A brand new 2016 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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.