Comedy Spec Script 2017 – What is hot and what is not

Comedy Spec Script 2017 – What is hot and what is not

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 for educational purposes only.
Canceled or dead shows have been removed since last season’s spec list.

NOTE:
Given Warner Bros’ and NBC’s show lists for their fellowship, I have indicated with:
– An asterisk (*) any series that will not be accepted by WB.
– A dagger () any series that will not be accepted by NBC.

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 like a reset every time.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – Could last a decade, but doesn’t change that it’s been written to death.

The Big Bang Theory/Two Broke Girls (CBS)
I mean…
Longevity: ★★★★ – …seriously?

Bob’s Burgers (FOX)
Tinaaaaaaa!
Longevity: ★★★★★ – On and on and on.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine (FOX)
Substantial amounts of specs submitted for this, which means it finally transitions upwards.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – Could go for a while narratively.

Episodes (Showtime)
Fun show but limited reach comparatively to other Show picks.
Longevity: ★★★★ – Final season incoming.

Faking It (MTV)
Never got to reach mainstream status due to its niche…
Longevity: ★★★★ – …which isn’t surprising that it got cancelled.

Girls (HBO) *
Hot commodity at one point, but dwindling in the eyes of the beholder.
Longevity: ★★★★ – Fare thee well.

The Goldbergs (ABC)
Underrated half-hour, unfortunately still aged into this level.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – I mean we’re talking four seasons and counting here.

House of Lies (Showtime)
It’s about to close down.
Longevity: ★★★★ – Ticking time bomb.

It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia (FXX)
Unless you have a very fresh idea, it could be a tricky one.
Longevity: ★★★★ – Longest running live-action sitcom in American TV history should give you an idea of its popularity.

The Last Man on Earth (FOX)
You ain’t gonna be the first spec in this world.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – They change the game so often, your head may be spinning.

The Mindy Project (Hulu)
Change of network, change of spec grade.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – Picked up for a fifth season which was reduced in episodes. Not the best sign.

Modern Family (ABC)
Are the great-grandchildren going to college soon?
Longevity: ★★★★★ – The only things that can stop it are paychecks.

New Girl (FOX)
RIP Prince.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – Purple rain.

Veep (HBO)
Too realistic for our own good.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – Change of executive position.

You’re the Worst (FXX)
What a season finale. I have a single tear stinging in my left eye.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – Things are about to get real.


Mainstream

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

Atlanta (FX)*
A show that immediately hops into mainstream placement given its airing date and strong traction.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – Things have just begun.

Black-ish/Fresh Off the Boat (ABC)
Popular and…
Longevity: ★★★★★ – …still relatively fresh.

Bojack Horseman/Rick & Morty (Netflix/Adult Swim) *
Both have catapulted into popular specs after spending their initial seasons on the outsider side. Surprisingly still not widely accepted. Probably because both are animated cable comedies.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – *writes another silent episode*

Broad City/Workaholics (Comedy Central)
Work work work.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – On the brink of relegated upwards.

Life in Pieces (CBS) *
Still a broad family comedy that can be a Modern Family-adjacent spec.
Longevity: ★★★★★

Master of None (Netflix)
The anthology formula makes it the Black Mirror of half-hours.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – In other words, almost no serialization to worry about. And the second season is on the cusp of its premiere.

Mom (CBS)
Probably last season at this level of spec.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – About to head in its fifth season, which could mean it’s probably the last one on this spec level.

Silicon Valley (HBO)
Very popular and very strong.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – Much competition, much room for story.

Superstore (NBC)
What can I get ya?
Longevity: ★★★★★ – Just got renewed which means good news.

Transparent (Amazon)
Is it a comedy or a drama? Well, it’s a half-hour so it’s still here.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – Critical darling but ongoing narratives could be problematic for an evergreen spec.

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (Netflix)
Strong as hell.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – Already three seasons in and yet still open world.


Wild Cards

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

Better Things (FX)
No Louie this year, but you might find its replacement.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – Recent, already renewed, and widely accepted.

Casual/Catastrophe/Difficult People (Hulu)
Moved up from Gamblers thanks to its rising popularity.
Longevity: ★★★★ – Hulu moving in strong.

The Good Place (NBC) *
Great first season with clear concept makes this a shoe-in for popularity.
Longevity: ★★★★ – Massive change of plans at the end of season one also makes it somewhat hard to nail down.

Insecure (HBO) *
Potential to become a popular contender in premium cable comedies like Silicon and Girls still are.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – Second season on the horizon and very few episodes to speak of. Double-edged sword of only having eight episodes under its belt.


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.

Angie Tribeca (TBS)
It’s like Police Squad all over again.
Longevity: ★★★★ – Third season is happening and weird enough that there’s room for fresh stories.

Grace and Frankie (Netflix) *
Not the most “out there” Netflix comedy, yet a strong choice if it fits your sensibilities.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – Especially since the third season is starting.

The Mick (FOX) *
If you like your Philly humor without the decade-long baggage of stories, this might be up your alley.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – Bonus points for the renewal.

The Real O’Neals (ABC) *
Lesser known network comedy…
Longevity: ★★★★ – …which means a lot of untouched stories.

Speechless (ABC) *
Vehicle with potential. If it could get read, it would be moved to the Wild Cards.
Longevity: ★★★★ – Got an additional episode order on top of its full season, so a renewal should be incoming.


Gamblers

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

Baby Daddy/Young & Hungry (Freeform) *
Long in the tooth…
Longevity: ★★★★★ – …yet still not quite there yet to warrant an over-spec mention.

Baskets (FX) *
Moved down from Outsiders after its lack of traction and acceptance in the fellowships.
Longevity: ★★★★ – FX, land of the weird post-post-post-modern half-hour.

Man Seeking Woman (FXX) *
Same boat as Baskets before it.
Longevity: ★★★★ – Final season probably.

Playing House (USA Network) *
Didn’t get the eyeballs needed to move up.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – Third season still about to premiere, which may be a last shot.

Search Party (TBS) *
Great little show, sadly unaccepted as of now by many places.
Longevity: ★★★★ – It just got renewed though.


2017 Trends

Stagnation is in the air. Few new entrants in the mainstream categories, plus lack of traction for niche cable comedies, equals the same picks getting picked again (Silicon Valley being the ultimate example of that).

There’s still a slight upswing in comedy numbers this year, with 48 half-hours listed (up from last year’s 40 and 2015’s 38). Perhaps there’s hope that in the next few seasons we’ll see a lot more valid choices — besides a few network ones and the big premium outlets.

Speaking of, there’s a definite rise this year in comedies coming from smaller fares, such as TBS (with Angie Tribeca and Search Party). The question is whether or not they will translate in reads outside their fanbase.
Also of note is a near two-to-one advantage in half-hours coming from cable over network. Only 18 shows listed are from networks. NBC is still barely present with only two half-hours on the board. ABC has six and FOX five, though a good chunk are older shows (such as The Last Man on Earth and Modern Family).

Much like last season, we end up with choices for comedies that are between mainstream half-hours so popular they might as well be considered over-specced, and newer cable series that could be too niche. Perhaps by next season things will change.



Still wondering which show to spec?

Try my awesome TV Spec Test


5 Comments

  1. Laurie

    March 24, 2017 at 10:37 AM

    I hope Netflix’s excellent “One Day at a Time” reboot will be on this list next year! Only one season so far, but it’s been renewed. Thanks for this, as always.

  2. chris

    March 28, 2017 at 8:12 AM

    I’m curious why People of Earth isn’t on the list. And where it would fall.

  3. Alex

    March 28, 2017 at 4:10 PM

    Laurie: Thanks for the kind words!
    One Day at a Time would probably be a Gambler at this point, just because it isn’t accepted by WB/NBC and is extremely recent with limited episodes.
    Though next year I’m sure it’ll climb up, if only because there are so few multi-cam options.

    Chris: People of Earth isn’t on the list for the same reasons as One Day — namely that it isn’t accepted by WB/NBC and just started airing with only 10 episodes. It would currently be listed along Search Party, another TBS half-hour with limited reach.

  4. Laurie

    March 28, 2017 at 4:30 PM

    That’s a good point, Alex, thank you!

  5. Mike

    April 6, 2017 at 6:15 AM

    Workaholics just aired its series finale a few weeks ago, so writing a new spec for it now seems especially pointless unfortunately.

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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.

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