Monday, August 16, 2010

Do not try this at home!

I have read some bad specs in my time and now offer some suggestions of what not to do based on actual scripts I have read…or at least attempted to read.

Don’t view the show from the perspective of a fly. I once read a WINGS spec as seen by a buzzing fly. I offer this as the first example because I know so many young writers fall into this same trap.

Don’t put yourself into the show and make yourself the lead character. I once read a CHEERS where Alan had more lines than Sam & Diane combined. Alan? Who’s Alan? Alan was one of the extras. And so he remained.

And just because people tell you you look like Kaley Cuoco (pictured above) doesn’t mean you should write a BIG BANG THEORY entitled “Penny’s Sister”. If I get a script with a photo attached I know I’m in trouble.

Don't submit specs for canceled series. You are not going to get a job off your spec OLD CHRISTINE or I MARRIED JOAN.

Don’t hand write your script, no matter how good your penmanship. Send your spec in a UCLA blue book and you’ll get an F.

Don’t invent a format.

Know the characters. I read a spec MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW where Mary wondered what to get her husband for his birthday. Her “husband”???!

Keep in mind the production parameters. A MASH I once read featured this:

EXT. YANKEE STADIUM – DAY

Hawkeye is on the mound during the World Series. 60,000 people
cheer.

Huh????? Ask yourself the following question: Can anybody other than Peter Jackson or James Cameron make this? And if the answer is no, especially for a multi-camera show that takes place in a living room, then don’t do it.

Similarly, avoid dream sequences. THE MIDDLE is not looking for the next Fellini.

Don't require 3D or IMAX for your sitcom pilot to work.

Don’t hinge your show on stunt casting. I read a BECKER where former President Jimmy Carter came in for a check-up and offered dating advice. Yeah, President Carter gets his physicals in the Bronx. And yeah, President Carter is always available to guest on a sitcom and advise a character to say whatever is necessary to get laid.

I was going to recommend you don’t do like one aspiring writer and make a joke in a CHEERS about Diane’s pussy because it’s crude, offensive, and inappropriate, but I saw the same joke two weeks ago on TWO AND A HALF MEN.

Still, I’d like to think there is some line of decorum and taste left. I once read a NEWSRADIO where the story was the Dave Foley character comes into his office in the morning and discovers a semen stain on his couch. Then the episode went downhill.

Don’t marry off any of the main characters.

Don’t kill off any of the main characters.

Don’t go the first ten pages before doing a joke. This even applies to many drama specs.

Don’t do the “supersize” hour episode.

The last sentence in your script should not be “To Be Continued”.

Don’t change the characters’ reality to fit your story. Tracy Jordan is not Jewish. THAT’S why he can’t have a bar mitzvah.

Don’t include a cover letter telling the producer that you sent him a copy of the script months ago and that he was shirking his responsibility by not reading it. Our agent did this once and trust me, David Lloyd was not amused.

And finally, avoid this ploy: I once received a spec MASH with a note that read “This script was written by my brother. On his way to the post office to mail it he was hit by a car and killed. I’m sure he would have wanted you to read it anyway. P.S. If you want any changes I can make them.” He received a touching rejection sympathy card.

Just remember this, when producers read your script they want to like it. They want to discover the next Larry Gelbart. It only helps them. Don’t shoot yourself in the foot by doing something stupid like relying on Jimmy Carter to get your laughs.

20 comments:

R. Shane said...

I've been hearing a lot of advice in favor writing original spec pilots for one-hour dramas rather than spec an existing show. Should I have a sitcom pilot in my portfolio as well, or will my 'The Office' spec (kidding) suffice?

Kathy said...

Actually, Tracy Jordan did have a werewolf bar mitzvah...

Richard J. Marcej said...

"Don’t view the show from the perspective of a fly. I once read a WINGS spec as seen by a buzzing fly. I offer this as the first example because I know so many young writers fall into this same trap."

A venus fly trap, no doubt.

Rockgolf said...

Insert WKRP in Cincinnati joke here

Anonymous said...

Recycling is good!

;)

Matt said...

I think I've already read this spec!

;-)

Paul said...

Instead of posting photos of Natalie Wood when you can't find an image to go with a post, you should just post photos of Kaley Cuoco.

Gary said...

Hey, where was the WKRP theme song over the weekend? Or WOLD?
Anything to allow a photo of Kaley is fine with me. But Pres. Carter showing up for a physical on Becker? That is a bit of a stretch. Tip O'Neil, however, that's a whole nother horse-radish of a different genus. I liked Tip. And Adm. Crowe, too. They'd never venture to the Bronx, either! Fred Dreyer might have...

Mike said...

Even though I'm gay, a script with pictures of someone who looks like Kaley Cuoco would definitely get my attention.

(This is why I am in a position of no power. That and sexual harassment regulations.)

Tom Quigley said...

RE: Kaley Cuoco -- Wonder which item from one of the four major food groups makes her lose control?....

Buttermilk Sky said...

John Glenn was on a FRASIER episode -- and he was funny. Mayor Bloomberg used to show up on LAW & ORDER occasionally. I just saw Al Gore on 30 ROCK. So I'd say go ahead and try for Jimmy Carter. Clearly these people are not that busy, and they love to be on television.

sephim said...

... ?

Well what the fuck DID Mary get her husband for his birthday?

amyp3 said...

But I'll bet that last guy wrote for Klinger really well. ("Mother dead. Father dead. Mother dead, father sick ...")

blogward said...

"Don’t go the first ten pages before doing a joke. This even applies to many drama specs."

How true, how true.

Anonymous said...

Butternilk Sky, reread the title? "Don't try this at Home!".
Ken is not saying it isn't done, he's saying don't YOU do it in a spec. Makes perfect sense to me, you're trying to get IN, get accepted, and you're already making THEIR job harder? I don't think so. They may be inclined to want to like it, but if you are high-maintenance from the start, they gotta be thinking "pass".

Joe Janes said...

“This script was written by my brother. On his way to the post office to mail it he was hit by a car and killed. I’m sure he would have wanted you to read it anyway. P.S. If you want any changes I can make them.”

I actually think that's very funny, but, of course, it depends on if the writer meant it to be funny or was truly trying to scam you.

James Tillery said...

that's the great part about Tracy Jordan -- I think you'd be hard pressed to find anything that his character's weirdness couldn't justify

Dan McLaughlin said...

Love the blog Ken! I was scrolling down past todays entry and I see "Don't try this at home", then scroll another couple of inches and there is a pic of a very hot looking Kaley Cuoco.

Aww, c'mon Ken! I'd LOVE to try that at home!

selection7 said...

Got some really good laughs out your post, thanks Ken.

Albert Giesbrecht said...

Actually that Jimmy Carter thing sounds great, there could be a show called "Carter Country"...oh wait.