Stage to Screen

The nation's top playwrights are turning increasingly to TV where producers are shooting programs on one or two sets to reduce costs as budgets are being squeezed.

The nation's top playwrights are turning increasingly to TV where producers are shooting programs on one or two sets to reduce costs as budgets are being squeezed. "'Theater is now viewed as a way of getting a staff writing job on TV,' says Warren Leight, the show runner and developer of 'Lights Out' who won a 1999 Tony Award for the jazz-inspired play 'Side Man.' 'For a lot of guys now, it's a means to an end. And the end is, 'How do I make a living as a writer?'' Many playwrights say television is a good fit for their talents, since it is often driven by dialogue rather than by the visual effects that dominate film. Recent TV writers include critically acclaimed playwrights—such as Marsha Norman, the Pulitzer Prize-winning writer of ''night, Mother' who wrote for last season's 'In Treatment' on HBO—and current theater darlings such as Jon Robin Baitz, who created ABC's long-running 'Brothers & Sisters' and will debut a new play on Broadway next season. In a tight economy, playwrights have emerged as key writers for episodes that feature only one or two locations—a cost-saving device known as a "bottle episode." These episodes have become increasingly necessary as producers are told to rein in costly, multiple-location shoots. Bottle-episode scripts tend to rely more on dialogue than sprawling action sequences in diverse settings.

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