The TV Writing Journey

Published: 1 month ago

6 Screenwriting Lessons from Parks and Recreation

A key part of writing for television is watching television. And learning from it.
Screenwriting lessons from tackles series past and present, analyzing them through the prism of screenwriting.

It was only a few months ago that NBC’s Parks and Recreation concluded its seven-season run. From absurd government action to now-iconic characters, the show offered us some of the funniest moments in recent television history.
Time to take a look at this amazing mockumentary-style comedy. Because time is money. Money is power. Power is pizza. And pizza is knowledge.

[As usual, I’ll be talking about the series as a whole. I highly recommend you watch the entire show before reading this post—it’s worth it.]



Lesson 1: Don’t let a format define your story

When Parks and Recreation started airing in 2009, a large amount of viewers quickly dismissed it as a “carbon copy” of NBC’s The Office. It didn’t help that both were basically made by the same people. Leslie was reduced as Michael Scott’s dimwitted protagonist clone, and the tone of the show was being described as “mean-spirited”. Its first season was promptly ridiculed and set aside.
Six years later, Parks now stands as one of the greatest mockumentary-style comedies ever to appear on TV. Sure, there have been a few lackluster episodes, but its (somewhat-)handheld format never shackled the series. One could even argue the series thrived in spite of it.
Co-creator Michael Schur explained back in 2011 why the show used the specific format:

We wanted this to be a mockumentary show because in the world of government, the difference between what goes on behind closed doors and what people present to the public is a huge issue. Plus, the single-camera format can be alienating, and the talking heads help us relate directly to the audience, and provide breaks in the action.

Notice how there is no mention of the mockumentary style as a narrative component. The idea is (or was) about contrasting what we see and what is said, not experiencing a fake documentary. This specific mockumentary format is only a “take” on the government world. It isn’t meant to be a story element in of itself (unlike, again, The Office).
Forget using the meta structure of a documentary crew as one of your plotlines. The hell with confessionals rooted in realism. We were treated with awkward and multiple angles, jump-cuts, and a less voyeuristic approach overall. Hell, we even saw our characters evolve right up to the year 2048. As long as it services them as well as their story, there is no “real” reason not have a camera present. In fact, the series almost completely abandoned its format in the latter-season episode “The Johnny Karate Super Awesome Musical Explosion Show” (7×10).
At the end of the day, Parks and Recreation was able (and willing) to grow out of The Office’s shadow because it transcended the format it was born in. Similar style. Completely different world.
Learn how to move past the limitations of your own structure and style, or thrive within them.

Lesson 2: Supporting characters are as important as your main cast

Many comparisons can be made between Parks and FOX’s The Simpsons: talking heads (Perd Hapley/Kent Brockman), sex scandal-embroiled politicians (Dexhart/Quimby), rival towns (Pawnee/Springfield vs. Eagleton/Shelbyville). Both shows also brilliantly use the mob mentality. Citizens are easily swayed to vote against their own best interests on multiple occasions.
The overarching commonality however is that both shows excel in making their respective towns three-dimensional. Parks always tries to deepen Pawnee (and Eagleton), especially when it helps both story and humor. JJ’s Diner is as identifiable with Parks as Apu’s Kwik-E-Mart is to The Simpsons. The Gryzzl startup (and its CEO) were objects of ridicule as well as catalysts for conflict in the final two seasons. We learned of Dennis Feinstein’s existence several seasons before Jason Mantzoukas started inhabiting the role (in “Indianapolis” (3×06)). The same holds true for the cavalcade of recurring characters. The series excels with them for one simple reason: they are not just obstacles or sources of conflicts for our protagonists, nor are they just jokes in of themselves. They are shades of this world. They are living and breathing Pawnee citizens.
Never underestimate your secondary characters. In fact, use them as a continuously-untapped layer to enrich your world and stories.

Lesson 3: Know when to move on

Raise your hand if Mark Brendanawicz was your favorite character on the show. Probably half of you just said: “Who the hell is–Oooh, the guy from season one. Brendanaquits!” Yes, Brendanaquits. If you’ll recall, Leslie’s long-standing crush on Mark was promptly swept under the rug right after the first season because it didn’t seem to work for the writers. The character himself made his departure following “Freddy Spaghetti” (2×24). He was supposed to come back, like the real-life city planner he was based on, but I guess that didn’t work out as planned. Either way, the voluntary decision to exile the character shows that Parks and Recreation was always willing to move on. It always tried to stay fresh and avoid some perpetual status quo.
Quoting Michael Schur on this concept:

All of these decisions fall under the general heading of character development. My own preference is that everyone on the show should be in a different place at the end of a season from where they were at the beginning of the season. I don’t like shows where you catch an episode in repeats and it could literally be from season 2 or season 8. People change in real life, and I think they should on TV as well.

Another example is the “pit plot”. It’s an iconic storyline in the show, yet it barely lasted two seasons. Most comedies would have dragged on the plot for the duration of the show. Instead, the area promptly got filled in year two so we could move on to newer, better stories. Shows should never be afraid to evolve.

Lesson 4: Take risks within relationships—when it makes character sense

We just talked about how Parks was able to keep a fresh pace with its plot. The same can be said with the many relationships in the show. When April and Andy got married out of the blue during “Andy and April’s Fancy Party” (3×09), it caught off guard everyone (including viewers). This wasn’t just because it was a joke. The shock came from the fact that the wedding actually happened. Even better, it completely fit the relationship in question and the characters’ impulsive nature. Continuing with Michael Schur’s own comments:

All we knew was that we wanted to avoid the standard-issue TV romance plots: fights, other men/women driving them apart, and so on. We just thought about who they were – two impulsive goofballs who don’t approach their lives in a responsible, adult manner – and decided, what the hell? What if they just make a rash decision and get hitched? As soon as the idea came up we felt it made sense, and as a bonus, the stakes would subsequently be higher for every story we told about their relationship.

Herein lies one of the great things behind the writing of Parks and Recreation: realistic character development. The idea is to always organically push the characters in their logical direction instead of having them run circles. Ben’s understated (and perfect) marriage proposal to Leslie in “Halloween Surprise” (5×05) is another great way to show a leap with two central characters.
When it comes to your own series relationships, commit forward instead of taking a step back. There is rarely (if ever) a need to stagnate. Fresh paint needs time to dry, not a TV show (with exception).

Lesson 5: Make Flanderization work for, not against you

“Flanderization” is a famous television trope that describes the act of “taking a single (often minor) action or trait of a character within a work and exaggerating it more and more over time until it completely consumes the character.” As you might have guessed, the trope got its name from The Simpsons’ Ned Flanders. He initially was a friendly neighbor and attentive father, but has over the years become solely defined by his obsession with religion.
Much like one now thinks of “religious zealot” with Flanders, you could define most scenes with Parks’ Ron as featuring an “anti-governmental meat-eating secretive woodsman”. The same could also apply to Andy and “lovable idiot man-child”, although it really wasn’t until the beginning of his life outside of Ann’s house that he became a kinder person. So, how did the show avoid “Flanderization”? Well, it didn’t. It used it to its own advantage.
An entire mythology was built around Ron’s enigmatic aura. Sometimes it got reduced to “steak and eggs”, but when it worked it built the character instead of diminish it. Andy similarly had layers developed around being a simple goofball (Burt Tyrannosaurus Macklin and Johnny Karate being two persona extensions).
It could even be argued that the characters went through a “reverse Flanderization” process. The characters were more defined by a singular tone in the first season than in later years. Andy was a lazy and clingy ex-boyfriend, Leslie was an (even more) obnoxious Tracy Flick (or, as described above, reminiscent of Michael Scott), April was, like, whatever man, and Ron said two words.
A bad way of dealing with the trope is to not only define a character by that one aspect, but specifically limit him/her with that layer. Parks not only embraced those characterizations, but went deeper. The “good way” isn’t necessarily about making the trait less “over-the-top”, it is about humanizing it in the process. In other words, you do not reduce a character down to the trait, you expand on it.

Lesson 6: Being positive does not have to mean being sappy

Earnest comedy and positive relationships. Two of Parks and Recreation’s unsung strengths. While everyone is trying to add some form of edge to their show, this NBC comedy never shied away from having actually nice characters (or silly ones) with heart. And making it all matter in the end.
Even with Leslie’s intense care for everyone she loves (in planning birthdays or other surprises), that “crazy” intensity was never played against her on the show. Parks rarely (if ever) undercut the true sincere emotions of characters for cheap laughs. Ann or Ben were often overwhelmed by Leslie’s antics, however none of them were the butts of jokes. In “Anniversaries” (6×14), we smiled with Leslie at Ben’s awestruck expression while he was sitting on the Iron Throne (one of the truer portrayals of a nerd), but we were all playing (including Leslie, trying to make him happy). Everyone was “in on it”.
A lot of the relationships on the show also led to affairs of the heart. Every major character ends up being linked to a key romantic pair by series end: Ben and Leslie, Chris and Ann, April and Andy, Ron and Diane, Tom and Natalie Morales’ Lucy, Jerry and his wife Gayle (a pre-series romance putting him at odds with the rest of the cast—and played that way), Rita and Keegan-Michael Key’s Joe. Even Craig finds “true love” in the series finale.
In that respect, the show’s true success is playing those romances not as sappy ideals, but as realistic relationships (albeit kind ones). Just because they are positive does not make them impossible. Ben and Leslie, the closest lovers on the show, still have to deal with their triplets (and Jennifer Barkley). Chris and Ann’s romance is never portrayed as “true love”, only the most ideal match for their baby.
If anything, Parks and Recreation is a great example of a show that embraces its sincerity and heart without compromising humor, story or character. Refreshing, in an age of gritty everything.

What to take from the show

In a word: character. If you don’t underestimate the heart of the series, then the relationships you create will carry the momentum forward. This is also why there’s no reason to be scared of big story moves, or to be anxious about dropping stale storylines. As long as you fulfill the characters’ potential, and develop them properly, you can’t betray the spirit of your show.

Published: 11 months ago

Profiles of Television: Kiyong Kim — TV Writing Fellow

Profiles of Television is an ongoing interview series showcasing the variety of professionals in the TV industry, from writers and producers, to those in development, representation, and post-production. These are the many talents involved in television, and the personal journeys behind them.

Today’s guest is Kiyong Kim. A multi-talented comedy writer, he had the opportunity of working through two amazing fellowships (Nickelodeon and NBC’s Writers on the Verge) as well as currently participating in the CAAM mentorship program.
Let’s see what he has to say.

The Medium

First things first: why the television calling?
Originally, I wanted to write features. I had a writing teacher who suggested I try writing for TV, which I had no interest in until The Office came out. It was different, and I felt like I really got that show and the sense of humor. There was a sadness to the show that I really liked.
Around the same time, someone I knew got into the Nickelodeon Writing Fellowship. Until then, I didn’t know these fellowship programs even existed. I saw that as an entryway into television that didn’t really exist for features, and I thought I should try.

Three words to describe what you write.
Comedy without heart? Though I’m trying to add some to the pilot I’m working on now.

Three words to describe how you write.
Structured, because I like outlines. Slow, with pilots. And then—what is one word to describe when you’re on the verge of quitting? Whatever that word would be is the third word. Despair?

Name—
—the television series that has influenced you the most:
The Simpsons for the sense of humor. I’ve been watching it from the beginning and I still see the latest episodes, even in season 20-something. It influenced a lot of people. What it did really well was make good use of the medium of animation, unlike something like King of the Hill which could have basically been live-action.
And again, The Office as the show for making me actually want to write for TV.

—the one episode of television that defines you:
I don’t know if it defines me, but I thought about it a lot, and that Red Wedding episode of Game of Thrones was something else. I saw those YouTube videos of people freaking out while watching that one crazy scene at the end. People started crying, screaming, and throwing things at the TV. Seriously, people don’t react like that when people die in real life. It was a great reminder at how much impact a story can have.

—the television episode that impressed you the most:
Recently, the season finale of Silicon Valley was pretty amazing. Before that, the ‘Chaos Theory’ episode of Community.

—the show you wish was still on the air:
I liked Happy Endings. I was disappointed it got cancelled.

—the show you would never publicly admit to watching, except right now:
SpongeBob Squarepants.

—the show you wish you had worked on:
Friends. It’s still funny. I watch reruns now and it holds up. So many shows since then have tried to recapture that. Each character was so distinct and likeable.

Kiyong Kim Smiling

The Journey

What has been, so far, your journey in the television industry?
I did web design for years and years despite never wanting to do web design. On nights and weekends, I was making short films and was thinking of writing and directing a feature soon. Around that time someone I knew entered the Nickelodeon Fellowship.
I had meant to write a spec for a while, so I wrote one for The Office. I made it to the finalist round but didn’t get in that year. The next, I tried again, and got in.
I learned a lot at Nickelodeon but didn’t get staffed. The following year, I got into the NBC Writers on the Verge program, which was about four months long. Again, noting happened. I had to go back to doing design.
This year, I got into the CAAM Fellowship, where they assign mentors individually to each of the fellow. I was lucky enough to get the person I wanted, Kourtney Kang (How I Met Your Mother). She’s helping me with my pilot and it’s been great.

What is the hardest thing about being a television writing fellow?
There’s a lot of pressure since you feel like you’re so close. Both times I felt like it was my chance, but nothing happened. Of course, there are never any guarantees in the industry, even for people already staffed or repped. Their shows get canceled or they don’t get asked back. That’s just the nature of the business.
At some point, I had to seriously ask myself—Is that something I can live with forever? Is the uncertainty something I can accept? Because if not, I should just quit now and save myself the aggravation. Since I’m a masochist, I’m still going.

What is the easiest thing about being a television writing fellow?
There’s nothing easy. There are lots of really short deadlines, trying to impress the right people, trying to push yourself, or being good in the room. Luckily, all the other writers were supportive of each other. Everyone was extremely talented, and generous.

What is the biggest takeaway from your experience in the fellowships?
For Nickelodeon, it was how much the non-writing stuff matters. Presentation, pitching yourself, egos, the politics of things, and even how luck is involved.
For NBC, the biggest takeaway was that I need to speak up more in the room.

Can you talk about the CAAM mentorship process?
It’s been about a month since Kourtney and I started. When we met up, I pitched her two pilot ideas, and she liked one of them, so that’s the one I’m working on. I fleshed out the story, figured out the characters, and am ready to start outlining.
Having someone with so much experience give notes is incredible, especially in the early stages when you’re trying to figure out the conceptual stuff of how the show will work. I’m very grateful for this opportunity.

What is your day-to-day like?
I have my full-time day job. 40–50 hours a week, fairly regular. So then I have to write on nights and weekends, which is difficult. But I do remind myself that even on a show, I’d have to work on my own projects nights and weekends. Luckily, I also have my writing group, which meets every other week right now. That’s been a life-saver—receiving notes, pitching ideas, all the free therapy.

Who do you look up to in the television industry?
I love Greg Daniels. The Office, Parks & Recreation. He also did animation with King of the Hill and The Simpsons. That’s a pretty ridiculous resume.

What is the ideal job you would like to ultimately have?
Running my own show, which is probably what everybody wants. Or just writing for a good show with people you can get along with. Can’t really ask for more than that.

When people from outside the industry ask what you do, what do you tell them?
Currently, I probably don’t mention that I write, just the web design since that’s how I pay the bills.

What is your best professional advice to someone who wants to do what you do?
Well, I don’t feel qualified to give “professional” advice because I’m not a professional writer. I got into a couple fellowships, but I’m not staffed or even repped.
However, what I’m personally trying to do is to have solid writing samples, and meet people who will read my writing. Between writing and networking, I’d probably give more priority to the writing. A sub par writing sample read by the right people isn’t really going to help you.

What is your best personal advice to someone who wants to do what you do?
Give up now. [laughs] Why would you do this to yourself unless you had to? There are so many other, easier ways to make money. When I took the Nick Fellowship, it was huge pay-cut for me. Logically it made no sense. No sane person would do this. If there’s anything else you want to do, do that instead. If you’re cursed like me where you have to write, then prepare to be in it for the long haul.

What is your next step?
I’m finishing this pilot, and hopefully Kourtney will like it. Ideally, the pilot will lead to me getting representation, and then hopefully staffed.
After that, I’ve been wanting to try some sci-fi, either as a low-budget feature to direct, or as a pilot script. I also want to try to pitch an animated show at Nick, Disney and Cartoon Network. I met people while I was at the Nick Fellowship, and I went to art school for illustration, so I think animation would be something I’d be good at.

Any last words?
Don’t make excuses. Don’t blame your lack of success on others. Get feedback from others; it’s hard to be objective about your own work. Be prolific. Finish things.

Many thanks to the wickedly talented Kiyong Kim!

You can follow him on his personal blog of creative pursuits, where he chronicles his own television journey. He is also on Twitter.

Published: 2 years ago

Comedy Spec Script 2013 — What is hot and what is not


UPDATED:
A brand new 2015 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.

NOTE:
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.

Archer (FX)
It’s surprising to see Archer here, but the truth is that after four years of existence, it’s difficult to see why it should not be.
Longevity: ★★★★ — FX isn’t giving up this soon.

The Big Bang Theory (CBS)
For many years the go-to multi-camera sitcom to spec, Big Bang has seen countless of variants.
Longevity: ★★★★★ — The show’s running jokes have been beaten to a pulp.

Community (NBC)
You could spec this, but why would you?
Longevity: ★★★★ — Yes, it got renewed, but who did it not surprise?

How I Met Your Mother (CBS)
Season 9 is going off a completely new format…
Longevity: ★★★★ — …and it’ll be the last.

It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia (FX)
Remember when this show was fresh? I don’t.
Longevity: ★★★★ — Standing on its last leg(s).

Two and a Half Men (CBS)
Really?
Longevity: ★★★★★ — Everyone is jumping off-board at this poin


Mainstream

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

Cougar Town/The Middle (ABC)
A change of network for the former couldn’t have come at a better time. Both series are not that watched, but are surprisingly popular in spec-world.
Longevity: ★★★★★ — Good enough numbers.

Louie (FX)
Everyone is dying to make their own Louie spec. But can they be any good?
Longevity: ★★★★ — [Insert stand-up routine]

Modern Family (ABC)
Its mass appeal can be seen in the spec world.
Longevity: ★★★★ — 10 seasons and 2 TV movies?

Mike & Molly (CBS)
If you’re looking for an old-school multi-camera, this is the one.
Longevity: ★★★★ — CBS has a working sitcom. Shocker.

New Girl (FOX)
The frontrunner for any “friends” comedy spec around.
Longevity: ★★★★ — A critical darling on top of being watched.

Parks and Recreation (NBC)
One of the best comedies on TV, and it’s still fresh in its fifth season. What could be better?
Longevity: ★★★★ — Now that The Office is gone, Parks is NBC’s strongest Thursday night show.

Raising Hope (FOX)
An extremely popular spec ever since it premiered, Raising Hope may not set you apart, but it’ll get read.
Longevity: ★★★★ — A bonafide hit for FOX.

Shameless (Showtime)
When it comes to premium cable comedies, this is a goodie.
Longevity: ★★★★ — No reason to think Showtime is letting this go.

Suburgatory (ABC)
It’s funny and original.
Longevity: ★★★★ — Be careful with the ratings.

Two Broke Girls (CBS)
If you’re into more edgy racist jokes, then maybe this is the sitcom to pick.
Longevity: ★★★★ — No decline to be seen.


Wild Cards

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

Girls (HBO)
There’s a new kid on the block. And it likes to show its ass.
Longevity: ★★★★ — Yeah, I don’t see this going anywhere.

House of Lies/Nurse Jackie (Sho)
One is taking over the other. Both are surprisingly popular choices.
Longevity: ★★★★★ — Growing old.

The Mindy Project (FOX) *
It’s a hit or miss for most, but it’s one of the rare romantic network comedies getting past a first season.
Longevity: ★★★★ — Continuing to build their comedy block, FOX is holding on tight.

The Neighbors (ABC) *
Do you really want to spec a show that has been eviscerated by critics?
Longevity: ★★★★ — It did get a new season off average numbers.

Veep (HBO)
A political comedy! From Armando Iannucci! Difficult to harness, but if you’re succesful you may hit the jackpot.
Longevity: ★★★★ — Is it that serialized?


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.

Eastbound & Down (HBO)
Still kicking and screaming…
Longevity: ★★★★ — …for one last effort.

The League (FX)
An overlooked charming comedy from FX that could be a good contender for a very atypical spec.
Longevity: ★★★★★ — Pretty formulaic but it works.


Gamblers

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

Anger Management (FX) *
Nope.
Longevity: ★★★★ — FX has shot a gazillion episodes.

Childrens’ Hospital/NTSF:SD:SUV (Cartoon Network/Adult Swim)
Not sure why you’d spec 15-minute shows…
Longevity: ★★★★★ — …but they’re growing in popularity.

Legit/Workaholics (FX/MTV) *
Only a handful of spec-readers would watch these show.
Longevity: ★★★★ — One got super-renewed, the other is helping launch a spin-off network.



A wide variety of choices this year from the comedy landscape, although maybe less than the drama side (for the first time in a while).
With the departure of 30 Rock and The Office, plus the spec semi-retirement of Community and (bound to happen) Archer, the comedy spec market is wide open. The top seats are taken by hot contenders like New Girl and Raising Hope, which were both very popular right off the bat when they premiered.
HBO is able to succesfully compete against Showtime, with the addition of Veep and, yes, Girls. Who knew nudity would sell? On the other end of the spectrum, there are no real changes when it comes to multi-camera sitcoms.
It is known.

Click here for the Drama Spec Script list.

Published: 3 years ago

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


UPDATED:
A brand new 2015 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.