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Drama Spec Script 2013 – What is hot and what is not


UPDATED:
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.

NOTE:
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.

Over-Specced

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

Bones/Castle (FOX/ABC)
Type: Light police procedural
They’re not the most popular choices for specs, however the length of the shows calls for a category reassessment.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – They may continue for decades on end (doubtful), but there are so many mystery twists one can handle.

Breaking Bad (AMC)
Type: Serialized character/family drama
Shoulda gone with it when it was not almost over.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – Everything breaks loose this season.

Burn Notice (USA)
Type: Light action procedural
Tic-toc…
Longevity: ★★★★★ – …the final season is coming up.

CSI/Criminal Minds (CBS)
Type: Police procedurals
Lol.
Longevity: ★★★★ – It’ll outlast all of us probably.

Dexter (Sho)
Type: Serialized crime drama
After eight years, it’s tough to keep this one fresh.
Longevity: ★★★★ – Season 8 is (finally?) the final season.

Glee (FOX)
Type: Light serialized high-school dramedy
Glee was one of the hotest specs when it first premiere, and although the heat has died down a lot, the overflood of specs cries out for originality.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – It’s difficult to keep up to date with the show when the relationships are like musical chairs.

Grey’s Anatomy (ABC)
Type: Medical procedural
The last of the medical mohicans.
Longevity: ★★★★ – No.

Mad Men (AMC)
Type: Serialized historical drama
For the longest time, Mad Men was the top-dog when it came to fancy drama specs. No longer worth it.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – Probably only has another season left in it.

The Mentalist (CBS)
Type: Police procedural
The momentum has shifted for this 5-year old show.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – There won’t be massive changes in the show, but who’s to say when your case will be done.

True Blood (HBO)
Type: Serialized fantasy drama
By this point, the show has become too repetitive.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – With Alan Ball gone, who the hell knows how many seasons will keep stagnating.

The Walking Dead (AMC)
Type: Ensemble/horror drama
Probably the most shocking displacement this season, The Walking Dead has been a very hot spec since the first episode aired. And that was three season ago. Crafting a brand-new Walking spec may prove, well, unoriginal. Time to make room for fresh blood.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – The recent changes in the show proved that it is finally starting to follow the comics a little bit more. In other words, massive cast changes ahead.

Mainstream

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

Boardwalk Empire (HBO)
Type: Serialized historical drama
Who doesn’t love those eyes?
Longevity: ★★★★★ – New faces, but still going strong.

Game of Thrones (HBO) *
Type: Serialized fantasy drama
This is one tough show to spec. Either you’re rehashing the books (not really original), or you go out of the story too much.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – Difficult to predict, unless you’ve read the books.

Grimm (NBC)
Type: Fantasy procedural
The little show that could. One of the only genre shows still on network TV (let alone NBC), Grimm has been slowly working its way up.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – It’s one of NBC’s most solid shows, surprising considering it’s on Friday

The Good Wife (CBS)
Type: Legal procedural
The lack of running storylines this past year has allowed for a renewed focus on “cases of the week.”
Longevity: ★★★★★ – Constantly on the bubble.

Hart of Dixie (The CW)
Type: Serialized medical/family drama
Not that specced, but new enough that storylines can be told.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – Careful with the soapy aspect.

Hawaii Five-0 (CBS)
Type: Police/Action procedural
There are two go-to action procedural specs. This is number one.
Longevity: ★★★★ – Insert story, add action.

Homeland (Sho)
Type: Serialized thriller
Clearly in its prime. The show has now become the spec front-runner, now that both Mad Men and Breaking Bad are leaving us.
Longevity: ★★★★ – Watch out with Brody’s future. You never know what season 3 will be like.

Justified (FX)
Type: Police procedural
Another hot police spec, with a more dramatic twist than the rest. Definitely a fan-fave.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – Keep up the good work.

NCIS:LA (CBS)
Type: Police/Action procedural
There are two go-to action procedural specs. This is number two.
Longevity: ★★★★ – It’s a spin-off on CBS. What could possibly go wrong?

Nikita (The CW)
Type: Action/spy procedural
Like most of the network’s series, Nikita is not that widely specced, which is ironic considering it’s…
Longevity: ★★★★★ – …one of CW’s only watched show.

Once Upon A Time (ABC)
Type: Fantasy family drama
The show has succesfully reinvented at least twice over, with the third time coming up this fall.
Longevity: ★★★★ – Dwindling in the ratings, but a spin-off on the way.

Parenthood (NBC)
Type: Serialized family drama
The classic family drama spec.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – NBC isn’t giving up so “soon.”

Person of Interest (CBS)
Type: Crime procedural
Yet another CBS procedural, although this one has a twist to it. And successful enough to actually be a one of the most specced shows around.
Longevity: ★★★★ – It’s still a procedural.

Revenge (ABC)
Type: Serialized family drama
Creative shift in the second season meant a different storyline.
Longevity: ★★★★ – How long can they sustain these character arcs?

Scandal (ABC)
Type: Serialized political drama
Shonda Rhimes’ latest shows pulled the rare feat of increasing viewership during its second season run. The phenomenon is growing by the day.
Longevity: ★★★★ – If Rhimes’ previous shows are any indication, ABC is going to keep this one up for a while. Careful with the serialization though.

Sons of Anarchy (FX)
Type: Serialized ensemble drama
Critical darling that, like its brother in arms (Justified), is fairly popular.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – Can you keep up?

Suits (USA)
Type: Light legal procedural
Suits is the unsung hero of USA, and a fast-rising spec choice.
Longevity: ★★★★ – When has USA canceled anything that went beyond a first season?

The Vampire Diaries (The CW)
Type: Serialized fantasy drama
Replace True Blood with The Vampire Diaries. Boom.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – So. Many. Changes.

White Collar (USA)
Type: Light crime procedural
Hey, look, USA has another popular spec choice. And also underrated.
Longevity: ★★★★ – So many twists and turns, it’s very hard to follow. Or not.

Wild Cards

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

American Horror Story (FX) *
Type: Serialized horror
One of the hardest shows to spec as storylines constantly change.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – New theme every year, but an FX success.

The Americans (FX) *
Type: Serialized thriller
If you love period shows with a more political bend, this might be the jackpot.
Longevity: ★★★★ – It’s serialized.

Arrow/Beauty & The Beast (The CW) *
Type: Action/Fantasy procedural
Chances are you can dust off that old Smallville spec.
Longevity: ★★★★ – Why would CW cancel anything?

Elementary (CBS)*
Type: Police procedural
The new procedural kid on the CBS block.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – CBS’ biggest hit isn’t going anywhere.

The Following (FOX) *
Type: Serialized police procedural
Kevin Bacon is on TV!
Longevity: ★★★★ – Who knows how long FOX will keep this “limited series.”

Nashville (ABC) *
Type: Musical/Family drama
Well-received, stars Connie Britton, and contains music. What’s not to love?
Longevity: ★★★★ – Despite a strong open, it ended up spending much of its season as a bubble show. Fortunately, it’s still considered a success for ABC.

Revolution (NBC) *
Type: Serialized post-apocalyptic family drama
Its very, very slow mythology reveals may be a good thing for your spec.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – NBC has a hit?


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.

Bates Motel (A&E) *
Type: Serialized family drama/horror
Who knew a Psycho prequel could be a decent show?
Longevity: ★★★★ – A&E may wanna keep one of its most popular series.

Being Human (Syfy)
Type: Serialized fantasy drama
Take a look at its UK counterpart for some inspiration.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – It’s Syfy, so who knows how long the show has.

House of Cards (Netflix) *
Type: Serialized political thriller
Pretty tough to spec for Kevin Spacey (and a serialized political drama), but you can always try it out.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – Netflix’s major production may not last past a second season.

The Killing (AMC)
Type: Serialized police drama
The cop drama without a pay-off may actually be a good spec choice.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – Back from the dead. But for how long?

Royal Pains (USA)
Type: Light medical drama
Another USA show that could work very well on spec.
Longevity: ★★★★ – It got the rare double-renewal last September.

Gamblers

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

Chicago Fire (NBC) *
Type: Serialized drama
It’s not Rescue Me, but it’s…
Longevity: ★★★★ – …another (!) NBC success.

Covert Affairs (USA)
Type: Action procedural
4th USA show on this list. You better believe it.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – Not the most well-known USA show, and often on the bubble.

Dallas/Major Crimes (TNT) *
Type: Serialized family drama
Two different shows on the same network. They’re not that well-seen (and therefore read) however.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – Could be difficult to create new spec stories for old concepts.

Defiance (Syfy) *
Type: Science-fiction procedural
Syfy has a sci-fi show? Shocker. Great mythology and the small-town procedural aspect, although annoying as a viewer, may work great for a spec.
Longevity: ★★★★ – It just got renewed.

Forty-seven shows are listed this time around. As always, a few things can be noted.

First off, nearly half of the listed shows are brand-new ones from this past season. Although network dramas came back in force last year, the aging cable dramas have left their spots to brand new forays, including Netflix and A&E. In other words, the network’s turf is still slowly being eaten away by new territories.
With a few surprise hits, NBC is back on the board with 3 shows, while CBS continues to be the classic procedural king. The big shocker in the list is FOX’s near-absence (save for a dwindling musical and a limited series). USA meanwhile is gaining momentum with 4 dramas on the list, over-taking, of all networks, HBO.

Serialization is slowly starting to take a step back with procedurals back at the forefront of this year. The increasing popularity of speccing serialized shows from the get-go (e.g. Walking Dead or Homeland) has put a strain on the type (there are only so many popular series of the kind).
First and second-season series continue to be fairly popular. It looks like fresh is still considered the best for most people.

This leads to a continuing question from last year: Are people aiming for “throwable specs” that barely last a full seasons? The focus being still on original pilots. Only time will tell.

Show your voice, write original, and make your choice.

Click here for the Comedy Spec Script list.

11 Comments

  1. Nick

    Nikita is ending next year with a six episode final season. Not really going to be around long, is it?

  2. Kristy

    How about Grimm?

  3. adrian

    What about ABC’s Scandal?

  4. ConStar

    There are tons of shows on the air, so it’s easy to miss one, but I’m curious to the lack of Scandal on this list. Can you speak to it’s absence?

  5. Sarah

    What about Scandal?

  6. Inevitably, gone for a few days = lots of comments :p

    @Nick:
    Indeed, however it’s still a valid spec for this year.

    @Celena/Adrian/ConStar/Sara:
    To be perfectly honest, I completely forgot about Scandal until all of you guys brought it up.
    Which is kind of funny considering I caught up on the show last week.
    Anyways, I just added it.

    @Kristy:
    Also added Grimm. :)

  7. Kate

    Where would you say The Newsroom might fall on here?

  8. Dave

    Yeah. Newsroom?

  9. Chloe

    I second Kate’s question: what about The Newsroom? Also, what are your thoughts about Hannibal? Thank you!

  10. Abby

    I’m also curious about Hannibal and Orange is the new black (Netflix) which are both in their first season. Thanks!

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