. One of the joyful things about working in TV is that, most of the time, if you make something for a series – you’ll get to see it on TV. It’s a far cry from theatre, where you may write something that won’t get you paid – and where there’s less of a guarantee that anyone will see your play. In TV, as a friend says: “It’s gonna be on.” There’s certainly something to celebrate in that!

Tune in this Sunday to watch the next episode of American Crime!

And let me know what you think.

By | 2017-12-01T18:09:12+00:00 March 23rd, 2017|The Writer's Life|0 Comments

About the Author:

Steve Harper
STEVE HARPER is a writer, producer and actor. He was on the writing staff of the Emmy Award winning ABC show American Crime (created by John Ridley) and spent two seasons writing for the USA Network show Covert Affairs. Steve's original web series SEND ME, about time traveling black people (writer, actor and Executive Producer) was nominated for a 2016 Emmy. As a playwright he has written more than 20 works that have been produced across the country. Through yourcreativelife.com, Steve has been working with artists of all kinds since 2008, helping them achieve clarity and focus in their creative careers. His specialty is working with artists as they write dramatic scripts. Steve has run workshops in New York, L.A. and in between. Through live events, online seminars, and his channels on YouTube, Facebook and Twitter, he’s helped thousands of writers and artists. Steve taught for The Harvardwood Writers Group, Young Playwrights and The Creative Gym. He’s been an instructor at the UCLA Extension School and a guest artist at Interlochen School for the Arts, Drexel University’s summer program in L.A. and USC’s Annenberg School. A graduate of Yale, The A.R.T. Institute for Advanced Theatre Training at Harvard and the playwriting program at Juilliard, he was certified by the Creativity Coaching Association in 2013.