4 Things You Need to Know About Interning for a TV Show

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4 Things You Need to Know About Interning for a TV Show

This is a guest post by Anna Hicks.

Do you dream of working on a TV show? Do you fantasize about being part of Hannah Horvath's “New York” or Juliette Barnes' “Nashville?” Are you the kind of person who already has your picks for the 2013 Emmys -- and not just the actors, but also the Creative Arts awards like lighting direction and multi-camera picture editing? If so, you've probably thought about how fantastic it would be to intern for your favorite TV series.

Be warned: interning on a TV show isn't glamorous. It's a summer of long hours, menial labor and a lot of time standing around doing nothing. However, if you're prepared to handle the realities of working in Hollywood, a TV internship is a great way to get your foot in the door and start a career. Before you start applying for internships at TV production companies like ABC, NBC or Comedy Central, here's what you need to know:

1. You don't get to choose the show. Unfortunately, you don't get to choose where you intern. If you apply to ABC with hopes of spending your days learning the secrets of Pretty Little Liars, you could wind up working for Celebrity Wife Swap instead. TV production companies don't want fan girls; they want interns dedicated to learning how a television show works and who are willing to put in the hours to make it happen.

2. You will work all the hours. When you're working for television, a 12-hour workday is a short day. Expect to work 16-hour days and more, as you spend your time setting up tables, distributing materials and driving people to and from shooting locations. Yes, this includes weekends. When TV series get into a groove, they rarely take a day off. The good part is that even if your assigned duties are not that interesting, being on a TV set is; it's a bustle of actors, writers, directors and designers working together to create something magical. As an intern, you get to watch and learn.

The bad part is you won't have much time to have a life outside of your internship. You won't have time for a second job, you won't have much time for friends and TV shooting schedules often cause romantic breakups, since you won't even have time to see your boyfriend or girlfriend anymore. Read Gavin Polone's famous Vulture article about the realities of working on a TV production set, and decide for yourself whether the benefits are worth the tradeoffs.

3. You will live in a terrible apartment. Once you're done with your 16-hour day, expect at least an hour drive back to your apartment. Los Angeles is a huge, sprawling metropolis, and the places interns can afford to live are rarely in the same neighborhoods as the television studios. Los Angeles has some of the most expensive real estate in the world, and so your apartment will likely be miles away from your workplace, and you'll be sharing it with four other roommates.

You may even be sleeping in the living room, or in the hot-water closet; these are standard arrangements when young people team up to share space and save money. On the plus side, your busy internship means you won't be spending much time there.

4. When you do get a job, you won't make much money. Unlike other industries, the television industry regularly offers interns full-time jobs, since it requires so many people just to keep a show running. If you show up on time, are pleasant to be around and go above and beyond your duties, it's very likely that you'll be offered a job as a production assistant, or PA. What they don't tell you is that PAs make just above minimum wage. Expect your salary to be around $500/week after taxes -- not a lot for one of the most expensive cities on the planet. Only the TV stars, executives and a few of the writers earn enough to live in those fabulous Beverly Hills houses with the swimming pools. The majority of people who work in television earn low middle-class incomes, just like in other industries.

The good thing about being an intern, and then a PA, is that it prepares you for any kind of television career: PAs soon graduate to become writers, designers and directors. A few PAs even end up acting on television. Therefore, if you're ready to launch your career in "the industry," and you're fully aware of what a TV internship is all about, start preparing your applications.