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“Which sitcom should I spec?”

February 2, 2011

I’ve seen that question floating through the Internet a lot recently.  Around this time every year, (I like to think of it as fellowship/contest season) many aspiring writers scour the web for tips and hints as to what they should be writing.  Unfortunately, the idea of a “hot” show can change at anytime, for any number of reasons and depending on the roster of shows in a given season, nothing may change at all.

Alex over at A TV Calling recently had a post about picking a show to spec, that was a semi-update to his original post from March 2010.  We both have similar opinions about picking shows to spec and I highly encourage you to read his posts.  In fact, I would just direct you to his posts and say “read these,” but I wanted to also share my process in case it’s helpful.   In looking at his original list, I have to agree with him, that an annual list doesn’t need to be updated twice a year…  And realistically not a whole lot needs to be changed even now, almost a year later.  Aside from adding a few new shows from this season (Raising Hope, Better with You, etc.) and removing some shows that died (R.I.P. Party Down), the core shows still remain.

Personally, I try not to have my writing driven by “hot” lists, so I have a loose set of questions that I mentally ask myself whenever I try to figure out what show I should spec next.  Although, I am writing a Modern Family spec, which is arguably the hottest show out there right now, I’m doing it because I want to, damn it!

Anyway, below is my list of questions I mentally ask myself before deciding on which show to spec.  They’re in order of (in my opinion) importance.

  1. Do I love the show? Never spec something because you feel like you should; spec it because you genuinely enjoy the show.  Your love or hate for a show will most likely be reflected in your writing.
  2. Does the show’s style match the type of writer I want to be? If you aspire to be a single-cam sitcom writer, then don’t write a Big Bang Theory spec.  I’m not saying you have to pick one style over the other, as you’re definitely more marketable if you can write both.  Personally, as an amateur writer, I feel it helps to match yourself up with something that would compliment your writing style and result in a quality sample script.
  3. Do I have a story that would work well within the environment of the show? This can also tie into your personal style.  A meta premise a la Community wouldn’t work very well in something like Mike and Molly…………or would it?
  4. Is it likely that readers in LA will have seen the show? Obviously you don’t want to spec a minor hit from the BBC.  Pick a show that you know people are watching.  It doesn’t have to be a ratings monster, either.  Party Down was a pretty small show on a cable network, but almost everyone I know watched it.
  5. Is it likely that the show will be on for at least another year or two? If your spec is really good, it would be nice if you could get some mileage out of it.  But, you should be writing a new spec every year anyway, so who cares if it does die?
  6. Is the show less than four years old? Four is an arbitrary number, but I feel like after about four years, readers get really tired of reading the same scripts (that’s not to say a great The Office or 30 Rock script can’t go far).

You can do all the research you want, but you know what?  In the end, you (aspiring writers) determine what’s hot.  There’s no committee that meets once every year to determine what shows make the cut onto a prestigious “hot list”.   So, just write what you want to write and, assuming the show is on the air, you should be okay.

Since all the aspiring writers out there really are the ones who determine what’s hot and what’s cold, I set up a very brief survey to get some feedback on what you guys and gals are writing.  Seriously, it won’t take you long to complete it.  I did it in less than a minute.  (That’s not a guarantee…I can’t control how fast you type.)  At the end of the month, I’ll post the results of the survey for everyone to see.

~ CLICK HERE to take the Spec Script Survey ~

I think it goes without saying, but the survey is anonymous and I won’t be using the info for any monetary gain.  I wish I could offer up something as a “thank you” for contributing, but I have a mortgage payment due every month.  If you see me on the street and mention the survey, maybe I’ll buy you a sandwich.

Unrelated note:  Does anyone have an Arrested Development spec?  I miss that show so much that I’m willing to get my fix from specs…

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