Writing a TV Spec Script That Works!

A TV spec script is an ideal way for writers to showcase their writing skills for both new and current TV shows.

It serves numerous functions. A spec script is a prototype for the show in terms of format, style, tone, theme, plot and characterization. The pilot you write may not be the first episode screened so don’t front load with too much set up. Imagine writing an episode midway through the series. A spec script should depict both the episodic and serialized elements of the show. Enter each scene as late as possible when the character’s life is turned upside down.

TV specs are a peculiar hybrid since they showcase a writer’s ability to emulate the voice of an existing show, as well as adding their individuality through guest actors and plots. Today, many executives require new writers to submit a spec script from both an existing show and an original idea.

TV shows typically have an A and B story; defined as the main plot and subplot. Series are increasingly plotting C stories, which are over-riding plots which span the entire series. An example would be Patrick Jane looking for Red John who murdered his wife and child and the budding romance between him in “The Mentalist” and Lisbon.

Every TV spec should present the main character, their problems and how they deal with them. Be true to your characters and outline heavily. Characters must have diametrically opposed points of view. Avoid passive aggressive conflict. Make it direct. What does each character want? How are they going to get it?

Be mindful of page counts of the TV scripts you want to spec. If it’s a single camera show, the page count should be similar to a feature script; maybe 45 seconds per page. Multiple camera shows have more pages, but are also more restrictive. They tend to be more staged, controlled, contain laugh tracks and lack the spontaneity of single camera shows.

Avoid over-description. This is even more critical in TV scripts than feature ones. The best advice I could give is to read as many scripts of the shows you want to spec. Properly formatted scripts, not transcripts found online.

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4 Comments Add yours

  1. Cosmosaic says:

    This second one of you articles I’ve read, I look forward to reading more. I will also be using this in my own attempt to showcase my creative writing skills. Thanks

    1. JG Sarantinos says:

      glad you’re finding them useful.

  2. Erek says:

    Where can we find formatted scripts for current shows?

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