I’m often asked “what’s the best spec script to submit?” I can only speak for comedies. For dramas I say cover all your bases and do a CSI: DEADWOOD. There is no hard and fast rule but I, and most sitcom producers I know, prefer scripts of existing shows over pilots. We want to see how well you can write other people’s characters and fit into other people’s styles. That’s what you’ll be faced with if you get an assignment.
So then the question is “what show do I pick?” Not HOPE & FAITH. Select a current show you like and think you know the best. “Current” is the key word here. Once a show is cancelled the shelf life for your spec is about six months. So don’t start that ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT you’ve been developing. And I hope you didn’t pour a lot of time and effort into a spec KITCHEN CONFIDENTIAL. When RAYMOND went off the air everyone was sad but show runners. No more reading fifty RAYMONDS a day when trying to staff! And for that same reason, please let this be WILL & GRACE’S last year! The good news is if you’ve got a spec FRASIER you can just change the names and send it out as an OUT OF PRACTICE. And of course you never have to worry with a SIMPSONS because they will go on making new episodes forever.
You do not have to write an episode of the show you’re submitting to. STILL STANDING will read KING OF QUEENS and vice versa. In fact, it’s tougher to sell a spec of the show you’re submitting to because they know that show so well. On the other hand, you could make up the names of the YES, DEAR characters and most show runners wouldn’t know the difference. But be careful. The show runners need to at least have heard of the show. For that reason I wouldn’t recommend specing a RODNEY.
Here are a few other things to consider: The SIMPSONS and FAMILY GUY might really show off your funny but they’re cartoons. That might hurt your chances of getting an assignment on a live show, unless it’s a live cartoon show like MALCOLM. CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM allows you to push the envelope but the dialogue is improvised. There is no such thing as a real CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM script. So your spec might feel a little artificial. Of course you could always just write “Larry does something funny here” but I wouldn’t recommend it.
Unfortunately, there are not a lot of great shows out there at the moment. What I think we’ll see this year is everybody writing a MY NAME IS EARL. It’s clearly the best of the new crop. The only caution I give you is that EVERYBODY will be writing one. If that doesn’t concern you (or you’ve written it already) I say go for it. If it does then some suitable alternates might be SCRUBS, TWO AND A HALF MEN, EVERYBODY HATES CHRIS, or HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER (a far cry from the CHEERS, TAXI, MASH, COSBY days).
Then there are the hour sorta-comedies. DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES, BOSTON LEGAL, HOUSE (when patients aren’t going into spasms). These all have very specific tones. Hard to nail but if you do it could be a home run.
But at the end of the day it still is which show best fits your voice and sensibility? Good luck, and just so you know – the characters on YES, DEAR are Greg, Kim, Christine, and Jimmy. And the main character on RODNEY is Rodney.