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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.

Published: 4 years ago

Comedy Spec Script 2011 — 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).
In addition, you’ll also find (when available) a script for the corresponding show.

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)
Although still extremely popular, people have fallen somewhat out of love with it. And since so many people are doing it, it’s tough to stand out from the pack with this one.
Longevity: ★★★★★ — Sure, the series will probably continue for another couple of seasons, but do you honestly think your new 30 Rock idea won’t become stale fast?

Entourage (HBO)
Finding a fresh and original spec idea for a seven-year-old series about Hollywood is, to put it bluntly, mission impossible.
Longevity: ★★★★ — It’s the final season of the show, so you should probably cash in on your Entourage spec now if you have one. Otherwise, don’t bother starting a new one.

How I Met Your Mother (CBS)
I called last year as the last one HIMYM would be considered mainstream, and beyond the recent two-season pick-up, I stand by my words. The show will enter its 7th season next fall, which pretty much means that, regarding original ideas, it has used most of them.
Longevity: ★★★★★ — Still a good training ground as far as faux multi-cam sitcoms go, but as a realistic spec candidate, it really isn’t.

It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia (FX)
Seven seasons. Need I say more?
Longevity: ★★★★★ — As underlined last year, FX is in the process of renewing its comedy slate, and though it might live on for a few more seasons. There are only so many stories out there.

The Office (NBC)
Stale is the word. Plus, with Steve Carell departing the series by season’s end, the final nail in the show’s spec-coffin has been hit on the head.
Longevity: ★★★★★ — Guessing whether NBC cancels The Office sans–Carell next season is a pretty big gamble, but in either case, chances are that with all the changes coming up, any continuity in a spec would be severely compromised.

Two and a Half Men (CBS)
One thing’s for sure: you’re not gonna win by speccing this show.
Longevity: ★★★★ — Two words: Charlie. Sheen.

Weeds (Sho)
Once upon a time, Weeds was set in Agrestic where spec stories could be found. Now? No inherent world, no dice.
Longevity: ★★★★ — The upcoming season is probably going to be the last.



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

The Big Bang Theory (CBS)
This is the ultimate hot multi-cam right now, and with Jim Parsons winning his Emmy, the peak has been reached.
Longevity: ★★★★★ — If you want to spec a classic sitcom hit, your choice has been made.

Community (NBC)
Much debate is made about the viability of a Community spec. Is it too much on the bubble? Is it too meta?
The bottom line is that, despite lukewarm ratings, the show is highly regarded, and not solely for its writing (which is a great way to test your chops). As for the meta elements, they’re a great way to be intelligent without being too clever (it’s a fine line, so be careful). Plus, it was just renewed for a third season.
Longevity: ★★★★ — The parody aspect of the show is already feeling tired for some, but if you can make it work, Community is probably meant for you. The introduction of several serialized elements on the show this season might throw a wrench in the spec-works though.

Modern Family (ABC)
As predicted, Modern Family has matured enough that it is now among the reigning comedies being specced. The recent wave of family comedies currently in development proves once again the giant success the show is. Can I call it a phenomenon?
Longevity: ★★★★ — Two seasons in, still a hit, and everyone trying to copy the formula. Yup, I’d say the show is safe for now. The stand-alone aspect of it is also perfect for long-term spec viability.

Parks and Recreation (NBC)
Not only is it becoming increasingly popular, but Parks & Rec has become even fresher (and better?) with the introduction of Rob Lowe and Adam Scott in the regular cast. New dynamics all around.
Longevity: ★★★★ — It’s almost as if a second life has been given to the show.

The United States of Tara (Sho)
A respected half-hour dramedy that has matured enough to warrant a more mainstream demand.
Longevity: ★★★★★ — Showtime isn’t letting go of its strongest Weeds replacement anytime soon.



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

Eastbound & Down (HBO)
Why has Eastbown jumped from being considered a Gambler to a Wild Card? Well for one, it has garnered a lot of steam recently, in every aspect. In addition, its atypical humor has definitely piqued the curiosity of a lot of people, meaning it is fast approaching its apex.
Longevity: ★★★★★ — Conflicting reports indicate that the show’s upcoming third season may, or may not, be its last. Tread carefully.

Raising Hope (FOX)
If there’s one live-action hit comedy on FOX, this is it. If you’re into blue-collar atypical family comedies, Raising Hope is probably a good choice. Given its ratings, the show will undoubtedly get bigger next season, not only on TV but also in the spec world.
Longevity: ★★★★ — Already renewed for second season which bodes well for the future of the series.



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.

Archer (FX)
Becoming somewhat of a cult hit, although not that watched. The fact that it’s animation makes it even more of a challenge.
Longevity: ★★★★★ — The originality factor is strong with this one.

Cougar Town/The Middle (ABC)
Despite going into their third season next fall, Cougar Town and The Middle can still be considered Outsiders simply because of the low amount of specs made based on them. After all, both are still not that mainstream.
Longevity: ★★★★ — Recently renewed, decent ratings and still a lot of storyline potential.

Nurse Jackie (Sho)
The show is popular, but not like its counterpart, The United States of Tara. The recent award recognitions put Jackie a little more on the map of some people.
Longevity: ★★★★ — Already three seasons and a surprise Emmy victory for Edie Falco should ensure a few more seasons. Its limited episode count also opens up the possibility to more unexplored storylines, or in other words, original spec ideas.

Bored to Death (HBO)
A somewhat underground series that could be hard to spec–or to have someone read.
Longevity: ★★★★★ — Solid cast and writing means it should stay on the air, but Bored to Death is a hit or miss show for most people. It won’t necessarily be gone soon but it’s definitely a tough nut to crack.

Hung (HBO)
Similarly to last year, Hung is still a somewhat awkward show to approach, not because of its stories (which now offer plenty of stand-alone opportunities), but mainly due to its lack of visibility.
Longevity: ★★★★★ — A third season on its way, although for some people the show is still considered on the bubble beyond that point. Who knows what kind of serialized shake-ups future episodes will bring.

Mike & Molly (CBS)
Another classic multi-cam sitcom, although definitely not as widespread as Two and a Half Men or The Big Bang Theory, especially outside middle-America.
Longevity: ★★★★★ — If Chuck Lorre’s track-record is any indication, this will surely get renewed.



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

The League (FX)
I thoroughly enjoy this show but it’s simply not that widespread (if at all). It is so unknown that no one really specs it, which might be something you’re looking for.
Longevity: ★★★★★ — The show was picked up for a third season two months ago, which pushes back a League spec’s death date another year.

The Life and Times of Tim (HBO)
Another (animated) comedy that I like with a huge spec potential, but sadly almost no one watches it.
Longevity: ★★★★★ — It was recently canceled and subsequently brought back from the dead by HBO. Needless to say, it’s a hazardous show to spec.


This year, FOX (re-)entered the spec market with a newcomer that is certain to make some noise in the following months, while NBC is almost dethroned in the comedy field by ABC (Modern Family is unstoppable). Next season is bound to see a lot of family comedies. Although still with a strong presence, both HBO and FX’s comedies continue to be mostly under-the-radar (the two networks being preferred for their dramas).
Meanwhile, single-cameras continue to overshadow almost entirely multi-cameras (save for Chuck Lorre’s ubiquitous presence). The shift is almost complete.

It’s a strong year for the comedy spec world. A wide array of options are available, so differentiate yourself, not only by the show you chose, but more importantly by your writing.

Click here for the Drama Spec Script list.

Published: 4 years ago

Tips and stories from around the Web, Part 4

Let’s take a breather from all the heavy stories going on around by looking at a few (very interesting) entertainment and writer-related articles and interviews.

First, in case you missed it, The Futon Critic has a minute-by-minute rundown of the anticipated Freaks & Geeks/Undeclared reunion that went on at the Paley Festival a few days ago.

We also have an article from the LA Times about the broadcast of “enhanced” version of serialized series; meaning an old episode with subtitles supposedly clarifying past plot-lines for the viewer.
A great lesson on how to destroy any subtext and condescend to the max everyone involved.
And it becomes pretty ridiculous when it hampers the enjoyment of the current episode. Following ABC’s tries (with Lost and Ugly Betty), DirecTV has now decided to use the same tactic for none other than Damages. Summing up a season’s worth of mythology, one sentence at a time. Lovely.

On the writing side of things, Jen Grisanti, who many may know from the NBC “Writers on the Verge” program, released a couple of weeks back another great one-hour podcast interview, this time with Matthew Salsberg, writer and executive-producer on Showtime’s Weeds. A must-hear.

Finally, it’s always nice to hear personal experiences from fellow (television) writers, and John August’s regular segment, “First Person,” provides just that with amazing in-depth guest articles. Allison Schroeder continues the trend by writing about her “big break,” from being a PA on Pineapple Express and Smallville, to moving up the ladder as writer’s assistant, and then followed by becoming a staff-writer on 90210.

Published: 4 years ago

Is Netflix’s original programming strategy a game-changer?

By now you’ve probably heard the news: Netflix has decided to enter the original programming world. Not only that, but the king of online movie distribution is doing it through a $100-million deal, scoring House of Cards (one of the most sought-out cable pilots) with a 2-season/24-episode order.
Boom.

It’s certainly impressive, and pretty much unheard of, but why can this move be considered a game-changer?

First, the fact that Netflix is doing original programming is, by itself, a major decision, and dare I say a major shake-up in the peaceful realm of the television industry.
An outside entity getting on TV’s turf by pulling the rug out from their feet? They’re a distribution outlet, not a content developer. Surely this is tantamount to iTunes making shows of their own, right?
Well the truth is that we’ve now moved beyond all of that.
Do you remember The Outer Limits’ opening credits? “We control the horizontal and the vertical.“
I could write a thousand pages describing how “the Internet” or “YouTube” or “the writers’ strike” changed the way “television” is “made,” but the bottom line is that the standard TV business model is slowly eroding away. We’re now angling towards an endless array of verticals and horizontals. The latest example being Comcast buying up NBC/Universal. The “input” and “output” tubes are starting to fuse themselves together into an endless loop.
Scary, huh?
So we have Netflix, which controls 61% of movie streaming and is literally getting a dedicated button on your remote control, who is now moving beyond its distribution model to become a content creator–nay, a premium content creator and provider.
I’d say that’s one major step towards the future of television.

Now there’s also the problem of the content itself. Netflix went with House of Cards; in other words, this is a very high-profile cable drama.
The message is clear: You don’t have to be HBO to provide epic premium content.
It’s not only about making original content, it’s about making original premium content that can rival cable.
Is cable really in competition with online distribution outlets?
That’s still up to debate, although Netflix clearly thinks so.
“But they don’t have development executive” you say. Well that may be true, but I’m still waiting to see Netflix’s exec pyramid to validate that statement. They’ll probably create a dedicated department in the next few weeks.
Regardless, seeing as this is their first original venture, and the way they acquired the project, I’m willing to bet that they’re more than willing to give some artistic freedom.
After all, we’re not talking about a project by unknowns here. House of Cards is a respected foreign property drama and has established auspices (Fincher/Spacey). Plus we have MRC, which has a decent track record, but more importantly everything to prove. It’s probable that they’ll be the ones more involved in the creative process.
And will House of Cards be eligible for an Emmy?

Finally, we have the deal itself. A two-season order is nowadays virtually unheard of.
As Nellie Andreeva pointed out in her article:

AMC went straight to series on The Walking Dead but with a modest six-episode order. Rome and Fox’s CGI extravaganza Terra Nova started off with 13-episode orders. Starz, which has been going straight-to-series with its dramas, ordered 10 episodes of Camelot and 8 of Boss.

Although still unknown, the distribution model of these 24 episodes will probably be by itself somewhat of a revolution (at least for that type of content).
Will it be VOD-only? Will DVDs be mailed out? How about the marketing campaign?
Everything needs to be defined. Or rather redefined, since this is after all a TV series we’re talking about.
Change is afoot.
The fact that Netflix spent $100 million to acquire the project is them basically thumbing their nose at cable.
Had AMC or HBO acquired the project, it certainly would have kept its appeal, but beyond its artistic value, the fact that Netflix is developing it is much more alluring.
House of Cards is now a big fish in a small pond–which is about to get enormous.

Of course, at the end of the day (or rather months to come), all of this might end up being a catastrophic failure. Nobody watches the show and millions have been spent for nothing.
I personally believe though that it’s going to work out on all fronts.
And if anything, this will at least usher in a new era; that of premium original content not originating from the standard black box, but from an entirely different mode of distribution.
Whether that’s a good or bad thing remains to be seen.

One final question remains: Will House of Cards be eligible for an Emmy?