Friday, January 04, 2013

Follow up questions from yesterday's post

Yesterday’s post on what spec to write has generated a lot of Friday Questions. So let me address them today. 

First off, several people asked why I omitted NEW GIRL? Just an oversight. If you want to write one of those Fox-style shows I’d say it’s your best bet. Someone asked about writing a LOUIE. I wouldn’t. It’s soooo specific to Louis C.K.’s voice. I don’t believe anyone other than Louie can write one.

Okay. Your questions:

Andrew starts us off:

Do you think that something like Girls, where the characters tend to go through development more over the course of a season than in something like Modern Family or Big Bang Theory runs the risk of being dated very quickly? Is this the same with any show that has a lot of plot development? If you write a spec Girls script now, will it seem very dated 4 weeks into the season?

Yes. It’s harder to write a show where the characters evolve quickly because it’s like you’re shooting a moving target. And chances are you miss.

On the other hand, your show doesn’t have to be up to date up to the minute. Producers understand. If you wrote a MODERN FAMILY before Haley graduated high school, that’s still in an acceptable window. I wouldn’t, however, shop around a spec TWO AND A HALF MEN with Charlie Sheen still in it. It’s been two years and you've had more than enough time to size up the changes.  

Shows that are serialized are generally not good candidates for specs – comedies or dramas. Unless their format allows for stand-alone stories in addition to the serialized threads. An example would be THE GOOD WIFE. You could concentrate on an interesting legal case. Whether Alicia goes back to Peter or Will is not something you need to address.

Al has a couple of questions:

What do you think about writing specs for shows that are heavily "improv" type shows? I was trying to strategize what my next spec would be and happened upon an idea for "The League".

The problem with specs for shows that utilize a lot of improvisation (like THE LEAGUE or CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM) is that it’s hard to really capture the show’s voice. Your script will most likely feel “written” and thus "off."

But...

There is no other show currently on the air that has the sensibility of CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM. So if that’s your sense of humor, take a shot at it.

Remember, you don’t have to show every spec you write. If you try an episode of THE LEAGUE and don’t feel it worked, junk it.  All it cost you was time and not even paper these days.

Also, how effective is it to write a spec for a show not on a major network? There are a lot of quality shows on cable, but I'm worried producers may not be familiar enough with the show to warrant a read.

It’s perfectly acceptable to write a cable show. Depending on the show, producers might be more familiar with a cable show than a network show. Trust me, more producers know SHAMELESS than BEN AND KATE.

From Stephanie:

Do the same guidelines apply if someone wants to write for a kids' show? "Good Luck, Charlie" spec -- bad idea?

A reader claimed that Nickelodeon is not interested in reading these shows designed for tweenagers. I myself, don’t know. But if that’s the genre you feel would show you off the best then go for it. There are quite a number of Disney kidcoms so there’s clearly a market and demand. And like I keep saying, there are some terrific jokes on some of those shows – especially GOOD LUCK CHARLIE. Don’t just dismiss this form.

And finally, Johnny Walker wonders:

If YOU were going to write a spec right now, which show would you write it for?

MODERN FAMILY or PARKS AND REC. But they’re more my sensibility and I watch those shows regularly so I know them the best.  Doesn't mean you should.  

Best of luck, everyone!

18 comments:

Bg Porter said...

I know it's not gonna happen, but I would love to read a Levine Parks & Rec script.

Sean R. in NoCal said...

Sean R. from NoCal

You mentioned the Disney Channel "Kidcoms" as havingsome good jokes. As a father of tweeners who is subjected to many of them I agree there are some funny bits there, but mostly they bother me. How do writers, who I assume are adults, feel about writing scrpts where the adults are so stupid? (Or selfish, greedy etc.)For example, in one show, the father is a San Francisco police officer, but he is just so dumb that it's almost offensive as a parent and an adult. I know the target audience is kids, but I really hate watching these shows with mine.

Ken Levine said...

Bg Porter,

You're right. Not gonna happen.

Beardly Mustachington said...

Thanks yet again for the great post and recommendations. I am a bit apprehensive about writing a spec for a show that is in it's fourth season or beyond. I just feel that I am simply jumping into a vast sea. Every writer friend I know seems to have a PARKS AND REC and/or MODERN FAMILY spec in their drawer, and I was thinking of dipping my toes in something a little less saturated. GIRLS was a thought, but I was worried about the fact that it has so many heated detractors, and also the fact that the entire writing staff are women. I thought it might be a bit too bold or assuming of me. I next thought of AWKWARD, as I understand the humor and pathos of the show, and it's fresh, edgy, and well regarded. But it might also be a little too under the radar.
You mentioned RAISING HOPE, and it's a show I have a strong feel for, but I fear that it's stock has dropped a bit (along with it's ratings). Do you feel that it still has enough traction to peak the interest of a reader? I'm stuck between RAISING HOPE and AWKWARD, the latter of which I feel might be uncommon enough in the spec pile to warrant at least a bit more interest.

Beardly Mustachington said...

Oh boy. I wish I could edit comments. Abundant apologies for the few but gross grammatical errors in my previous post.

Nina Bargiel said...

I write Nick/Disney type shows, and I've never written a kids' spec (and that's my understanding from a lot of my colleagues.) You'd be better served with a FUNNY primetime that has family elements and an original pilot. Also, a lot of kids' shows are multi-cam, so a multi-cam spec is ideal (but not a must - I got my last job on a single-camera pilot spec.)

Mitchell Hundred said...

Even heavily serialized shows can have stand-alone episodes. Breaking Bad is by nature dynamic, and yet one of its best episodes is Fly. The casting and story is quite minimalist in nature, and it doesn't advance the plot in any discernible way, but it is nevertheless useful in that it allows the viewer to take stock of how the characters have developed and grown over the past few seasons. Its only flaw is that it was directed by Rian Johnson and does not star Joseph Gordon-Levitt.

Beardly Mustachington said...

Mitchell, you're correct and I believe Ken even said as much in his follow-up post. But Fly, while one of my favorite episodes, is also a "can" episode. I've been warned against writing "can" episode specs, for the same reason I've heard warnings against holiday episodes and any type of flashback episode (in a series that normally doesn't utilize flashbacks), they are very personal for the head writers and much more difficult to nail. Fly is very heavy with character development, which for a show like BREAKING BAD is equal to heavy arc (story) development, and for this reason I wouldn't equate it as much to a "monster of the week" or "standalone" episode a la THE X-FILES as I would to a trapped in a room (pod, space, cell, etc.) episode.

It's interesting because "can" episodes are so often obvious ploys to save significant budget on a season episode, and that could very well have been the case with BREAKING BAD's Fly. They are often, however, weaker moments in a show's arc, feeling forced and limited. BB took that and made it into one of the most dynamic character pieces in all of television, literally piercing a peephole into the ever-blackening soul of Walt, and endearing Mr. Pinkman to the on-the-brink stability of his partner. My co-worker found it boring. I told him he was insane to think so. One of my favorite TV episodes.

T.J. said...

I laughed reading this thinking of someone's comment a few Fridays back that they knew someone whose spec scripts were all for antiques like BEWITCHED and THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW, and that the person just couldn't understand why that was a bad idea. I mean, the folks in charge want to see what you can write here and now, right? Not what you can write that would have been perfect for 1964.

To Sean R:

I understand your reservations but part of writing professionally means there may be times you have to write what you don't particularly like if you want a paycheck. At least until you can get your own series or sign on with a series whose creative vision is in sync with your own. There were perfectly talented people who had to write . . .

SKIPPER: Gilligan! Drop those cocoanuts now!

[GILLIGAN DROPS COCOANUTS. THEY LAND ON SKIPPER'S FOOT]

SKIPPER: Ow! Gilligan...!

[SKIPPER HITS GILLIGAN WITH HAT]

. . . because they had a mortgage payment to make and groceries to buy.

Johnny Walker said...

Thanks for answering my question, Ken!

Don K. said...

Nothing from nothing, but HBO's Girls leaves me cold. I've tried watching several times and could not last longer than 10 minutes. I do not see the appeal. At all. Maybe someone here can wrote a good script for them that I can watch, although just know I can really do without seeing ANY of them naked.

Don K. said...

And another thing- THANK GOD, or whatever deity is responsible, for the new ME TV that is now showing Betwitched, Dick Van Dyke, Odd Couple (YAY), Mary Tyler Moore, Bob Newhart (Double YAY), etc. It seems this channel is trying to be what Nick at Nite or TV Land originally sought to be when they started. I sincerely hope ME TV finds a niche and stays there. Channel 20 on Direct TV for you folks that don't know.

The Comic Scholar said...

I don't know if you'll be answering spec questions next week, too, but what about specing a show from another country? E.g., could/should an American write a Doctor Who spec?

olucy said...

Beardly, I think you have your containers mixed up. Those are called bottle episodes.

Stephen said...

When a show gets a pick-up straight away (like Michael J. Fox's new show), is the pilot still shot at the same time of year as all other pilots or are they able to wait until July/August and shoot when any returning series would shoot its first episode?

Bill Haren said...

Okay, so I've written my "Modern Family" or my "Big Bang Theory" and I've got my original pilot... Now what? How do I get my masterpieces into the pass pile? (Or better yet, the "hire him!" pile?) Is there a good or bad time of year to be cold-calling agents and managers?

Beardly Mustachington said...

olucy you are correct. My bad, bottle episode even rolls off the tongue better.

Bill Haren... I don't think there's ever a "good" time for cold calling, but that doesn't mean that it's off the table. I just think that its effectiveness has been steadily declining. Have you been submitting to the "Big Six" http://www.tv-calling.com/tv-writing-fellowships-the-big-six/ ? Some folks might balk at fellowships and competitions, but I know two folks who've found work soon after exiting two of these programs (Writers on the Verge and the Nickelodeon). Worth a shot.

sedatedtabloidreader said...

I am living in the UK.

Is it worth me submitting a spec script, or will I be rejected due to geography?

Thanks.