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Published: 3 years ago

Comedy Spec Script 2012 — What is hot and what is not


UPDATED:
A brand new 2014 list has been posted.
Click here to access it.


Like every year, it is now time to review which TV shows are good to spec, and which are not.
Dedicated posts will be made respectively for the best comedies (half-hour) and the best dramas (one-hour).
As the title says, this post is all about the comedies.
In addition, you’ll also find (when available) a script for the corresponding show.
Canceled or dead shows have been removed since last season’s spec list.

NEW ADDITION:
Given Warner Bros’ new rules for their fellowship, I have indicated with an asterisk (*) series that they will not accept specs for (mainly first-season series).

Here is a quick recap of how the list works:
The shows are divided into five categories regarding their appeal to readers and how well they are known/read:
Over-specced (shows that have passed their prime, try to avoid doing them)
Mainstream (shows that have matured enough that they have become on-the-nose speccers–and a lot of people are speccing them)
Wild Cards (soon, everyone will spec those, maybe you can get a head start)
Outsiders (specs that will get you out from the pack)
Gamblers (risky shows that could pay off, or bomb)

There is also a grade regarding the show’s longevity in relation to its speccability.
Meaning, how long can you keep your spec script fresh without having to throw it in the trash?
To do this, we will use the greatest grading system on Earth; stars:
★★★★★ — Excellent
★★★★ — Very Good
★★★★★ — Average
★★★★★ — Fair
★★★★ — Poor

Let’s get started.


Over-Specced
Re-tool your spec if you have one, but you probably shouldn’t bother beginning a new one for these shows.

30 Rock (NBC)
Going strong with its sixth season currently airing, the show is still the to-go one when it comes to single-camera comedies. Which means additional competition within the very competitive field of spec writing.
Longevity: ★★★★★ — How many original ideas are left to tackle?

How I Met Your Mother (CBS)
Renewed for an additional two more (final?) seasons, HIMYM has been for a while, and probably will continue to be, an interesting hybrid animal in the spec world.
Longevity: ★★★★★ — It is clear that speccing an 8-season plus show is not the greatest idea. Would you have done a Friends spec around their seventh season?

It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia (FX)
The format of Philly, although fairly unique for its time, has been put through every mold and peripeties imaginable. Writing a new spec may make you late to the party.
Longevity: ★★★★★ — Ten seasons and three movies?

The Office (NBC)
The change of cast brought a fresh perspective to the near-decade old show but it is kind of too little too late in the originality department.
Longevity: ★★★★★ — On its death bed with the inevitable Dwight spin-off.

Two and a Half Men (CBS)
If you’re that desparate for a Chuck Lorre-related spec, there are better choices out there.
Longevity: ★★★★★ — The Ashton Kutcher switcheroo brought new life to the series, which will probably make it last a few more seasons.

Weeds (Sho)
Despite the first two seasons being pretty straightforward and very speccable, the show has changed so much over the years that it’s hard to predict what misadventures are up next.
Longevity: ★★★★ — Dead show walking.



Mainstream
The current and new widespread shows in town that are getting read.

Archer (FX)
One of the best, if not the best contender in the animation comedy category.
Longevity: ★★★★ — Three seasons under its belt, a strong track-record of quality episodes; looks like the up-and-comer has become in vogue.

The Big Bang Theory (CBS)
If you’re thinking of a classic sitcom in its prime, this is the one. Careful though as it may go over the overspec hill pretty fast.
Longevity: ★★★★★ — One more season means twenty less storylines available, but don’t let this detract you from the most popular sitcom around.

Community (NBC)
A dangerous show to spec, if only for its tricky “on the nose” storytelling/dialogue, and the fact that it is always bordering cancellation.
Longevity: ★★★★★ — Tread very carefully.

Cougar Town/The Middle (ABC)
Surprisingly enough, despite being very low-key on either coasts, these two shows have begun what one might call a cult speccing trend.
Longevity: ★★★★★ — Never underestimate the under-underdogs.

Modern Family (ABC)
A mainstream single-cam that has matured enough to become the new king of comedy world.
Longevity: ★★★★ — What a joke it would be if the show were to get canceled.

Parks and Recreation (NBC)
Not only is it one of the best comedies around, it is still very fresh and very popular.
Longevity: ★★★★ — Beware of the constant flux within the characters’ dynamics.

Raising Hope (FOX)
This one is quickly becoming a very popular series to spec, thanks to its atypical humor.
Longevity: ★★★★ — Despite dips in ratings, it looks unlikely that FOX will cancel Raising Hope for at least another season.



Wild Cards
Not quite fully widespread but will get there given the chance.

Eastbound & Down (HBO)
Gathering cult status.
Longevity: ★★★★ — The show’s third season has been announced as being the last. Send it out while you can.

Happy Endings (ABC)
Its countless meta pop-culture references may be reminiscent of Community, but unlike its NBC counterpart, the ABC shows deals with contemporary pop-culture instead of cultish/classic trends.
Longevity: ★★★★★ — With three other “group” comedies premiering the same season, no one expected Happy Endings to not only do as well as it did, but also be as good as it is. It’s the little network show that could, and does.

Mike & Molly (CBS)
Another classic multi-cam comedy that hasn’t been tapped to its fullest potential.
Longevity: ★★★★ — With McCarthy’s new-found success, CBS will have a hard time justifying a cancellation of the sitcom.

New Girl (FOX) *
First we had Modern Family, then Raising Hope, and now New Girl. Watch out, we got a badass over here.
Longevity: ★★★★ — Renewed without any surprise.

Suburgatory (ABC) *
A great light and fun family comedy that fits right in the ABC comedy line.
Longevity: ★★★★ — Inventive and renewed; what more can you ask?

Two Broke Girls (CBS) *
If you like making racist jokes, the choice has been made for you. Just kidding?
Longevity: ★★★★ — It’s a done deal on the renewal.

Up All Night (NBC) *
The new show under everybody’s radar, yet with one of the strongest comedy casts around.
Longevity: ★★★★★ — Although a lukewarm track-record, it is doubtful that NBC will cancel this one for now.



Outsiders
The shows (mostly cable) you may be tempted to take a risk on, getting you on top of the reading pile. Beyond that, it depends on the willingness of the reader and his/her knowledge of the show. Who knows, maybe the showrunner is into less popular shows and will value your risk-taking.

House of Lies*/Nurse Jackie (Sho)
Despite seeming like ridiculous contenders, Nurse Jackie specs have gone surprisingly far in various fellowships. And House of Lies’ freshness, coupled with its hyper-cast, gives the Sho show potential for a strong script.
Longevity: ★★★★★ — Emmy-winning this, Oscar-nominated that. Two dramedies that are not going anywhere for the next few months, or years.

The League (FX)
The macho-man show has transformed into a great outsider spec.
Longevity: ★★★★★ — Recently renewed for a fourth season, The League may not go past another couple of seasons given the cast’s career trajectory.



Gamblers
For one reason or another, these are much riskier specs to do right now. You have been warned.

Childrens’ Hospital/NTSF:SD:SUV/Eagleheart (Cartoon Network/Adult Swim) *
None of them are strictly speaking half-hours, so it would be quite tough for any of these shows to be sufficient by themselves.
Longevity: ★★★★★ — They’re dirt cheap enough to not be canceled soon.

The Life and Times of Tim (HBO) *
Like the Adult Swim block, Tim is not only amongst the most un-politically correct show on this list, but more importantly is in a short-form structure that might not appeal to the mass spec market.
Longevity: ★★★★★ — Saved from the dead at the last minute this past season, it is unclear if a miracle can be pulled twice in a row.


Once again, it seems the comedy landscape is outshining this year the drama side with its many choices.
Following last season’s footsteps into marking their comedy territory, both ABC’s and FOX’s lineups are giving NBC a run for their (lack of) money. Parks & Rec, 30 Rock, The Office and (ironically?) Community are still the most popular specs, but it’s become clear that the alternatives will soon take the top seat. While the big dogs are fighting, the cable world is slowly pushing its underdogs to the top. Who’d have thought Archer would be the mainstream animation show when it premiered?
With Eastbound and probably Tim gone by next season, HBO is left in the wind in the face of Sho’s dramedies (which, for the most part, are strangely categorized as dramas). Meanwhile, Lorre is still reigning supreme over multi-cams while they are, little by little, slowly phased out from our screens.
The tone has been set.

Click here for the Drama Spec Script list.

Published: 3 years ago

This is odd for so many reasons (Emmys 2011)

First off, I can’t believe this is already my fourth Emmy review on this site.
I’d like to thank — Oh, who am I kidding. I made myself.

Anyways, on to business.

I’ve gotta admit, this was a pretty good year for the Emmys.
Jane Lynch was a great host, and it started off fairly well with her opening number.
It did drag on a bit but, overall, it was a nice time (I’m still a fan of last year’s Born To Run though).
One thing I did note about the stage was the huge FOX logo at the top of the gigantic video tower.
We get it, we’re on FOX. The Simon Cowell network.

The big awkward running gag of the night (you’ve gotta have one of those) was the Emmytones. Or, as I call it, the “why the fuck am I doing this” choir, composed of such talented actors as Joel McHale and Zach Levi.
Forced smiles coupled with bad timing meant one bad musical number after another.
LL Cool J’s surprise guest song towards the end of the night only reinforced the contrast between a “cool” number and…that.

As expected, we were treated with funny presenters mixed with more, shall we say, somber ones.
It started pretty well with the two Jimmys (Fallon and Kimmel) boxing it out.
The first part of the night was, as Jane Lynch called it, the Modern Family Awards.
Beyond the fact that it was a clean sweep for the show, I actually did not expect Julie Bowen and Ty Burrell to win. They did deserve the awards though.
Ricky Gervais’ pre-recorded message was way too tame to be funny. I know it was supposed to be the joke but, still, too on the nose. Here’s to hoping he’ll be back in some capacity live on another award show.
Another annoying thing about the night was the overbearing announcer/voice-over guy making pretty crappy jokes about each winner as they walked onto the stage. They definitely need to cut that gag out next time around.

I honestly thought there would be an upset in the comedy writing department with Louis C.K. winning. After all, the show is widely loved in LaLaLand.
And if not a Louie episode, then at least the final Steve Carell/The Office one.
So, yes, this was another Modern Family Emmy I didn’t really anticipate.
Same comment for ‘best actor’ where I really thought Steve Carell’s final year would be recognized.
Charlie Sheen’s speech was beyond awkward. Was he being serious or ironic? It all sounded so hollow and strange. I can understand Jim Parsons being creeped out.

At this point in the post I have to take a moment and acknowledge the great dramatic presentation that was the Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series category.
All the nominated actresses going up on stage ‘impromptu’-style was great.
Yay for McCarthy. I’m not a big Mike & Molly fan though I’m seeing this victory as a recognition of McCarthy’s past work (Gilmore Girls!). And Bridesmaids certainly didn’t hurt.

The best moment of the night was undoubtedly the great Office comedy bit with fellow characters/actors popping in and out of the short. The biggest laughs were had with Jesse Pinkman giving Creed some meth. Brilliant.


I also cannot help but be amused by Cee-Lo’s chair malfunction.

Moving on the the Reality/Variety category, I have to say that Top Chef: All-Stars was a shoe-in for the Emmy, not Amazing Race (for what feels like a decade of wins).
Speaking of gazillion victories, The Daily Show once again took the top prize. I can’t complain, although I’m still waiting on The Colbert Report to get the Emmy.

We then got blasted with a Lonely Island medley (sorta).
Look, I enjoy the occasional skit as much as the next guy, but doing a live remake of the Michael Bolton song was unoriginal to say the least.
It was a nice touch to have (I think) Ed Helms, Maya Rudolph and John Stamos in the set as well, but overall, a fairly weak (albeit crazy) skit.

And this brings me to the ‘best drama writer’ category.
Holy smokes.
Huge surprise (in my mind) with Jason Katims’ oh-so-deserved victory for the series finale of Friday Night Lights.
Finally some recognition!
Now, I’m still a season behind, but I’m super stoked about this win.
Ditto for Kyle Chandler’s Emmy prize.
Those are upsets I enjoy seeing.
Martin Scorsese winning best director was one of the most obvious awards of the night (save for the finale two).
On the other side of the coin, Peter Dinklage won!


It might not have seemed like the role of a lifetime but it sure feels like it now.
Game of Thrones is currently the number one talked-about show in every writers room so it might not be as surprising as it seems.

Following last year’s debacle, the ‘In Memoriam’ segment was anticipated (for lack of a more politically-correct description).
What we got this time around was a music clip promoting a Canadian boys band singing a terrible version of Hallelujah.
Better luck next season, right?

And now about the final awards.
Clearly no surprise there for Downtown Abbey which holds the BS record for “most acclaimed series in the world”.
I haven’t got much else to add about Mad Men’s victory.
And as for Modern Family winning. Well. It’s the new 30 Rock.

Published: 3 years ago

Tips and stories from around the Web, Part 5

With the fellowship deadlines in full swing, I sadly was not able to update the site as much as I’d wanted to. However, fear not gentle reader as others have in my absence update their own. And by that, I mean it is time again to take a gander at some great articles and insightful videos from around the Web.

Let’s start off with this great New York Times article by Frank Bruni which is actually a profile on J.J. Abrams.
I highly recommend watching Abrams’ famous TED talk beforehand if you haven’t already.

On the writing side, we’ve already seen (or rather heard) a couple of Jen Grisanti’s amazing one-on-one interviews/podcasts with writing producers of several big shows.
This month, she interviewed not one but two such people with Glen Mazzara (EP of The Walking Dead) and Aaron Zelman (CP on The Killing).
Needless to write, they are very informative about both their respective writing process, careers, and the politics of the writers room.
It was especially a fascinating take in regards to The Walking Dead, which had its fair share of (ultimately unfounded) writer-related controversies a few months back.
In any case, they’re well worth the listen.

Speaking of high-powered writers (yes, I need to work on these transitions), you might have heard a documentary coming out next year about showrunners. Well, the movie trailer is out and the lineup is quite interesting.

And since television is mainly about dialogue (well, besides characters), you might be highly interested in this amazing talk by Steven Pinker entitled Language as a Window into Human Nature on “how the mind turns the finite building blocks of language into infinite meanings.“
An eye-opener to say the least.

Published: 4 years ago

Drama Spec Script 2011 — What is hot and what is not


UPDATED:
A brand new 2014 list has been posted.
Click here to access it.


It is now time to review which current dramas are good to spec, and which are not.
A sample script is provided (when available) with the corresponding show.

Let’s do another quick recap of how the list works:
The shows are divided into five categories regarding their appeal to readers and how well they are known/read:
Over-specced (shows that have passed their prime, try to avoid doing them)
Mainstream (shows that have matured enough that they have become on-the-nose speccers–and a lot of people are speccing them)
Wild Cards (soon, everyone will spec those, maybe you can get a head start)
Outsiders (specs that will get you out from the pack)
Gamblers (risky shows that could pay off, or bomb)

There is also a grade regarding the show’s longevity in relation to its speccability.
Meaning, how long can you keep your spec script fresh without having to throw it in the trash?
To do this, we will use the greatest grading system on Earth; stars:
★★★★★ — Excellent
★★★★ — Very Good
★★★★★ — Average
★★★★★ — Fair
★★★★ — Poor

And here we go.


Over-Specced
Re-tool your spec if you have one, but you probably shouldn’t bother beginning a new one for these shows.

CSI/Criminal Minds/Law & Order/The Closer (CBS/NBC/TNT)
Type: Police procedurals
Move along folks, nothing to see here.
Longevity: ★★★★ — If you’re really thinking of speccing these, you’re pretty much five years too late.

Dexter (Sho)
Type: Serialized crime drama
Once upon a time, Dexter was a clear favorite. Now however, the show has past its expiration date for specs.
Longevity: ★★★★★ — Since every season reinvents the show (in an interesting or bad way), it’s never good to put one’s spec stories to the test like that.

Grey’s Anatomy/Private Practice/House (ABC/FOX)
Type: Medical procedurals
Honestly, there’s just no real point in crafting a brand new spec for one of these three.
Longevity: ★★★★★ — Shockingly, they’re all getting another season. Doesn’t mean it’s a good sign.

Mad Men (AMC)
Type: Serialized historical drama
Putting Mad Men as over-specced may once again ruffle a few feathers, but if you know what’s good for you then you’re pretty much aware already that this won’t be an original choice.
Longevity: ★★★★★ — Although there’s a very low risk of AMC ending its flagship drama, treading on serialized plotlines is virtually impossible to avoid.


Mainstream
The current and new widespread shows in town that are getting read.

Bones/Castle (FOX/ABC)
Type: Light police procedural
Bones still has a year or two ahead of it, while Castle joins the mainstream list by becoming the go-to light police procedural specced.
Longevity: ★★★★ — Both are going strong and the ‘case of the week’ format is a proven crowd-pleaser.

Breaking Bad (AMC)
Type: Serialized character/family drama
The show continues to grow in fame and is probably reaching its peak, which means this might one of the last mainstream years for it.
Longevity: ★★★★★ — The problem isn’t that the show won’t get renewed (it will), it is its serialized aspect. I’ll slow-clap anyone who successfully specs a stand-alone episode of Breaking Bad.

Chuck (NBC)
Type: Light spy/action procedural
Everybody loves Chuck. Sadly this means that it is pretty much on the verge of being over-specced.
Longevity: ★★★★★ — Definitely not as much on the bubble as a couple of seasons ago.

Fringe (FOX)
Type: Police/Science-fiction procedural
The number one science-fiction show specced presently (mainly because there aren’t so many out there). Fringe is a strong option, although…
Longevity: ★★★★★ — …you already know how “on the bubble” this show is, so I’d probably wait to see what FOX choses to do with it.

Glee (FOX)
Type: Light serialized high-school dramedy
As predicted, last year’s major Wild Card is now on top of the Mainstream pile. Still a very hard show to spec mainly because of its atypical world. Also might not be the greatest way to showcase your talent given that a third of the script will probably end up being music lyrics.
Longevity: ★★★★ — It’s always a good bet to spec the number one show on television, right? Be careful when juggling with all the soap elements (they might give you a headache).

The Good Wife (CBS)
Type: Legal procedural
Jumping from Outsider to Mainstream is no easy task, but The Good Wife has proven times and times again these past few months its popularity. This is clearly a smart show to spec (watch out for the serialized elements).
Longevity: ★★★★ — Strong ratings and a great procedural/serial balance allows room for a potential spec.

Gossip Girl/90210 (The CW)
Type: Teen dramas
It’s not as if there’s an overwhelming array of teen dramas out there, right?
Longevity: ★★★★ — Never-ending.

The Mentalist (CBS)
Type: Police procedural
A new classic police procedural to spec. It’s hot all right.
Longevity: ★★★★★ — No need to double check, this one is safe.

NCIS:LA (CBS)
Type: Police/Action procedural
Last year it was about to break big, this year it is big. Its older sister show would be proud.
Longevity: ★★★★★ — Another secure CBS procedural.

True Blood (HBO)
Type: Serialized fantasy drama
Somewhat common in the spec pile, despite its heavy reliance on the books’ mythology. Making a loner out of this one will prove difficult.
Longevity: ★★★★True Blood is a big success, but its stories are all over the place (i.e. it is hard to find a status quo to base a spec on).



Wild Cards
Not quite fully widespread but will get there given the chance.

Boardwalk Empire/Treme (HBO)
Type: Serialized historical drama
Now those are hard shows to spec. If you think you can make a Mad Men or even a True Blood spec work, I’d recommend taking a gander at these two first. Especially Boardwalk Empire (which definitely has a lot of potential).
Longevity: ★★★★ — With all the acclaim, it’s no wonder HBO is keeping both series tightly where they are.

Hawaii Five-0 (CBS)
Type: Police/Action procedural
Like NCIS:LA last year, this is undoubtedly the breakout procedural hit of the season, which is sure to become Mainstream real fast.
Longevity: ★★★★★ — Hit show, clear-cut formula and procedural aspect leads to a long spec life.

Justified (FX)
Type: Police procedural
A critical darling and great numbers means Justified is getting hotter by the second. It will probably enter Mainstream land by next season.
Longevity: ★★★★ — The show that keeps on giving (certainly for FX).

Leverage (TNT)
Type: Light heist/con/action procedural
With its fourth season about to debut, Leverage is becoming more popular and the series has matured enough that it’s an almost-perfect light action/heist procedural to spec.
Longevity: ★★★★ — Finding a solid con that stays unused by the show might prove tricky.

Nikita (The CW)
Type: Action procedural
It’s CW, meaning it’s not that watched, although it also means not that many people are speccing it.
Longevity: ★★★★ — It is doubtful the network will let this one go seeing as it’s one of their only (relative) hit.

Parenthood (NBC)
Type: Serialized family drama
Speccing this one last season was pretty much a gamble, but since the first year has passed and storylines are settling, it might be an interesting choice.
Longevity: ★★★★★ — Solid numbers indicate renewal, but can you make the family stories work?

Sons of Anarchy (FX)
Type: Serialized ensemble drama
Sure, Sons of Anarchy is FX’s most popular show, yet its extremely serialized aspect makes it very difficult to write for. If you can make it work, go for it.
Longevity: ★★★★★ — Storylines are shaking up every season so it might be tough to keep an SOA spec current.

The Walking Dead (AMC)
Type: Ensemble/horror drama
If a surprise hit was made last year, this is the one. The enormous success of the show and its amazing potential makes it destined for great spec material.
Longevity: ★★★★ — Great news for potential speccers (not for viewers): The Walking Dead has obviously abandoned the comics’ serialized nature for a more procedural-like aspect.



Outsiders
The shows (mostly cable) you may be tempted to take a risk on, getting you on top of the reading pile. Beyond that, it depends on the willingness of the reader and his/her knowledge of the show. Who knows, maybe the showrunner is into less popular shows and will value your risk-taking.

Burn Notice/Psych (USA)
Type: Light action and crime procedurals
On the limit of being over-specced if only for the fact that they never were mainstream.
Longevity: ★★★★★ — They are both nearing their death bed (even if it’s still a couple of seasons away).

Eureka/Warehouse 13 (Syfy)
Type: Science-fiction procedurals
With Fringe winding down and Stargate: Universe gone, those two are almost the only science-fiction options out there. They are still strong spec shows all around.
Longevity: ★★★★★ — Original stories might be harder to find, especially with Eureka, entering its fifth season already.

Southland (TNT)
Type: Police procedural
Southland is definitely getting more traction with its third season and it’s one of the only cop dramas right now with a real grittiness to it.
Longevity: ★★★★★ — Renewal beyond the current season is still pretty much on the line given the substantial budget cuts needed.

White Collar (USA)
Type: Light crime procedural
White Collar continues to be the dark horse among light procedurals. Undeniably, the show is still continuing to grow in demand.
Longevity: ★★★★ — Pretty much a success for USA’s standards and a perfect candidate for a more atypical spec show.



Gamblers
For one reason or another, these are much riskier specs to do right now. You have been warned.

Blue Bloods (CBS)
Type: Police/family drama
It was a surprise Friday-night hit for CBS, which might make Blue Bloods an interesting spec choice, yet this might still be too unknown.
Longevity: ★★★★★ — It worked for Fridays but not for Wednesdays, so it’s still a toss-up regarding its renewal.

The Chicago Code/Harry’s Law (FOX/NBC)
Type: Police procedural/Legal procedural
Come on, you want to spec this one already? Too soon.
Longevity: ★★★★★ — Chances are Chicago Code is getting the boot sadly. Harry’s Law meanwhile will probably live to see another season.

Forty shows are listed this year and, like last season, a few trends can be observed.

The basic cable market has never been stronger with a big presence by AMC, FX, Syfy, USA and TNT.
On the premium side, beyond the symbolic Dexter presence, Showtime is still pretty much absent from the list due to the lack of dramas. HBO meanwhile is slowly rebuilding its “epic TV” brand (I’m sure Games of Throne will pop up on the list next year).
Network-wise, CBS is still the procedural king, although FOX and ABC are recouping the field with lighter dramas, while NBC is virtually MIA.

Unsurprisingly, a vast majority of the top shows are procedurals with light character serialization. They are the ones which offer a wide range of storylines without compromising the status quo.
Interestingly enough though, the harder shows to spec (relying on more complex mythologies and serialized plots) are still considered attractive. They are indeed a great platform to showcase more in-depth writing skills, but they come at the price of spec longevity.

The bottom line is the same as usual: select a show that reflects your voice, your aspirations, and what you like.
The choice is yours.

Click here for the Comedy Spec Script list.