Sometimes it pays to go long. In 2008, The Writers Guild gained jurisdiction over digital and new media writing projects intended for the web or mobile devices. Original streaming programs weren’t a factor a decade ago and online shows were thought of as low-budget "webisodes."
Since then, WGA contracts have adapted to meet the needs of writers working on streaming-only shows like those on Amazon, Hulu, and Netflix. Writers are paid a weekly rate, a per-episode fee, or a combination of both, according to Lowell Peterson, executive director of the Writers Guild of America, East. Writers are also paid a higher rate for a longer script.
"It’s called the story and teleplay rate [and] for a short episode, [it] is definitely lower than an hour," Peterson says.
Despite technology’s influence in morphing the medium, some old school conventions continue to prevail. The online network of screenwriters and buyers, The Black List’s TV Script Standards guide advises writers to keep pilot scripts between 22 and 32 pages for half-hour comedies and 45 and 63 pages for one-hour dramas. "Page counts are essential to networks and executives because of that all-important advertising space, something that must be accounted for when writing for television," the guide reads.
The fact that there’s still a "fall season" of TV -- a tradition which dates back to the 1960s where new networks would vie for viewers, and thus the advertising dollars of automakers marketing their new car models -- is proof that change comes slowly in Hollywood (though other networks are moving to a year-round schedule).
"TV is a 12-month, 52-week a year operation now, and networks are only one part of a mix," Bianculli says. "Cars aren't selling the way they were, networks aren’t selling the way they were, and that’s still there. Some of it takes awhile to adapt."
This unhurried move towards mold-breaking is why Bianculli thinks many Netflix Originals fit within network and cable time slots: syndication. Should House of Cards, for example, reach that circa-100-episode mark (they’re at 65 now), the show might be able to be sold elsewhere, from HBO to USA Network, although there’s no prior workable model for this yet.
"If there’s value to it down the line other than Netflix, it makes sense to keep it in the parameters of where it can be sold to local stations to fill a one-hour slot," says Bianculli.