I'm currently teaching a graduate spec sitcom writing class at UCLA and now offer some suggestions of what not to do based on actual scripts I have read…or at least attempted to read. I'm alerting my students to these traps. So why not share the advice with you?
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
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.
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.
Ask yourself the following question: Can anybody other than Steven Spielberg 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
Similarly, avoid dream sequences. THE GOLDBERGS 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.
Even with cable shows, 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.
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
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.
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.