Thursday, April 27, 2006

My spec is Earl (R)

...as it would say in TV GUIDE.

I’m heading to Chicago for the weekend to see my daughter at Northwestern. Travelogue will follow sometime next week. Not sure how often I’ll be able to post this weekend but I’ll do my best to check in. Meanwhile, today I’m reprising a very popular post from five months ago dealing with spec scripts. Staffing season is right around the corner and I’ve got a lot of new readers so I figured this article is even timelier now than when I first posted it. I’ve also updated it a little because no one remembers OUT OF PRACTICE or KITCHEN CONFIDENTIAL. I hope this is helpful.

*********

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 EMILY’S REASONS WHY NOT. 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. You’ve got five minutes left for your ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT. And I hope you didn’t pour a lot of time and effort into a spec TEACHERS. When RAYMOND went off the air everyone was sad but showrunners. No more reading fifty RAYMONDS a day when trying to staff! Same for this year’s departing WILL & GRACE! (although in that case I always found it hard to tell a good W&G from a bad one).

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 or anything on the WB.

Here are a few other things to consider: The SIMPSONS and FAMILY GUY might really show off your funny but they’re cartoons. They don’t show your ability to write real people and emotions. So unless your specific goal is to write for a cartoon or the GEORGE LOPEZ SHOW, I’d say stick to live-action sitcoms. 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 THE OFFICE, SCRUBS (rumors suggest it’s coming back next year), TWO AND A HALF MEN, EVERYBODY HATES CHRIS (although the bloom is definitely off that rose), 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 (they did a black basketball player big-dick anal sex joke last week, thus qualifying them as a legitimate comedy). 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 (I think).

3 comments:

Whaledawg said...


EVERYBODY HATES CHRIS (although the bloom is definitely off that rose)


Really? I've only watched a few episodes but they seemed good. And everyone seems to talk about it like it's a great show.

sju said...

If you ever get a chance you should check out a CTV show called Jeff Ltd. It's on in Canada, so probably nowhere else in the world. The thing is, however, is that it's a great show. I used to be totally averse to Canadian television until I watched this. I didn't know there were people with senses of humor left here.

It feels like Arrested Development only not as hectic and just as funny.

Mr. Bennet said...

Nice stuff. I thought I'd do a Simpsons, just because it seems everyone has to have a Simpsons script. I'll probably try Two and a Half Men or The Office as well.