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Results: 2011 Sitcom Spec Script Survey

October 25, 2011

Well, about ten months ago I posted a survey asking people what shows they were speccing.  My intention was to post the results much sooner, but of course life got in the way and this blog was knocked down on the priority scale.  Sorry about that…  Anyway, I finally compiled the data and have the results!  (Assuming anyone still cares.)

As new season of sitcoms has already begun, this info is probably most likely obsolete.  Although, based on the results of the survey and this year’s Emmy Awards, it’ll be tough for any shows to kick Modern Family down from its throne of popularity.  I’m hopeful that this new season will add some fun, speccable shows into the mix.  On to the results!

If you’re interested, a PDF summary of the raw data can be found by clicking here.  Feel free to download and read it, or even use it for your own analysis.  I’ll hit the highlights of the survey below, but I’m sure one or two people might like to see everything.  (Note:  The responses to the open-ended questions are listed at the end of the PDF.)

Respondents

My goal was to have 100 respondents; mostly because that’s SurveyMonkey’s threshold before they make you subscribe.  Well, since I let the survey go on for so long, I’m happy to report that 147 people completed the survey!   I really appreciate the responsiveness from everyone and although it doesn’t seem like much, a little goes a long way.  The majority of the respondents, 55%, considered themselves beginner writers, while the next largest segment, 21%, considered themselves “advanced, but not pro.”  There were four people who took the survey who actually have been paid to write, so I want to send a thank you to Dan Harmon, Mitchell Hurwitz, Steven Levitan, and Bill Lawrence for taking the survey.

As far as the location of the respondents, the majority, 47%, falls into the “outside L.A., but still in the U.S.”  L.A. writers were well represented, with 38%, and international writers made up the remaining 15%.

I’ve always been curious how many scripts people write and it seems like two is the magic cut-off, as 94% of writers claimed to have written two or fewer scripts in the prior year.  Nine people wrote between 3 – 5 scripts and only one person wrote more than six.  Completing more scripts each year has been a goal of mine for 2011, as I often put off writing and only end up with one script each year that I’m happy with.  I like the goal of three per year (two specs and an original pilot).  It’s good to churn out a bunch of scripts, but having ten mediocre scripts < two solid, unique scripts.  However, if you have the time to bang out ten solid scripts, then by all means do it.  But if you’re averaging ten scripts a year and not getting anywhere, chances are they aren’t as polished as you think they are.

Despite the prior year’s production, some are optimistic about 2011!  The majority of people still plan to write less than two, but it dropped to 65%, while 31% of the writers expect to finish between 3 – 4 scripts.  Seven writers have the goal of 5 – 6 scripts.  I have a habit of over-predicting the amount of work I’m going to do in the future (especially when compared to the past), so I hope those seven people are better at managing their time than I am.

Sitcom Specs

Sitcoms specced within the last year:  

Show Number %
Community 33 25%
Modern Family 26 20%
30 Rock 14 11%
Parks & Recreation 12 9%
The Office 8 6%
It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia 8 6%
How I Met Your Mother 5 4%
Big Bang Theory 5 4%
Cougar Town 3 2%
Nurse Jackie 2 2%
Bored to Death 2 2%
The Simpsons 2 2%
F.R.I.E.N.D.S. 1 1%
Family Guy 1 1%
Arrested Development 1 1%
Curb Your Enthusiasm 1 1%
Desperate Housewives 1 1%
Roseanne 1 1%
$#*! My Dad Says 1 1%
The League 1 1%
Party Down 1 1%
Awkward 1 1%
Total 130 100%

Not surprisingly, a lot of people are speccing Community and Modern Family.  Combined, those two shows make of more than half of all shows that were specced by the respondents.  What does this mean?  You better have a damn good Community or Modern Family spec, because there is a lot of competition out there and readers are probably tired of reading them.

Specs in-process (not complete) or planned for 2011:

Show Number %
Modern Family 48 20.96%
Community 45 19.65%
Parks & Recreation 23 10.04%
30 Rock 17 7.42%
Big Bang Theory 15 6.55%
It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia 7 3.06%
Raising Hope 6 2.62%
How I Met Your Mother 6 2.62%
The Office 6 2.62%
Bored to Death 6 2.62%
The League 4 1.75%
Cougar Town 4 1.75%
Archer 4 1.75%
Curb Your Enthusiasm 3 1.31%
Mr. Sunshine 3 1.31%
Mike & Molly 2 0.87%
Nurse Jackie 2 0.87%
Hot in Cleveland 2 0.87%
Two and a Half Men 2 0.87%
Outsourced 2 0.87%
Californication 2 0.87%
Royal Pains 2 0.87%
Glee 2 0.87%
F.R.I.E.N.D.S. 1 0.44%
United States of Tara 1 0.44%
Eastbound and Down 1 0.44%
Louie 1 0.44%
The Middle 1 0.44%
The Game 1 0.44%
Family Guy 1 0.44%
Mr. Young 1 0.44%
Phineas and Ferb 1 0.44%
Arrested Development 1 0.44%
Seinfeld 1 0.44%
Futurama 1 0.44%
Hard Times of RJ Berger 1 0.44%
Scrubs 1 0.44%
King of Queens 1 0.44%
Venture Bros. 1 0.44%
Total 229 100%

Wow, shocking… Modern Family and Community are at the top of writers’ to-do lists.  Notice that Parks & Recreation is lurking near the top.  As more and more people shy away from Modern Family and Community, I feel like Parks & Rec will gain some popularity.  Big props to the individual who plans to write an Arrested Development spec; good luck with that!  What does this mean?  Every aspiring TV sitcom writer has either a Modern Family or Community spec.  This is not surprising, but… You better have a damn good Community or Modern Family spec, because there is a lot of competition out there and readers are probably tired of reading them.

Bad shows to spec:

Show Number %
The Office 54 33%
30 Rock 43 26%
Two and a Half Men 19 12%
Modern Family 6 4%
It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia 6 4%
How I Met Your Mother 5 3%
Big Bang Theory 4 2%
Weeds 3 2%
Simpsons 3 2%
Entourage 3 2%
Glee 3 2%
Parks & Recreation 3 2%
Family Guy 2 1%
Cougar Town 2 1%
Raising Hope 1 1%
Meet the Browns 1 1%
Eastbound and Down 1 1%
Curb Your Enthusiasm 1 1%
American Dad 1 1%
Community 1 1%
The League 1 1%
Greek 1 1%
Glory Daze 1 1%
Total 165 100%

I think it’s safe to say very few people will be attempting a spec of The Office or 30 Rock anytime soon.  I wonder if The Office might be speccable now that there’s no Michael Scott?  It’s clearly not the same show as the first few seasons…  What does this mean?  Nothing surprising here; those who think Modern Family is a bad show to spec are probably already ahead of the curve.

Hot shows to spec:

Show Number %
Modern Family 62 50%
Community 31 25%
Parks & Recreation 9 7%
30 Rock 8 7%
Big Bang Theory 5 4%
Raising Hope 1 1%
How I Met Your Mother 1 1%
Cougar Town 2 2%
Archer 1 1%
The Office 1 1%
The Middle 1 1%
Glee 1 1%
Total 123 100%

By now there’s an obvious trend established and it’s probably not even worth commenting on.  That reminds me…  You better have a damn good Community orModern Family spec, because there is a lot of competition out there and readers are probably tired of reading them.  Parks & Recreation continues to lurk near the top at a distant third.

Okay, so this post was probably about six months later than it should’ve been and we didn’t really learn anything that we didn’t already know, right?  However, the survey will provide a base of information to compare with next year’s survey results (yeah, I’ll try this again next year…).  It’ll be interesting to see what shows disappear and what news shows make a strong emergence (ahem, New Girl).  And with the possible re-appearance of Arrested Development does anyone dare write a spec for it during it’s sole comeback season?

Disclaimers:

  • If you compare the raw data to my summaries above, you’ll notice I excluded some responses to the latter two questions that included 1-hour dramas or shows that were no longer on the air.
  • There is a high concentration of people who find my blog by searching for information about Modern Family and/or Community.  Thus, this would naturally impact the data; possibly skewing the popularity of these two shows in the results.  Sorry, I’m not Harvard and I don’t have a research budget.  You get what you pay for.
Lesson learned whilst writing this blog post:  Never use open-ended response survey questions.  Ever.
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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Laurie Fanelli permalink
    October 27, 2011 10:30 am

    Thanks for sharing your results!!!!

  2. Kristina permalink
    February 16, 2012 11:59 am

    I’ve been reading some of your posts and thank you for all the great information! I’m in a Comedy Writing class for school and I’ll be writing a 30 Rock spec and a Parks and Rec spec. Both of these shows are currently undergoing changes; Kenneth is on his way out of the Page Program and Leslie is running for City Council. Should we incorporate these new stories into our specs or should we ignore them?

    Thanks!

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