Comedy Spec Script 2010 – What is hot and what is not

Comedy Spec Script 2010 – What is hot and what is not


UPDATED:
A brand new 2017 list has been posted.
Click here to access it.



Like last year, it is now time to review which shows are good to spec, and which are not.
I’m assuming you know what a spec script is of course.

This time around, I’ve double things up and am dedicating a post respectively to the best comedies (half-hours) to spec, and then the best dramas (one-hours).
I’m also offering a little bonus: a script for each of the shows listed — when available.

Let’s do a quick recap of how this 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 massively)

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 those shows.

30 Rock (NBC)
Beginning with the number one choice in town. You know everyone is doing it, so why bother doing the same?
Longevity: ★★★★★ – The show probably won’t die soon, but the readability of your script might. Chances are, your idea has been done before, or someone else specced it way better.

Entourage (HBO)
Do you really think you have a fresh take on a six-year-old series about Tinseltown? Yeah, thought so.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – It is hard to see the show getting renewed after its future seventh season.

It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia (FX)
Once a borderline show to spec, Philly is going to soon enter its sixth season, and probably thousandth spec.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – Like Entourage, FX will probably give it a couple more seasons tops. The network is already trying to renew its comedy sked.

The Office (NBC)
Though it was a hot property last season (and the one before it), it has now gotten somewhat stale.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – Same deal as 30 Rock basically.

Weeds (Sho)
The storyline is ever-changing and the clear-cut formula has been gone for a few seasons.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – How long can Showtime keep this show alive? A couple more years?

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

The Big Bang Theory (CBS)
A classic sitcom with a geeky side to it. You should like this.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – Extraordinary ratings.

Parks and Recreation (NBC)
Considered by some to be the new The Office of specs, and with only two seasons under its belt, it is fresh enough to find original ideas for your script.
Longevity: ★★★★ – One of the first comedies to be renewed by NBC this year. It’s not going anywhere.

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

Community/Modern Family (NBC)
Two different series that have proven the comedy genre is not dead on network TV. Beware though: A lot more peeps than you’d think are already speccing those two.
Longevity: ★★★★ – Great ratings and enthusiastic reviews makes me think this comedic duo is safe (and renewed).

The United States of Tara (Sho)
The light dramedy of choice. Perhaps you can feature Patton Oswalt’s character a little more (that was a joke; never make an episode around a guest-star).
Longevity: ★★★★ – Showtime has found its successor to Weeds, and it’s not going to let it go.

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.

Cougar Town/The Middle (NBC)
Although less popular than their two other siblings (Community/Modern Family), they do have a lot of story potential.
Longevity: ★★★★ – New and renewed. What more can you ask?

Nurse Jackie (Sho)
The lesser-watched counterpoint (and counterpart) to Tara that works both as a medical show and a short-format light dramedy.
Longevity: ★★★★ – The Edie Falco-starrer got instantly renewed when it became Showtime’s most-watched premiere in history. Enough said.

Party Down (Starz)
Talk about an underrated comedy. Its disjointed aspect makes it a good speccer that is both fresh and still formulaic, though it is still not that known/watched.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – The constant cast-change might be dangerous to your storyline (Jane Lynch and now Adam Scott departing). A third season however is almost guaranteed.

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

Archer/The League (FX)
The upside is that no one else has thought of speccing those two shows. The downside is no one watches those two shows. Both are renewed however.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – Will they continue the renewal trend or disappear into nothingness during their second season? With their finite number of episodes, fresh story ideas are easy to find. What is not easy to find however is their adequate format.

Bored to Death (HBO)
Arguably one of the best new comedies this season, it is also pretty much unknown. Though it does suit well to its “case of the week” formula.
Longevity: ★★★★ – Safe for now thanks to its amazing cast.

Eastbound & Down (HBO)
Despite being execced by Will Ferrell and Adam McKay, and having a somewhat-cult following already, the question you should be asking yourself is: Do you actually know what the show is about?
Longevity: ★★★★ – With the strong talent attached to it, it’s doubtful the show will get canned anytime soon.

Hung (HBO)
The show received tepid reviews during its first run but it does have potential.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – The somewhat-serialized aspect might be problematic, though it was easily renewed.

The Life and Times of Tim (HBO)
Almost as unknown as Archer and The League, it is still holds a fruitful list of stories. I wouldn’t recommend speccing animation however.
Longevity: ★★★★ – Tough to guess the future of an HBO show, let alone a comedy, but this one seems solid enough.

Most of the current comedies/half-hours have been listed here, although I didn’t name any FOX show given that they’re mostly over-specced animations.
NBC still dominates the comedic field with seven shows, and CBS the classic sitcom. HBO, known more for its dramas, is surprisingly strong this year regarding half-hours. Although, much like FX’s own comedies, they are relatively under-the-radar, and it will be tough finding a reader that follows them regularly. Showtime fares better than its direct opposition with two highly-speccable series that could go a long way (like Weeds in its time).

Overall, there’s a lot of variety this year, so try not to put all your eggs in the same spec.

Click here for the dramas.

19 Comments

  1. ScreenwritingforHollywood

    March 16, 2010 at 7:39 PM

    Nice breakdown about specs.

    Cool site.
    (Je parle francais aussi et je vivais a Paris.)

  2. Alex

    March 17, 2010 at 8:36 PM

    I’m glad you like the site and the breakdown. :)
    Where in Paris did you live?

  3. Cheddarhead

    March 18, 2010 at 1:45 AM

    Fun site. Just getting my specs (and pilot) in order for fellowship rounds this year. I’ve got a Party Down which was an absolute ball to write, and am currently breaking a Modern Family. Interesting that you didn’t mention Glee though. I’m guessing that’s going to be a very hot spec for the next couple of years.

  4. ScreenwritingforHollywood

    March 18, 2010 at 1:58 AM

    Rue Pecqay dan le 4 ar, pres du Pompidou….

  5. Alex

    March 18, 2010 at 7:45 AM

    @Cheddarhead
    Love your choices!
    I actually did talk a bit about Glee, though it was in the Drama Spec Script breakdown due to its one-hour format. ;) And I totally agree: it sure as hell going to be a hot spec.

    @ScreenwritingforHollywood
    Other side of town from me. Though Pompidou is a great museum.

  6. Cheddarhead

    March 18, 2010 at 4:28 PM

    Ah, yes, I see that now. I still get tripped up on the whole genre-refers-to-format-not-content thing. Didn’t help that my Earl spec came in behind an Ugly Betty in Scriptapalooza a couple years back… in the 1/2 hour sitcom category. Go figure.

  7. killertv

    March 18, 2010 at 7:49 PM

    I work in comedy at a television studio and this is a spot on analysis. Well done and thank you!

  8. Tommy

    March 18, 2010 at 9:01 PM

    How I Met Your Mother? Good ratings, well established, people like it, but not overly-specced. I’m a drama guy, but every comedy writer I know at least talks about it.

  9. Sinnycal

    March 19, 2010 at 7:27 AM

    I don’t think It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia is going anywhere. Every other comedy FX has tried has come off as an attempt at finding a viable companion piece for it.

  10. Ingrid

    March 19, 2010 at 8:58 AM

    I’m speccing Family Guy and Big Bang Theory (in fact, I’m coming up with too many great plots for Big Bang that I don’t know what to do with them all!!)
    I was speccing Criminal Intent, but found it too tricky.
    I think United States of Tara and Nurse Jackie are falsely labelled as comedies. I think they’re solidly dramas with black comedy elements.

  11. Jen

    March 19, 2010 at 10:26 PM

    Damn. While I know The Office is a little stale at this point, it’s still my favorite comedy, mostly because I’ve come to look at the characters as family! I have an Office spec and a Modern Family spec, and while I’m pretty pleased with both at the moment (neither is 100% finalized), I’m leaning more towards submitting The Office for contests/fellowships just because I really feel like I NAILED it.

    Would you recommend that I submit Modern Family instead? Or would I have a better shot with a hilarious script for a not-as-fresh show?

  12. Jones

    March 19, 2010 at 10:43 PM

    Here’s my problem: You skipped over most of the “popular” shows (with the exception of Big Bang & Parks and Rec) for “cool shows to spec.” Sure, everyone would love to spec Modern Family but what about Two and a Half Men? What about How I Met Your Mother? They’re not as “hip” but they’re huge hits and at least HIMYM allows for some really clever story telling.

  13. Alex

    March 20, 2010 at 1:36 AM

    It’s not just because something is everlasting and has some audience you should spec it.
    No one is forbidding anyone from speccing Two and a Half Men, there are simply other alternatives.
    Like C.S.I. for dramas, Two and a Half Men has now become kind of an institution in its own genre. It is still successfull, and on the air (for some time probably).
    With that said, it will enter next fall its eigth season (and 160th episode).
    Are you really sure you have an original idea for a seven-year-old sitcom?
    If yes, who’s to say you shouldn’t go for it.
    Chances are though that it’s already been done, either by the show, or by another speccer.
    And if you think your story is such an obvious fit to the series, then the writers on staff probably thought about it before you. Think of the reasons it didn’t make the cut.

    If you’re looking into a traditional multicam, what’s wrong with The Big Bang Theory?
    I personally don’t find TBBT “cooler” to spec than 2AHM, it’s just more recent (not too old, not too new, with just the right amount of episodes), and even has the same popularity.
    On the other hand, I understand Modern Family/Community being thought of as “cooler” to spec.
    However, as I pointed out in the breakdown, it’s on there for a reason: people are already speccing it.
    Whether you like it or not, the spec cycle is moving at a much faster rate nowadays. First-season successes are renewed early, and are even more appealing.

    Regarding How I Met Your Mother, it is, at best, living its last year as a “Mainstream”. This is because of a few reasons.
    First off, like for 2AHM, are you really positive your original idea hasn’t been done?
    Secondly, there are some longevity issues with the show. I certainly wouldn’t call it a “huge hit.”
    You might mention the Season 6 renewal, but unlike TBBT and 2AHM, it didn’t get a multiyear pickup. It’s basically still on “wait & see” mode. Plus, Bays and Thomas are already moving on.
    Now, sure, it’ll probably get to its final Season 7, but by that time the show will have reached 2AHM‘s current lifespan (see where I’m going with this?).

    This doesn’t mean you should throw your already-existing HIMYM spec away; just that, if you were wondering about writing right now a brand-new HIMYM, you might want to reconsider.
    Point is the same as Two and a Half Men: there are (perhaps better) fresher alternatives.
    The latter are that way, not because they’re “cooler,” but simply because they have the ratings and content to back it up.
    A spec must not only work for you right now, but must also have the potential to work for you later down the line.
    What’s the point of spending months and months writing and polishing the perfect spec script, if it’s just going to end up being irrelevant?

    @Jen
    Send in whichever you think has the best chance of you getting the fellowship.
    At the end of the day, it all comes down to your talent and how you were able to nail your script (not just because you chose a hot show).
    If your Office spec is the funniest, best written spec in the pile, who cares if the show itself is a bit stale.
    Good luck!

  14. Jeff

    April 3, 2010 at 3:00 AM

    Fantastic site!

    Question: I consider myself a writer who could write for both comedy and drama, but, ultimately… my ideal would be to write for an hour episodic that infuses (dark) comedy and/or finds its characters in potentially humorous scenarios – every now and again (e.g., Breaking Bad & Dexter – both of which I’m not speccing this year).

    Anyway, I wondered your thoughts on speccing something like Nurse Jackie, as a means for getting on an hour show… as opposed to Glee, for example – which, to me, is a full on musical comedy (albeit, heartfelt at times) – even though it’s an hour episodic?

    I know from personal experience that speccing something too dark for these Fellowships (like Dexter or BB) could be a major hindrance. They USE your winning spec to get staffed on THEIR shows… and Dexter ain’t Disneyfied. Perhaps Nurse Jackie isn’t either?

    Also, pondering Party Down… but feel that would place me in the comedy world for sure – no ifs ands or buts.

  15. Cheddarhead

    April 6, 2010 at 11:51 PM

    I’ve been wondering about this too. I’m guessing that similar content is what a producer would look for in a potential staff writer. I’ve been always been told to write a spec for a show that’s similar in tone to the one you’d like to staff on. If that’s true, I would think a Nurse Jackie would be a perfect sample for Dexter or BB.

    And as far as the Fellowships go, according to their websites its all about writing a great script, not whether the show you chose is “appropriate”. I know people have gotten into Disney with Dexter scripts, and somebody recently got into Warner Bros. with a Sarah Silverman spec.

    But if you opt for Party Down and need a sample script, just holler ;)

  16. Joshua Martinsson

    April 16, 2010 at 8:47 PM

    Thanks for providing the scripts for some of the shows you mentioned. Very helpful!

  17. Liz

    April 22, 2010 at 3:23 AM

    Thank you for this awesome post AND the scripts :) You’re spectacular. Womp.

  18. Rilz

    April 26, 2010 at 9:58 PM

    Great analysis. I’m of the opinion that Modern Family/Community are the shows to spec seeing as, though you are right, they are most likely going to be good for a few seasons and are brand spanking new – also they are completely serial so spec one now it should be good for a few years.

  19. Kate

    April 27, 2010 at 10:03 PM

    Oh, wow! This is such interesting stuff. I’ve been working on a “Modern Family” spec for a little while and I intend to send it out for fellowships and I thought I’d be zany and different by choosing that show — looks like I’m not very unique at ALL! In some ways, that’s a comfort, though now I fear that whoever reads the script will be burnt out on “MF” specs… Still, I have so much more confidence in this script than I have with anything else I’ve written — I just feel like I was born to write “MF” scripts! — and I’ve had such a good time writing it, I feel like that alone has been worth it. (Though I’d still REALLY like to be accepted in a fellowship program, of course!) Anyway, thanks for all this awesome info, awesome site :)

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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.

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


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