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How does salary work when writing for television? I'm talking about a standard network sitcom or drama like Modern Family or Castle. Is it a traditional salary, or is payment based on work turned in? But most importantly, how much does a staff writer on a Television show make?

  • Presumably it's based on the convoluted WGA minimums (pdf): wga.org/uploadedFiles/writers_resources/contracts/min2014.pdf – Catija Jun 25 '15 at 23:32
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    How much does anyone make in any profession? For the most part, it depends. – DA. Jun 26 '15 at 3:19
  • @Catija Wow, had no idea it was so structured. I assumed everything was negotiated on an individual basis (which, as a contract programmer, is the way it works in my profession). – tcrosley Jun 26 '15 at 19:35
  • @tcrosley Nope, base rates and I emphasize that... are negotiated by the WGA (Writer's Guild of America). This includes rates for films, TV shows of varying lengths, and other media. What a writer actually makes is up to the private negotiations between the writer and the production, but must be at least the amount in that PDF. – Catija Jun 26 '15 at 19:47
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According to this article on Gawker, a unionised staff writer will earn a minimum of around $25K per annum (assuming their show isn't instantly cancelled) but substantially more when working on long-term & successful shows.

An approx average for the shows you've mentioned would be somewhere into the low six-figures.

Though show schedules can vary, there are still basic amounts of how many weeks of production you can expect to be paid for. A show that is in production for six weeks (which would be about six episodes, though often rooms start earlier than episodes start shooting), would earn a staff writer—the lowest rung on the writers' room totem pole—a minimum of $25,908. Network shows that go a full season are generally in production for 26 weeks, to produce 22 episodes, so though the weekly staff writer payday dips a bit, a staff writer would still pocket a little over $96,000. At a level higher than staff writer? A full 26-week season for anyone above staff writer pays out just $60 dollars short of $157,000, at minimum. And remember, there are about eight levels between staff writer and show creator…those are some pretty high six-figures, on average.

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10 years ago, a 1 hour dramatic script for a tv show paid $30K for the first draft. How many sets of changes, minor revisions, etc. were negotiable. I've lost track but it's more now, for sure. That's the per script, separate from the weekly on staff payments.

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