Less than a year ago, Bryan Donaldson was working in IT at an Illinois insurance company. But as newly-minted late night star Seth Meyers began scouting writers to join his Late Night with Seth Meyers staff, Donaldson's Twitter feed, @TheNardvark, caught the comic's eye.
The host and his executive producer, Michael Shoemaker, thought that Donaldson's 140-character quips (one example: "The addition of Jenny McCarthy could be the shot in the arm that The View needed but not the one her kids still need") would work well as monologue jokes. Donaldson packed his bags and moved to New York, where he had never even visited, to join the show in time for its February launch.
"Twitter has completely democratized the way we find writers," Meyers said at last month's South by Southwest festival. "You read their last six months of Tweets and you can tell immediately if they have a great sense of humor."
In order to land a TV staff job, writers used to just submit scripts that they had written on spec. Those scripts are still a factor, but now social media gives showrunners like Parks and Recreation's Michael Schur another way to gauge a job contender's skills. Schur says he hired two writers, Megan Amram and Jen Statsky, after enjoying their humorous tweets.
"It's great for producers, it's a new way to find someone who can write jokes," he says. "You get to see how their brain works." Schur also likes that Twitter forces writers to be "really concise and a good editor of their own material."
Additionally, Twitter gives Schur a chance to do more due diligence on potential hires beyond a spec script, which could have been polished by someone else.
"If you get a script as a sample, you want to believe the person writing the script wrote every word themselves, but that's not usually how it works," Schur says. "You show it to your friends, people give you suggestions. But on Twitter, if you read enough tweets from someone, you know that's just their brain. They're not subcontracting their tweets out to people. So it's a more pure way to get someone's point of view."
But Schur warns that writers have to be consistently funny on Twitter to stand out. "The scary thing about sending people your Twitter feed, if you wrote a real clunker a day ago, people don't edit their feed so you'll run into some dumb stuff," he says.
Brooklyn Nine-Nine star Andy Samberg says he's also used Twitter to find writers for other projects he's working on. "When you ask to see a sample from a writer now, they'll send a link to their Twitter feed," he says. Is Twitter a good venue to find talent? "If you're looking for a joke writer, absolutely," he says. "You get a sense of someone's tone and their frame of reference."
Twitter-to-TV's biggest success story remains Justin Halpern, who created the short-lived S#*! My Dad Says based on his Twitter feed. He's now behind Fox's Surviving Jack with executive producer Bill Lawrence. "The allure of Twitter for writers is there," Lawrence says. "It's funny to try to be a joke writer there. I love it."
But while a Twitter feed may suggest if a writer is funny, The Mindy Project's Mindy Kaling says it can't guarantee a good storyteller. "I think social media is a little deceptive," she says. "A mistake that a lot of writers are making is, instead of doing the time and hard work to write an original pilot or a play or some sketches, they're spending more time defining their persona on social media," she says.
"I love Instagram, I love Twitter," Kaling adds. "Social media is great, but it's not something to be put on your resume. I worry that its distracting people from the hard work. And writing is hard work."