Spec Ep Queries - Complications Ensue
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Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Q. Will you read my spec COLD CASE episode query? Here it is.
I don't evaluate other people's work for free unless I know and love them. But you don't really need me to check out your spec episode query anyway. A feature query has to impart a lot of things in a nutshell, including who the protagonist is and what the venue is. With a spec episode, the show you're speccing gives you that. We know who the characters are and what they do for a living. All you have to do is tell us a few words about what makes your CSI, HOUSE or DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES special -- what's the heart of the episode -- what's the main character's fresh and interesting problem. E.g., "House discovers his dying patient is genetically his sister."

As a side note, I'm not sure you should be speccing COLD CASE. You should be speccing a contemporary hit show. Your spec is useless unless the person you're sending it to is familiar with the show. Personally, I've never seen COLD CASE; I've only seen one episode of the Canuck show it was apparently ripped off from inspired by, COLD SQUAD. I might be able to tell if you're a bad writer, but any special brilliance you demonstrate in nailing COLD CASE would be lost on me.

UPDATE: J.M. comments:
"Cold Case" is rated #10 in this week's U.S. Nielsen's. If that's not a contemporary hit...
True. But numbers don't tell the whole story. You need a show that's a hit with showrunners and network execs. That's often a show that people talk about. Usually it's a show with great writing. I haven't seen much media at all about COLD CASE, which is why I brushed it off. I suspect few or no showrunners are watching the show; while probably all showrunners checked out STUDIO 60 even with its lousy numbers. (Not that S60 is a good spec either.) Entourage is a good spec because everyone in Hollywood watches it, or has at least checked it out.

You need a successful show, yes. But you need to spec a show that appeals to the people who will recommend or hire you, because if they don't know it, they won't read your spec of it.

How do you figure out which shows people want to read? Ask an agent's assistant. Just call up a few lit agents at big agencies -- CAA, ICM, Endeavor -- and ask their assistants what they're recommending their clients spec. I suspect COLD CASE is not on the list. But don't trust me. Verify.

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6 Comments:

"Cold Case" is rated #10 in this week's U.S. Nielsen's. If that's not a contemporary hit...

By Blogger J.M., at 7:53 PM  

Hmmmn. I get what you're saying, but I wonder if Cold Case would be the best example of it? Because Cold Case is a "case" show, a very procedural-y procedural. (Not that I've seen it so much myself.) So to write it you would need to hit the plot and emotional notes of *your* own case of the week, but once you've done that, you've already nailed the show. Other than the super-consistent formula that you could probably find ways to tip the reader off to (here comes the montage, set to disco!), it doesn't appear to rely too much on the episodes that came before, or have a main character that it would be super-easy to get wrong.

I'm not writing a Cold Case spec, I'm just wondering. Is that better, or worse?

By Blogger nadia*, at 1:56 AM  

Trust the man. If he says don't spec Cold Case, he's bound to be right. How do I know? Because for months, Alex has been praising Friday Night Lights again and again. He's been like a free PR person for this show. And despite the fact that I trust him enough to check in daily at this blog and also buy 2 books from him, I doubted his love of FNL. And then because the only thing on was America's Next Top Model (enough said) and some unfunny ABC comedies, I turned on FNL. I found a show that captured small town Texas life so well, I almost felt sick (and I can say that since I spent those same years in another small Texas town.) It's so pitch perfect, I just can't believe I've missed it. They got everything right, the relationships, the football, the drama and the most realistic attack on a woman I've seen on television. This is what appointment TV. The only thing that makes me angry is that I've missed half the season. Can't wait until the DVD. Sorry for not believing Alex. It won't happen again!

By Blogger Hollie Nell, at 2:36 AM  

The big procedural spec to write right now is Criminal Minds. Why that is, I have no idea. People do read Cold Case specs, or used to at least. Probably not so much any more.

Best not to write specs period at this point in time, unless you're entering ABC/Disney or Warner Bros. People want to read original material.

By Blogger Shawn, at 10:40 AM  

Ok, FNL is my favorite show of the season, but would you recommend doing a spec for it? I'd think not.

By Blogger Jason, at 6:28 AM  

I would wait and see if FNL gets picked up for a second season. I hear that's touch and go.

Also, not everyone has seen it; and not everyone who sees it gets it. The people who get it love it passionately. But people I respect (e.g. DMc) don't dig it.

Also, hard to spec a show that depends heavily on improvised dialog.

Anyway, DON'T ASK ME. Ask an agent's assistant. They've got their finger on the pulse. I don't. I am not trying to get a staff job, and I am not speccing scripts. ASK AN ASSISTANT OR TWO.

By Blogger Alex Epstein, at 8:49 AM  

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