Today’s reader question comes from Sharla. First of all, I have to say—Sharla, MAJOR THANKS for your super-nice comments on Small Screen, Big Picture! I can’t tell you how much I appreciate it… and I’m glad you found it helpful!
As for your question… here it is:
“I’ve been hearing everywhere that original work is now basically an essential part of any aspiring writer’s repertoire. As I start to work on my next project, I’m wondering, would a season of a web series be a valuable writing sample to have? I’m very interested in scripted web shows, and I had an idea for a series – I think the story would probably take ten to fifteen 4 minute episodes to tell. I don’t (yet) have the resources or knowledge to produce the show myself, but I’m wondering if this collection of short scripts could serve as a good sample of original work. Of course, I’d like to work my way up to where I could actually make the series and get it out on the internet, but for now, I’m wondering how this material might work solely as a writing sample.”
This is a really interesting question, but I think the answer is: while an original TV sample (i.e. an original pilot) or a screenplay is usually optimal, YEAH—original web scripts could work… ESPECIALLY IN COMEDY.
Most shortform Internet comedy is basically some kind of sketch, and those kinds of pieces are very usable in television… not only for genuine sketch shows, but for late-night stuff like Conan, The Tonight Show, Jimmy Kimmel, etc. They can also be helpful to get jobs writing for “alternative comedy” projects, which may include things like The Soup and Best Week Ever, or even stuff like South Park and Adult Swim.
If you idea is more dramatic, then it may be tougher… drama doesn’t tend to be as successful online, and I’m not sure how shortform drama would read on the page. Having said that… I’ve seen people use essays, short stories, plays, even lists of jokes as original material. If it’s strong writing, it can be used.
What’s most important is that a reader can look at your material and get a sense of who you are as a writer… your unique voice and vision, what you’ll bring to a TV writers room. Often, the best way to do that is with something intended for the same medium: television. But if you have a powerful short story, or a very moving play, or a brilliantly written web series… use it!!
I hope that helps, Sharla—please don’t hesitate to email if you have more questions!