Tonight we celebrate the ten-year anniversary of one of the most iconic and ground-breaking shows in TV history.
And no, I’m not talking about LAX.

ABC’s Lost has had an impact on the television landscape larger than even other decade-long shows. Whatever thoughts about its declining quality, it is impossible to neglect how much influence it has had on the industry. Not only a production level, or even visual, but also in terms of storytelling.
For all its flaws, Lost was truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and experiment.

Personally, there’s no doubt Lost was one of the most influential shows in my life (regardless of its last two seasons). Not only was I involved with the fan community since literally day one (yay The Fuselage), it was also the purveyor of lessons in bending writing conventions.
I may go into greater details as to why Lost was so important to me (you can see a glimpse of it through the long-standing site tag).
But in the meantime, let’s celebrate the show that was.

In honor of the anniversary, I am pinning the great articles we posted during “Lost Week” (almost five years ago, around the series finale).
Check them out:

How Lost revolutionized storytelling

Before telegraphed flashsideways and magical caves, there was a time when Lost told its complex and often surprising story through other means. The mythological show brought to television seldom used attributes to entertain and mystify its audience. Here’s how the groundbreaking series revolutionized television storytelling.

Hindsight: Quotes from Lost’s Carlton Cuse & Damon Lindelof

Many, and I mean many, mysteries have been left unsolved on Lost. Even worse, there has been over the years a lot of double-talk from the series’ showrunners, Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse. Let’s take a look at six seasons of misguided attempts at trying to convince the fans that, don’t worry, answers are coming.

A letter from a Lost writer

(who was apparently just an intern from Bad Robot)

It was real. Everything that happened on the island that we saw throughout the 6 seasons was real. Forget the final image of the plane crash, it was put in purposely to f*&k with people’s heads and show how far the show had come. They really crashed. They really survived. They really discovered Dharma and the Others. The Island keeps the balance of good and evil in the world. It always has and always will perform that role.

Lost Finale Thoughts: Artificiality at its best (and worst)

written by guest-poster Lordy

One word can describe the Lost series finale: Artificiality. Don’t get me wrong, it was not easy to be Darlton while writing the series finale of, arguably, the most-talked about TV series since the creation of the Internet. But summarizing that the show would be satisfying only for “believers”, a.k.a. viewers that wouldn’t obsess over mythological answers given in the finale, is ultimately a very cynical way of saying “if you don’t like that your version of the show living in your head is not the story we want to tell, that’s YOUR problem”.

Lost Finale Thoughts: From The End to the beginning

Once upon a time, author Stephen King issued a challenge to the Lost writers: “Minus the continuing presence of David Duchovny, X-Files blundered off into a swamp of black oil, and in that swamp it died. If J.J. Abrams, Damon Lindelof, and their band of co-conspirators allow something similar to happen with Lost, I’m going to be even more pissed, because this show is better. Memo to Abrams and staff writers: Your responsibilities include knowing when to write The End.” Flash-forward to five years later: the 100-minute long Lost series finale, abstemiously entitled The End, airs on ABC.

Today it was confirmed that Stephen Colbert would replace David Letterman on CBS’ Late Show.
Today is a sad day.

As a big fan of Stephen Colbert, I am not happy.
The Colbert Report is–was (*sigh*) the smartest dry-wit satire on television. It surpassed The Daily Show years ago in that regard.
This kind of feels like my parents are divorcing.

It is, truly, the end of an era.

The Report

I’ve been watching the Report since it premiered in 2005. Since truthiness was “The Word” and he danced with Barney Frank, all the way through his Peabodys, Emmys, On Notices, Olympic try-outs, shaved head, the HD transition, and Better Knows (plus bonus Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear). Ever since it began, I count it among 3 still-on-the-air shows I haven’t missed a single episode of (with The Daily Show and Saturday Night Live). I’ve also attended a few tapings because, well, I love it.

(RIP Ham Rove. Never forget.)

The brilliance of the Report has, and will always be, its ability to shine a grotesque light on complex political or social problems.
It transcended The Daily Show‘s mere “news mocking” a while ago, and it has only grown stronger since.
The Colbert Report made us laugh, but it also made us care. The show successfully exposed political maneuverings that only someone with the reach of an entire nation (the Colbert Nation that is), could showcase in its ugliness. PACs, political campaigns, congressional hearings, over-expenditures, social issues. Take your pick.

Many have written better pieces praising the genius that is The Colbert Report, so I’ll simply say this:
When The Colbert Report finally ends, it will be great loss to American television.

The Character

In addition to losing The Colbert Report, we’re also losing the most important member of the Colbert Nation.
In fact, despite having watched over a thousand episodes, I still don’t really know Stephen Colbert. I only know Stephen Colbert (c).

The greatness of the Report, and what clearly has drawn such a fan base, is the genius that is Stephen Colbert (c).
His caricature has been so honed over the years, that Colbert is the only person to have a Wikipedia entry for himself and his alt persona.
I’ve seen Colbert in Exit 57 and Strangers with Candy, and both were fun, but neither approach the power he has when he is Stephen Colbert (c).

Having a character that is a caricature gives him (and us) an excuse to say things he would not otherwise be able to express. In other words, freedom.
Do people remember Stephen Colbert (c)’s take-down of George W. Bush at the Correspondents’ Dinner?
The true success of the character is how he uses that character. He gives us an uncomfortable reflection of our society, all through comedy.

His amazing interview skills were able to be used because of the freedom to “grill” political guests, or controversial people.
Stephen Colbert is clearly extremely talented, yet all the things that we (the audience) appreciate about him have almost entirely been through the lens of Stephen Colbert (c).

If the #CancelColbert campaign has taught us anything, it’s that we need Stephen Colbert (c) now more than ever.

The Late Show

I don’t think network late-night has seen anything remotely “edgy” or political since–well–ever.
And this trend will probably continue given that Late Show with Stephen Colbert will not be hosted by his character.
He is apparently bringing his entire Report staff over, but will they be able to produce the same comedic genius they have been for the past decade?

What I fear most is that, simply put, Stephen Colbert’s talents will be wasted on a a-political network late show.
He’ll have twice the screen-time to fill, on a network, with the FCC breathing down his neck, and mainstream stars to interview. And all without Stephen Colbert (c).
Of course, all of this is still over a year away, and nobody really knows what The Late Show with Stephen Colbert is going to look like.
But regardless of the end-product, it is almost a guarantee that it won’t be as subversive, as political, as satirical, or even as funny as The Colbert Report.
Because it just can’t.

I’m happy for Stephen Colbert.
I’m just not happy for the rest of us.

And that’s the word.

A brand new 2017 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.
Canceled or dead shows have been removed since last season’s spec list.

Given Warner Bros’ new 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.

Burn Notice (USA)
Type: Light action procedural
The fact it’s entering its sixth season should give you an idea of why Burn Notice is here.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – Very formulaic but with enough of a twist to keep its fresh vibe.

CSI/Criminal Minds (CBS)
Type: Police procedurals
“Never give up, never surrender” should be their motto.
Longevity: ★★★★ – Past its prime for about five years now.

Dexter (Sho)
Type: Serialized crime drama
Following last season’s cliffhanger, it is hard to tell where the series is headed
Longevity: ★★★★★ – Only two seasons left.

Grey’s Anatomy/Private Practice/House (ABC/FOX)
Type: Medical procedurals
I’m going to bet a lot of people are able to say: “Been there, specced that”.
Longevity: ★★★★ – Virtually all medical storylines have already been explored through those three shows.

Mad Men (AMC)
Type: Serialized historical drama
“Out of sight, out of mind” does not hold true for the AMC classic that is still amongst the most popular.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – One of the over-specced shows with possibly the longest longevity factor attached to it. Doesn’t mean the competition isn’t fierce.

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

Boardwalk Empire (HBO)
Type: Serialized historical drama
A lot of people have fallen in love with Steve Buscemi’s eyes apparently.
Longevity: ★★★★ – A third season, good ratings, great cast, big producers.

Bones/Castle (FOX/ABC)
Type: Light police procedural
Possibly the last season in the mainstream category for Bones. Castle on the other hand probably has at least a few years ahead of it.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – One is renewed for an eighth season, the other is still awaiting its fate on a fifth.

Breaking Bad (AMC)
Type: Serialized character/family drama
One of the best shows on TV, and one of the hardest ones to spec.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – This is going be its last season, albeit cut in two, which gives a bonus year before you can say farewell to it.

Fringe (FOX)
Type: Science-fiction procedural
There’s only so much science-fiction shows on TV right now, and Fringe is clearly the go-to drama in its genre. This will probably be the last season where I can say it hasn’t been over-speced already.
Longevity: ★★★★ – Highly volatile.

Glee (FOX)
Type: Light serialized high-school dramedy
As popular in the spec world as on TV, the danger of a Glee spec continues to be that a major part of it will end up being lyrics. Some people might take that for laziness.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – Beware: major cast overhaul upcoming.

The Good Wife (CBS)
Type: Legal procedural
A very smart show to spec, if only for its near-perfect hybrid mix of procedural and serialization. Plus it’s on a network, which makes it more well-known than some of its cable counterpart.
Longevity: ★★★★ – A slow-burner that will probably garner a few more seasons.

Gossip Girl/90210 (The CW)
Type: Teen dramas
Last season for at least one of the two as being considered “mainstream”. Perhaps there are better show alternatives to consider.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – Potentially entering its sixth season this fall, Gossip Girl has still some life left into it. 90210 continues to be hit or miss on the cancellation scale.

Hawaii Five-0 (CBS)
Type: Police/Action procedural
As expected last season, Hawaii Five-0 has become a great action-procedural mainstream spec to add to your arsenal.
Longevity: ★★★★ – Renewed and with a long life ahead of it.

Justified (FX)
Type: Police procedural
Justified is another series that completely exploded into the Mainstream category and has become one of the top specced show around.
Longevity: ★★★★ – A fourth season is upcoming, and me thinks it will keep on going.

The Mentalist (CBS)
Type: Police procedural
In its prime.
Longevity: ★★★★ – Already going on to its fifth season, The Mentalist is still the most solid police procedural around.

Type: Police/Action procedural
Similar to Hawaii Five-0, NCIS:LA seems to deliver to people looking for an action/police hybrid drama.
Longevity: ★★★★ – Let me guess; renewed?

Sons of Anarchy (FX)
Type: Serialized ensemble drama
Similar to Breaking Bad, Sons of Anarchy‘s serialized elements may prove difficult to spec. With that said, the FX series has definitely grown into becoming a high speccer.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – Those storylines, they keep on moving!

True Blood (HBO)
Type: Serialized fantasy drama
Although on the verge of being overspecced, the (supposed) unpredictability of the show makes it prone to fresh takes on the main characters. Or so they say.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – The upcoming season is the last for Alan Ball, and the show is catching up on the books. Be careful.

The Vampire Diaries (The CW)
Type: Serialized fantasy drama
On paper, it seems like a great, popular choice when it comes to fantasy series, with that said…
Longevity: ★★★★★ – …the constant flux in storylines may make you mad enough that you’d want to avoid speccing this one.

The Walking Dead (AMC)
Type: Ensemble/horror drama
Undeniably a very popular show, both on screen and on the page. The strong stand-alone aspect of the series makes it prone to lessen the serialized elements within your spec.
Longevity: ★★★★ – Regardless of your stance about how good or bad the show is, it’s not going anywhere anytime soon.

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

Game of Thrones (HBO) *
Type: Serialized fantasy drama
People think they can easily write great adaptations, which makes Game of Thrones the best candidate for top-specced show of 2013. But just because you love the book doesn’t mean you can write it. And there’s also this small issue of coming up with original stand-alone stories not found in the novels.
Longevity: ★★★★ – Hugely successful and over six books. Enough said.

Homeland (Sho) *
Type: Serialized thriller
The Showtime series made it surprisingly big last season, which inevitably transformed it into a popular spec show.
Longevity: ★★★★ – The serialization may put some people off, but it shouldn’t be that difficult to craft an episode around a specific subset of Abu Nazir’s terrorist plot (oh, look, free advice).

Leverage (TNT)
Type: Light heist/con/action procedural
Take it now before it goes over the hill.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – Five seasons and still going strong; however, the amount of original cons left are dwindling by the episode.

Nikita (The CW)
Type: Action/spy procedural
The only spy drama option as of now (that will surely change next year).
Longevity: ★★★★ – Average ratings and a pricey show means The CW could pull the plug, but Nikita is almost its only viable alternative series to the teen dramas.

Once Upon A Time (ABC) *
Type: Fantasy family drama
The most family-friendly show on this list, OUAT will probably be very specced by this time next year.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – A near-infinite pool of fairy tales coupled with big ratings means ABC has found its new long-standing drama.

Parenthood (NBC)
Type: Serialized family drama
First world problems: family edition.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – The serialized nature of Parenthood makes it hard to create a true stand-alone storyline, but a renewal is quasi-certain.

Person of Interest (CBS) *
Type: Crime procedural
The sci-fi touch is light but nonetheless makes Person of Interest an interest new addition to the crime procedural arena.
Longevity: ★★★★ – Renewal is a done deal.

Revenge (ABC) *
Type: Serialized family drama
The ultimate breakout soap of the past season, Revenge will clearly become a great series to spec…
Longevity: ★★★★★ – …depending on where the dominoes will fall at the end of this season.

The Secret Circle (The CW) *
Type: Serialized fantasy drama
If you feel The Vampire Diaries has been overdone, then this is for you.
Longevity: ★★★★ – Is it going to last? Two words: Kevin Williamson

Smash (NBC)
Type: Serialized musical drama
Make way for another musical series. Unlike Glee, you can showcase your lyrics talent given the show’s use of original songs.
Longevity: ★★★★ – Already renewed.

Touch (FOX) *
Type: Serialized fantasy/family drama
It is probably too soon to begin thinking about writing a spec for this mid-season show.
Longevity: ★★★★ – There’s too much serendipity in Touch for me to care, but at least it adds an interesting dynamic to the usual “problem-solving” storyline.

Treme (HBO)
Type: Serialized historical drama
Even if Treme is not that well known to be a good stand-out spec, let’s just say going toe-to-toe with David Simon is not recommended.
Longevity: ★★★★ – A third seasons premiering this fall and a fourth one already planned; looks like New Orleans is en vogue.

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.

Hart of Dixie (The CW) *
Type: Serialized medical/family drama
If you’re aiming for broad appeal with a cute soapesque family/medical drama, Hart of Dixie will suit you just fine.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – More WB than CW, the series will most likely always be on the bubble.

Psych (USA)
Type: Light crime procedural
A little less used (and known) than its spy counterpart making it not quite as overspecced.
Longevity: ★★★★★Psych‘s run is impressive, with a recent renewal for another full-16 episode season order, continuing its records as the longest-running series on USA Nework.

Southland (TNT)
Type: Police procedural
Southland offers a great option in the “edgy/realistic” police drama procedural.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – Once upon a time, the show was on its deathbed. It is now a popular basic-cable drama, in more ways than one.

Warehouse 13 (Syfy)
Type: Science-fiction procedural
Despite growing old, there are almost no purely procedural contenders in this genre. Like Eureka, Warehouse 13 will probably keep this slot until it bites the dust.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – You can never tell what crazy move Syfy will do next to shoot itself in the head.

White Collar (USA)
Type: Light crime procedural
A clear new winner for the blue-sky dramas from USA.
Longevity: ★★★★ – No way Jose that this show is biting the dust anytime soon.

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

Blue Bloods (CBS)
Type: Police/family drama
Blue Bloods is still too much under the radar to be considered as a main spec to send out, however the series offers an interesting family/procedural dynamic not really found on any other network shows.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – It’s on Fridays, so you can never know for sure.

Body of Proof/Harry’s Law (ABC/NBC)
Type: Medical/Legal procedurals
The shows are fairly weak to begin with, so trying to break out of the crowd by speccing either of them is disrespectful to your writing.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – Even if renewed, it would be quite hard to write a compelling episode.

Forty-five shows are listed this year and, like last season, a few things can be observed.

Network dramas are coming back in force, slowly eating away the piece of older, aging cable dramas from the big five (AMC, FX, Syfy, USA, and TNT). HBO continues to be home to bigger, grander series that are always more hazardous to spec. NBC continues to be absent for the most part, while CBS and (surprisingly) ABC are taking over the lion share, leaving FOX in the wind.

A clear trend is forming this time around when it comes to popular specced show: serialization.
With a growing and fiercer competition, people are ready to take more risks with bolder choices. Stand-alone procedurals have mostly fallen out of favor for most people, even diminishing the light character serialized dramas’ dominance of the past few years.
Interestingly enough, “fresh is best” seems also to be a new intrinsic concept for now, with first and second-season series being extremely popular out of the gate.

With pilots being the most requested samples, are we moving towards “throwaway specs”, lasting merely a season?
Fudging with mythology, choosing new shows, the classic spec rules are slowly starting to fade away.

Serial or not, as long as a script and the show reflect your voice, it ends up being all about the writing.
Make your choice.

Click here for the Comedy Spec Script list.

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.

I hope you'll answer your television calling, and join me in this creative journey.

Write on.

P.S.: New around? You should start here.

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