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Drama Spec Script 2014 – 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 for educational purposes.
Canceled or dead shows have been removed since last season’s spec list.

NOTE:
Given Warner Bros’ 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
With respectively 9 and 6 seasons under their belt, these procedurals may be popular outside the writing world, but they’re not worth the sweat for specs.
Longevity: ★★★★ – Who knows how long they’ll continue for.

CSI/Criminal Minds (CBS)
Type: Police procedurals
Yeah, right.
Longevity: ★★★★ – What do you say to cancellation? Not today.

Glee/Mad Men/True Blood (FOX/AMC/HBO)
Type: Serialized high-school dramedy, historical drama, fantasy drama
It may be strange to put all three in the same basket, but they’re both done to death, plus in their last season.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – Farewell.

The Good Wife (CBS)
Type: Legal procedural
Perhaps a shocking displacement to some, but the series is already in its fifth season and gaining momentum…
Longevity: ★★★★★ – …which could be too little, too late. Hopefully, the series won’t get canceled. Realistically, it probably will.

Grey’s Anatomy (ABC) *
Type: Medical procedural
Not sure if joking, or…
Longevity: ★★★★ – …wasting my time.

Homeland (Showtime)
Type: Serialized thriller
Is it really surprising that the most popular Showtime drama has been specced by so many people?
Longevity: ★★★★★ – Also, Brody is dead.

Justified (FX)
Type: Police procedural
Yet another not-so-surprising displacement with this very popular drama spec.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – Who doesn’t love Timmy?

The Mentalist (CBS)
Type: Police procedural
The good news is Red John has been uncovered.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – The bad news is nobody cares anymore.

Once Upon A Time (ABC)
Type: Fantasy family drama
Although the show likes to reinvent itself from time to time, you only get so much wiggle room.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – So many fairy tale characters.

Parenthood (NBC)
Type: Serialized family drama
The little family that could has become the go-to familial spec for many people.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – Fairly steady ratings.

Sons of Anarchy (FX)
Type: Serialized ensemble drama
[Insert bike joke.] Longevity: ★★★★ – ‘Tis the last season to be jolly.

The Walking Dead (AMC)
Type: Ensemble/horror drama
I don’t think speccing Walking Dead has been an original idea since the first episode of the series.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – All the people die.

White Collar (USA)
Type: Light crime procedural
Under-rated USA show that has grown exponentially over time.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – Could go off anytime with Eastin’s many commitments.

Mainstream

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

American Horror Story (FX) *
Type: Serialized horror
Despite the continuing changes in storylines, people seem to like creating crazy specs for it.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – Which doesn’t mean you should do it.

Arrow (The CW)
Type: Action/Fantasy procedural
Arrow has pretty much become CW’s most popular show to spec. Talk about a comeback.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – Up, up, and away.

Boardwalk Empire (HBO) *
Type: Serialized historical drama
Classic Buscemi.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – Continuing the stronghold.

Elementary (CBS)
Type: Police procedural
A spec hit. Not that many decent police procedurals, I guess.
Longevity: ★★★★ – Keeping strong.

The Following (FOX)
Type: Serialized police procedural
Kevin Bacon continues to be on TV!
Longevity: ★★★★★ – It was meant as a “limited series.” Turns out, there’s a second season worth of storylines.

Game of Thrones (HBO) *
Type: Serialized fantasy drama
A hard series to spec, if only for the risk of being unoriginal or too on the nose.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – If you haven’t read the books, good luck with next season.

Grimm (NBC)
Type: Fantasy procedural
Understated, but popular among genre fans.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – Does NBC have anything else going for it?

Hart of Dixie (The CW)
Type: Serialized medical/family drama
If you’re into CW soaps.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – Now paired with the Beast.

Hawaii Five-0/NCIS:LA (CBS)
Type: Police/Action procedural
Two action procedurals that are surprisingly not that specced.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – Good track record.

Person of Interest (CBS)
Type: Crime procedural
Could become over-specced soon due to its rising popularity.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – I hear there’s quite a few serialized changes.

Revenge (ABC)
Type: Serialized family drama
Although not as popular as when it first started, Revenge is still a strong contender for family dramas.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – Losing steam.

Revolution (NBC)
Type: Serialized post-apocalyptic family drama
Surprisingly not that specced, but is it worth it?
Longevity: ★★★★ – It’s still a big NBC hit. For whatever that’s worth.

Scandal (ABC)
Type: Serialized political drama
Talk about popular.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – The show is getting increasingly soapy, which means incredibly harder to predict.

Suits (USA)
Type: Light legal procedural
People seem to always forget USA shows…
Longevity: ★★★★★ – …despite the fact that fellowships seem to love them.

The Vampire Diaries (The CW)
Type: Serialized fantasy drama
Besides Grimm, another popular genre alternative (albeit soapy).
Longevity: ★★★★★ – A little bit aging. Probably the last fresh year.

Wild Cards

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

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (ABC) *
Type: Fantasy procedural
Probably gonna end up being one of the most popular specs if it ends up getting a second season.
Longevity: ★★★★ – Ratings are going down but you have an endless variety of C-list Marvel super-heroes to choose from.

The Americans (FX)
Type: Serialized thriller
A terrific drama for political thriller fans. The next Homeland in terms of popularity.
Longevity: ★★★★ – The second season still hasn’t premiered, which means you might be in for a late surprise.

Bates Motel (A&E)
Type: Serialized family drama/horror
It’s a grower.
Longevity: ★★★★ – Why the hell not.

Beauty & The Beast (The CW)
Type: Action/Fantasy procedural
Unlike its green counterpart, this CW series hasn’t gained as much traction as expected.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – Doesn’t mean it can’t happen.

The Blacklist (NBC) *
Type: Action procedural
A surprise hit for NBC, and is episodic enough that it could easily become a spec favorite.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – Untouchable until ratings tank.

Hannibal (NBC)
Type: Serialized drama
Who could have predicted the amount of fans this little Bryan Fuller could have?
Longevity: ★★★★ – If you’ve read the books, you’re one step ahead.

House of Cards (Netflix)
Type: Serialized political thriller
Season 2 just premiered, and is quite serialized…
Longevity: ★★★★★ – …unless you’ve seen the original.

Nashville (ABC)
Type: Musical/Family drama
A soap that not a lot of people think about speccing, which may make it the perfect show to pick.
Longevity: ★★★★ – Renewed for a new season.

Sleepy Hollow (FOX)
Type: Fantasy procedural
The upcoming front-runner for genre specs.
Longevity: ★★★★ – A fair success for FOX.

True Detective (HBO) *
Type: Serialized police drama
Quite a tough act to mimic.
Longevity: ★★★★ – And very serialized, which makes speccing this almost impossible.


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.

Banshee (Cinemax) *
Type: Serialized pulp drama
Under-rated actioner with enough character potential for some interesting spec drama.
Longevity: ★★★★ – The serialization is light enough that working in a semi-loner storyline shouldn’t be that hard.

Being Human/Defiance (Syfy) *
Type: Fantasy/science-fiction drama
Their specs are as popular as their series counterparts…
Longevity: ★★★★★ – …In other words, not that much.

Blue Bloods (CBS) *
Type: Police drama
Almost no one specs it, which also means not a lot of people read it.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – A probable fifth-season renewal for this cop drama.

The Bridge (FX) *
Type: Serialized police drama
Not sure how you can spec this one…
Longevity: ★★★★★ – …but it got a second season.

Covert Affairs/Necessary Roughness (USA)
Type: Action procedural/Relationship drama
So many USA shows fall through the cracks of speccers. Including these two.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – One is in its fifth season, the other is cancelled.

Major Crimes (TNT)
Type: Procedural drama
Interesting choice if you’re into police procedurals.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – Renewed at last.

Masters of Sex (Showtime) *
Type: Serialized drama
The money is on figuring out which position to go for.
Longevity: ★★★★ – Haha. Get it?

The Newsroom (HBO)
Type: Serialized political drama
Pick a news item from two years ago to get your spec going.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – Final season.

The Originals/Reign (The CW) *
Type: Serialized fantasy drama
Since other fantasy dramas (e.g. Supernatural) are getting older by the minute, these could be interesting alternatives.
Longevity: ★★★★ – I’d still wait until season two.

Royal Pains (USA)
Type: Light medical drama
Gaining momentum by the day.
Longevity: ★★★★ – Already renewed.

Gamblers

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

Chicago Fire/Chicago PD (NBC) *
Type: Procedurals
The question isn’t if they’re speccable, rather if anyone wants to read them.
Longevity: ★★★★ – The good news is that, despite being relative NBC successes, they’re pretty much ignored by speccers at large (less competition).

Dracula (NBC) *
Type: Serialized fantasy drama
Limited run plus weirdly modified mythos means it’s difficult to envision a powerful Dracula spec.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – Ratings are not the greatest, which may call for cancellation.

Helix (Syfy) *
Type: Serialized science-fiction drama
Eh.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – A self-contained 13-episode story means that either there won’t be a second season, or the new episodes will a different story.

Rectify (Sundance) *
Type: Serialized drama
Despite the rising popularity of the show, it’s still an atypical choice.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – Season 2 is about to premiere, which means potential changes.

This year, we have a record-shattering 62 dramas on our spec list. Talk about a crowded field.

The drama venues keep increasing with Sundance joining the club of A&E and Netflix. Nearly absent last year, FOX is slowly regaining grown, with a new show that will undoubtedly prove very popular for genre writers (Sleepy Hollow). HBO has a few offerings, but most of them too serialized to even attempt (or not even accepted in the first place).

In fact, serialized shows are once again back in the fold this year. Popularity of season-long anthologies or close-ended arcs has skyrocketed thanks to the success of shows like American Horror Story. This is actually bad news for most speccers since coming up with a “missing episode” is almost impossible.
As is now the trend, first and second-season shows are still amongst the most sought-after dramas to spec. Doesn’t mean that’s a good thing.

And the question still remains: are people now aiming their sights to specs lasting only a season?
Time will tell.

Click here for the Comedy Spec Script list.

10 Comments

  1. Zurinayeem

    Great list, Alex! But, What about Orphan Black? A critically acclaimed show with a small but (I assume) growing audience? It’s second season starts in April on BBC America possible show to spec? It would definitely be in the Gamblers section for sure.

  2. Debra Epstein

    Great list: In my college class this semester the specs are: ONCE UPON A TIME, SHAMELESS, and ELEMENTARY. Other choices I allowed but were not chosen were GOOD WIFE and THE AMERICANS. However, I tell all my drama writers to write a pilot next, so they have both to show in their portfolio and tell my pilot students to write a spec, which is less trendy now but valuable to showrunners to see if you really can write someone else’s voice and characters.

  3. Joe

    What about shows like SVU, Rizzoli & Isles, and franklin & bash?

  4. Joe

    Or Dallas?

  5. Wade Courtney

    Great list! Helix isn’t really self-contained at least not in the same way that American Horror Story or True Detective are.

  6. Angel Rey Partie

    “Helix” definitely isn’t self-contained. It ended with a huge twist, setting up season 2.

  7. FirstMan2013

    Love this article, great work. Are you going to be doing a 2015 version?

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