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Drama Spec Script 2012 – What is hot and what is not

A brand new 2019 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 dramas.
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.

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 shows).

Let’s do another 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

And here we go.

Re-tool your spec if you have one, but you probably shouldn’t bother beginning a new one for these shows.

Burn Notice (USA)
Type: Light action procedural
The fact it’s entering its sixth season should give you an idea of why Burn Notice is here.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – Very formulaic but with enough of a twist to keep its fresh vibe.

CSI/Criminal Minds (CBS)
Type: Police procedurals
“Never give up, never surrender” should be their motto.
Longevity: ★★★★ – Past its prime for about five years now.

Dexter (Sho)
Type: Serialized crime drama
Following last season’s cliffhanger, it is hard to tell where the series is headed
Longevity: ★★★★★ – Only two seasons left.

Grey’s Anatomy/Private Practice/House (ABC/FOX)
Type: Medical procedurals
I’m going to bet a lot of people are able to say: “Been there, specced that”.
Longevity: ★★★★ – Virtually all medical storylines have already been explored through those three shows.

Mad Men (AMC)
Type: Serialized historical drama
“Out of sight, out of mind” does not hold true for the AMC classic that is still amongst the most popular.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – One of the over-specced shows with possibly the longest longevity factor attached to it. Doesn’t mean the competition isn’t fierce.

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

Boardwalk Empire (HBO)
Type: Serialized historical drama
A lot of people have fallen in love with Steve Buscemi’s eyes apparently.
Longevity: ★★★★ – A third season, good ratings, great cast, big producers.

Bones/Castle (FOX/ABC)
Type: Light police procedural
Possibly the last season in the mainstream category for Bones. Castle on the other hand probably has at least a few years ahead of it.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – One is renewed for an eighth season, the other is still awaiting its fate on a fifth.

Breaking Bad (AMC)
Type: Serialized character/family drama
One of the best shows on TV, and one of the hardest ones to spec.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – This is going be its last season, albeit cut in two, which gives a bonus year before you can say farewell to it.

Fringe (FOX)
Type: Science-fiction procedural
There’s only so much science-fiction shows on TV right now, and Fringe is clearly the go-to drama in its genre. This will probably be the last season where I can say it hasn’t been over-speced already.
Longevity: ★★★★ – Highly volatile.

Glee (FOX)
Type: Light serialized high-school dramedy
As popular in the spec world as on TV, the danger of a Glee spec continues to be that a major part of it will end up being lyrics. Some people might take that for laziness.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – Beware: major cast overhaul upcoming.

The Good Wife (CBS)
Type: Legal procedural
A very smart show to spec, if only for its near-perfect hybrid mix of procedural and serialization. Plus it’s on a network, which makes it more well-known than some of its cable counterpart.
Longevity: ★★★★ – A slow-burner that will probably garner a few more seasons.

Gossip Girl/90210 (The CW)
Type: Teen dramas
Last season for at least one of the two as being considered “mainstream”. Perhaps there are better show alternatives to consider.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – Potentially entering its sixth season this fall, Gossip Girl has still some life left into it. 90210 continues to be hit or miss on the cancellation scale.

Hawaii Five-0 (CBS)
Type: Police/Action procedural
As expected last season, Hawaii Five-0 has become a great action-procedural mainstream spec to add to your arsenal.
Longevity: ★★★★ – Renewed and with a long life ahead of it.

Justified (FX)
Type: Police procedural
Justified is another series that completely exploded into the Mainstream category and has become one of the top specced show around.
Longevity: ★★★★ – A fourth season is upcoming, and me thinks it will keep on going.

The Mentalist (CBS)
Type: Police procedural
In its prime.
Longevity: ★★★★ – Already going on to its fifth season, The Mentalist is still the most solid police procedural around.

Type: Police/Action procedural
Similar to Hawaii Five-0, NCIS:LA seems to deliver to people looking for an action/police hybrid drama.
Longevity: ★★★★ – Let me guess; renewed?

Sons of Anarchy (FX)
Type: Serialized ensemble drama
Similar to Breaking Bad, Sons of Anarchy‘s serialized elements may prove difficult to spec. With that said, the FX series has definitely grown into becoming a high speccer.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – Those storylines, they keep on moving!

True Blood (HBO)
Type: Serialized fantasy drama
Although on the verge of being overspecced, the (supposed) unpredictability of the show makes it prone to fresh takes on the main characters. Or so they say.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – The upcoming season is the last for Alan Ball, and the show is catching up on the books. Be careful.

The Vampire Diaries (The CW)
Type: Serialized fantasy drama
On paper, it seems like a great, popular choice when it comes to fantasy series, with that said…
Longevity: ★★★★★ – …the constant flux in storylines may make you mad enough that you’d want to avoid speccing this one.

The Walking Dead (AMC)
Type: Ensemble/horror drama
Undeniably a very popular show, both on screen and on the page. The strong stand-alone aspect of the series makes it prone to lessen the serialized elements within your spec.
Longevity: ★★★★ – Regardless of your stance about how good or bad the show is, it’s not going anywhere anytime soon.

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

Game of Thrones (HBO) *
Type: Serialized fantasy drama
People think they can easily write great adaptations, which makes Game of Thrones the best candidate for top-specced show of 2013. But just because you love the book doesn’t mean you can write it. And there’s also this small issue of coming up with original stand-alone stories not found in the novels.
Longevity: ★★★★ – Hugely successful and over six books. Enough said.

Homeland (Sho) *
Type: Serialized thriller
The Showtime series made it surprisingly big last season, which inevitably transformed it into a popular spec show.
Longevity: ★★★★ – The serialization may put some people off, but it shouldn’t be that difficult to craft an episode around a specific subset of Abu Nazir’s terrorist plot (oh, look, free advice).

Leverage (TNT)
Type: Light heist/con/action procedural
Take it now before it goes over the hill.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – Five seasons and still going strong; however, the amount of original cons left are dwindling by the episode.

Nikita (The CW)
Type: Action/spy procedural
The only spy drama option as of now (that will surely change next year).
Longevity: ★★★★ – Average ratings and a pricey show means The CW could pull the plug, but Nikita is almost its only viable alternative series to the teen dramas.

Once Upon A Time (ABC) *
Type: Fantasy family drama
The most family-friendly show on this list, OUAT will probably be very specced by this time next year.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – A near-infinite pool of fairy tales coupled with big ratings means ABC has found its new long-standing drama.

Parenthood (NBC)
Type: Serialized family drama
First world problems: family edition.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – The serialized nature of Parenthood makes it hard to create a true stand-alone storyline, but a renewal is quasi-certain.

Person of Interest (CBS) *
Type: Crime procedural
The sci-fi touch is light but nonetheless makes Person of Interest an interest new addition to the crime procedural arena.
Longevity: ★★★★ – Renewal is a done deal.

Revenge (ABC) *
Type: Serialized family drama
The ultimate breakout soap of the past season, Revenge will clearly become a great series to spec…
Longevity: ★★★★★ – …depending on where the dominoes will fall at the end of this season.

The Secret Circle (The CW) *
Type: Serialized fantasy drama
If you feel The Vampire Diaries has been overdone, then this is for you.
Longevity: ★★★★ – Is it going to last? Two words: Kevin Williamson

Smash (NBC)
Type: Serialized musical drama
Make way for another musical series. Unlike Glee, you can showcase your lyrics talent given the show’s use of original songs.
Longevity: ★★★★ – Already renewed.

Touch (FOX) *
Type: Serialized fantasy/family drama
It is probably too soon to begin thinking about writing a spec for this mid-season show.
Longevity: ★★★★ – There’s too much serendipity in Touch for me to care, but at least it adds an interesting dynamic to the usual “problem-solving” storyline.

Treme (HBO)
Type: Serialized historical drama
Even if Treme is not that well known to be a good stand-out spec, let’s just say going toe-to-toe with David Simon is not recommended.
Longevity: ★★★★ – A third seasons premiering this fall and a fourth one already planned; looks like New Orleans is en vogue.

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.

Hart of Dixie (The CW) *
Type: Serialized medical/family drama
If you’re aiming for broad appeal with a cute soapesque family/medical drama, Hart of Dixie will suit you just fine.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – More WB than CW, the series will most likely always be on the bubble.

Psych (USA)
Type: Light crime procedural
A little less used (and known) than its spy counterpart making it not quite as overspecced.
Longevity: ★★★★★Psych‘s run is impressive, with a recent renewal for another full-16 episode season order, continuing its records as the longest-running series on USA Nework.

Southland (TNT)
Type: Police procedural
Southland offers a great option in the “edgy/realistic” police drama procedural.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – Once upon a time, the show was on its deathbed. It is now a popular basic-cable drama, in more ways than one.

Warehouse 13 (Syfy)
Type: Science-fiction procedural
Despite growing old, there are almost no purely procedural contenders in this genre. Like Eureka, Warehouse 13 will probably keep this slot until it bites the dust.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – You can never tell what crazy move Syfy will do next to shoot itself in the head.

White Collar (USA)
Type: Light crime procedural
A clear new winner for the blue-sky dramas from USA.
Longevity: ★★★★ – No way Jose that this show is biting the dust anytime soon.

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

Blue Bloods (CBS)
Type: Police/family drama
Blue Bloods is still too much under the radar to be considered as a main spec to send out, however the series offers an interesting family/procedural dynamic not really found on any other network shows.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – It’s on Fridays, so you can never know for sure.

Body of Proof/Harry’s Law (ABC/NBC)
Type: Medical/Legal procedurals
The shows are fairly weak to begin with, so trying to break out of the crowd by speccing either of them is disrespectful to your writing.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – Even if renewed, it would be quite hard to write a compelling episode.

Forty-five shows are listed this year and, like last season, a few things can be observed.

Network dramas are coming back in force, slowly eating away the piece of older, aging cable dramas from the big five (AMC, FX, Syfy, USA, and TNT). HBO continues to be home to bigger, grander series that are always more hazardous to spec. NBC continues to be absent for the most part, while CBS and (surprisingly) ABC are taking over the lion share, leaving FOX in the wind.

A clear trend is forming this time around when it comes to popular specced show: serialization.
With a growing and fiercer competition, people are ready to take more risks with bolder choices. Stand-alone procedurals have mostly fallen out of favor for most people, even diminishing the light character serialized dramas’ dominance of the past few years.
Interestingly enough, “fresh is best” seems also to be a new intrinsic concept for now, with first and second-season series being extremely popular out of the gate.

With pilots being the most requested samples, are we moving towards “throwaway specs”, lasting merely a season?
Fudging with mythology, choosing new shows, the classic spec rules are slowly starting to fade away.

Serial or not, as long as a script and the show reflect your voice, it ends up being all about the writing.
Make your choice.

Click here for the Comedy Spec Script list.


  1. Will

    What about Shameless??? I thought that would be a particularly solid one.

  2. Ammar Salmi

    Very very useful article. I can’t thank you enough. I was going to write a spec for Breaking Bad, thanks to you, now I know better.

  3. Dalana

    Thanks for having this. I’m writing a spec for Leverage and wanted to look in to it more.

  4. Ryan

    Will you be updating this list at all?

    Adding new/recent shows (Scandal, etc.) that are now solid hits for the network…

  5. @Ryan: Yup, the 2013 list will be published around the same time of year as the previous ones (if not a tad sooner).

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