Despicable MeComplications Ensue
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Wednesday, February 04, 2015

Q. I have read from multiple sources that producers and such are more interested in reading pilots over specs of existing shows in the past few years. Do you know if the paradigm has shifted this way?
This has been the case for a while now. Showrunners often want to see a spec script (to prove you can write their show) and a spec pilot (to prove you have an imagination and a voice). 
Q. When writing a pilot, is it okay to use curse words, even if you're planning on showing the script to execs for more "family-friendly" networks like NBC, Fox, etc.? Or should I avoid cursing to make my script more accessible?
You should ideally have a different version for each network, to take advantage of their mandate. So if you're submitting to a broadcast network, your script should not contain the F word, and if you're submitting to HBO, it has to. 

Walter White, you are ... despicable!
But it goes far beyond that. If you're submitting to broadcast, your main characters must be fundamentally good. (They can be good but irascible, à la House. They can also be selfish if it's a comedy.) Your villains must be fundamentally bad.

If you're submitting to HBO or AMC, then your main character should be despicable either visibly (Tony Soprano, Walter White) or internally (Don Draper).

If you're submitting to Lifetime, then your main character must be a woman.

If you're submitting to FX, your main character probably should be a man.

I forget which kid's network it was, but there was a time when you could not have too much slime.

Gone are the days where you wrote one pilot. Every network is looking for something particular. They often don't know what it is, and it changes all the time, but you can't submit your HBO pilot to ABC Family and get much traction, or vice versa. 

However, the spec pilot you write to get hired on someone else's show can be more outré than the network. An HBO-style pilot can get you hired on an FX show. The goal of a spec pilot to get you hired is to be memorable and outstanding. The goal of a spec pilot to get set up at a studio is to be memorable and outstanding, and fit a network's mandate closely.


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