I'm curious about how to land a job as a writer (or writer's assistant) on a sitcom. I've been told things as varied as working at an agency, interning with production companies, doing stand up, or inundating yourself at the UCB theater. I'd appreciate whatever advice you might have.
I'm going to tackle the writers' assistant part of this question first. To start, you should go read my interviews with writers' assistants Amy Baack and Scott Towler. Their experiences in getting their jobs couldn't be more different. That should give you an idea that there's no set way to get the gig.
Now for the more bitter response - how do you get hired as a writers' assistant? Through an act of God or network executive. Those jobs are highly coveted and the competition is fierce.
Last year, I got word from a friend that a series was in need of a new writers' PA. Determined to put myself on a path that might lead more directly to a writers' assistant job, I had my friend throw my resume into the ring. I should also mention that this friend was a very trusted assistant to the show's star, and gave me the highest possible recommendation. Better still, I seemed to have the exact qualifications they were looking for.
I was relieved that for once I might have the nepotism/favor factor working to my benefit, but I was still careful to go in for the interview with a full can-do attitude and not at all trading on the connection that got me there. I got the inevitable "With all your experience, why do you want this job?" question, and artfully navigated it. I flat out said that I had friends who started out as writers PAs and after they put in the hours and showed the right attitude, eventually moved up to writers' assistant, and in some cases full-fledged writers. I made sure they knew I was serious about the job, that I was a pro, and that I didn't see the job as being beneath me.
So naturally they gave it to someone else.
My friend did some digging, aghast that a recommendation that came from his boss's office was cast aside. It turned out that someone on the writing staff had a buddy who wanted the job.
For all I know, that guy was as qualified as me and did just as well in the interview. In fact, there's probably a pretty good chance of that - there are a lot of qualified people out of work in Hollywood. Or maybe he just knew someone with the right amount of pull. But that also speaks to a good lesson - no matter how strong your contact is, there's always someone with a stronger contact.
This past season was very competitive. I knew people on more than one show and despite how well they were placed in the chain of command, I didn't exactly get that many interviews. There was one series that needed to replace MULTIPLE PAs as they geared up for the new season and the network told them flat out who they had to hire for ALL of those positions! Yes, in that case the writing staff and the cast connections didn't mean anything, because "the suits" took care of their buddies.
So what have we learned? Get connected to someone in power.
As for how to become a writer, being an assistant is a great way to get in the door. Usually they graduate to staff after a couple years, so long their as boss is writing on a show and not in development. Note that was the experience of Rob Levine when he worked for the Judging Amy show-runner.
Write specs and get representation. That can get you out there for meetings. Or you could apply for writing fellowships. For more on those, check out this interview with Margaux Froley about how the Warner Bros Television Fellowship landed her a staff writer job.
If any other writers' assistants out there want to chime in and share their experience, feel free.