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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

What fresh hell: TV writers' rooms have embraced the “gig economy”

Illustration for article titled What fresh hell: TV writers' rooms have embraced the “gig economy”
Screenshot: 30 Rock (YouTube)

Over the past decade, as our global society continues to be crushed under the weight of late capitalism, the phrase “gig economy” has been popping up more and more. Generally, this refers to things like driving for Uber or Postmates, but recently non-service industries have been adopting the model, as well. A new article from Vanity Fair describes the transformation of the once-stable TV writer’s room to the often hellish experience of so-called “mini-rooms” that bring the gig economy to the world of creatives.


In essence, a “mini-room” is exactly what it sounds like. It’s a smaller version of the traditional writers’ room—either in terms of number of writers or amount of time they have to write. Studios began shifting to this model in response to the ever-changing TV landscape, where series regularly consist of only ten episodes and will occasionally drop all at once on streaming platforms. Rather than greenlight a pilot, put together a room, and hope they churn out a successful TV show, studios would much rather put together four or five “mini-rooms” to script multiple episode of multiple shows. By the time they’ve decided to greenlight something, they’ve got five out of ten episodes fully scripted and the rest of the series mapped out.

From the studio’s perspective, it’s a no-brainer. From the writer’s side, it’s a little scary. Getting a staff writing job used to be a somewhat stable gig. Sure, you never know if you were going to get picked up next season, but at least you’re not toiling in a room for ten weeks only to find out that your show isn’t the one getting produced. Veteran TV writer Gina Welch compares the current TV writer’s experience to that of a polar bear “jumping from one melting ice floe to another.” There’s less pay, less stability, and writers will occasionally find themselves stuck between these short-term gigs, contractually unable to take another job.

But for all the faults of the script-to-series “mini-room” model, it has the potential to produce some great television. It also, as Vanity Fair notes, offers opportunities to less-experienced writers who previously wouldn’t have been able to get a foothold in the industry. The tricky part is finding a balance between offering those creatively rewarding and fruitful opportunities and treating an inherently artistic profession like Uber.

You can read Vanity Fair’s whole article here.

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