The best screenwriting books on developing TV series (and the art of running a TV show)

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m a professional screenwriter with a passion for story structure. I’ve worked on film & TV projects for more than 25 years – not only as a writer for independent producers and studios such as Warner and Universal – but also as a development exec and creative consultant. Over time, I was shocked to see how many talented storytellers felt stuck between prescriptive paradigms and a “seat-of-the-pants” approach. So I set out to fill that void and defined a more flexible yet powerful method in my first book, Screenwriting Unchained, which I’ve now enthusiastically applied to TV series. I hope you enjoy the books on this list as much as I have!


I wrote...

Writing a Successful TV Series: How to Pitch and Develop Projects for Television and Online Streaming

By Emmanuel Oberg,

Book cover of Writing a Successful TV Series: How to Pitch and Develop Projects for Television and Online Streaming

What is my book about?

In Writing a Successful TV Series, screenwriter, bestselling author, and industry expert Oberg shares career-boosting secrets for the modern series maker.

Would you like to learn how to create an irresistible bible, a compelling pilot, unforgettable characters, and addictive storylines that audiences around the world will want to watch week after week once they’re hooked on the first episode? Are you eager to find out how mini-series, procedurals, and serials are really designed in order to make it to the Writers’ Room and not only survive it but thrive in it? If so, look no further! This third volume in the Story-Type Method® collection provides a goldmine of actionable information to anyone involved in the series development process: writers, directors, producers, story editors, showrunners…

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission.

The books I picked & why

Book cover of Television Development: How Hollywood Creates New TV Series

Emmanuel Oberg Why did I love this book?

Navigating the TV industry can be intimidating. Bob Levy does an amazing job of providing an overview of the U.S. TV development process, from a producer’s point of view.

He gives a very clear and detailed explanation of the industry, the processes, and the culture. I love how he explains the terminology, the timelines, the people involved, yet never makes it boring. Levy has worked in the TV industry for more than 30 years, and it shows.

By Bob Levy,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Television Development as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Development is a large and central part of the American TV industry, and yet the details of how it works - who makes development decisions and why, where ideas for new shows come from, even basics like the differences between what TV studios and TV networks do - remain elusive to many.

In this book, lecturer and acclaimed television producer Bob Levy offers a detailed introduction to television development, the process by which the Hollywood TV industry creates new scripted series. Written both for students and industry professionals, Television Development serves as a comprehensive introduction to all facets of the…


Book cover of TV Writing On Demand: Creating Great Content in the Digital Era

Emmanuel Oberg Why did I love this book?

This fantastic book is full of useful tips on the craft, contains many interviews and is thoroughly documented.

It’s especially relevant for streaming. I love to discuss theory, but one of the best ways to learn is from practitioners. That’s why I’m a big fan of interviews. Not only do they give you a chance to learn from the masters, but they’re also inspiring. I always go back to my own writing with more energy when I’ve listened to someone talk passionately about their work.

Neil Landau’s book is a great resource, and it was very hard to decide between this one and The TV Showrunner’s Roadmap, another excellent work of his featuring interviews.

By Neil Landau,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked TV Writing On Demand as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

TV Writing On Demand: Creating Great Content in the Digital Era takes a deep dive into writing for today's audiences, against the backdrop of a rapidly evolving TV ecosystem. Amazon, Hulu and Netflix were just the beginning. The proliferation of everything digital has led to an ever-expanding array of the most authentic and engaging programming that we've ever seen. No longer is there a distinction between broadcast, cable and streaming. It's all content. Regardless of what new platforms and channels will emerge in the coming years, for creators and writers, the future of entertainment has never looked brighter.

This book…


Book cover of Writing the TV Drama Series: How to Succeed as a Professional Writer in TV

Emmanuel Oberg Why did I love this book?

Another insightful overview of the TV development process, this time from a writer’s point of view.

This is primarily from a U.S. perspective, but one chapter gives a view of fifteen other countries, which is rare. Pamela Douglas offers the TV equivalent of Syd Field’s Screenplay. She lays out with great clarity the way TV episode structure is taught today – although I believe that talented and successful creators often use other tools to design their series.

From a practical point of view, this book is more useful if you’re developing a network procedural than if you’re developing a serial on ad-free streaming or premium channels, but it’s one of the best books out there if you’d like to explore what I call story format (rather than structure) in TV.

By Pamela Douglas,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Writing the TV Drama Series as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This revised and updated edition is a complete resource for anyone who wants to write and produce for television drama series or create an original series, as well as for teachers in screenwriting classes and workshops. It leads the reader step-by-step through every stage of the development and writing process, offering practical industry information and artistic inspiration. The Fourth Edition leads readers into the future and engages provocative issues about the interface between traditional TV and emerging technologies. It’s also the single most comprehensive source on what is happening in original television drama around the world, with surveys of 15…


Book cover of Writing the Pilot: Creating the Series

Emmanuel Oberg Why did I love this book?

This is a short but excellent volume, dedicated to the design of a TV series.

It contains a brief history of U.S. Television, which in itself is enough to justify reading the book. As the title suggests, it focuses particularly on writing a pilot, a key part of any series project. William Rabkin is a veteran showrunner with hundreds of hours of produced shows under his belt, yet I really enjoyed the conversational tone in his book.

Make sure you get the most recent version, as the first edition of this classic dates back to 2011 and Rabkin has updated his book since.

By William Rabkin,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Writing the Pilot as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

When I finished Writing the Pilot a few years back, I figured I’d managed to cram everything I had to say on the subject in that little 90-page package. But that was 2011, and in the years that have passed, a lot has changed about the television business.And when I say “a lot,” I mean everything. The way series are bought. The way series are conceived. The way stories are told. The way series are consumed. The kinds of stories that can be told. The limitations on content at every level. The limitations on form at every level. And maybe…


Book cover of Showrunners: The Art of Running a TV Show

Emmanuel Oberg Why did I love this book?

This is the companion book for Des Doyle's acclaimed documentary with the same title (also highly recommended).

Described as “the first ever feature-length documentary to explore the world of U.S. television showrunners and the creative forces they employ”, the documentary is an insightful overview of the TV creative process, featuring interviews with some of the best showrunners in the business.

There is simply nothing that beats this if you want to get a sense of how the industry works and measure the stakes, the energy, the pressure, the creativity, the professionalism, and the humor experienced or displayed by these awe-inspiring storytellers.

The book features a foreword by Hart Hanson (Showrunner of Bones, The Finder, Backstrom), an introduction by Doyle, and expands on the interviews featured in the documentary.

By Tara Bennett,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Showrunners as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Showrunners is an insider's guide to creating and maintaining a hit show in today's golden age of television. The official companion to the documentary Showrunners, this highly informative book features exclusive interviews with such acclaimed and popular showrunners as Joss Whedon, Damon Lindelof, Ronald D.Moore, Terence Winter, Bill Prady, and Jane Espenson.


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HellWard

By James Sale,

Book cover of HellWard

James Sale Author Of StairWell

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Poet Entrepreneur Consultant Innovator

James' 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

Dante’s Inferno in the Twenty-First Century...

A psychological and metaphysical thriller in epic poetic form about nearly dying of cancer and descending into a Dantean-type of Hell where both the dead and the soul-dead are each in their separate wards. Meet awful family members, dire friends, a dreadful boss, a perverted pupil, and a murdering neighbour; plus, some infamous (and some contemporary) politicians, poets, and philosophers all contributing to human misery in their self-righteous and mad words, actions, and productions.

Let Dante take you through an odyssey in Hell just as he leads James, and meet not just real people…

HellWard

By James Sale,

What is this book about?

Dante’s Inferno in the Twenty-First Century...

A psychological and metaphysical thriller in epic poetic form about nearly dying of cancer and descending into a Dantean-type of Hell where both the dead and the soul-dead are each in their separate wards. Meet awful family members, dire friends, a dreadful boss, a perverted pupil and a murdering neighbour; plus, some infamous (and some contemporary) politicians, poets and philosophers all contributing to human misery in their self-righteous and mad words, actions, and productions.

Let Dante take you through an odyssey in Hell just as he leads James, and meet not just real people…


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