The room where it happens: why writers’ rooms make for great TV

It’s been a staple of American shows for decades, but the collaborative model has proved less appealing in the UK. So what is the reason for the new cultural shift?

Watch a behind-the-scenes feature on any American TV show and you will see the clip where a gaggle of Biro-twiddling, Evian-sipping writers sit around an oval-shaped table, while the boss stands at the front scratching away on a scribble-strewn whiteboard. This is how most of our favourite telly shows are made, where seasons, episodes and storylines are invented, broken down, thrown out, lobbed in and generally brainstormed until they are perfect (or at least, as perfect as the showrunner allows them to be). Any one of that roomful of writers may get an episode credited solely to them, but usually there are many, many creative prints over that final draft.

Frank Spotnitz, the writer and executive producer of the X-Files, remembers the day when, in a meeting with the BBC in 2011, he first floated his idea for a US-style TV writers room in the UK. “They told me British writers can’t do this,” he says, laughing. “Like they need to be left alone in their shed to write – they can’t come in and actually talk to human beings in a room.”

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