Why Won't They Read My Unsolicited Spec?Complications Ensue
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Sunday, February 14, 2010

Q. Do TV shows toss unsolicited scripts because of company policies? Or just because showrunners strongly prefer to read work that has been referred by someone else?

In other words, is it a strict rule or a guideline they abide by?
Companies toss unsolicited scripts for legal reasons. They may be developing a script with a similar concept. They don't want to take a chance that you will sue them for "stealing your idea." Pro writers know how common it is for writers to think of the same ideas, entirely honestly, but aspiring writers don't.

For example, Lisa and I were partly put out, and partly pleased, to see that HBO is coming out with a show about groupies called I'M WITH THE BAND. Put out, because we had a pitch for a show about groupies called I'M WITH THE BAND, and now it's dead. Partly pleased, because it means we were on the right track. I've had that happen to a script about Pretty Boy Floyd and a show about teenage models. I have a script that's "Moby Dick in Space." I was in the library yesterday and happened to notice a graphic novel which is Moby Dick in Space. We were working on a show about peacekeepers till we heard about ZOS. And so forth.

When it comes to spec scripts of the show they're producing, it is practically guaranteed that whatever you are sending in, if it is at all in the ballpark for the show, it's an idea that the staff has kicked around.

Aspiring writers may not understand that. There's a guy who sued George Lucas because the guy was convinced that he had invented Ewoks. Yah. Teddy bears with spears. There's an idea that only comes once a millennium.

If you're going in to pitch a show, on a meeting set up by your agent, then you probably understand that your ideas may not be original. You hope they'll give you a script to write anyway if your take on the story is more interesting. But that's a different process. You go in with a pitch idea, and the showrunner has a chance to say, "We didn't want to go in this direction, but I'm interested in this aspect of your pitch," and develop it from there.

STAR TREK: TNG was famous for being a show that actually did read specs, and buying a few of them. But I've never heard of another franchise doing it.

It is also very hard for a showrunner to read a spec script of his show. It is going to read slightly off. Or very off. It just is. I can't read a NAKED JOSH spec; they just irritate me. I can read a spec MODERN FAMILY and not get bent out of shape; I have no stake in the show. But if it's a show I was in the room for, then it's going to feel very out of the room.

Generally no TV show is going to read unsolicited scripts in the first place. But at least, if your agent is submitting your LIE TO ME spec to Hart Hanson, he doesn't have to worry that you'll think you invented the BONES episode they've been talking about for years.

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Kirker Butler got hired on Family Guy on a Family Guy spec, I heard in a DVD commentary. The story was super bizarre (it was never adapted for TV) but apparently very funny.

By Blogger Jud, at 10:36 PM  

What I really meant to ask, Alex, was more about TV shows receiving spec scripts from unrepped talent. I assume, if it's not a script in agency binding, it goes right in the trash. But then again, nothing is impossible, right?

By Blogger Jud, at 10:39 PM  

I think it's wrong to call an idea that has bounced around the writing room "not original" if another writer thinks it up independently. In that case it's "independently conceived". The showrunner's interest in an independently conceived work is still likely to be pretty close to zero, unless it happens to be a really great take on an idea, and it happens to make it through the roadblocks to outside work, so such ideas are still a real longshot in terms of getting a writer noticed.

But artistically they're still original ideas, as long as the author came up with them without knowing someone else had already come up with them.

By Blogger Unknown, at 3:19 PM  

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