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Alex and Nick discuss the differences between inspiration and stealing in screenwriting and television.

What constitutes an original idea? Where is the line between inspiration and stealing? Where can you get inspiration from? What is considered an homage? How many different stories are there to tell?

Plus, an answer to how many episodes of a TV show you should watch before speccing it.

The Paper Team pays homage…

SHOWNOTES

Content

Paper Scraps: Episodes to watch before writing a TV spec (00:52)
1 – What is an original idea? (03:34)
2 – Why everybody “steals” (06:36)
3 – Paying homage and the different stories being told (09:23)
4 – Inspiration in TV and spec scripts (22:58)
Takeaways and Next Week On (34:13)

Links

Armageddon
Deep Impact
“Protecting and Over-Protecting Your TV Script: Copyright, Ownership and Idea Theft” (PT23)
Parallel thinking
Rough Night
Girls Trip
Akira Kurosawa
Stranger Things
Aesop’s Fables
Jean de La Fontaine
Hero’s Journey
Christopher Vogler
“The Art of Fiction” – John Gardner
“Save the Cat” – Blake Snyder
“The Seven Basic Plots” – Christopher Booker
“The Six Main Arcs in Storytelling, as Identified by an A.I.” – The Atlantic
The Shield
The Simpsons movie references

This episode brought to you by Tracking Board’s Launch Pad Writing Competitions

Use code PAPERTEAM to get $15 OFF when you enter a Launch Pad Competition

Special thanks to Evan Schmitt for helping us edit this episode.

If you enjoyed this episode (and others), please consider leaving us an iTunes review at paperteam.co/itunes! :)

You can find Paper Team on Twitter:
Alex@TVCalling
Nick@_njwatson
If you have any questions, comments or feedback, you can e-mail us: [email protected]

Alex and Nick invite Becca Burgess, casting associate on ABC’s Last Man Standing, NBC’s Undateable, and TBS’ Cougar Town, to discuss how casting works in television.

What is the casting process for TV shows, pilots and regular episodes? What can TV writers learn from casting? How much interaction does casting have with writers and producers? What are differences between casting comedy and drama? How does casting approach writers’ character descriptions?

The Paper Team gives a read…

SHOWNOTES

Content

Becoming a casting associate, casting TV pilots and episodes, finding series regulars, interactions with writers and producers, approaching diversity, using character descriptions, casting discovery, reading process, advice for writers (00:55)
Resources and Next Week On (34:52)

Links

Becca Burgess on Twitter
Annie (Musical)
Me and Earl and the Dying Girl
Breakdown Services
Superbad
SAG-AFTRA
Taft-Hartley report
13 Reasons Why

This episode brought to you by Tracking Board’s Launch Pad Writing Competitions

Use code PAPERTEAM to get $15 OFF when you enter a Launch Pad Competition

Special thanks to Alex Switzky for helping us edit this episode.

If you enjoyed this episode (and others), please consider leaving us an iTunes review at paperteam.co/itunes! :)

You can find Paper Team on Twitter:
Alex@TVCalling
Nick@_njwatson
If you have any questions, comments or feedback, you can e-mail us: [email protected]

Where can you fit your TV script in the overall narrative of the show you picked?
For this Readers’ Mail, we have not one but two people asking a variation of the query.

First off, Alex (not me!) wonders —

I joined TV Calling because I am pursuing a career in TV writing and am working on specs. I specifically have problems with knowing where to fit my spec into the overall narrative (if there is one, it’s a bit easier for comedy).
Sometimes it’s hard to have the confidence to know what the actual writers of the show are planning/setting up with their plot.

And Nick (not Watson) adds —

Hi Alex, been listening to your podcast & find it extremely helpful and informative!
I’m wondering, when it comes to speccing a show, am I supposed to write the episode into a particular season? Following other episodes and one that will be followed by other episodes? Or are you really just using their world and parameters to create an episode you think is great.
Would appreciate if you could give me some advice on this.

Awesome questions all around.
Essentially, it’s about figuring out: when should your spec be placed?

That’s kind of up to you and the show you choose. Both approaches are totally acceptable. You can write an “in-between” episode that would fit between episodes 10 and 11. Or you could write something disconnected from the main through-line of your season.
It’s hard to be prescriptive without details, but the advice I usually give is to follow whatever is the strongest story/character arc you want to write about, and will showcase your writing. Trite advice, but true advice.

I know you didn’t come all this way for a generic reply.
So let’s dig in to see which approach is better for your spec.

If you’re writing a story based on knowledge of existing plotlines, you can hone in on “missing threads” to enhance the already-existing episodes.
For example, if the show had loose threads or dropped existing plotlines for some reason — these are narratives you could potentially pick back up and ones that will enrich the existing show.
Having a clear idea of where that episode falls in the timeline is obviously critical to making the narrative and characters’ journey matter.
And if that is your approach, then I would strongly suggests adding a “Previously On” page to your spec. (In fact, most fellowships request one now.)

On the flip side, many people also write an “evergreen” episode that could generally fit whenever in that season. For instance, an episode of a DC/CW show featuring a villain of the week.
In that case, it’s more about using the characters and the mechanic of that world to merge your voice with what exists, while writing a compelling story.
If you’re attempting to do an “evergreen” spec (which usually works best for formulaic or procedural-type shows), then you’d want to write something that could be placed anywhere in the timeline.

That said, even serialized shows (like How to Get Away With Murder) have a degree of “formula” that should help you figure out some form of self-contained episode.
It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t tackle any of the serialized narratives in the original show, just that you still need to provide a satisfying experience within the span of your spec.
For comedies, it’s a bit easier to do an “evergreen” episode. Something like Brooklyn Nine-Nine may have callbacks to past storylines, but by-and-large they have self-contained stories.

The bottom line is that where you place that episode in the timeline doesn’t matter that much, as long as what you create a compelling/entertaining script that can stand on its own merits.
Regardless of the angle you pick, the idea is to make your narrative count. The spec reader should go through a journey with the characters from point A to point Z. Whether that start/end is between two existing episodes or it exists in a vacuum — it doesn’t really matter as much as what is in between .

If you (reading this) have questions, feel free to send me a message!

Write on.

Hi there!

Alex Freedman

I'm Alex Freedman, the writer behind TV Calling.


I started this site in 2008 to chronicle my own journey in television writing.

707 posts and 9 years later, TV Calling has also become a comprehensive resource dedicated to the full TV writing industry — from spec to success.


Everything here is written by yours truly (unless otherwise credited), so feel free to blame me for any missed deadlines.


I hope you'll answer your television calling, and join me in this creative journey.


Write on.


P.S.: New around? You should start here.

What’s Alex Watching?

The Good FightThe LeftoversThe Chris Gethard ShowMaster of NoneLegion
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