Cook releases new TV writing book

By Dan O'Brien
June 20, 2014

Thirty Emersonians connected to the television industry are quoted in the new book Write to TV: Out of your Head and onto the Screen, 2nd Edition (Focal Press, 2014) by Martie Cook ’82, MFA ’99, associate professor and associate chair of the Visual and Media Arts Department.

An industry veteran, Cook has written and/or produced for the top-rated shows Full House, Charles in Charge, America’s Most Wanted, and Zoom, among others. Cook offers practical advice on writing innovative TV scripts for a variety of formats to help new writers craft smart and original ideas.

Cook, Martie

Martie Cook '82, MFA '99, associate professor and associate chair in the Visual and Media Arts Department. (Courtesy Photo)

Why should aspiring TV writers read this book?

Cook: They will learn to write smart, standout scripts that push the envelope and will ultimately get them noticed in Hollywood. They will also learn how the TV business operates; how to get their foot in the door; and how to nail that first, seemingly elusive sale.

What is new in this second edition?

The TV industry changes rapidly. What’s true today will be different tomorrow. It’s been seven years since the first edition of this book was published, so it was time for an update. The second edition is about 65 percent new material and contains expanded chapters on things like writing pilots and pitching, as well as 25 new interviews with successful TV industry insiders. Among those quoted are Emerson alumni Doug Herzog ’81, president of MTV Networks and creator of Comedy Central; Max Mutchnick ’87, creator of Will & Grace; Jay Leno ’73; Henry Winkler ’67; All in the Family creator Norman Lear ’44; Friends executive producer Kevin Bright ’76; Todd J. Greenwald ’91, creator of Wizards of Waverly Place; and a long list of others.

What is one of the most interesting things an Emersonian said in this book?

Herzog said that when it comes to comedy, he believes in pushing the boundaries and that “the best comedy often offends.” I agree. Comedy that makes people uncomfortable often opens doors to important conversations we might not have otherwise.

Cook book cover

What’s one thing you want readers to come away with?

That no one is going to hand them a writing career. But if they work hard, master the craft, and exercise patience, they increase their chances of success by leaps and bounds.

What are some of the big changes in the TV writing industry that you touch upon?

Because of technology, solid, competitive TV shows are being born in places we never dreamed of, like Netflix. Not long ago, Netflix mailed us DVDs, and now it produces original shows that are Emmy contenders, like House of Cards. Streaming services mean more original programming, which is great news for writers. Also, binge viewing has become hot, especially in drama. Viewers now watch what they want to watch, when they want. Writers have to understand this trend in order to create competitive programming.

How great is it that so many Emerson alumni participated in this book?

It’s super sweet. From trailblazers like Norman Lear to Max Mutchnick to the current success stories of former students like Harris Wittels ’06, who wrote for Parks and Rec and The Sarah Silverman Program, and Jon Rineman ’05 (Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon), to up-and-coming student writers like Miruna Partovi ’14 and Hilary Donoghue ’14, whose work is published in this second edition, the book is a true testament that in the TV business, Emersonians are a force to be reckoned with!

How is Emerson a good environment for academics like yourself who want to remain connected to their chosen fields?

I am a writer first and foremost—a writer who teaches aspiring writers, and just being around that energy and excitement makes my own writing stronger. As any Emersonian can attest, the atmosphere at Emerson is extremely conducive to creativity.

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