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Drama Spec Script 2018 – 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.
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 fellowship, 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.
Any public update will be reflected on this list.

Here is a 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 to have become on-the-nose speccers — with a lot of people speccing them)
Wild Cards (soon, everyone will spec these, 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 10^2
Longevity: ★★★★★ – Can you keep up with the pacing?

The Affair (Showtime)
Type: Serialized relationship drama
My perspective is that it’s past its due date.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – My perspective is different: it’s past its due date. Hold on…

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (ABC)
Type: Fantasy/action procedural
Is that the one with Thanos?
Longevity: ★★★★★ – Nevermind, that’s Avengers Assemble.

The Americans (FX)
Type: Serialized historical thriller
Don’t forget to specify which wigs the leads are wearing.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – One last ride.

American Horror Story (FX) *
Type: Serialized horror
I’m scared for you if that’s your spec.
Longevity: ★★★★ – Unless you preemptively make a season premiere episode about the 2018 election, in which case I actually hate you.

Arrow/The Flash (The CW)
Type: Action/fantasy procedural
There are better, fresher superhero choices on this list.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – Doesn’t mean these shows won’t last forever.

Better Call Saul (AMC)
Type: Crime drama
Burned as bright as it could.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – Expecting a third spinoff any minute to cement the Breaking Bad Televisual Universe.

The Blacklist (NBC)
Type: Action procedural
[opinion redacted] Longevity: ★★★★★ – Does Spader want a sixth kitchen?

Black Mirror (Netflix) *
Type: Science-fiction anthology
How is Black Mirror already overspecced? Well, it’s petty simple: the fact that you can disguise a feature or pilot as a spec episode is very attractive to a lot of writers.
Longevity: ★★★★ – It’s an anthology.

Bosch/The Man in the High Castle/Mozart in the Jungle (Amazon) *
Type: Serialized dramas
Ageing Amazon shows.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – Wildcard renewals.

Elementary (CBS)
Type: Police procedural
Morgan Freeman is so underrated.
Longevity: ★★★★ – Yes, it’s still on the air with a full sixth season about to premiere.

Empire (FOX)
Type: Family soap
People couldn’t wait to spec it as soon as it broke big.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – Now mostly doing crossovers and continuing its legacy.

Game of Thrones (HBO)
Type: Serialized fantasy drama
Ever heard of this show?
Longevity: ★★★★ – I mean.

Gotham (FOX)
Type: Superhero procedural
Really getting long in the cowl.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – Can’t wait until Arnold Schwarzenegger returns.

Grey’s Anatomy/How to Get Away with Murder (ABC)
Type: Prime-time soaps
Coming soon to Netflix.
Longevity: ★★★★ – What’s more insane than any of the past two seasons?

Hawaii Five-0/NCIS:LA/NCIS:NOLA (CBS) *
Type: Police/Action procedural
Widely watched, rarely accepted.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – It keeps on keeping on.

Homeland (Showtime)
Type: Serialized thriller
Quite a long ways from where it started.
Longevity: ★★★★ – Eight season planned to be the final nail.

House of Cards/Orange Is The New Black (Netflix)
Type: Serialized political/relationship drama
No comment.
Longevity: ★★★★ – Winding down.

iZombie (The CW)
Type: Fantasy crime procedural
One of people’s fave CW pick outside of their DC slate.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – Fourth season currently getting as many viewers as its third year, which may or may not be good news.

Mr. Robot (USA Network)
Type: Serialized thriller
We’re all part of E Corp.
Longevity: ★★★★ – The twist is that the show was dead the whole time.

The Originals (The CW)
Type: Fantasy drama
Once it was the most-watched series on its network…
Longevity: ★★★★ – ..and is now about to conclude.

Ray Donovan/Shameless (Showtime) *
Type: Family drama
Boston and Chicago representing.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – Showtime loves to run series deep into their old age, as they currently stand at six and nine seasons.

Suits (USA)
Type: Light procedural
This show is now royalty. Get it?
Longevity: ★★★★ – Renewed without two of its leads, including the protagonist. What.

The Walking Dead (AMC)
Type: Ensemble/horror drama
WATCH OUT SOMETHING IS BEHIND YOU
Longevity: ★★★★ – It’s a soap, so it could last for generations.


Mainstream

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

Blindspot (NBC)
Type: Action procedural
She just got re-tattooed…
Longevity: ★★★★ – …time for another decade of stories.

Chicago Fire/Chicago Med/Chicago PD/Code Black (NBC/CBS)
Type: Action/medical procedural
Soon to be joined by Station 19.
Longevity: ★★★★ – As long as people need savin’, these shows will keep comin’.

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend/Jane the Virgin (The CW)
Type: Family dramedy
Great shows beget great specs.
Longevity: ★★★★ – Can critical success translate to renewals? Apparently yes.

The Crown (Netflix)
Type: Serialized drama
Pay your lead!
Longevity: ★★★★★ – New cast, new years, new drama.

Daredevil/Jessica Jones/Luke Cage (Netflix)
Type: Serialized superhero drama
There’s a reason I didn’t include Iron Fist.
Longevity: ★★★★ – These three are going long term.

Fargo (FX)
Type: Crime drama
*cue Curb Your Enthusiasm music as an act out*
Longevity: ★★★★★ – The storylines can’t be predicted, the non-linear anthological aspect is all over the place, and a fourth season isn’t happening for another year or two. Definitely a long-term spec.

Fear the Walking Dead (AMC)
Type: Serialized survival horror
It’s like Civ but with zombies and family drama and not at all like Civ.
Longevity: ★★★★ – It’s musical chairs over there.

The Handmaid’s Tale (Hulu)
Type:
This is us. For real.
Longevity: ★★★★ – How long can it sustain its mirror-like reflection on our reality?

Into the Badlands (AMC) *
Type: Serialized drama
Genre enough to not be read.
Longevity: ★★★★ – Still hasn’t aired its third season, so you have some leeway.

Legends of Tomorrow/Supergirl (The CW)
Type: Action/Fantasy procedural
Passing the torch.
Longevity: ★★★★ – If they can survive scandals, they can survive anything.

Lucifer (FOX)
Type: Police/supernatural procedural
The devil who solves crime on a weekly basis is better than the devil who doesn’t.
Longevity: ★★★★ – Many, many episodes.

Madam Secretary (CBS)
Type: Political drama
Hasn’t caught The Good Wife fervor (probably because The Good Fight took its place), but Madam still remains a decent CBS political drama pick.
Longevity: ★★★★ – Especially since they secured last year a huge multi-platform syndication deal.

Peaky Blinders (Netflix)
Type: Period crime drama
A slow burn that finally broke mainstream.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – Might be late in the game as it approaches its fifth year.

Quantico/Scorpion (ABC/CBS)
Type: Action/thriller procedural
Quan2co wasn’t as successful as Quan1co…
Longevity: ★★★★★ – …but we’ll have to see how Quan3co performs.

Riverdale (The CW)
Type: Teen drama
Whatever you’re doing, go crazier.
Longevity: ★★★★ – Already creating its cross-platform universe.

Stranger Things (Netflix)
Type: Serialized period drama
Let’s make a story about 2010s shows inspired by the 1980s
Longevity: ★★★★ – Probably ending around its fourth or fifth year, so you’ve got time. At least until they start milking 90s nostalgia.

This Is Us (NBC)
Type: Family drama
Called it last year as the new Parenthood spec. And boy was I right.
Longevity: ★★★★ – I’m already crying because of all the emotional manipulation.

UnReal (Lifetime)
Type: Serialized drama
A fresh third year is giving new life to this industry darling.
Longevity: ★★★★ – How many seasons of The Bachelor have there been?


Wild Cards

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

13 Reasons Why/Ozark (Amazon)
Type: Serialized drama
Two fresh Netflix fares with a lot of momentum to go mainstream.
Longevity: ★★★★ – As long as you capitalize on the emotional pull.

9-1-1/The Gifted/The Resident (FOX) *
Type: Procedurals/Family drama
FOX equivalent of shows with longterm potential…
Longevity: ★★★★★ – …or maybe one of them will be nixed.

American Crime/American Crime Story (ABC/FX) *
Type: Serialized crime/legal anthologies
Still on some level small gambles…
Longevity: ★★★★ – …especially given they are seasonal anthologies.

Billions (Showtime)
Type: Serialized drama
I bet they invested in Bitcoin.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – Which would explain its continuous renewals despite lukewarm reception and viewership.

Black Lightning (The CW) *
Type: Superhero drama
A new superhero has entered the game…
Longevity: ★★★★★ – …and he’s more compelling than most of the previous ones.

Bull/S.W.A.T./Salvation/SEAL Team (CBS) *
Type: Procedurals
Fresh from your nearby screen, so not taken in by fellowships just yet. But just you wait.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – Successful CBS dramas. Let me think on that…

Claws/Good Behavior (TNT)
Type: Workplace drama
You wouldn’t think TNT shows would be as big, and yet these two are surprisingly wildly accepted (unlike a lot of its counterparts).
Longevity: ★★★★★ – Knowing the network, if it works, it’ll be a while.

Goliath/Patriot/Sneaky Pete (Amazon)
Type: Serialized drama
Amazon shows may make a small splash when they land, but they sadly have a tough time breaking out.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – Mish-mash of successes, although the OTT really wants content no matter what.

The Good Doctor (ABC) *
Type: Medical procedural
The closest thing to a sure long-term spec for first-season newbies, so let’s be honest…
Longevity: ★★★★★ – …this one is gonna last a while.

Greenleaf/Queen Sugar (OWN)
Type: Family drama
Right on the verge of breaking mainstream…
Longevity: ★★★★ – …but they may not by the time they end.

Humans (AMC)
Type: Science-fiction drama
Bumped a bump thanks to its (now-)wider readership.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – Resistance is futile.

Legion (FX) *
Type: Serialized superhero drama
A really tumultuous acceptance rate in its first season that still isn’t fully overcome. When and if it finally does, it will probably instantly become mainstream.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – Still an insane narrative.

Lethal Weapon (FOX)
Type: Police procedural
The one-hour version of a broadcast dramedy…
Longevity: ★★★★ – …which may end up in the can sooner than later.

Narcos (Netflix)
Type: Serialized period drama
Although partnered up with Stranger Things in the last list, the show didn’t pick up as much steam as its other period friend.
Longevity: ★★★★ – Already renewed up to a fourth season, if it can produce itself that far.

Outlander/Power (Starz) *
Type: Serialized historical/family drama
Now more accepted, which bumped both up a notch, but still not as mainstream as fans would like them to be.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – Will probably show its age by next year, as it moves to reach fifty episodes.

The Path (Hulu)
Type: Serialized drama
Do you believe?
Longevity: ★★★★★ – Praise be to three seasons.

Preacher (AMC)
Type: Serialized genre
Went from a prequel season to actual storylines from the comics…
Longevity: ★★★★★ – …which may or may not help you down the line.

Westworld (HBO)
Type: Serialized science-fiction
I’m already predicting this to be the number one searched show on this year’s list. This is poised to garner Game of Thrones-level thirst for specs, albeit being a show people will actually read since it isn’t based on books. For now, it is a wild card per tradition for popular first-season shows.
Longevity: ★★★★ – Impossible to say. Even the writers don’t even know where they are between each episodes.


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.

Altered Carbon/The OA (Netflix) *
Type: Serialized science-fiction/fantasy
One is brand new, the other is still niche enough to alienate some. Still some rungs to climb to be considered viable spec contenders.
Longevity: ★★★★ – Evergreen or serialized spec? Hard choice.

American Gods/Counterpart (Starz) *
Type: Serialized fantasy/science-fiction
If I didn’t add them to this list, these two would have been the most requested shows in comments and emails. The harsh reality is that both series are way too new and not widely accepted to be considered any higher.
Longevity: ★★★★ – Time will tell how much of the behind-the-scene drama influences production and renewals.

Animal Kingdom (TNT)
Type: Crime/family drama
It didn’t bank on the traction it initially had, which means it just had enough to be upped a single step.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – [insert joke about endangered animals and their kindgom]

Ash vs Evil Dead (Starz)
Type: Serialized comedic horror
Shockingly read by many.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – Already deep in its third season.

The Fosters (Freeform) *
Type: Serialized family/workplace drama
After all these years, still not widely accepted.
Longevity: ★★★★ – Concluding with a spin-off prequel. Wait, what?

The Good Fight/Star Trek: Discovery (CBS All-Access) *
Type: Legal/science-fiction drama
Wait a minute. How can two of the biggest new shows on TV be placed so low? Reality check: CBS All-Access isn’t watched by many and neither series are currently accepted by most programs.
Longevity: ★★★★ – Beyond that, CBS has gone all-in on these two, so (unless some major behind-the-scene drama happens) you can stick around for them to be right back.


Gamblers

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

Colony/The Expanse (Syfy/USA) *
Type: Science-fiction drama
Basic cable science-fiction has a really hard time breaking on the spec scene, in large part due to its lack of readership.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – Always tough to say how many seasons genre can get you.

The Exorcist (FOX) *
Type: Serialized horror
Underrated broadcast drama.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – Which also happens to be the definition of a bubble show.

Happy Valley (Netflix) *
Type: Crime drama
Like many other Gamblers this season, it stagnates at this level due to its lack of acceptance.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – British seasons are abstract concepts.

The Last Ship (TNT) *
Type: Action procedural
Yes it’s still on.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – No it’s still not read.

Runaways (Hulu) *
Type: Fantasy family drama
The temptation is strong to go with it, but remember it’s not accepted.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – Since this was just a prequel to the real story, I’m sure you got some room for improvement.

Timeless (NBC) *
Type: Time-travel procedural
It could have gone either way last season, but this time around there’s no question about the Timeless status due to its lack of success.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – Already got the pleasure of being renewed thanks to its fans. Unlikely it can pull the same feat twice.

2018 Trends

An enormous 104 one-hour shows are tallied on this year’s TV spec script list. We continue breaking new records every time, increasing into triple digits.

For the first time in the list’s history, broadcast networks are being completely overshadowed by cable and OTT. The Big Five have way fewer TV shows accounted for than their cable counterparts (43 against 61). A momentous upset that will probably never be reversed in the foreseeable future. In fact, new entrant CBS All-Access may herald a new era of compartmentalized OTT, strikingly similar to the way cable channels are currently being presented.

This spec crop also presents a large increase in genre shows, with over 35 listed, building on the past few seasons’ trends (including the fresh additions of Altered Carbon, American Gods, Star Trek: Discovery, and Westworld). Unfortunately for their speccers, the number of genre specs read are few and far between: only half of them are being accepted to begin with. Both cable outlets and broadcast are digging their teeth in the format though, so they may become more widely received in years to come.
Conversely, the popularity of anthology series seems to be winding down, in favor of more traditional serialized intimate dramas (like This is Us and even The Crown). It will be interesting to see if their success translate to more personal TV series.

Is more TV better for scripts? Well, it certainly means a more crowded marketplace, with more diverse formats, and more overall content. And with increasingly picky programs, these are all added reasons to write a great spec — as long as you choose the right TV show.

8 Comments

  1. Cynthia Cynthia

    Isn’t This is Us over specced? What about it as a choice for fellowship submissions?

  2. Tanya Tanya

    Thanks so much for these lists that I’ve read over the years- they are so helpful, thank you. Do you have any tips on how to write a spec for an anthology series like Fargo? I assume the way to do it is to write within the timeline of the most recent season. However, I’m wondering if it’s possible or advisable to write the first episode of a new season. Something that would be a new story for the anthology. This could theoretically work as a spec for that anthology or could be tweaked to be a stand alone pilot.

    Thanks in advance for any thoughts!

  3. Cynthia:
    This is Us barely finished its second season and is one of many options on the table – so no, it isn’t overspecced.
    It might be overspecced this time next year, but for now, it’s as strong a choice as any other. Especially if you have an awesome emotional story you want to tell.

    Tanya:
    I recommend checking out the following article which can give you ideas on the two types of spec episodes you can write:
    https://www.tv-calling.com/when-should-your-tv-spec-script-be-placed-readers-mail/

  4. Tatiana Tatiana

    Are there any guidelines for spec ing an anthology like FARGO? For instance could you write it as the pilot for a new season rather than a middle episode in an existing season?

    Thanks for the article- so friggin helpful!!!

  5. Anar Anar

    Hey Alex,
    When can we expect the 2019 update on this?
    Thanks!!

  6. Pepper Pepper

    I’m curious when you’ll be posting the 2019 list. Your website was just recommended to me and I think it’s great. Looking forward to delving in deeper.

  7. @Anar / @Pepper

    TBD exactly when, but very likely before end of March (if not sooner).

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