I’ve always tried to keep up with current events. Yet, I’ve also held a lifelong fascination with journalism, especially broadcast news. Of course, current events, and the seemingly overhyped coverage of those stories by network and cable news, has been an endless source of comedic material for both actors and writers (late night talk shows, Saturday Night Live, etc.) That’s what inspired me to create my web series, The Late, Late News.
Here is my process for both conceiving, writing and rewriting a typical episode, plus some valuable tips on how you can further enhance the rewriting process on your script.
Before you begin, though, you definitely need to know the foundation of your story itself – the concept, the characters, the storylines depicted in each episode and throughout your web series as a whole.
With The Late, Late News THE LATE, LATE NEWS, I wanted to do something slightly different than what’s seen on SNL, The Dailey Show, Last Week Tonight, and other current events comedies. While each episode is pretty much structured within the format of a short skit (running 3-5 minutes each, on average), The Late, Late News isn’t just a collection of interchangeable sketches that you’d find on a show like SNL.
When I developed the show’s concept and characters, I also sought to employ traditional,sitcom style character arcs. I created backstories for the three main characters. As a result, each episode features a continuing character narrative that exists within the confines of the short, succinct sketch comedy format.
For season 2, I hope to expand each episode to a typical half hour show, but again retaining the“newscast” style found in season 1, and developing the characters and overall theme of the show even further.
The core ensemble of characters is led by John Jacobson (played by James Chillingworth), the old school, traditionalist newsman who’s got years of experience, along with a massive ego. As a result of his arrogant behavior, he’s found himself stuck in a no-win situation by being bumped from a prestigious primetime cable newscast into a far less desirable overnight slot. In fact, almost nobody watches the show to begin with!
Making things even more complicated for John is that he’s also stuck working with two young reporters who possess neither experience nor any sense of professionalism. Former child beauty pageant contestant turned news reporter Jenny Taylor (Paula Shreve) aspires to be the next anchorwoman of a major network newscast. Unfortunately, she often takes a more “personal” approach to her reporting, and sometimes gets way too close to the people she’s supposed to be objectively covering.
Rounding out the trio is foreign correspondent Albert Andrews (Manny Fajardo), a reporter who’s been tasked to travel the globe for hot international news. As it often turns out, he ends up traveling the globe to find hot women and cold brews.
Adding to John’s misery is the news stories he ends up covering. While he once took pride in reporting important, substantive news, John now finds himself stuck reporting on seemingly inconsequential news items. In addition, he’s also forced to talk to various guests who add almost no real knowledge or expertise on the subjects they claim to be “experts” in.
With all that in mind, John finds that he’s got to work with what he has in terms of news content (ridiculous as it is), as well as the people he’s surrounded by, regardless of their incompetence. On top of that, he also has to overcome his egotism. If he can’t achieve these goals, then his hopes of getting back to the top of the industry will be dashed.
Given that the shows themselves are typically 3-5 minutes on average, and given that this is a parody of both current events and the news media, the challenge of producing and writing comedy that’s timely and hilarious has always been present for me. Sometimes, I’ve written stories that were based on news events and people who would later be out of the headlines after I finished the first drafts.
However, I’ve written a few stories that ended up being both related (in some way) to current events, while parodying trends and recent incidents that have been part of pop culture within the past year. Right now, I’ve completed writing the season finale of season 1. This script was inspired by Kim Kardashian’s recent suggestive photos, posted on Twitter, that were touted as having “broken” the internet.
Only in this case, I decided to create a fictional story that both parodied the phrase “break the Internet”, as well as the news media’s longtime tendency to blow trivial news stories way out of proportion (bold graphics, urgent music, branded titles, etc.) I won’t go into too much detail, but the episode focuses on a massive worldwide Internet outage that comes from a mysterious source.
In this episode, John, Jenny and Albert attempt to find out what – or who – caused the outage. As you might expect, hilarity ensues. Not only will the exact cause of the outage be revealed, but the person (or thing) responsible for it will be a big surprise.
The writing process for all these episodes of the show have been relatively the same, though for episode 1 a lot of changes took place over the course of developing The Late, Late News. Stories were conceived and scripts were written, only to be rewritten and eventually discarded because the news events that were parodied in those scripts had obviously faded from the headlines. (The first episode focuses on the net neutrality issue, and is on our Youtube page.)
For episode 4, I tailored the story for two of the three main characters – John and Jenny. Since this was the season finale, I initially included a cliffhanger element into the script. It was in those early drafts where Jenny ended up revealing that John was the “culprit” for the internet outage. Of course, John tries his best to deny that, and to explain himself – in embarrassing fashion.
At this point, the story ended with the domineering telecom titan Ted Thorndyke (played by David Tatman in episode 1) announcing his diabolical intentions of “owning” the news network, the entire staff (including John, Jenny and Albert), and ultimately, the news itself. After getting valuable feedback on those early drafts at my monthly screenwriters’ group meeting (more on those ahead), I rewrote those scenes and added more comedic heft to the story itself.
Along with John and Jenny, I decided to include Albert in the script. As a result, every one of the three core characters are together for the first time in this episode. Jenny’s role changes from merely someone who forces John into “confessing” that he broke the internet into one that leads her to reveal the new character that’s revealed to have been the cause of the outage.
I also cut out Ted’s reappearance, and made the overall mood lighter as a result. Rather than end on a cliffhanger, I eventually decided to introduce a new character into the mix that further complicates things for the news team. I also gave Albert more to do, while having his attempts at giving John an update on the worldwide outage be upstaged in hilarious fashion.
Now to my advice on rewriting your script. This script alone (episode 4 of The Late, Late News) has undergone multiple rewrites. I’ve lost count but it’s probably close to 9 or 10, but I feel now that when it comes to making a script the best it can be, the rewrite process takes as long as possible. Of course, that process may differ for some, and that’s perfectly okay, but this is mainly my own current experience with scripts.
Regardless, the process of turning a good script into a great one is always crucial. That’s what rewriting is all about. If you have access to friends and fellow writers (writers’ groups, either online or in person, or both) who can give you solid feedback on your script and give you constructive criticism that will help you improve your writing, you should definitely take full advantage of their suggestions.
You may or may not choose to implement those suggestions, of course, but whether you do is totally up to you. Sometimes, I end up taking those suggestions and build upon them in each script. More often than not, though, I try to see what I can do to improve the script in every aspect – character, dialogue, scenes, setting, etc. and come up with my own ideas on how to fix any issues that may arise.
Also, regarding feedback – when you share your scripts with friends and fellow writers, try to look for patterns in their comments and criticism of each script. If more than one person says that there’s a certain issue or issues that need to be addressed, you will definitely have a better idea of what to do when you go about rewriting that script.
Another great way to find out what works, and what doesn’t, in your script, is to have a table read. It’s been said many times before on other writing blogs, but I had a draft version of the second episode of The Late, Late News read out loud by a few people in my own screenwriters’ group.
Hearing people read the scenes, and the dialogue, was an eye-opening experience that was extremely beneficial to me as I worked on rewriting that episode. If you’re struggling with a script, you definitely should take advantage of any opportunity to arrange a table read – either with friends, or any actors you may have access to. I’d love to do one again soon on any future scripts I write.
Most importantly, as has been said elsewhere – when it comes to criticism of your scripts, try to have a thick skin. Don’t take their criticism personally, and don’t let it get to you. It’s there to help you improve as a writer, and to improve your writing. It’s something I try to do, as difficult as it may seem, and accepting constructive criticism from people on your writing is something you should try to do too. Remember, it’s constructive criticism – not destructive criticism.
As a writer, I take pride in my work, and I am honored to be both sharing it through The Late, Late News, and most of all, entertaining people through the show’s wacky characters and stories. Making a positive impact through story is what all writers try to do, regardless of genre or medium, and regardless of if the story is fact or fiction.
I hope the advice I’ve given you on screenwriting herein, inspires you to make a positive impact of your own through the stories you go on to tell. Best of luck to you and all my fellow writers out there, both current and future. I can’t wait to see what stories and characters you come up with!
Watch The Late, Late News at:Chris Hadley, Late News, Rewriting, script, The Late, web series, workshop, writing