Skip to main content
Open Access Publications from the University of California

UC Berkeley

UC Berkeley Previously Published Works bannerUC Berkeley

Story Work: Non-Proprietary Autonomy and Contemporary Television Writing


Based on interviews with three dozen working writers in American television, this paper argues that TV writers assert their status as labor to guarantee their shared craft identity with novelists, dramatists, and authors of other conventional literary material. The tension between writers' desire for literary prestige on one hand, and their recognition that they create at the behest of company executives, on the other, emerges, alternately, in the imagined difference between writers and producers and, most basically, between autonomous creators and corporate hacks. Our novel observation is that writers' identification with labor, including their commitment to their union, the Writers Guild of America, plays a central role in resolving these tensions. Union membership solves a problem at the heart of contemporary TV writing insofar as it transforms a necessity into a virtue; opposing management as labor, the writer registers her opposition to creative input that might otherwise compromise her sense of artistic integrity. That opposition allows writers to imagine themselves at odds with the studios and networks that employ them, and at the same time to commit to artistic over and against corporate values.

Many UC-authored scholarly publications are freely available on this site because of the UC's open access policies. Let us know how this access is important for you.

Main Content
For improved accessibility of PDF content, download the file to your device.
Current View