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Drama Spec Script 2019 – What is hot and what is not

Like every year, it is now time to review the popularity of TV shows to spec.
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 only.
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
New planet, new stories.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – Humanity destroying itself is a repetitive cycle.

The Affair (Showtime) *
Type: Serialized relationship drama
A show trying to reinvent itself with one final time jump.
Longevity: ★★★★ – It’s the last season either way.

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (ABC)
Type: Fantasy/action procedural
Agents assemble.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – In season seven, filmed back-to-back. Thanks to contract negotiations.

American Horror Story (FX) *
Type: Serialized horror
An anthology with little rhyme or reason.
Longevity: ★★★★ – How can you write a spec for this?

Arrow/The Flash (The CW)
Type: Action/fantasy procedural
Years of popularity have led it to be a classic pick.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – An end is just a beginning.

Better Call Saul (AMC)
Type: Crime drama
Still a choice for your traditional premium cable character drama.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – Will you distinguish yourself from all other Sauls?

The Blacklist/MacGyver (NBC/CBS)
Type: Action procedural
I challenge you to use a lighter and a candy bar in your spec.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – Even better if you make them explode.

Black Mirror (Netflix) *
Type: Science-fiction anthology
Writing a pilot might be a better option at this point.
Longevity: ★★★★ – There’s no real longevity for something that can easily be a standalone original.

Blindspot (NBC)
Type: Action procedural
Adjust your mirrors.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – Reveal a secret new tattoo.

Bosch (Amazon)
Type: Serialized dramas
With a name like that, you’d think we were talking about a dishwasher.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – But it’s a cop drama, so you’re better off.

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend/Jane the Virgin (The CW) *
Type: Family dramedy
Aging out…
Longevity: ★★★★★ – …but with spin-offs on the way in.

Elementary (CBS)
Type: Police procedural
Did you know the size of the brownstones on the show were praised by some critics?
Longevity: ★★★★ – Concluding.

Empire (FOX)
Type: Family soap
Touchy subject.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – No comment.

Game of Thrones (HBO)
Type: Serialized fantasy drama
Spoiler alert: everyone dies.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – Wait for the prequel.

Gotham (FOX)
Type: Superhero procedural
I’m Batman.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – ‘Tis the end.

Grey’s Anatomy/How to Get Away with Murder (ABC)
Type: Prime-time soaps
They’ve transcended the notion of case of the week.
Longevity: ★★★★ – On and on and on and on.

Hawaii Five-0/NCIS:LA/NCIS:NOLA (CBS) *
Type: Police/Action procedural
Accepted by middle-America, not accepted by most writing programs.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – Both always speccable and never speccable.

Homeland (Showtime) *
Type: Serialized thriller
Has really become unwanted.
Longevity: ★★★★ – Nope.

iZombie (The CW)
Type: Fantasy crime procedural
Take one last bite out of it if you can, otherwise don’t.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – It’s the final countdown.

Ray Donovan/Shameless (Showtime) *
Type: Family drama
Is this the walk of shame I’ve heard so much about?
Longevity: ★★★★★ – It’s Showtime so Ray will probably last for another decade or two.

Stranger Things (Netflix)
Type: Serialized period drama
Burned bright and fast.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – Write about your next D&D campaign.

Suits (USA)
Type: Light procedural
Something about royals.
Longevity: ★★★★ – Tune in for the Gina Torres spin-off.

The Walking Dead (AMC)
Type: Ensemble/horror drama
It’s a soap opera with blood, what more could you ask for?
Longevity: ★★★★ – Coherent plot?


Mainstream

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

13 Reasons Why/Ozark (Netflix)
Type: Serialized drama
Mixed reception for both, but that brings a lot of potential.
Longevity: ★★★★ – They’ll continue being on thanks in part to the press they get.

Billions (Showtime)
Type: Serialized drama
Email me for my Venmo.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – Make it rain.

Big Little Lies (HBO)
Type: Family drama
First world problems.
Longevity: ★★★★ – Merryl Streep will get an Emmy and the episodes haven’t even aired yet.

The Chi (Showtime)
Type: Drama
Is this a show about the vital force forming part of any living entity in traditional Chinese culture?
Longevity: ★★★★ – Wait, wrong pronunciation.

Chicago Fire/Chicago Med/Chicago PD (NBC)
Type: Action/medical procedural
Can’t wait for Chicago Endgame.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – Thanos was awesome.

The Crown (Netflix)
Type: Period drama
A refreshed cast with refreshed stories.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – Will last as long as the Queen’s reign. In a manner of speaking.

Fargo (FX)
Type: Crime drama
Huge gaps between seasons allows it to maintain its position.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – We shall see how long that lasts.

Fear the Walking Dead (AMC)
Type: Serialized survival horror
Zombies with more family.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – AMC isn’t afraid of money.

The Good Fight/Star Trek: Discovery (CBS All-Access) *
Type: Legal/science-fiction drama
Big shows, yet one ain’t a go-to.
Longevity: ★★★★ – An OTT trying to define its impact, meaning they’ll be picked up until the creatives have had enough (or they get too expensive).

The Handmaid’s Tale (Hulu)
Type: Dystopic drama
Too depressing for me to watch.
Longevity: ★★★★ – Also too real.

Into the Badlands (AMC) *
Type: Serialized drama
Fun action drama which is sadly not as accepted as it should.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – Writing those fight setpieces might be complicated though.

Killing Eve (BBC America)
Type: Serialized police drama
A surprise to be sure, but a welcome one.
Longevity: ★★★★ – Excited for the second season.

Legends of Tomorrow/Supergirl (The CW)
Type: Action/Fantasy procedural
The now-established major forces of the DCWU.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – Might be their last season at this level.

Lucifer (Netflix)
Type: Police/supernatural procedural
One of multiple devil-based dramas on the air.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – Brought back from the dead by an OTT.

Madam Secretary (CBS)
Type: Political drama
Never reached the popularity of The Good Wife, but still endures.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – If only she became president.

The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (Amazon)
Type: Period dramedy
One of the best shows on the air, hands down. Good luck writing that dialogue.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – No reason to think Amazon is going to get rid of its golden show anytime soon.

Narcos (Netflix)
Type: Serialized period drama
Addictive.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – Was able to spin itself off, so it can probably go on for a bit.

Peaky Blinders (Netflix)
Type: Period crime drama
Connecting the dots.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – Six years later, and another season a long ways away. Seven are expected in total.

Riverdale (The CW)
Type: Teen drama
R.I.P. Luke Perry.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – Find the missing episode.

This Is Us (NBC)
Type: Family drama
Get out the kleenex.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – A single-tear is forming down my cheek.

Westworld (HBO)
Type: Serialized science-fiction
Abstract metaphysical algorithmic artificial machine learning intelligence.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – It took a while for season two to appear. You have some time before year three.


Wild Cards

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

9-1-1/The Resident (FOX) *
Type: Procedurals
What is your emergency?
Longevity: ★★★★★ – No end.

Black Lightning (The CW)
Type: Superhero drama
Expanding the DCWU.
Longevity: ★★★★ – The closest thing to a bubble show out of that group, but still got a renewal.

Bull/Magnum P.I./S.W.A.T./SEAL Team (CBS) *
Type: Procedurals
Another batch of network procedurals not read or accepted widely. The shift is almost complete.
Longevity: ★★★★ – Don’t be afraid of cancellation. Be afraid of innapropriate behavior.

The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina (Netflix)
Type: Supernatural drama
Step one: hail satan.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – Already renewed deep into our lives.

Claws (TNT)
Type: Workplace drama
Surprisingly subversive.
Longevity: ★★★★ – Renewed and no real dips in sight.

Cloak & Dagger (Freeform)
Type: Superhero drama
A potent combination of soap and grit.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – Second season incoming with the first having great ratings for the network.

Goliath/Patriot/Sneaky Pete (Amazon)
Type: Serialized drama
Always on the cusp of breaking big. They have the potential reach.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – As they continue to age, they may never get the chance.

The Good Doctor (ABC)
Type: Medical procedural
He’s both good and a doctor.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – Ratings hit and medical drama means long-lasting.

Good Girls (NBC)
Type: Crime dramedy
Mother knows best.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – A network dramedy lauded by critics isn’t usually a recipe for everlasting success.

Greenleaf/Queen Sugar (OWN)
Type: Family drama
Bring forth the mysteries.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – They’re both getting long in the tooth, which could force OWN to find other headliners soon.

Jack Ryan (Amazon)
Type: Action drama
Pew pew pew!
Longevity: ★★★★★ – Kaboom!

Krypton (Syfy)
Type: Science-fiction dramedy
Like a prequel to an origin story.
Longevity: ★★★★ – It’s Syfy so it could be both renewed and cancelled.

Legion (FX) *
Type: Serialized superhero drama
There’s a reason it’s not read by most…
Longevity: ★★★★★ – …adaptation + unreliable schedule + serialization + minimal episode orders.

Lethal Weapon (FOX)
Type: Police procedural
A one-hour with a lot of comedy makes for a half-decent pick if you need a transitional spec.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – Likely on its way out.

Lost in Space (Netflix)
Type: Science-fiction/family drama
One of the few cable sci-fi shows more commonly accepted.
Longevity: ★★★★ – Perhaps you can add depth to the narrative.

Mindhunter (Netflix)
Type: Crime drama
Almost a how-to guide.
Longevity: ★★★★ – Second season still incoming after a two-year wait. Gap show.

Outlander/Power (Starz) *
Type: Serialized historical/family drama
Finally read after several seasons undervalued. Might be too little too late.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – Starz is trying to bring forth its next generation of dramas.

Pose (FX)
Type: Period drama
Ball culture is great, the yuppie story not so much.
Longevity: ★★★★ – The serialization might prove trouble, but you have room to improvise.

Preacher (AMC)
Type: Serialized genre
One man’s quest to find something else.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – Low ratings might mean an end after the fourth season.

Succession (HBO)
Type: Family dramedy
Vicious, quippy dialogue. Brings me back to the days of The Thick of It.
Longevity: ★★★★ – A second season is still to be dated, so cash in now.

Whiskey Cavalier (ABC) *
Type: Action procedural
WC? Like Water Closet?
Longevity: ★★★★

You (Lifetime)
Type: Serialized drama
Me.
Longevity: ★★★★ – Us.


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/The Umbrella Academy (Netflix) *
Type: Serialized science-fiction/fantasy
For some reason, serialized science-fiction and fantasy from Netflix doesn’t translate to readership in the spec world.
Longevity: ★★★★ – But given the gap between seasons, you’ve got the opportunity to write something that’ll last for a bit.

American Gods/Counterpart (Starz)
Type: Serialized fantasy/science-fiction
Dead heroes walking.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – One has had massive behind-the-scenes turnover, the other just got canned.

Animal Kingdom (TNT)
Type: Crime/family drama
Now is the time to make some animal sounds or something.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – Might be in its fourth season but with a stable audience, there are still options.

Bodyguard (BBC)
Type: Action drama
A mini-series that became a show. Given how the last episodes went…
Longevity: ★★★★★ – …can you guess who he’s going to protect next?

Castle Rock (Hulu)
Type: Horror drama
Not to be confused with Casterly Rock.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – Every season is themed differently. The next one may bring you some Misery. (Get it?)

Deadly Class/Runaways (Syfy/Hulu) *
Type: Fantasy family drama
Connect the superhero’s problems with an internal family struggle, and you’ve got a recipe for success.
Longevity: ★★★★ – How many issues of the comics are there?

Get Shorty (Epix)
Type: Dramedy
Moviemaking meets gangster.
Longevity: ★★★★ – Barely based on the book, you have ample room for story.

Hanna (Amazon) *
Type: Action/family drama
Eric Bana got traded for Joel Kinnaman.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – Amazon poured too much money to let it go this easily.

Homecoming/Sweetbitter/Vida (Hulu/Starz)
Type: Serialized drama
Half-hour dramas are becoming all the rage.
Longevity: ★★★★ – Livin’ la vida loca.

Titans (DC Universe)
Type: Superhero drama
The setup to the new DC Universe.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – New network, new gamble.


Gamblers

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

Doom Patrol (DC Universe) *
Type: Super-hero drama
The show is weird. Alan Tudyk is a villain. Highly recommended.
Longevity: ★★★★ – Lean into the self-referential.

The Expanse (Amazon) *
Type: Science-fiction drama
Quality hard sci-fi. I’m here for it.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – Thankfully got saved by Amazon, which means it’ll probably last a hot minute.

The Fix (ABC) *
Type: Procedural
Heads-up: it’s not a fix for that bug in your operating system.
Longevity: ★★★★ – Hard to predict off a couple of episodes.

Nightflyers/The Passage/Roswell, New Mexico (Syfy/FOX/The CW) *
Type: Genre drama
Not based on the novel Push by Sapphire.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – Mid-season genre shows will always be at risk (and one of the three is already cancelled).

The Order (Netflix) *
Type: Supernatural drama
All hail our binge deity.
Longevity: ★★★★ – Too new, too fresh, too too.

The Orville (FOX) *
Type: Science-fiction drama
A true Star Trek:TNG heir which is actually not that read.
Longevity: ★★★★ – Long season gaps and procedural elements last for a while.


2019 Trends

A gigantic 109 (!) dramas are analyzed on this year’s TV spec script list (compared to 104 last season). We keep expanding the definition of “too much television”, even though, like with half-hours, we’re seeing a level of stagnation.

The breakdown of content between network, linear cable and OTTs is also fairly even, with respectively 39, 37 and 32 dramas for each. Last year saw new entrant CBS All-Access, and this time we have DC Universe. It’s likely that our 2020 drama list will feature even more OTT players (Disney+, Apple+, etc.). They still don’t have more offerings than linear channels when it comes to spec opportunities, but that will undoubtedly change in years to come.

Sci-fi, fantasy, and superhero dramas also have a strong showing, which proves the staying power of genre television. That doesn’t mean they’re as widely read as their more “traditional” drama counterparts. In particular, overt science-fiction series from cable and OTTs (The Expanse, Altered Carbon, The OA, Legion, Star Trek) seem to not get the reads they should. Hard to tell if this trend will continue.
Like last year, we’re continuing to see the popularity of anthology series winding down. However, we’re only months away from new OTT offerings in that format, so things may change soon.

Overall, it’s a whole lot of TV drama on a whole lot of TV platforms. Fragmentation of content may mean more opportunities for some, but also more safe bets on tried auspices. Knowing your voice — and finding the right show to spec to fit that voice — is as crucial as ever.

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