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What Are the Writers Guild of America Awards?

by Scott Kacsmar
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Writers Guild Awards

The Writers Guild of America Awards are an annual award show to honor the best in writing for film, television, news and radio.

This is another major award show on par with the Oscars, Emmys, Screen Actors Guild, Spirit and Golden Globes. But this one is all about the writers, making it one of the most prestigious for those in the writing community.

Let’s look back at the history of the Writers Guild of America (WGA) Awards.

The History of the Writers Guild of America Awards

The 1st WGA Awards ceremony was held in 1949 to honor the best in film in 1948. This was a time before TV shows were a thing and the initial ceremony only had 5 awards for films.

Things greatly expanded in later years, but it was not until 2004 that the ceremony was broadcast on television for the first time. We are already up to the 76th WGA Awards in 2024.

The Selection Process for the WGA Awards

The thousands of writers in the Writers Guild are the voters for these awards each year. To be eligible for selection, a film must have been screened theatrically in the last calendar year.

Television awards are for series that were produced and aired between December 1 and November 30 no matter how many episodes aired during that time.

For all awards, scripts have to be produced under the jurisdiction of the WGA or a collective bargaining agreement in Canada, Ireland, New Zealand or the United Kingdom.

Award Categories for the WGA Awards

The awards can be split into 4 distinct categories: Film, television, radio and news.

Film Awards

Starting with the year 1984, the film awards were broken down into Best Original Screenplay and Best Adapted Screenplay, just like the Oscars do.

Woody Allen has been the big winner for Best Original Screenplay, with 4 wins, including 3 in the 1980s alone for Broadway Danny Rose (1984), Hannah and Her Sisters (1986) and Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989).

The 3rd film category is Best Documentary Screenplay, which has been awarded since 2004. Sarah Polley has been able to win a WGA award for Best Adapted Screenplay (2022’s Women Talking) and Best Documentary Screenplay (2013’s Stories We Tell).

Television Awards

There is a long list of television awards at the WGA Awards. These were the categories handed out last year:

  • Comedy Series
  • Drama Series
  • Episodic Comedy
  • Episodic Drama
  • Long Form – Adapted
  • Long Form – Original
  • Short Form New Media
  • New Series
  • Animation
  • Comedy/Variety Talk Series
  • Comedy/Variety – Sketch Series
  • Best Comedy/Variety – Specials
  • Daytime Serials
  • Children’s Script
  • Best Quiz and Audience
  • Documentary Script – Current Events
  • Documentary Script – Other Than Current Events

These awards are relatively new. For example, Best Comedy Series has only been a category since 2005. The big winner has been 30 Rock, which won 3 years in a row in 2007-09. The only other 3-time winner (not consecutive) was HBO’s Veep.

Likewise, Best Drama Series has been awarded since 2005. AMC has been the big winner with 7 wins, the most of any network. That is thanks to 4 wins by Mad Men and 3 wins by Breaking Bad, the most wins of any show since 2005.

Surprisingly, there was a Best Animation Series award before the Comedy and Drama, as it started in 2002. The Simpsons has won it 13 times, giving Fox 15 wins as a network in 19 years.

The TV awards that have been around much longer are the episodic ones that highlight the writing for a single episode. Those go back to 1960. M*A*S*H* (7 episodes) and Frasier (6 episodes) have the most wins of any show for a comedy. Hill Street Blues (4 episodes) is the only drama with 4 wins.

News Awards

There are 3 categories for the best writing in news:

  • TV News Script – Regularly Scheduled, Bulletin or Breaking Report
  • TV News Script – Analysis, Feature or Commentary
  • Digital News

Radio Awards

There are 3 categories for the best writing for radio:

  • Radio News Script – Regularly Scheduled, Bulletin or Breaking Report
  • Radio News Script – Analysis, Feature or Commentary
  • Radio Documentary

Discontinued Awards

There have also been several discontinued categories. There used to be awards for films for Best Written Musical, Best Written Drama and Best Written Comedy, but they were all renamed into similar awards after 1969. Eventually, they were replaced by Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Original Screenplay instead of separating by genre.

A short-lived award category that was very unique and interesting at these shows was Best Videogame Writing, which was awarded in 2008-2018. It was often won by games in the Uncharted, Assassin’s Creed and The Last of Us franchises. The last winner in 2019 was God of War.

Lifetime Achievement Awards

In addition to the regular awards for writing, each year has 2 lifetime achievement awards. One is for screenwriting and the other is for TV writing.

The Laurel Award for Screenwriting Achievement has been given out since 1953 and awards writers for great contributions over the years. Legendary director and screenwriter Billy Wilder is the only person to win this award twice. He shared it with Charles Brackett, his collaborator on 16 films, in 1957 and again in 1980 with collaborator I. A. L. Diamond.

Plenty of great screenwriters have won this award, including Joseph L. Mankiewicz (1963), John Huston (1964), Dalton Trumbo (1970), Woody Allen (1987), Paul Schrader (1999), David Mamet (2005), Lawrence Kasdan (2006), Oliver Stone (2017) and Charlie Kaufman (2023).

The 2024 winner will be Walter Hill, who is famous for The Getaway, The Warriors, 48 Hrs. and Alien 3. He was a co-writer for the story to Aliens, one of the greatest sci-fi action films ever made.

The Laurel Award for TV Writing Achievement was first awarded in 1976 to Rod Serling, the mastermind behind The Twilight Zone. Other notable winners include Norman Lear (1993), Carl Reiner (1995), David Chase (2008), Larry David (2010), Shonda Rhimes (2015) and Aaron Sorkin (2017).

The 2024 winner will be Linda Bloodworth Thomason, who worked on shows such as Designing Women and Evening Shade. She started her career with an Emmy-winning script for an episode of M*A*S*H*.

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Scott Kacsmar
NFL football picks are Scott Kacsmar's expertise, serving as his main focus. He has contributed to various sports websites and blogs, such as NBC Sports, ESPN Insider, FiveThirtyEight, and, JoeWager. Originating from Pittsburgh, Scott maintains a love-hate connection with the Pirates.

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