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01/28/2006: The Joy of Specs!
Hello, all! I hope you are all enjoying this or finding it helpful. I know I’m having a blast! Writing about writing is a good way to remind myself about the basics, too. It's fun thinking about this stuff again; it's been a while since I've had to write a spec. After a while we all become like Marley's ghost, dragging behind us the chain we've forged from all the scripts we've written in our career. People take pity, and stop asking for samples.
I’ve been talking a lot about what not to do in your spec script, and I think it’s time to talk about a positive example. Forgive me for again using something from my own career, but man, it’s just so much easier that way. And I've already walked you though my bad Star Trek specs. And allow me to mention here a very troubled Perfect Strangers spec, a Golden Girls spec I completely abandoned and two (count 'em) two Seinfeld specs that make me cringe to recall them. But eventually, I wrote a Frasier spec years ago that served me loyally for a long time. I spent more time than usual coming up with the story, and I always felt it turned out well.
In my spec, Frasier was offended when a radio station promotional blitz featured his image on posters and billboards all over town, labeled as “Doctor” Frasier Crane. His ego drove him to attempt escalating tactics to remove the signs, finally culminating in a comedy set piece of him and Niles on a billboard platform in the middle of the night painting out the quotation marks. Eventually, Frasier realized that it wasn’t that he was afraid that Seattle didn’t believe he was really a psychiatrist, but that he wasn’t sure HE really believed it anymore. He needed reassurance that his radio career hadn’t taken his self-image as a doctor away from him. Ultimately, it was Martin, his father, who took advice he’d heard on Frasier’s show, unknowingly convincing Frasier he was still a good, effective, practicing psychiatrist.
This spec captured a lot of the central themes of that show. It was psychological, allowing Frasier to self-analyze. It had a big block comedy scene for Niles and Frasier. It showed Frasier torn between his most Niles-like impulses and his most Martin-like impulses. And it gave Frasier a way in which to learn and grow a little tiny bit.
Now, obviously, not every Frasier episode centered on Frasier. Niles was almost as important a character, and his arc drove many episodes. Martin, Roz, probably even Eddie could serve as the central figure for a produced episode. But with a spec, you aren’t just writing a typical episode. You are writing, in a way, the prototypical episode. The distilled, concentrated Essence du Show. Play with the most central character, using the themes that are most central to that character’s character, using a structure as close as possible to what the show usually uses.
But find a way to be fresh. Don’t do something they’ve already done a million times. Sound hard? Oh god, yes. But when you find that story, everything else will get easy. The act breaks will fall into place, jokes will come more easily, because the story will have a naturalness to it. Even as two prissy adult brothers correct punctuation on a billboard.
A big thank-you to Waylon Wyche, who wrote me a very much appreciated letter. Good luck, WW!
My Lunch: Chicken and waffles at Roscoe’s Chicken ‘n’ Waffle!