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Drama Spec Script 2015 – 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 for educational purposes.
Canceled or dead shows have been removed since last season’s spec list.

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.


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

American Horror Story (FX) *
Type: Serialized horror
Change of location, change of story.
Longevity: ★★★★ – It’s Ryan Murphy.

Bones/Castle (FOX/ABC)
Type: Light police procedural
On their death bed.
Longevity: ★★★★ – Ten seasons later, do you really think you can out-write these shows?

CSI/Criminal Minds (CBS)
Type: Police procedurals
Are you kidding?
Longevity: ★★★★ – You’re kidding.

The Following (FOX)
Type: Serialized police procedural
So much for limited series.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – Hard to keep up with.

Game of Thrones (HBO) *
Type: Serialized fantasy drama
Oh, sweet summer child.
Longevity: ★★★★ – The books, they are changin’.

The Good Wife (CBS)
Type: Legal procedural
Reverted all the changes it did last year. Doesn’t mean it’s a good choice.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – One more season to go after this one.

Grey’s Anatomy (ABC) *
Type: Medical procedural
Code blue.
Longevity: ★★★★ – It’s dead, Jim.

Grimm/Once Upon A Time/The Vampire Diaries (NBC/ABC/The CW)
Type: Fantasy drama
It might seem odd to pair them together, but they now fit in the same fantasy category (although Once still has a bit more reach). In any case, they’ve all been done by now.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – Won’t die soon, but the current plotlines will.

Hawaii Five-0/NCIS:LA (CBS) *
Type: Police/Action procedural
There are better action procedural choices out there.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – Not that many twists and turns though.

Homeland (Showtime)
Type: Serialized thriller
How the mighty have fallen.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – A new start.

Justified (FX)
Type: Police procedural
I guarantee you’re not the only Justified spec.
Longevity: ★★★★ – Final season.

Person of Interest (CBS)
Type: Action/Science-fiction drama
It used to be a procedural with interesting ideas. It has since become one of the best science-fiction shows on television. Unfortunately…
Longevity: ★★★★★ – …they’ve been many changes since.

Revenge (ABC)
Type: Serialized family drama
I’ll lend you my copy of Monte Cristo instead.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – It’s a soap!

Royal Pains/Suits (USA) *
Type: Light procedural
Went from low-key to ideal light procedural to spec fast.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – A couple seasons and then gone.

Scandal (ABC)
Type: Serialized political drama
Shondaland has better spec choices around.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – Oh boy.

Shameless (Showtime)
Type: Serialized family dramedy
Debatable category. Undebatable spec popularity.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – Welcome back to the show, that one guy.

The Walking Dead (AMC)
Type: Ensemble/horror drama
This show was over-specced by the end of season one.
Longevity: ★★★★ – Don’t worry, everyone you love will die.


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

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (ABC)
Type: Fantasy procedural
Not as big a spec success as one would have thought a year ago. Still a prime choice.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – All the revelations threaten to transform the show into something much more unpredictable.

The Americans (FX)
Type: Serialized historical thriller
The most specced drama around right now. Bar none.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – I guess you could still try.

Arrow/Beauty & The Beast (The CW) *
Type: Action/Fantasy procedural
Still a very popular genre spec coupled with a not-so-well-known series. Either can be good (although they’re standing on their last mainstream leg).
Longevity: ★★★★★ – Assess the character problem first, then find the case.

The Blacklist (NBC) *
Type: Action procedural
A hit for NBC transformed into a formulaic albeit strong procedural show to spec.
Longevity: ★★★★ – Come on. It got the Super Bowl spot.

Elementary (CBS)
Type: Police procedural
Who’s to say it hasn’t become more popular than its British counterpart?
Longevity: ★★★★ – Self-contained stories work wonders.

Hannibal (NBC)
Type: Serialized psychological drama
Extremely popular spec right now, meaning it is likely its final mainstream season.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – Hopefully you know the stuff to come.

House of Cards/Orange Is The New Black (Netflix)
Type: Serialized political/relationship drama
Yes, Orange is a drama. Yes, people love speccing Netflix shows.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – Yes, a new season is upon us.

Masters of Sex (Showtime)
Type: Serialized historical drama
Surprisingly, this is the premium cable drama getting the most traction out there.
Longevity: ★★★★ – It’s a slow burn.

Nashville (ABC)
Type: Musical/Family drama
Goes under the radar most times, but could be a strong choice…
Longevity: ★★★★★ – …assuming you know the relationships well enough.

Sleepy Hollow (FOX)
Type: Fantasy procedural
Has now become the go-to spec when it comes to genre shows. Open up your testaments.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – Uneven second season, but a new showrunner is coming up (big changes?).

Wild Cards

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

The 100 (The CW)
Type: Serialized science-fiction drama
Engaging characters, unexpected stories and grey morality makes this a top contender for genre specs.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – Good luck keeping up.

Agent Carter (ABC) *
Type: Action-adventure drama
Much more successful in its freshman year than S.H.I.E.L.D. was then. Could fast become a contender…
Longevity: ★★★★ – …once the show actually gets picked for another season.

Banshee (Cinemax) *
Type: Serialized pulp drama
Moving upward as an offbeat genre show.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – It’s pulp, meaning lots of movement. Good news is the season’s already over.

Chicago Fire/Chicago PD (NBC)
Type: Action procedural
Dick Wolf is back stronger than ever.
Longevity: ★★★★ – Sweep twists and fires to put out.

Empire (FOX)
Type: Family soap
Talk about a surprise success. One to watch for great specs.
Longevity: ★★★★ – Who knows where the plotlines are going.

The Flash (The CW)
Type: Action/Fantasy procedural
The rightful successor to Arrow. Will definitely grow into a must-spec show by next season.
Longevity: ★★★★ – It’s a super-hero procedural.

Gotham (FOX)
Type: Noir procedural
Batman without Batman! What’s not to love.
Longevity: ★★★★ – Much like Arrow, it’s best to figure out what you want your characters to deal with before coming up with villains.

How to Get Away with Murder (ABC) *
Type: Legal procedural
The Shondaland alternative I was referring to.
Longevity: ★★★★ – Thankfully it has many cases of the week.


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.

The Affair/The Leftovers (Showtime/HBO) *
Type: Serialized relationship drama
It could seem surprising that Affair and Leftovers are so low on the list. Their quality is hard to match, while their popularity is still not that of other cable dramas.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – Dangerous territories.

Bates Motel (A&E)
Type: Serialized family drama/horror
Is stuck as a show not many people watch or spec.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – Things could get interesting.

Halt & Catch Fire/Turn (AMC)
Type: Serialized historical drama
Not getting the level of notoriety of previous AMC shows. In other words, fewer specs.
Longevity: ★★★★ – New enough you should be able to find unique stories.

Jane the Virgin (The CW)
Type: Serialized dramedy.
A creative and critical success would make this a great pick for an under-the-radar show to spec.
Longevity: ★★★★ – Potentially at risk when it comes to stories.

The Last Ship/Legends (TNT) *
Type: Action procedural
Not total gamblers if only for their broader spec appeal, even to non-viewers (assuming you do a self-contained case).
Longevity: ★★★★ – Could easily last you a few seasons depending on your focus.

Major Crimes (TNT)
Type: Procedural drama
Still not that widely specced given the network and popularity of the series.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – And this could be your last chance.

The Originals/Reign (The CW)
Type: Serialized fantasy/historical drama
These CW fantasy dramas are staying put for now. More popular genre shows have already proven more popular, both in the number of specs and how well they’ve done.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – Twists!

Orphan Black (BBC America) *
Type: Serialized science-fiction drama
Popular online, but outside genre fans (who end up speccing it a lot), it isn’t getting the wide success you’d assume.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – Relies heavily on turns.

Rectify/The Red Road (Sundance) *
Type: Serialized drama
Sundance is on the up-and-up with these strong serials. Definitely not people’s top choice, which could work in your advantage…
Longevity: ★★★★★ – …or leave you in the dust.


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

12 Monkeys/Defiance/Helix/The Strain (Syfy/FX) *
Type: Science-fiction/Fantasy drama
This may surprise a few, but truth is pure science-fiction dramas, especially serialized, are neither read nor specced that often. Syfy shows (save for a couple exceptions) have also never grown into mainstream spec choices due to low viewership.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – Most are serialized. If you figure the formula, go for it.

Backstrom (FOX) *
Type: Crime dramedy
Another shockingly low position for a drama (this time from a network). Unfortunately, the series is not that well known.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – Nor is it getting great ratings.

Chasing Life/The Fosters (ABC Family) *
Type: Serialized family/workplace drama
It’s a sad fact that ABC Family series are risky to spec if only because of their very low reach in fellowships. On the plus side, that means less competition.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – Try to discern the formula.

Graceland/Satisfaction (USA) *
Type: Action/Relationship drama
Not many people know about these shows, let alone watch them. A very risky bet.
Longevity: ★★★★ – Could go on and on, considering.

True Detective (HBO) *
Type: Serialized police drama
Do you really have to ask?
Longevity: ★★★★ – The second season hasn’t even premiered.

2015 Trends

If you think there are a lot of shows on TV right now, you’d be right.
Count ’em– 68 dramas are on this year’s record-breaking spec list! Yes, it’s a crowded marketplace.

If the comedies had a rough year, the dramas are prospering like bunnies.
Ventures are increasing and so does the variety of low-key serialized fares. Only a few procedurals have a wide enough success that they are worth considering. On the other hand, serialized series get the most choice, but produce much less content to get a good grasp of their formula (if they have one). And then there are the anthologies.
The trend this year with drama specs continues to be “quicker is better”. Second-year shows are already mainstream (Sleepy Hollow, Blacklist), with brand new series not far behind (Empire, Flash, Gotham).

More choices. Better quality. A richer field is at play. However this also means finding the right fit is more problematic. With so many dramas out there, it is now easier than ever to find good shows to spec, yet harder to pick the perfect choice.

Also check out:
TV Writing Fellowships: The Bix Six

Comedy Spec Script list


  1. Michelle Anderson

    I didn’t see Madam Secretary on your list. Although the show often beat The Good Wife in weekly ratings, it didn’t get any Emmy nominations this year. What are your thoughts on specing this show?

  2. As a first-season network show, it would have been hard for me to recommend it earlier this year. That said, Madam Secretary will undoubtedly become a strong contender for next season’s spec cycle.

  3. Penn

    What about Ray Donovan?

  4. Andrew

    How about Ray Donovan?

  5. Deirdre

    What about “Better Call Saul”? Or “Unreal” or “Fargo”?
    The networks don’t release the list of accepted programs until they open the submission window, so am just wondering out these outlier-types…

  6. Penn/Andrew>:
    Ray Donovan is a good choice that I probably would have classified as an “Outsider” last year. In 2016 though, I may change its placement.

    BCS, UnReal and Fargo are definitely big frontrunners for 2016 specs and will probably be around the Mainstream/Wild Card realm.

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