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Spec Script 2009 – What is hot and what is not

UPDATE: A new updated 2019 Drama version is available here.
A new updated 2019 Comedy version is available here.

‘Tis the season to write great scripts.
Staffing season is fast approaching and I’ve been perusing the various blogs in search of good spec advices, so I decided to put all those info in common into a clear list of speccable drama shows.
The ideal portfolio would probably be composed of three specs script.
One safe, “mainstream”, another more marginal, “borderline”, and a third which would be an original pilot/feature.
Basically balance the “safe” with the “risky”, the “light” with the “dark”, and procedurals with genre shows.

The shows are divided into 4 somewhat self-explanatory categories regarding their appeal to readers and how well they are known/read:
– Over-specced (forget it)
– Mainstream (everyone’s doing it)
– Wild Cards (soon, everyone will do it)
– Outsiders (get out of the pack)

There is also a grade regarding the shows’ longevity in relation to specs of said shows using the greatest grading system on Earth: stars.

★★★★★ – Excellent
★★★★ – Very Good
★★★★★ – Average
★★★★★ – Fair
★★★★ – Poor

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

C. S. I./Law & Order (CBS/NBC)
Let’s begin with the obvious.
Once the hottest specs in town, now not so much.
Longevity: ★★★★ – The type of spec that is probably going to get real old real fast. I wouldn’t start a new one, it’s been over-done.

House (FOX)
A now-classic medical procedural yet slowly fading in demand.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – Even though FOX is probably going to renew the show for several years to come, speccability is going down fast for House.

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

Dexter (Sho)
Seems like this once-must-have spec won’t pass another season. Probably the last “hot” year for Dex.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – Clearly not as in high demand as it was a couple of years ago but should live for another year or two.

Bones (FOX)
I don’t know the show well enough, but from what I can gather, it’s a solid procedural.
Longevity: ★★★★ -Steady ratings on the verge of 10M viewers should ensure another couple of seasons.

Mad Men (AMC)
The hotest spec on the market right now. Everyone and their mothers seems to be doing one. Has obviously gone mainstream given the amount of specs produced around it.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – AMC is not going to let this one slide.

Gossip Girl (The CW)
If you’re aiming for this type of show then probably the show to spec.
Longevity : ★★★★★ – Do you really think The CW is going to cancel that show anytime soon?

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

Fringe (FOX)
Clearly the fresh FOX show to spec right now with a lot of potential.
Longevity : ★★★★ – Unless the show tanks in the ratings and/or FOX finds a new hit show next year, Fringe surely has at least a second and third season pretty much guaranteed with 24 and Prison Break soon gone and no real lighthouse shows for the network.

The Mentalist (CBS)
A classic CBS procedural that, given its ratings, is most likely the new Cold Case/Without a Trace.
Longevity: ★★★★★ – Given the fact that C.S.I./Cold Case/Without a Trace still continue, the show probably has a few years ahead of it

Dollhouse (FOX)
One might think a very speccable show as the serialized nature of the show successfully balances out the SF aspect, but the risk may be be too great.
Longevity: ★★★★ – I wouldn’t hold my breath given the atrocious ratings and the Friday timeslot on FOX. Wait for a definite renewal to start on that spec.

Flashpoint (CBS)
Well…We’ve discussed in depth this already. Its freshness should give you a wide array of stories, and its procedural aspect should give it a wide enough reach.
Longevity: ★★★★Flashpoint rules the Fridays, no reason to get canceled yet.

Chuck (NBC)
Fun, light-hearted spy drama with a lot of story elements to choose from.
Longevity: ★★★★ – Unless NBC cancels the show (doubtful given the Super-Bowl and 3-D money behind it), there’s still a couple of years ahead.

90210 (The CW)
Will soon join in the ranks of Gossip Girl.
Longevity : ★★★★★ – Same question Gossip Girl: Why cancel it?

The shows (mostly cable) you may be tempted to take a risk on, getting you over the rest of the pack.
After that, it depends on the willingness of the reader.
Who knows, maybe the showrunner is into less popular shows and will value your risk-taking.

Breaking Bad (AMC)
Not as major as Mad Men but clearly a lot of potential. Might prove hard to spec though.
Longevity : ★★★★ – Seems like AMC is on a streak so it most likely will renew the show for a couple of years at the very least as it will become more and more speccable.

Leverage (TNT)
Perhaps a new dark horse. The show is fresh enough to give a new spin on the heist and con storyline of your choice.
Longevity: ★★★★ – A second season order bodes well for this new show.

Burn Notice/Psych (USA)
Good light procedurals and both shows are not majorly specced right now.
Longevity: ★★★★ – I don’t see any reason why USA would cancel those shows anytime soon as the network doesn’t have much else going for it.

Even though it’s obvious only the major, more or less “speccable”, shows around were put down on this list, it’s interesting to note the rise of the basic cable spec market (AMC, TNT, USA) yet there is no real ABC nor HBO contender this year, mostly because ABC only has either dying or over-specced shows (Ugly Betty, Grey’s Anatomy) and HBO doesn’t have that much shows anymore.

You can still try the
very risky route of speccing The Tudors for instance, but be sure to see check if who you’re sending it to will actually read it.

Also, try to net get too invested in a spec (even an almost-surefire Fringe) unless you know the show has been renewed.

As for the Comedies, well, I don’t know much about that, except what probably everyone else knows: 30 Rock is in and The Office is over-specced.

Good luck!

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