Monday, September 26, 2005

What shows should I spec?

I get this question a lot, primarily because I stuck my neck out in the Artful Writer Forum and responded to someone's plea for help in determining which shows to spec. My knowledge is gleaned from screenwriting teachers, peers and others in a position to know (attached to agencies or prodcoms). I've updated my list, so I'm presenting it here.

Note: Where a show falls in whether it should be one to spec does not necessarily reflect on the quality of the show. This is about perception. NCIS maybe one of the best shows on TV (I have no idea), but if no one (re: agents) is watching it, it probably won't get noticed. Conversely, CSI has been 'done to death' in specs, so you should go to these shows as a 'last resort'.

Okay, here's the list, my commentary to follow:

Good shows to spec:

The Shield
The O.C. (not sure about the cred, but it probably has enough viewership to allow for a spec)
Medium (Patricia Arquette's win and the continued ratings seal the deal on this one)
Rescue Me
Gray's Anatomy

Borderline, possible 2nd spec:

Cold Case
Without a Trace
Veronica Mars
Boston Legal
Battlestar Galactica
Law and Order: SVU or CI
The Sopranos

Glut of specs for:

CSI (every flavor)
Law and Order

Very difficult, but boy would you stand out from the crowd:

24 (forget it!!)
Desperate Housewives (and this is considered a 'comedy' but it's an hour-long, so treat it as such for spec purposes)

Not respected enough to spec or getting on in years:

Crossing Jordan
The West Wing
Gilmore Girls
One Tree Hill
Las Vegas

Cable shows in general are not good for specs. Exceptions would be HBO and FX shows which are listed. I have heard 'The Dead Zone' is a good spec, and I know someone thinking of writing a 'The 4400' spec, so take that for what it's worth.

How will the new shows shake out? There are still many weeks to go before we can say with certainty which new shows will make the cut for another year and will therefore be wide-open for spec writing.


naugehyde said...

agents are one thing. show runners are another. some like to read stage plays even. last year the scuttlebutt was that an original pilot of all things was the hot spec.

i agree with most of your suggestions but think Deadwood belongs with 24 and Desperate Housewives. House (as you so deftly proved) is spec'able so long as you don't fret the medical details and capture the House character. it's unlikely a doctor will read your spec so making your house spec medically sound rather than just sound medically sound is unnecessary. hell, the show isn't medically sound.

As for Deadwood, added to the difficulties of spec'ing any serial drama are 1)capturing the dialog (can't just throw in a few "cocksuckers!" to make it work. it's down right shakespearian) and 2) doing justice to the subtlety and intricacy that is a Deadwood episode. My worry would be that a Deadwood spec that is appropriately subtle and intricate would go over the head of most readers.

Anonymous said...

I am still standing by my comment that the Lost spec you let me read was brilliant, and I hope you are keeping up with it