This post comes from TV Script Doctor Joey. Even though her name is “Joey,” she is a girl. And also an award-winning screenwriter. (Check out About Joey).
If you have a pilot or TV spec that needs help, there are few better than Joey. After you’re done reading her post, check out her TV Script Services. Or check it out before you read the post. Seriously. -Eric
The Best TV Shows to Spec in 2013
Okay, it’s that time of year again. TV writers need to start getting their specs ready for another year of workshop and fellowship applications.
The first question is always: What show should I spec?
1. Think: the best big thing.
The longer show the lasts, the longer your spec lasts. Choose something that is still relatively new but has proven it will be around for a while. (Also be aware that the WB Workshop only accepts shows already in their second season.) Don’t write The Office; don’t write 1600 Penn. You don’t want the show you spec to end soon because that’s the end of your spec.
2. Beware of the most popular specs.
Modern Family is a great show to spec. It’s going to run forever. There are lots of fun and diverse characters of all ages. Most episodes completely stand alone. And therefore everyone is writing it, which mean your Modern Family has to stand out in a field of thousands of other Modern Families. Readers are drowning in Modern Families. If you want your spec to stand out, try to write something that not everyone is writing. But if throw caution to the wind and write a popular spec, make sure your storyline will be memorable.
3. Choose something that will showcase your talent.
Are you great at writing women? Are you great at plotting complicated twists and turns? Is your strength witty banter? Courtroom drama? Suspense? Write to your strengths. Find the show that will allow you to do your absolute best writing.
4. Be aware of source material.
There’s no denying Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead are well-written and engaging television, but they create challenges when trying to spec them. If you read the source material you can write future episodes but that means eventually the show will pass you (and you’ll spoil plot points for readers, not to mention you’re not actually “creating” the plot.) If you don’t read the source material, you may alienate fans or go off in a “wrong” direction. The best way I know for one of these specs to work is to write an in-between episode: write an episode that would fit in between two already produced episodes – which is tricky. 1. It totally dates your spec. 2. It limits you – nothing that happens in your episode can have consequences outside your episode. I understand loving these shows and wanting to write a spec. But it’s very risky. Proceed with caution. But if you are passionate about these shows and have the ability to pull it off, I’d say go for it.
5. Don’t go too soft.
I watch a lot of the CW and ABC Family (Okay, MTV and Lifetime even on occasion) but those shows do not spec well. I don’t really get it. But no one wants to read them. So Vampire Diaries, Pretty Little Liars, Teen Wolf, Army Wives and Hart of Dixie aren’t your best bets. I’d even caution against USA’s “lighter” shows like Royal Pains and Necessary Roughness. When choosing a spec it’s best to stick to a major network show (ABC, CBS, NBC, FOX) or an “edgier” cable network (FX, AMC, HBO, Showtime.) I hate to say it, but if the target audience of a drama is teenagers or, ahem, women, it’s probably not a strong spec.
6. Specs of serialized shows don’t last as long.
I’m not saying, don’t write a serialized show because I believe most of the best shows are serialized. However, the basic set-up of these shows change from season to season (people die, get divorced, graduate, etc.) Those are tell-tale signs of when your spec was written – which means you will probably end up writing more specs so you can always have a “current spec.” On the other hand, a spec of a shows where each episode stands alone (crime procedurals and family sitcoms especially) may last you several seasons without feeling dated. No matter which show you choose. steer clear of any serialized elements (who’s dating who, etc) and write your episode in as much as a time bubble as you can.
7. Write a show you watch – and love!
Don’t pick a show you’ve never seen, watch a few episodes and write a spec of it. It will show. Pick a show you actually watch. With any script you write, you want to love what you’re writing: love the world, the characters, the style. If you don’t love it, your reader won’t either.
So, which TV shows should you spec? This year, some of the best current shows to spec are:
- Cougar Town
- Don’t Trust the B in Apt 23
- Happy Endings
- The League
- The Middle
- Mike & Molly
- New Girl*
- Parks and Recreation
- Two Broke Girls
- Up All Night
- Boardwalk Empire
- The Good Wife
- Hawaii Five-O
- The Mentalist
- NCIS: LA
- Once Upon a Time
- Person of Interest
- White Collar
Good luck everyone!
* These shows are on the verge of being “too popular” specs. So if you want to write them, write them now and make them memorable.