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Comedy Spec Script 2019 – What is hot and what is not

Like every year, it is now time to review the popularity of TV shows to spec.
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.
Any public update will be reflected on this list.

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 to have become on-the-nose speccers — with a lot of people speccing them)
Wild Cards (soon, everyone will spec these, 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.

American Dad/Bob’s Burgers/Family Guy/South Park (FOX/Comedy Central)
Never count them out.
Longevity: ★★★★ – Because they’re still airing.

Archer (FX)
The show has rebooted itself more times than tech support.
Longevity: ★★★★ – Ten seasons and a movie?

The Big Bang Theory (CBS) *
Pass.
Longevity: ★★★★ – Final season.

Black-ish/Fresh Off the Boat (ABC)
Not as “fresh” as it once was.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – Still plenty of stories to tell. The question is how long you have.

BoJack Horseman/Rick & Morty (Netflix/Adult Swim)
Adult animation + good writing = high bar.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – Bring the meta.

Broad City (Comedy Central) *
Cool show, but not as cool of an acceptance rate.
Longevity: ★★★★ – Another comedy airing its last episodes.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine (NBC)
The precinct that was promised.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – Saved by the bell.

The Goldbergs/Modern Family/Mom (ABC/CBS)
It’s all in the family.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – How many more stories can you cook up?

It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia (FXX) *
Longest-running live-action sitcom in American TV history.
Longevity: ★★★★ – I mean damn.

Master of None (Netflix)
It might be surprising to see Master still included…
Longevity: ★★★★★ – …however we’re now entering an era of shows with longer breaks between seasons. Plus, still widely accepted.

Silicon Valley (HBO)
What’s your stake?
Longevity: ★★★★★ – Delayed final season until 2020, so you’ve got another year or two.

Transparent (Amazon)
Welp.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – Kind of still on the air? But then again, what is the air.

Veep (HBO)
More integrity than the real world equivalent.
Longevity: ★★★★ – A few episodes remain for a final presidential term.


Mainstream

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

Atlanta (FX)
No comment needed for a now-iconic series.
Longevity: ★★★★ – Another show with large gaps between years, allowing a more evergreen spec approach.

Barry (HBO)
Big entry for Barry, which wasn’t even on the board last year and is already in its second season.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – Will last as long as Bill Hader wants it to.

Big Mouth (Netflix)
Strong showing from a series considered a Gambler only a year ago.
Longevity: ★★★★ – Dig into your past traumas for maximum laughs.

Dear White People/Glow (Netflix)
Easily among the best OTT dramedy choices.
Longevity: ★★★★ – Not as evergreen as they were a year or two back.

Fleabag (Amazon)
A play which became a British show which became an American darling.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – Very limited number of episodes and elongated airdates can allow a spec to last a lot longer than usual.

Fuller House/One Day at a Time (Netflix)
Family multicams on an OTT service. Not something you’d think of a decade ago.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – One is mired in scandals, the other just got cancelled. But maybe there is hope?

The Good Place (NBC)
Considered by many to be one of the best single cams on the air.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – A lower longevity if only for its continuous bubble status and heavy serialization.

Grace and Frankie (Netflix)
Aging gracefully.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – Six seasons and counting.

Grown-ish (Freeform)
Strong pick for a young adult single-cam.
Longevity: ★★★★ – Already renewed for a third season.

Insecure (HBO)
One of the hottest cable single-cams out there.
Longevity: ★★★★ – And with good reason.

Life in Pieces (CBS)
The other Modern Family.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – Four years ain’t nothing to sneeze at.

Santa Clarita Diet (Netflix)
I’m hungry.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – Make sure to watch the third season which is coming out any second.

Schitt’s Creek (Pop)
An indie Canadian show that slowly built its fanbase.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – But yet another show ending soon.

Speechless (ABC)
insert joke about noises
Longevity: ★★★★★ – Three seasons in tow with middling ratings might prove problematic beyond a final renewal.

Superstore (NBC)
Are you on Cloud 9?
Longevity: ★★★★★ – Many products will be sold as it will soon go into its fifth season.

Will & Grace (NBC)
A few years ago, this would have been a stunt spec.
Longevity: ★★★★ – Now, it’s staying on the air.

Young Sheldon (CBS) *
A network single-cam that is shockingly not widely accepted, despite its popularity.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – With Big Bang ending, they need to keep the lights on somehow.


Wild Cards

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

A.P. Bio (NBC)
Initially farring a lot better than other newer network single-cams…
Longevity: ★★★★★ – …but it barely started its second season with low ratings. Who knows what will happen from there.

Better Things (FX)
Proved it could go on to better things despite its C.K. issues.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – Three seasons of a lower-key character comedy means you need to dig deep.

Casual/Catastrophe (Hulu/Amazon) *
One is accepted, the other is not.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – Hulu means question mark, while Catastrophe is living its last life.

Divorce (HBO)
A very specific experience.
Longevity: ★★★★ – You’ve got time before its third year.

The End of the F***ing World (Netflix)
Potentially a hard choice to spec narratively, but it’s freely available.
Longevity: ★★★★ – Nobody expected a second season.

High Maintenance (HBO)
Budding spec choice.
Longevity: ★★★★ – See what I did there?

The Last O.G. (TBS)
A family comedy if anything else.
Longevity: ★★★★ – Strong ratings, but its network means more unpredictability than expected.

Search Party (TBS)
Yet another “years between seasons” show…
Longevity: ★★★★★ – …allowing specs to last longer.

Splitting Up Together (ABC)
Punny title.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – A network show with dwindling viewership may mean trouble.

The Tick (Amazon)
Featured on your WonderCon badge.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – Pick up one of the comic issues.


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.

American Housewife (ABC) *
You’d think a network comedy in its third season would be more read than this.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – Never got to reach a higher status as it continues to age.

Angie Tribeca (TBS)
This brings me back to the days of NTSF:SD:SUV::.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – Very unique release schedule.

Atypical (Netflix)
Mixed choice since it isn’t a clear-cut pick as a classic comedy.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – Changed things around for its second year.

Baskets (FX)
Smile time.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – Clowning itself into another season.

Black Monday (Showtime) *
Amazing cast.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – Very low ratings could spell trouble.

The Detour (TBS)
Not a show you’d expect to be as widely read, and yet.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – Can you believe it’s already on season four?

On My Block (Netflix)
Throwback to friendship.
Longevity: ★★★★ – You’d think Netflix would guarantee its safety, but with all its weird cancellations, you can never be sure.

Paradise PD (Netflix)
Sizzling takedowns with a great cast.
Longevity: ★★★★ – Will it surpass the shadows of BoJack and Big Mouth?

She’s Gotta Have It (Netflix)
Hot and new, which means not as widely accepted.
Longevity: ★★★★ – If it fits your voice though, you may be in luck.

Younger (Paramount Network)
We’re getting older though.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – Network move, coupled with entering a sixth season.


Gamblers

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

Kidding (HBO) *
Quirky show with a very unique tone, putting off some reads.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – Renewed for a second season and only ten episodes under its belt.

Man With a Plan/The Ranch (CBS/Netflix) *
Old-school multicams. Very, very old-school.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – Still going, it seems.

PEN15 (Hulu) *
Let me spell it out on your arm.
Longevity: ★★★★ – Who knows with Hulu’s future.

Russian Doll (Netflix) *
Bend your mind.
Longevity: ★★★★ – You can’t really grade a longevity of this, but Netflix got the word of mouth.

Schooled (ABC) *
A spin-off that could make its way up.
Longevity: ★★★★ – Barely started.

Shrill (Hulu) *
We stan Aidy.
Longevity: ★★★★ – Another Hulu question mark.


2019 Trends

“Peak TV” for half-hours may be coming to an end — or at least a holding pattern.
This round, we’ve got a whopping 67 different comedies listed and reviewed. It is a lot, but considering that last year we had 63 ranked, this might signify a level of stagnation in the number of half-hours (after huge increases year-over-year in prior lists).
When everyone talks about the beginning of the end of Peak TV for comedies, remember you heard it here first.

Another interesting tidbit: we’ve got a dead heat in number of shows between traditional networks (22 half-hours), linear cable (21 half-hours), and OTTs (21 half-hours). That’s a lot of offerings and avenues, split fairly evenly. A staggering difference from the past, when networks and traditional cable held a distinct advantage. We’re also seeing the arrival of a bunch of niche networks, like Paramount Network and Pop.
Revivals may also be dwindling, with shows like Fuller House and One Day At a Time aging faster than expected (if not outright cancelled). Meanwhile, we have a ton of spin-offs and very unique dramedies (Paradise PD, Shrill, Black Monday).

The biggest thing to note however is the “evergreen” status of older cable/OTT comedies, like Master of None, Fleabag, or Search Party. They may not produce new content, but long gaps between their seasons means they offer a staying power as a spec choice that network comedies can’t match.
There’s an uncertainty to when shows get cancelled, but when they’re on, they’re staying on. Great news for your next spec.

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