Ross Brown discusses some golden rules before writing a spec script of an existing TV show. You generally get one shot at impressing a producer, so don’t blow it.
1) KNOW YOUR SHOW INSIDE AND OUT
Watch every episode of your series and take notes. How many acts is your show? Two? Three? Six (5 – 6 for one hour, 2-3 for half hour)? Do they typically have one storyline per episode, two or three? Your spec must duplicate the format and scope of your series—while still bringing fresh storylines and situations to it.
2) MAKE YOUR STORY MEMORABLE
Agents, showrunners, and executives read brain-numbing sludge piles of specs. Your story, especially your logline, must grab their attention and stick firmly in their mind. Don’t write a “typical” premise or a vague facsimile of a previous one. Write one that would generate water cooler buzz the next day. But it has to be within the world of the show.
3) WRITE A GREAT EPISODE, NOT AN OKAY ONE
Good enough is no longer good enough. Your spec needs to be great. It needs to sparkle. You must elevate the show.
4) DIG DEEP WITHIN THE CHARACTERS
Explore a character in a new or deeper way to generate new stories. You can’t change the essence of the characters, but you can present them with fresh challenges that reveal unexpected but believable character traits. Give them dimensions, such as a darker or light side. Perhaps even a secret?
5) THE SERIES MUST HAVE A FUTURE
Write a spec for a show that is currently on air. Don’t write for a cancelled show or a show that only has one or two season left before it is cancelled. Show that you understand the current industry landscape.
6) DON’T SEND IT OUT UNTIL IT’S READY
There’s nothing worse than giving someone a script only to realize a day or two later there are typos, jokes that could be improved, and it needs a new subplot. Check the formatting conventions, how sets/ scene headings are described and how characters’ names are spelt.
7) AVOID SERIES THAT ARE HEAVILY SERIALIZED
Most shows these days have at least some serialized elements, but brodcasters prefer stand alone shows. They can program them in any order and can buy a package with a certain number of episodes. However, if your show is a serialized 7 – 13 episode run, you may stand a chance of selling it.
8) AVOID MAJOR MISTAKES
Making the story about the guest star instead of the regulars. Killing off a series regular. Cliched, overdone premises like the trapped in the office/elevator/mountain cabin episode. Never number your scenes—that’s a production draft, not a writer’s draft, and it makes you look amateurish, not professional. Same goes for putting the show’s logo or artwork on the cover—don’t do it, no matter how cool you think it looks.
9) ONE SPEC IS NEVER ENOUGH
Always have more than one spec to show producers. Maybe you’ve got a great procedural, but the producer you[re meeting with is doing a family drama. Or you’ve got a killer 30 Rock, but the agent says she’s tired of that show. You’ve got to be able to say, “No problem, I also have a great Modern Family and a brand new Big Bang Theory. Which one can I send you?” Most producers won’t read specs of the shows they’re producing. Having several specs in your stable, also confirms that you’re capable of writing more than one script. You’re a professional.