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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?

Published: 4 years ago

Oscar thoughts (2011)

Well, it’s already been a year since we were treated with the Baldwin/Martin hosting duties and, although not that amusing, they fared much better than this year’s duo.

But let’s get something out of the way first.
Was The King’s Speech the best movie of 2010?
Probably not.
Was it undeserving of recognition?
No.
If you’ve seen the movie, then you know it was not only entertaining and funny, but also fresh.
There, I said it.
I went in expecting some heavy period “Oscar-grabber” piece, and I came out feeling invigorated.
Hell, it was the complete opposite of what many people are comparing it to: Shakespeare in Love.
So, no, I don’t feel the win was that much of a rip-off, and if you look at the list of the nominees, 2010 was a pretty great year for cinema.

Now onto the hosts.



*crickets*
Call it bland, call it grey, call it apathy, but the hosting this year was plain boring.
Even Franco seemed to be pretty absent throughout the show (maybe it was due to the Bruce Vilanch-written jokes?).
There’s not much else to say about that, except to add that Hathaway’s visible enthusiasm was misplaced.

If there was one great addition this year though, it was undoubtedly the magnificent set. Now that’s a step in the right direction.

It was also pretty funny to see how the ceremony itself was not unlike Inception: we have to go deeper!
An announcer announced the next announcer who then announced the next announcer, and…so on.
Anne Hathaway introduced Billy Crystal who introduced Bob Hope who introduced Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law who then presented the SFX award.

Speaking of Bob Hope. Though I appreciate the effort of recreating his persona on stage, they do realize the world, and people, were not black & white in the 1950s right?

Also note that they apparently removed the “applaud your fave” during the In Memoriam segment.
No more ghoulish popularity contest!

Surprisingly, another positive thing this year were the acceptance speeches. Both Aaron Sorkin and Christian Bale were not only humble in their victory, but also self-deprecating. Others, like Tom Hoper, were actually inspiring.

As for Billy Crystal’s comeback, well, that was met with a lot of relief from everybody.
Maybe he’ll get so much hype from his performance that they’ll rehire him next year…

And what to say about Kirk Douglas?
I love the man but, damn, that presentation was downright embarrassing for everyone involved. And what was going on with the aide battling for his cane?

Oh, I almost forgot to point out that Modern Family served us with another, funny, Oscar promo.
Probably the most entertaining 30 seconds of the evening.
That’s two for two.

As for the various winners (and losers)…
Although everyone was hoping for Exit Through the Gift Shop to win (and get a Banksy party-crashing in return), I’m glad that Inside Job got the award. Even better was director Charles Ferguson’s opening statement about how “three years after a horrific financial crisis caused by fraud, not a single financial executive has gone to jail—and that’s wrong”.
A lot of people are also whining about the Inception snubs and how everyone was thanking Chris Nolan–except the Academy voters. Although somewhat true, I do feel Nolan Fincher will get recognition from the Academy soon.
As in, next year with The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.
As for the rest of the winners, there isn’t much to add that hasn’t been said. I don’t consider any of the wins to be surprising (yes, even Melissa Leo).
This year’s ceremony was, overall, probably the least surprising in quite some time.

Finally, we were treated with a (somewhat awkward?) end-of-show choir.
Under-privileged kids, singing happily with Oscar winners getting their $30,000 gift-bags.
Stay classy Academy.

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