Early Drafts in TV Writing

As I embark on revisions I go through the usual dread/excitement/don’t-make-me cycle in my head. But the best thing about novel revisions? Our early drafts aren’t put out there for all the world to see.

Think about your favorite TV show. Then think about the first season. Notice a recurring event that eventually got cut? Or maybe a character trait altogether was altered completely.

By now we all know I adore Friends and tend to refer back to it a LOT when I discuss great TV shows, because I think the writing is just THAT GOOD. But even these brilliant writers struggled in the beginning. Here are some “first drafts” that wound up evolving before our eyes.

1. Joey Tribbiani. 

I feel like the writers initially envisioned what it would be like if Tony Micelli (Who’s the Boss)  and Bobby Wheeler from Taxi had a son together.


As the episodes progressed he ditched the leather and became the sandwiched obsessed, not-so-bright-but-way-smarter-than-anyone-realizes aspiring actor we all know and love.


2. Phoebe Buffay.


Something tells me if they kept her AS kooky as she was in the pilot, viewers would probably wonder how the gang could tolerate being friends with her. While she definitely remains quirky, we get snippets of backstory throughout the show rather than scenes where she’s actually cleansing auras, or singing on the subway.

Ross, Monica, and Rachel, in my opinion, stay pretty true to character throughout (though they all have immense character development).

3. In Monica’s case though, the writers clearly wanted to make this a thing:



In a few early eps we have random scenes with Monica venting to co-workers at the restaurant. Granted, in the pilot, it actually did serve the plot, but overall I think the writers intended these moments to be an escape for Monica from her crazy friends, and a chance to bounce her life off of impartial people.

It didn’t work.

4. TV Watching within TV watching.

In the first season the gang loved to sit around, watch a random show (Spanish soap opera, classic sitcoms, etc) and make fun of it. This didn’t last too long past the first season.

Imagine if all the cringeworthy early moments in our MS were out there like this, documented forever? Not that these moments are necessarily bad, but they definitely needed fine tuning and the show turned out better for it.

There are also some slip-ups in editing. Like in the pilot when Joey tells Ross to “grab a spoon” and compares his dating options to ice cream, saying he can have any ice cream he wants with “jimmies! Or nuts!”


So my question is, do you call them sprinkles or jimmies?? There is no right answer (except there totally is, and it’s sprinkles).