Drama Spec Script 2017 – What is hot and what is not

Drama Spec Script 2017 – What is hot and what is not

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.
Canceled or dead shows have been removed since last season’s spec list.

In addition, you’ll also find (when available) a script for the corresponding show for educational purposes (title will be in red).

NOTE:
Given Warner Bros’ and NBC’s show lists for their fellowships, 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.

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.

The 100 (The CW)
Type: Serialized science-fiction drama
The world is on the brink of nuclear annihilation thanks to some fools. As for The 100, it’s in a better predicament.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – Already renewed for a fifth season so you know you’re good if you can find the perfect evergreen story. Good luck with that.

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (ABC)
Type: Fantasy/action procedural
RIP Bill Paxton.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – Game over man.

The Americans (FX)
Type: Serialized historical thriller
One of the greatest dramas on the air means it’s one of the greatest spec choices on the air.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – Also let’s not forget it just got a sixth and final season for next year.

American Horror Story (FX) *
Type: Serialized horror
I’m scared for you.
Longevity: ★★★★ – Can you even?

Arrow (The CW)
Type: Action/fantasy procedural
Why you’d pick it above any of the other CW shows boggles my mind.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – At least you could change it into an episode of Iron Fist.

Bates Motel (A&E)
Type: Serialized family drama/horror
One of your last shots to get a spec in for this one.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – Especially if you want to write for Rihanna.

Better Call Saul (AMC)
Type: Crime drama
So popular as a spec sample that it has to give way to fresh faces.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – Still could go on a while depending on serialization.

The Blacklist (NBC)
Type: Action procedural
Everyone’s go-to action spec has a replacement.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – Look on down.

Bones/Castle/Elementary (FOX/ABC/CBS)
Type: Police procedural
Can you believe David Boreanaz has been Castle longer than he was on Eli Stone?
Longevity: ★★★★ – Finals incoming.

Empire (FOX)
Type: Family soap
Admittedly there aren’t many FOX soaps to choose from, but this one is so popular it can be considered on the verge of release (date).
Longevity: ★★★★★ – Good luck keeping up.

Game of Thrones (HBO) *
Type: Serialized fantasy drama
There’s a reason why it’s not accepted by all.
Longevity: ★★★★ – Not sure if serious or hasn’t read the books.

Grey’s Anatomy/Scandal (ABC)
Type: Prime-time soaps
Still not as crazy as the real world.
Longevity: ★★★★ – As always, the trick is fitting within the show.

Hawaii Five-0/NCIS:LA (CBS) *
Type: Police/Action procedural
Barely accepted as show choices should give you a good indication of why it’s here.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – That and their season run.

Homeland (Showtime)
Type: Serialized thriller
I’m more scared of why you have a new terrorist threat in your mind.
Longevity: ★★★★ – 2019 will be its end.

House of Cards/Orange Is The New Black (Netflix)
Type: Serialized political/relationship drama
Netflix has so much other content it’s a wonder why these two are still so popular.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – Possibly because they got those Peabody Awards to show for it.

Major Crimes (TNT)
Type: Procedural drama
Crazy to think its predecessor was cable’s highest rated drama.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – Yes, the spin-off is still on the air.

Masters of Sex (Showtime)
Type: Serialized historical drama
There are a few other Sho choices (shoices?) out there if you want to bust out your spec muscles.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – Obligatory sexual innuendo.

Nashville (CMT) *
Type: Musical/Family drama
Change of network incidental to its change of placement. Still over the road.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – Check out its aftershow NashChat for some ideas. I’m not making this up.

Once Upon A Time/The Originals/The Vampire Diaries (ABC/The CW)
Type: Fantasy drama
Tough choice for fantasy fans since there are no decent alternatives besides some of CW’s newest.
Longevity: ★★★★ – Still have run for ages.

Orphan Black (BBC America)
Type: Serialized science-fiction drama
The good news is Tatiana Maslany finally got an Emmy nom.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – The bad news is its fifth season is also its final one.

Ray Donovan/Shameless (Showtime)
Type: Family drama
New placements for two of the strongest cable contenders.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – In a way, aren’t we all Ray Donovan and Fiona Gallagher?

Suits (USA)
Type: Light procedural
One of the last blue sky-type USA shows around…
Longevity: ★★★★ – …but for how long?

The Walking Dead (AMC)
Type: Ensemble/horror drama
I’d love to see a mumblecore version of the show.
Longevity: ★★★★ – Can you come up with a new foe?


Mainstream

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

The Affair/The Leftovers (Showtime/HBO)
Type: Serialized relationship drama
Unique storytelling methods leads to unique specs.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – Obligatory comment that one is on Showtime so it’ll continue for a while, while the one on HBO will end on its terms.

Black Mirror (Netflix) *
Type: Science-fiction anthology
A real cheat since you could make it as much a pilot as a stand-alone episode…
Longevity: ★★★★ – …which means it’s as evergreen as it gets (as long as it’s accepted).

Blindspot (NBC)
Type: Action procedural
If you missed out on Blacklist, you got your replacement.
Longevity: ★★★★ – As many tattoos as episodes.

Bloodline (Netflix)
Type: Serialized family drama
Surprisingly popular choice. I say surprising because we’re talking about a show…
Longevity: ★★★★★ – …going into its final third season, plus has an ongoing serialized narrative.

Chicago Fire/Chicago Med/Chicago PD/Code Black (NBC/CBS)
Type: Action/medical procedural
Straight procedurals are straight proceduring.
Longevity: ★★★★ – As long as they don’t get rid of your characters, I guess anything can work.

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (The CW) *
Type: Romantic musical dramedy
Transparent is a comedy as much as Ex is a drama. Great choice for those in the middle.
Longevity: ★★★★ – *sings a song about speccing*

Daredevil/Jessica Jones (Netflix)
Type: Serialized superhero drama
A slightly edgier/mature bend to the genre equals solid picks for your action/noir style.
Longevity: ★★★★ – Well established characters also makes this an easy sell.

Fargo (FX) *
Type: Crime drama
Anthology means difficult to pin down.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – At least the third season is finally premiering.

Fear the Walking Dead (AMC)
Type: Serialized survival horror
It’s like The Walking Dead with more family drama.
Longevity: ★★★★ – Also less shooting.

The Flash/Legends of Tomorrow/Supergirl (The CW)
Type: Action/Fantasy procedural
Pretty much the most popular picks for mainstream genre samples.
Longevity: ★★★★ – And they have a clear formula to boot.

Gotham (FOX)
Type: Superhero procedural
Not as flashy as the CW DC picks (no pun intended), and perhaps a slightly less “genre” choice if that is your style.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – Also in its third season, potentially going into its fourth if it gets the renewal.

Halt & Catch Fire/Into the Badlands (AMC) *
Type: Serialized drama
Big potential for the latter once reads get started. The former already has built-in traction.
Longevity: ★★★★ – Final season, meet second year.

How to Get Away with Murder/Quantico/Scorpion (ABC/CBS) *
Type: Legal/action/thriller procedural
You’ll be surprised at the verbiage used in the prose.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – Even if renewed, storylines are being burned like hotcake.

iZombie/Jane the Virgin (The CW)
Type: Horror/family dramedy
Popular choices all around. There’s wisdom in crowds.
Longevity: ★★★★ – Plenty of potential beyond their aired seasons.

The Knick (Cinemax) *
Type: Serialized historical medical drama
Constantly surprised at the legs on the show.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – But we’re still waiting on a new season.

Lucifer (FOX)
Type: Police/supernatural procedural
The true successor to the Castle/Bones “quirky guy with cop” duo. Plus it’s funny.
Longevity: ★★★★ – Renewed for a third season of 22 episodes, so much story indeed.

Madam Secretary (CBS)
Type: Political drama
Still not written as widely as The Good Wife specs were, but can still hit the beats.
Longevity: ★★★★ – Although the material may be tough to write without seeming too realistic.

Mr. Robot (USA Network)
Type: Serialized thriller
Very popular “edgy cable drama” choice now that Breaking Bad is long gone.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – Do I need to explain the twists?

Scream Queens (FOX)
Type: Procedural drama
Not quite as popular as other Ryan Murphy shows, but the option is there.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – Still in consideration for renewal, plus crazy pace, means it may not be as safe as being on that show.

UnReal (Lifetime)
Type: Serialized drama
Redefined a network while offering a new tone.
Longevity: ★★★★ – There’s plenty of meat in reality.


Wild Cards

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

American Crime/American Crime Story (ABC/FX) *
Type: Serialized crime/legal drama
Two anthologies which may prove tricky to spec, yet still will be chosen as samples like Black Mirror and American Horror Story.
Longevity: ★★★★ – Complete wild cards in terms of longevity considering they have unique schedules, unique approaches, and, well, they’re seasonal anthologies.

Billions (Showtime)
Type: Serialized drama
No Homeland in popularity.
Longevity: ★★★★ – It’s Showtime so it’ll run a while. There, I said it again.

Bosch/The Man in the High Castle/Mozart in the Jungle (Amazon) *
Type: Serialized dramas
Still a tough spot for the Amazon dramas, which still aren’t as widely seen as cable counterparts.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – At least the full season releases allows you to plug in your spec in a specific place.

The Catch (ABC)
Type: Romantic/thriller drama
Not as popular as most of Shondaland’s slate, but still a viable option depending on your style.
Longevity: ★★★★ – Shondashow means story burning.

Lethal Weapon/Rosewood (FOX) *
Type: Police procedural
One is new (which means hard to get read), the other is still relatively untapped.
Longevity: ★★★★ – Slowly dripping stories.

Luke Cage (Netflix) *
Type: Action/superhero drama
On the cusp of joining Daredevil and Jessica Jones, but still recent enough (and not as popular).
Longevity: ★★★★ – Won’t have a second season before the Defenders, which may bring interesting choices in spec stories.

Narcos/Stranger Things (Netflix)
Type: Serialized period drama
Shows in the zeitgeist tend to be very popular, which places both of those Netflix picks high on this list.
Longevity: ★★★★ – Don’t get stuck in the upside-down.

Riverdale (The CW) *
Type: Teen drama
Bank on this one gaining real traction. Well, once the show is being read.
Longevity: ★★★★ – Especially with its fast renewal.

This Is Us (NBC) *
Type: Family drama
The new Parenthood spec.
Longevity: ★★★★ – Don’t forget to include a tear-friendly twist at the end of your episode.

Timeless (NBC) *
Type: Time-travel procedural
One of the few non-CW genre shows that will probably become a go-to choice…
Longevity: ★★★★ – …if it can survive the years.


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.

Animal Kingdom (TNT)
Type: Crime/family drama
A TNT show with traction, if only because of its accessibility.
Longevity: ★★★★ – What’s your power play?

The Crown/The OA (Netflix) *
Type: Serialized drama
One is a period with a new direction for its second season (not focused on Queen Elizabeth), the other one is a pure fever dream…
Longevity: ★★★★★ – …making them both very hard to spec.

Greenleaf/Queen Sugar (OWN)
Type: Family drama
Much like UnReal and Mr. Robot before them, these new premium entrants have redefined a network.
Longevity: ★★★★ – Turnaround so fast they’re already in their second season.

Humans (AMC)
Type: Science-fiction drama
Lesser known option on the AMC front, which could be ripe for an upset.
Longevity: ★★★★ – The second season just aired and it’s a British co-production, so hard to guess in the distance. The original only had two seasons though.

The Night Shift (NBC)
Type: Medical procedural
Another lesser known show compared to its Dick Wolf alternatives.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – About to enter its fourth year. Will it be DOA?

Outlander/Power (Starz) *
Type: Serialized historical/family drama
Starz shows have a tough time breaking out of their niches, despite their potential for great specs.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – Renewed deep in the years.

The Path (Hulu)
Type: Serialized drama
Interesting choice which has put Hulu on the map in the drama world.
Longevity: ★★★★ – Jesse has found his way.

Peaky Blinders (Netflix)
Type: Period crime drama
British imports make strange bedfellows.
Longevity: ★★★★ – At least we have a decent idea of when the show will continue.

Underground (WGN) *
Type: Period drama
WGN continues to bring it with this underrated pick, even if not widely accepted as a sample.
Longevity: ★★★★ – Freshly entering its new season.


Gamblers

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

12 Monkeys/Colony/Dark Matter/Killjoys/The Expanse (Syfy/USA) *
Type: Science-fiction drama
A large batch of genre shows which would make great spec fodder, it’s unfortunate that they’re not widely accepted.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – Some are ending, some may last a while, but all have ongoing plotlines that may be tough to write for.

The Fall/Happy Valley (Netflix) *
Type: Crime drama
What I meant to say earlier is that British imports make strange specfellows.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – If anything, you never know when they’ll be back.

The Fosters (Freeform) *
Type: Serialized family/workplace drama
The perfect Freeform example of a show running relatively strong, meaning it could serve as a good spec, but sadly its lack of wide acceptance limits the potential.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – Bonus point for its release schedule making it last longer than it would otherwise.

The Last Ship/The Librarians (TNT) *
Type: Action/adventure procedural
TNT genre shows are disappointingly never read enough.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – Ordered to last a couple seasons so at least you have a deadline.

Legion (FX) *
Type: Serialized superhero drama
New and bright, which means a lot of people will want to spec it soon. Unfortunate then that it isn’t on anyone’s approved list yet.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – How can you keep up?

Outsiders (WGN) *
Type: Serialized drama
Perhaps it will join Underground once it gains ground, but right now it’s still not on the same track.
Longevity: ★★★★ – WGN shows can be cut ruthlessly. At least it got a second season.


2017 Trends

A gigantic 101 dramas (!) are listed on this year’s spec list. That’s right, we’ve broken into the triple digits. Comparatively, last year had about 87 dramas, and the season before “only” listed 68 one-hours. The explosion of content is well underway.

Continuing on last year’s promise, a good chunk of shows are genre-based (sci-fi/fantasy), with The CW holding strong (thanks to its DC slate) and some cable outlets also getting into it like Amazon and Netflix (Stranger Things anyone?).
Despite the huge increase in cable and streaming content, networks are still holding their turf with nearly half of shows coming from their end. It should be noted that virtually all of them are in the over-specced/mainstream categories, meaning that within a couple of seasons cable could rule most of the field.

Regarding picks, only a handful of “safely procedural” shows remain fresh — genre ones (like iZombie, Lucifer or The Flash) or straight serialized dramas (Mr. Robot) seem to be preferred.
There’s also a rising popularity of anthology series in specs (notably Black Mirror and American Crime), which is very likely due to their second life as potential pilots (if the sample fails as a spec).

Ultimately, it seems there are more opportunities than ever to find a spec sample that tonally matches perfectly with an original sample. Whether or not they’re worth their longevity is another question.



Still wondering which show to spec?

Try my awesome TV Spec Test


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Hi there!

Alex Freedman

I'm Alex Freedman, the writer behind TV Calling.


I started this site in 2008 to chronicle my own journey in television writing.

693 posts and 9 years later, TV Calling has also become a comprehensive resource dedicated to the full TV writing industry — from spec to success.


Everything here is written by yours truly (unless otherwise credited), so feel free to blame me for any missed deadlines.


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