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For other uses, see Ghostwriter (disambiguation).
The popular demand for the late Tom Clancy's action novels exceeded his ability to write new books; as a result, his publisher hired ghostwriters to write novels in the Clancy style.

A ghostwriter is a writer who writes books, manuscripts, screenplays, scripts, articles, blog posts, stories, reports, whitepapers, or other texts that are officially credited to another person.

Duties and functions[edit]

In some cases, ghostwriters are allowed to share credit with the clients who hire their ghostwriting or editing services. For example, a common method is to put the client author's name on a book cover as the main byline (By Author's Name) and then to put the ghostwriter's name underneath it, like this (As told to: Ghostwriter's Name). Sometimes this is done in lieu of pay or in order to decrease the amount of payment to the book ghostwriter. Also, the ghostwriter can be cited as a coauthor of a book, or listed in the movie or film credits when having ghostwritten the script or screenplay for a film production.

Celebrities, executives, participants in timely news stories, and political leaders often hire ghostwriters to draft or edit autobiographies, magazine articles, or other written material. A highly common form of literature ghostwriters are hired for is the memoir or an author's memoirs, which can be either nonfiction, fiction, or fiction based on fact involving relating the client's personal history or life story. In music, ghostwriters are often used for writing songs and lyrics. Screenplay authors can also use writers to either edit or rewrite their scripts in order to improve them, increasing their chances to be optioned or produced. Also, ghostwriters may work on accompanying documents, such as treatments for screenplays. Often, ghostwriters will work on related projects beyond the scope of professional ghostwriting, such as marketing, promotions, sales, publishing or other related services for pay, in order to procure more clients and increase the total amount of their business.

Ghostwriters may have varying degrees of involvement in the production of a finished work. Some ghostwriters are hired to edit and clean up a rough draft, others are hired to do most of the writing based on an outline provided by the credited author. For some projects, ghostwriters will do a substantial amount of research. Ghostwriters are also hired to write fiction in the style of an existing author, often as a way of increasing the number of books that can be published by a popular author. Ghostwriters will often spend a period from several months to a full year researching, writing, and editing nonfiction works for a client, and they are paid either per page, per each word or via total word count, with a flat fee, with a percentage of the royalties of the sales, or by using some combination thereof. The ghostwriter is sometimes acknowledged by the author or publisher for his or her writing services, but often as not the ghostwriter isn't even mentioned anywhere in connection with a ghostwriting project.

A consultant or career-switcher may pay a ghostwriter to write a book on a topic in their professional area, to establish or enhance their credibility as an 'expert' in their field. Public officials and politicians employ 'correspondence officers' to respond to the large volume of correspondence. A number of papal encyclicals have been written by ghostwriters. With medical ghostwriting, pharmaceutical companies pay both professional writers to produce papers and then pay other scientists or physicians to attach their names to these papers before they are published in medical or scientific journals. Some university and college students hire ghostwriters from essay mills to write entrance essays, term papers, theses, and dissertations. This is largely considered unethical unless the actual ghostwriting work is really just rewriting, editing, some light research, or otherwise not strictly writing the paper outright for the student, who is supposed to be creating his or her own legitimate school paper.

Ghostwriting (or simply "ghosting") also occurs in other creative fields. Composers have long hired ghostwriters to help them to write musical pieces and songs; Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart is an example of a well-known composer who was paid to ghostwrite music for wealthy patrons. Ghosting also occurs in popular music. A pop music ghostwriter writes lyrics and a melody in the style of the credited musician. In hip hop music, the increasing use of ghostwriters by high-profile hip-hop stars[who?] has led to controversy. In the visual arts, it is not uncommon in either fine art or commercial art such as comics for a number of assistants to do work on a piece that is credited to a single artist.


The division of work between the ghostwriter and the credited author varies a great deal. In some cases, the ghostwriter is hired to edit a rough draft of a mostly completed manuscript. In this case, the outline, ideas and much of the language in the finished book or article are those of the credited author. If it is agreed upon, for example in a signed contract, the ghostwriter will sign over all the rights to everything he or she adds into the work that is not otherwise copyrighted to someone else. In many cases, a ghostwriter handles most of the writing, using concepts and stories provided by the credited author. In this case, a ghostwriter will do extensive research on the credited author or their subject area of expertise. It is rare for a ghostwriter to prepare a book or article with no input from the credited author; at a minimum, the credited author usually jots down a basic framework of ideas at the outset or provides comments on the ghostwriter's final draft.

For an autobiography, a ghostwriter will interview the credited author, their colleagues, and family members, and find interviews, articles, and video footage about the credited author or their work. For other types of nonfiction books or articles, a ghostwriter will interview the credited author and review previous speeches, articles, and interviews with the credited author, to assimilate his or her arguments and points of view. Most of this work can be done over email via the Internet, through postal mail, phone calls, Skype and other methods of instant communication.

Ghostwriters are hired for numerous reasons. In many cases, celebrities or public figures do not have the time, discipline, or writing skills to write and research a several-hundred page autobiography or "how-to" book. Even if a celebrity or public figure has the writing skills to pen a short article, they may not know how to structure and edit a several-hundred page book so that it is captivating and well-paced. In other cases, publishers use ghostwriters to increase the number of books that can be published each year under the name of well-known, highly marketable authors. Usually, there is a confidentiality clause in the contract between the ghostwriter and the credited author that obligates the former to remain anonymous.

Remuneration and credit[edit]

The ghostwriter for Hillary Clinton's memoirs received a $500,000 fee for collaborating with her.

Ghostwriters will often spend from several months to a full year researching, writing, and editing nonfiction works for a client, and they are paid either per page, with a flat fee, or a percentage of the royalties of the sales, or some combination thereof. Some ghostwriters charge for articles "$4 per word and more depending on the complexity" of the article.[1] Literary agent Madeleine Morel states that the average ghostwriter's advance for work for major publishers is "between $30,000 and $100,000".[2] In 2001, the New York Times stated that the fee that the ghostwriter for Hillary Clinton's memoirs will receive is probably about $500,000" of her book's $8 million advance, which "is near the top of flat fees paid to collaborators."[3]

According to Ghostwriters Ink, a professional ghostwriting service, this flat fee is usually closer to an average of $12,000 to $28,000 per book. By hiring the ghostwriter for this negotiated price, the clients ultimately keep all advances and post-publishing royalties and profits for themselves.[4]

One ghostwriter gave the following fees in 2011:[5]

  • $20,000 for a 60,000-word health book
  • $15,000 for a 40,000-word business book
  • $12,000 for a 55,000-word memoir needing reworking
  • $25,000 for an 80,000-word nutrition/fitness book that had a basic manuscript

According to SEO Writer, another service, the flat fee for a "typical book running 200 - 250 pages" is $10,000 to $12,000, although it could sometimes go up to $16,000.[6]

Similarly, there are some ghostwriting services that charge per page for the entire project so the prospective client can know the final cost upfront. This option can be helpful for clients that have a specific page count to achieve for their book.

Some ghostwriters charge 40-50c per word (i.e. a 200 page book would cost $24,000 to $30,000).[7] In Canada, The Writers' Union has established a minimum fee schedule for ghostwriting. The total minimum fee for a 200-300 page book is $40,000, paid at various stages of the drafting of the book. Research fees are an extra charge on top of this minimum fee.[8] In Germany the average fee for a confidential ghostwriting service is about $100 per page.[citation needed] The Editorial Freelancers Association also suggests rates of 26 cents to 50 cents per word, which would be about $15,000 to $30,000 for a 250 page book.[9]

There is a recent[when?] trend of outsourcing ghostwriting jobs to offshore locations like India, China and the Philippines, to save up to 80%. Outsourced ghostwriters whose quality levels vary widely, complete 200-page books for fees ranging between $3000 and $5000, or $12–$18 per page.[citation needed] This sharp price cut in ghostwriters' fees is encouraging more outsourcing. However, the premium typically paid for such outsourcing is a book that is not likely to be published, or a book manuscript that requires substantial rewriting or editing by a better off professional who knows the related written language and how to properly handle the writing process.

Sometimes the ghostwriter will receive partial credit on a book, signified by the phrase "with..." or "as told to..." on the cover. Credit for the ghostwriter may also be provided as a "thanks" in a foreword or introduction. For nonfiction books, the ghostwriter may be credited as a "contributor" or a "research assistant". In other cases, the ghostwriter receives no official credit for writing a book or article; in cases where the credited author or the publisher or both wish to conceal the ghostwriter's role, the ghostwriter may be asked to sign a nondisclosure contract that forbids him or her from revealing his or her ghostwriting role.



Ghostwriters are widely used by celebrities and public figures who wish to publish their autobiographies or memoirs. The degree of involvement of the ghostwriter in nonfiction writing projects ranges from minor to substantial. Various sources explain the role of the ghostwriter and how competent writers can get this kind of work. In some cases, a ghostwriter may be called in just to clean up, edit, and polish a rough draft of an autobiography or a "how-to" book. In other cases, the ghostwriter will write an entire book or article based on information, stories, notes, and an outline, interview sessions with the celebrity or public figure. The credited author also indicates to the ghostwriter what type of style, tone, or "voice" they want in the book.

President Ronald Reagan released a ghostwritten autobiography.

In some cases, such as with some "how-to" books, diet guides, or cookbooks, a book will be entirely written by a ghostwriter, and the celebrity (e.g., a well-known musician or sports star) will be credited as author. Publishing companies use this strategy to increase the marketability of a book by associating it with a celebrity or well-known figure. In several countries before elections, candidates commission ghostwriters to produce autobiographies for them so as to gain visibility and exposure. Two of John F. Kennedy's books are almost entirely credited to ghostwriters.[10] Former President Ronald Reagan also released a ghostwritten autobiography.[citation needed]

A consultant or career-switcher may pay to have a book ghostwritten on a topic in their professional area, to establish or enhance their credibility as an 'expert' in their field. For example, a successful salesperson hoping to become a motivational speaker on selling may pay a ghostwriter to write a book on sales techniques. Often this type of book is published by a self-publishing press (or "vanity press"), which means that the author is paying to have the book published. This type of book is typically given away to prospective clients as a promotional tool, rather than being sold in bookstores.


Ghostwriters are employed by fiction publishers for several reasons. In some cases, publishers use ghostwriters to increase the number of books that can be published each year by a well-known, highly marketable author. Ghostwriters are mostly used to pen fiction works for well-known, "name" authors in genres such as detective fiction, mysteries, and teen fiction.

Cover of the revised edition of The Tower Treasure, the first Hardy Boys mystery

Additionally, publishers use ghostwriters to write new books for established series where the 'author' is a pseudonym. For example, the purported authors of the Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys mysteries, "Carolyn Keene" and "Franklin W. Dixon", respectively, are actually pseudonyms for a series of ghostwriters who write books in the same style using a template of basic information about the book's characters and their fictional universe (names, dates, speech patterns), and about the tone and style that are expected in the book (for more information, see the articles on pseudonyms or pen names). In addition, ghostwriters are often given copies of several of the previous books in the series to help them match the style.

The known web publicist Keith Acton rose to underground notoriety and disdain when it was discovered he had paid a ghostwriter to write most of his work. Moreover, the estate of romance novelist V. C. Andrews hired a ghostwriter to continue writing novels after her death, under her name and in a similar style to her original works. Many of action writer Tom Clancy's books from the 2000s bear the names of two people on their covers, with Clancy's name in larger print and the other author's name in smaller print. Various books bearing Clancy's name were written by different authors under the same pseudonym. The first two books in the Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell franchise were written by Raymond Benson under the pseudonym David Michaels.

Sometimes famous authors will ghostwrite for other celebrities as well, such as when H. P. Lovecraft ghostwrote "Imprisoned with the Pharaohs" (also known as "Under the Pyramids") for Harry Houdini in Weird Tales in the 1920s.[citation needed]


Public officials and politicians employ 'correspondence officers' to respond to the large volume of correspondence that they receive. The degree of involvement of the public official in the drafting of response letters varies, depending on the nature of the letter, its contents, the importance of the official and the sender, and personal preference. With routine correspondence, public officials such as heads of state and regional governors typically have their officials approve the content and autopen their signature with a signature machine.

However, if the response is being sent to a high-ranking official or member of society, a draft of the letter may be given to the head of state or their top advisers for approval—particularly if the letter deals with a politically sensitive issue. This is sometimes also done for "Dear Colleague" letters, which are intended as policy papers rather than personal correspondence. Public officials at lower levels, such as middle managers and department heads will often review, request changes in, and hand sign all outgoing correspondence, even though the initial drafts are composed by a correspondence officer or policy analyst.

Since members of the public are widely aware that politicians are not themselves writing routine response letters, it can be argued that these correspondence officers are not ghostwriters in the strictest sense of the term. Public officials may also have a speechwriter, who writes public remarks and speeches that the politician will deliver in person, alternatively, both jobs may be done by a single person or group.


A number of papal encyclicals have been written by ghostwriters. Pascendi, for instance, was written by Joseph Lemius (1860–1923), the procurator in Rome of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate.[11] In June 1938, Pius XI summoned American Jesuit John La Farge, who began to prepare a draft of Humani generis unitas, which LaFarge and two other Jesuits—Gustav Gundlach and Gustave Desbuquois[12]—on in Paris; the draft was approximately 100 pages long.[13] Another Jesuit translated the draft encyclical into Latin, presenting it to Wlodimir Ledóchowski, then the General of the Society of Jesus who had chosen Gundlach and Desbuquois for the project.[12] The draft encyclical was delivered to the Vatican in September 1938.[12] Sebastian Tromp, a Dutch Jesuit, a solid Thomist theologian and close to Pope Pius XII, is considered to be the main ghostwriter of Mystici corporis.[14]


Some university and college students hire ghostwriters from essay mills to write entrance essays, term papers, and theses and dissertations. In the 2000s (decade), many essay mills began offering online services. The most basic 'essay mill' service is the sale of an essay. However, since submitting a previously written essay is risky, a 'customized' essay-writing service may be available for a higher price.[citation needed]

Universities have developed several strategies to combat this type of academic fraud. Some professors require students to submit electronic versions of their term papers, so that the text of the essay can be compared against databases of previously written essays. Other universities allow professors to give students oral examinations on papers which a professor believes to be 'ghostwritten'; if the student is unfamiliar with the content of an essay that they have submitted, then the student can be charged with academic fraud.


Main article: Medical ghostwriter

With medical ghostwriting, pharmaceutical companies pay professional writers to produce papers and then pay other scientists or physicians to attach their names to these papers before they are published in medical or scientific journals. Medical ghostwriting has been criticized by a variety of professional organizations[15][16] representing the drug industry, publishers, and medical societies, and it may violate American laws prohibiting off-label promotion by drug manufacturers as well as anti-kickback provisions within the statutes governing Medicare.[17] Recently, it has attracted scrutiny from the lay press[18] and from lawmakers,[19] as well. It is permitted at some institutions, including the University of Washington School of Medicine,[20][21] while it is prohibited and considered a particularly pernicious form of plagiarism at others, such as Tufts University School of Medicine.[22]

Professional medical writers can write papers without being listed as authors of the paper and without being considered ghostwriters, provided their role is acknowledged. The European Medical Writers Association have published guidelines which aim to ensure professional medical writers carry out this role in an ethical and responsible manner.[23] The use of properly acknowledged medical writers is accepted as legitimate by organisations such as the World Association of Medical Editors[15] and the British Medical Journal.[24] Moreover, professional medical writers' expertise in presenting scientific data may be of benefit in producing better quality papers.[25]


Some websites, including blogs, are ghostwritten, because not all authors have the information technology skills or the time to dedicate to running a website. Nonetheless, the style, tone and content is modeled on that of the credited author. Many website ghostwriters are freelance but some are freelancers who work under contract, as with radio presenters and television presenters. Occasionally a "house pseudonym", or collective name is used by the author of the website.

Some celebrities, CEOs, or public figures set up blog websites—sometimes as a marketing, public relations, or lobbying tool. However, since these individuals are typically too busy to write their blog posts, they hire discreet ghostwriters to post to the blog under the celebrity or CEO's name. As with nonfiction ghostwriting, the blog ghostwriter models their writing style, content and tone on that of the credited author.


Classical music and film scores[edit]

The Classical era composer Mozart was paid to ghostwrite music for wealthy patrons who wished to give the impression that they were gifted composers.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart is an example of a well-known composer who was paid to ghostwrite music for wealthy patrons. More recently, composers such as the UK-based Patric Standford (born in 1939) have ghostwritten for symphonic recordings and films such as the Rod McKuen Cello Concerto.[26] In the film industry, a music ghostwriter is a "person who composes music for another composer but is not credited on the cue sheet or in the final product in any way." The practice is considered one of the "dirty little secrets of the film and television music business" that is considered unethical,[27] but has been common since the early stages of the film industry. In the early years of film, David Raksin worked as music ghostwriter and orchestrator for Charlie Chaplin; even though Chaplin was credited as the score writer, he was considered to be a "hummer" (pejorative film industry slang for a person who purports to be a film score composer but who in fact only gives a general idea of the melodies to a ghostwriter).

Pop music[edit]

Musical ghostwriting also occurs in popular music. When a record company wants to market an inexperienced young singer as a singer-songwriter, or help a veteran bandleader coping with writer's block (or a lack of motivation to finish the next album), an experienced songwriter may be discreetly brought in to help.[citation needed] In other cases, a ghostwriter writes lyrics and a melody in the style of the credited musician, with little or no input from the credited musician. A ghostwriter providing this type of service may be thanked, without reference to the service provided, in the album credits, or they may be a true 'ghost', with no acknowledgement in the album.

Legal disputes have arisen when musical ghostwriters have tried to claim royalties, when an allegedly ghostwritten song becomes a money-making hit. In 1987, Darryl Neudorf was asked to work on a project for Nettwerk Productions involving a newly signed artist in their repertoire named Sarah McLachlan. This recording, the album Touch, resulted in garnering the interest of Arista Records. She signed a multi-album contract with them and two of the songs that Neudorf worked on with her became commercial hits in Canada. In 1991, Neudorf was invited back to work with McLachlan on her second album, Solace. In 1993, he filed a lawsuit against McLachlan and her label, Nettwerk, alleging that he had made a significant and uncredited contribution to the songwriting on Touch, and alleging that he wasn't paid properly for work done on Solace. The judge in this suit eventually ruled in McLachlan's favour on the songs; though Neudorf may have contributed to the songwriting, neither regarded each other as joint authors. The judge ruled in Neudorf's favour on the payment issue.

Chuck D of Public Enemy has offered a more positive view of ghostwriting in hip-hop.

In hip-hop music, the increasing use of ghostwriters by high-profile hip-hop stars has led to controversy. Critics view the increasing use of hip-hop ghostwriters as the "perversion of hip-hop by commerce." This is because of the limiting definition of "rapping" as "...about you expressing yourself through your own words, not someone else’s."[28] Chuck D of Public Enemy thinks this point of view is mistaken because "...not everyone is equipped to be a lyricist and not everyone is equipped to be a vocalist."[29] He points out that creating a rap song may require multiple talents. Frank Ocean started his career as a ghostwriter for artists such as Justin Bieber, Damienn Jones, John Legend and Brandy.

Currently in hip-hop, the credit given to ghostwriters varies: "silent pens might sign confidentiality clauses, appear obliquely in the liner notes, or discuss their participation freely." In some cases, liner notes credit individuals for "vocal arrangement", which may be a euphemism for ghostwriting. In the late 2000s (decade), hip-hop ghostwriting services like Rap Rebirth,[30] have appeared online, which provide recording artists who wish to purchase ghostwritten rhymes a greater degree of anonymity.

Visual art[edit]

Ghost-authorship also applies to the visual arts, most commonly paintings. The extent of the master artist's contribution varies widely, as little as composition adjustments and corrective brush strokes, or as much as entire works. A common practice is use of the art instruction class milieu in which the master artist makes significant contributions to the work of the student who then signs that work as his or her own. Services addressing complete works have historically been highly confidential. Less prevalent are advertised commercial services which may use the term "vanity artwork" as suggestive of "vanity publishing".

As blacklisting countermeasure[edit]

In countries where the freedom of speech is not upheld and authors that have somehow displeased the ruling regime are "blacklisted" (i.e. forbidden from having their works published), the blacklisted authors or composers may ghostwrite material for other authors or composers who are in the good graces of the regime[citation needed]. Some blacklisted communist sympathisers have won Academy Awards.

In other languages[edit]

In French ("nègre littéraire"), Persian (سایه نویس),[31] Russian ("литературный негр")[32] and Polish ("literacki murzyn")[33] the phrase 'literary negro' can be used to describe a ghostwriter.

As a subject in movies and novels[edit]

Movies and novels about ghostwriters:

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Marketing Yourself via Ghostwriting by R.A. Burnham. August 2003 Certification Magazine (a technical training and certification publication on industry events, issues and trends)
  2. ^ Ghost Stories. An agent for writers who stay behind the scenes—and off the jacket. by Lynn Andriani – Publishers Weekly, 5/29/2006
  3. ^ Media Talk; Mrs. Clinton Seeks Ghostwriter for Memoirs By David D. Kirkpatrick January 8, 2001
  4. ^ "Fees for ghostwriting a book". Retrieved 29 January 2013. 
  5. ^ James-Enger, Kelly (June 7, 2011). "How to be a ghostwriter". Writer's Digest. Retrieved 2 September 2014. 
  6. ^ Pricing page from SEO-writer
  7. ^ Member discussions in LinkedIn writer's groups
  8. ^ [1]
  9. ^ Editorial Freelancers Associationeditorial rates
  10. ^ Did John F. Kennedy really write "Profiles in Courage?"
  11. ^ Catholicism Contending with Modernity
  12. ^ a b c Richard G. Bailey. August 2001. "The Hidden Encyclical of Pius XI." Canadian Journal of History.
  13. ^ The Holocaust Chronicle. 2002. "1937: Quiet before the Storm." p. 112.
  14. ^ Alexandra von Teuffenbach Konzilstagebuch Sebastian Tromp SJ mit Erläuterungen and Akten aus der Arbeit der Theologischen Kommission, 2006, Editrice Pontificia Università Gregoriana ISBN 978-88-7839-057-7
  15. ^ a b World Association of Medical Editors (2005). "Ghost writing initiated by commercial companies". J Gen Intern Med 20 (6): 549. doi:10.1111/j.1525-1497.2005.41015.x. 
  16. ^ Rennie, D.; Flanagin, A. (1994). "Authorship! Authorship! Guests, Ghosts, Grafters, and the Two-Sided Coin". JAMA 271 (6): 469–471. doi:10.1001/jama.1994.03510300075043. 
  17. ^ Studdert et al. (2004). "Financial Conflicts of Interest in Physicians' Relationships with the Pharmaceutical Industry — Self-Regulation in the Shadow of Federal Prosecution". N Engl J Med 351 (18): 1891–2000. doi:10.1056/NEJMlim042229. PMID 15509824. 
  18. ^ Mathews (December 13, 2005). "At medical journals, paid writers play big role". Wall Street Journal. 
  19. ^ House of Commons Health Committee (2005). The influence of the pharmaceutical industry. London: The Stationery Office Limited. 
  20. ^ Boseley (February 7, 1992). The Guardian.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  21. ^ Giombetti (1992). "UW's Friendly Corporate Ghostwriter". Eat the State 6 (19). 
  22. ^ Krimsky, Sheldon (2003). Science in the Private Interest. Lanham: Rowman-Littlefield. ISBN 0-7425-1479-X. 
  23. ^ Jacobs, A.; Wager, E. (2005). "European Medical Writers Association (EMWA) guidelines on the role of medical writers in developing peer-reviewed publications". Curr Med Res Opin 21 (2): 317–321. doi:10.1185/030079905x25578. 
  24. ^ Article requirements — BMJ resources
  25. ^ Schultz, H. Y.; Blalock, E. (2007). "Transparency Is the Key to the Relationship between Biomedical Journals and Medical Writers". Journal of Investigative Dermatology 127 (4): 735–737. doi:10.1038/sj.jid.5700794. 
  26. ^
  27. ^ Film & TV Music Knowledgebase:: Glossary of Film and TV Music Terms
  28. ^ Hip-Hop's Ghostwriters Article by: Adam Conner-Simons
  29. ^ Books of Rhymes: The Poetics of Hip Hop by: Adam Bradley. p. 153
  30. ^
  31. ^ Shahghasemi, E., Akhavan, M. (2015). Confessions of academic ghost authors: The Iranian experience, SageOpen.
  32. ^ Литературные редакторы или литературные "негры" (in Russian). Радио «Свобода». 24 September 2006. Retrieved 2010-11-11. 
  33. ^ Jak Colin wyłowił Alicję, TVN24