What to Spec, Part NComplications Ensue
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Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Q. I feel like I know 'Curb Your Enthusiasm' and would be best writing a spec for that particular show. But is it a good show to write a spec on? It's successful and a lot of people know the show, but the humor is pretty off-beat and unique. Will agents/producers be able to find the good writing in it and be confident that I could write for a more standard comedy, or should I just pick a show that uses the standard sit-com formula?
The standard wisdom is you write two spec episodes of hit shows that everyone's watching -- ideally shows that have survived their first year but haven't been overexposed. These days many people are asking to read spec pilots.

I just spent a couple of weeks reading about 40 writers for my writing room. I was looking for fresh thinking, so what most grabbed me were the good spec pilots.

The second thing that grabbed me were convincing episodes, spec or not. I read a dead-on ALIAS that could easily have been an episode of the show. I read a cop show script that really played with my sympathies and surprised me. And it had heart.

Most of the spec episodes I read did not impress me. They were plotty police procedurals, and lacked heart. The writers might have been able to do more with a pilot close to their heart. On the other hand, they could easily have failed worse. Nothing is harder to write than a pilot, except possibly a second episode I've done six or eight passes on my pilot for this pay cable show. Certainly if you haven't written much TV before, learn how to write an episode of something on the air before you attempt a pilot. If writing a spec episode is like flying a plane, then writing a spec pilot is like flying a plane you just built yourself from scratch.

So I think you're right to start with a spec episode. And right to spec something that's not a procedural. It's surprisingly hard to show off your special wonderfulness with a CSI.

Now, how about CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM? It's offbeat, it's semi-improvised, not everyone gets it... but it has distinctive voices. And you love it. Yeah, go for it.

Because ultimately what I or anyone else hiring is looking for is great writing. You can really show off your writing in a CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM. So much of a police procedural is about procedure, the voices can get lost. (If you are writing a spec police procedural, make sure the voices don't get lost. And make sure the show has heart!)

Spec what you love to watch. You'll have a better sense if you're getting the characters and the template right; and you'll enjoy yourself. If you're not enjoying yourself writing, we probably won't enjoy reading you.



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