Tuesday, February 4, 2014

The Black List partners with TNT and TBS to help diverse writers break into TV

Yesterday The Black List announced another opportunity for writers via a partnership with TNT and TBS.  Here is their press release.  Scroll down for my thoughts:

TNT and TBS are partnering with The Black List on an initiative to promote diversity in the industry by identifying talented writers to develop scripts and concepts for the networks. TNT and TBS are the first television networks to team up with the Black List following the site's expansion into episodic content. The networks will be looking for writers from diverse backgrounds for possible blind script deals and staffing consideration on TBS and TNT series, with the goal of signing script deals with particularly strong writers in the half-hour comedy and hour-long drama genres.

The Black List is an online community where video content creators find scripts to make and writers to write them and where writers find producers, studios and networks to make their scripts and employ them. Since its launch in October 2012, the Black List has hosted more than 10,000 screenplays and teleplays and has completed more than 13,000 script evaluations. More than 40 writers have found representation at major agencies and management companies, while more than 20 writers have sold their scripts as a direct result of introductions made via the site. At any given moment, more than 2,000 screenplays and teleplays are being actively hosted on the site for perusal by over 2,300 film industry professionals, ranging from agency assistants to studio chairs and network heads.

As part of its program with TNT and TBS, the Black List will solicit teleplays to be evaluated via the Black List website by its community of industry professionals and readers. The Black List will then provide TNT and TBS with a short list of five finalists in each genre. The finalists will be chosen based on criteria the networks provide and on the evaluations received. The networks will then have the option to offer blind script deals. The list of finalists may also be shared with TBS and TNT's current showrunners, who will have the option to offer staff positions.

"As we continue to expand the original programming lineups for TNT and TBS, it's important that we forge partnerships not only with established producers but also with fresh talent," said Michael Wright, president, head of programming for TBS, TNT and Turner Classic Movies (TCM). "We're confident that through this initiative with the Black List, we're going to find an abundance of exciting, highly creative work from a wide array of emerging writers."

In addition to TNT and TBS, the Black List is currently partnered with the Writers Guild of America, East; the Writers Guild America, West; the Sundance Institute; and Warner Bros Pictures.

My thoughts: First off, I asked Franklin Leonard via Twitter how they defined "diverse writers," and he told me, "We use the WGA West Writers Report as a guide on the question of diversity."  So essentially that boils down to women, minorities and older writers of both genders.  (I believe that "older writers" is the age 41 and above bracket, but I could be mistaken and they're drawing from age 51 and above.)

Also, a writer cannot have earned more than $250,000 total for their writing work over the last ten years.  Further submission requirements can be found here.

Even though I'm not eligible under any of those requirements, I think it's exciting that aspiring writers have yet another avenue to break into the business.  The best part is that for writers already using the Black List, this is a competition available to them at no extra cost.  And if they weren't already on the Black List, the rules say they need only host the script on the site for one week during the submission period in order to opt in.  That costs a mere $25.

This is also a good time to bring up a number of other great programs for breaking into TV and their associated entry fees.:

Disney/ABC Television Writing Program -NO FEE.

The Warner Bros. Writers' Workshop - $30/script.

Nickelodeon Writing Program - NO FEE

NBC Writers on the Verge - NO FEE

CBS Writers Mentoring Program - NO FEE

New York Television Festival - $30 early fee; $50 regular submission fee; $100 late deadline fee.

And as the Black List press release notes, the site has a number of other partnerships as well and the cost to opt-in for any of those opportunities is free if you're hosting a script on the submission period. I'm very impressed with how the Black List site is quickly becoming a one-stop shop for a variety of programs and fellowships, including the Warner Bros two-step blind script deal and the Sundance Diversity Workshop, as well as the Cassian Elwes Screenwriting Fellowship.

I don't really see a downside here to submitting - especially if you've already put your wares on the website.  The participation of the Turner networks is impressive on it's own, but I also am very intrigued that showrunners may be given a list of the finalists, meaning there's the possibility that someone not selected as a recipient of a blind script deal could be hired on one of the TNT or TBS shows, provided their sample is strong enough.

I recommend the same introspection that I advise when it comes to entering any contest or fellowship, but from where I sit, this is just one more way for writers to break in.

I haven't followed the TV pilots side of the Black List as closely as I did the feature side.  Thus far we haven't gotten a full data-drop with regard to the number of pilots uploaded.  To my eye, it appears that the TV submissions are lower than the screenplay submissions were when they launched but that is TOTAL supposition.  That could be good for writers looking to submit because there may be less competition.

Also, in this Done Deal Pro thread, Franklin says he's heard of at least three instances of writers being signed with representation off of their pilot submissions.  None of the writers have been identified or announced officially though.  Hopefully a more formal announcement will be forthcoming, provided the writers wish to be identified.  (A number of reps find it advantageous NOT to make these sorts of announcements until the proper time.)


  1. I see one BIG downside to the legal release. The legal release signs you into an aggressive first look deal with TBS and TNT from the beginning of the SUBMISSION term (ie. now) through three months after the submission window ends, whether they choose you as a winner or not. So--just by opting in, you're agreeing NOT to enter any other contests or studio fellowships with ANY of your scripts (many of which would disqualify you if you were in a first-look agreement anyway; they want you available)...and taking yourself off the market for all of STAFFING season.

    That's fine--if you win the blind script deal. If not, though, you just put all your hopes on one fellowship and missed a number of other opportunities.

    Let's say that you didn't see that clause (as many people will probably sign it without reading the release)...and you keep submitting elsewhere. And let's assume you get lucky and get an option or a sale (again, a big if, but still) and you want to drop out of the TBS competition. There's a clause for that too. You can't withdraw your submission. Now, you just violated a first-look agreement and TBS and TNT can now sue you and hinder the progress of your project.

    If only that clause began the date of winner selection, that would be better. I think a lot of talented writers aren't going to opt in once they see that they can't submit ANYTHING in the same genre elsewhere while the competition is running.

    New writers should be trying every opportunity possible, not hanging all their hopes on just one.

    1. Got a statement from Franklin Leonard. Have to add it here via phone for now, but will update the post tonight.

      "To avoid this very issue, the Black List provides users with opportunity to withdraw their submission by opting out of the program at any time prior to the submission deadline. Once a user has opted-out of the program, that user is no longer eligible for consideration for the Blind Deal."

    2. Beat me to it. I just saw his post. Thanks, Franklin!

    3. Erita, I think you got the agreements mix-up. The Submission Agreement, (the opt-in) is non-exclusive and states this clearly. The Blind Agreement (once you have been selected) is the first-look. The submission period referred to in the Blind Agreement is in regard to the submission of no less than three potential projects by the winner. It very clearly states on the first page that this particular clause will not take effect unless the writer has been selected for participation in the blind deal.

      So no one wanting to opt-in should be concerned with violating any agreements if the script is in consideration or contests elsewhere. If and when you are chosen as a winner, then you cannot submit to anyone other than Turner.

      This is how I read the agreements, hopefully Bitter or Franklin can correct me if I'm wrong.