THE SPEC CONUNDRUMComplications Ensue
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Tuesday, April 19, 2005

I'm still trying to settle the question a reader asked: how do you spec a soap? Can you spec The OC?

The consensus seems to be that speccing a soap such as Desperate Housewives or The OC is not recommended because the upcoming stories may kill your spec, either because they do the same story, or they do a story that contradicts yours.

For this reason a lot of people spec CSI or Law and Order. Each episode is self contained. But all you can really do in a CSI spec is show you can handle procedural plot. Those shows don't have much in the way of character.

A nice compromise might be to spec a show like Medium, which is fairly episodic, fairly procedural, but character driven much more than the CSI clones.

On the other hand, I do hear lots of people do Six Feet Under and Desperate and Sopranos specs. How do they do that?

The consensus there seems to be that you want to do a story that's sort of right angles to the story line. For example, The OC did a Vegas episode that could have taken place pretty much anywhere in the middle of first season. That would have worked as a spec.

One agent suggested you just write a little précis of what's happened in the show up to that point. That ought to make sense because after all, you're trying to prove you can nail the characters and their voices, not show that you're precognitive. But that seems like a kludge.

How have you attacked the problem? What advice have you had?

UPDATE: As you can read in the comments, Jeff points out that you don't have to be 100% up to date in your spec so long as you're within a few months of up to date. It occurs to me that writing a serial spec is a bit like the peacock's tail. The peacock's tail says hey! I'm so healthy I can afford this big ole tail. A serial spec says, hey! It does not take me very long to write a great spec. Look how up to date my spec is! While you could have been laboring over your CSI for years. It's more effort to keep up date, but that's just the point: it shows you're able to keep up with the pace of TV.


I know several people who have gotten interviews based on Desperate Housewives specs. Being completely up-to-date on the DH spec isn't necessary. As long as the spec's reasonably close to the show's general narrative, it should be fine. A spec written in the first season will probably be out of date by the end of the first season, but a spec written in, say, December should be fine in February. Etc.

A serial show spec should not try to do too much. For instance, for DH a spec should not solve the mystery about why Mary Alice killed herself, because that would seriously date the spec.

By Blogger Peter, at 2:52 PM  

And if you're taking a year to write your spec, snap the fuck out of it. You won't get a year to write on the show. Practice at the same speed as production -- two to four weeks. If you complain that "Hey, i can't write a good spec in that time", then write more until you can. You're not just pimping your art, you're asking somebody to fork over thousands of dollars to employ you and hundreds of thousands of dollars to shoot what you write. You must bring the A game.

By Blogger Unknown, at 3:55 PM  

Hey Alex -

Does all this mean I can spec a Charlie Jade?

By Blogger Cunningham, at 8:29 PM  

Bill, please do spec a Charlie Jade script. See if you can come up with a useful explanation for the men in grey - they always kinda confused me stupid (not that it took much confusing).

Dennis (A CJ scribe)

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 2:37 AM  

Dennis, we TOLD you who the Men in Grey Suits are! They're [snip].

Heh heh.

By Blogger Alex Epstein, at 9:00 AM  

Ja, that's right, keep the African in the dark!

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 2:52 AM  

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