Specs for Cancelled Shows?Complications Ensue
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Thursday, March 08, 2007

Q. People say you should not write for a spec show that has been cancelled. Is there any leniency with this? How long after a show has been cancelled is it no longer a valuable script? I am writing a Veronica Mars. It's been taking me awhile because of its rather complicated and sophisticated structure and execution. But, as every fan knows, [the show is] in danger of extinction and the chances of it returning or not too great (but it might). Should I continue to write it, or should I wait to see its future?
As a rule of thumb, I think you should finish what you start. It's a bad habit to drop things in the middle. It's demoralizing. And no one wants to read unfinished work, so you can't get feedback.

How long you can get away with a spec of a cancelled show depends on the show. Because of where my career is, and because I've got a couple of spec pilots, I haven't written a spec script in a few years. I'm mildly embarrassed to show my Sorkin-era West Wing spec, but it still gets good reactions. Your spec is live so long as people remember the show: themes, characters, voices, storytelling style. For example, I suspect Entourage will be a viable spec for a few years after it's cancelled, if execs haven't overdosed on Entourage specs by then. Whereas I have a feeling that The OC, which was the hot spec a couple seasons back, will evaporate from people's brains like champagne bubbles.

On the other hand, you don't want people to think it takes you donkey's years to write a spec. When you spec a newish show, or the current season of an established show, you're proving that you can bang a good script out. Showrunners need to know not only that you can write their show well, you can write it fast. Until you have staff jobs on your resume, the only way to prove that is to write an up-to-date spec.

I would think even if VM dies the death, you could still show the spec around for a year afterward, so long as you immediately working on something new to go alongside it.

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