Wednesday, February 06, 2013
Punching the puppet
A few thoughts before you lay down in the street:
The fact that you came up with a story similar to theirs says that you’re on the right track; you have a good feel for the show. Take that as an encouraging sign.
Readers are not going to hold it against you that you did something similar to what was shot. Obviously, if they did the story last season and you just now are writing it, then yeah – do your homework. But if your spec treads on something recent, people understand that those things happen.
Yes, you won’t sell that spec to that show now, but realistically, you probably wouldn’t have anyway. Except for super rare cases, the best you could hope for is that the show’s producers are impressed and call you in to do another episode for them. But you'd be happy with that I imagine.
And finally, should you find they’ve done your story it can be a great learning experience. You can compare the way you handled the story to the way they did. This happened with my partner David and me when we wrote our spec for THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW.
In our case, it was several months after we had finished the script that we saw essentially the same story on the air. (No, we never felt they stole the idea. By the time our script was submitted to them this episode was already in the can.) And it was a real eye-opener.
The story (ours and theirs) was that Murray becomes unhappy writing the news for WJM. He gets another job offer. He discovers that the new job is worse and enlists Mary’s help in getting him his old job back.
In ours, he gets an offer from a competing station to write their newscast and takes that job. We then do a scene where Murray comes over to Mary’s apartment to explain that he’s miserable, the new job isn't what he thought, and could Mary talk to Lou on his behalf? This puts Mary in a tough spot because Murray had burned some bridges with Lou and now Mary is right in the middle. Sounds like a viable story, right?
But it was a great lesson. Find a way to SHOW something rather than hear about it later. A teacher could have told us that in a writing lecture but it never would have made the impression that the MTM episode did.
And by the way, we got our first assignment – THE JEFFERSONS – off that MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW spec.
So take heart. All is not lost if your spec resembles a recent episode of that show. In fact, in some cases it can be a real plus.
Thanks to reader Rob, here's that MTM episode.