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Home » Archives » February 2006 » Danger Ahead
[Previous entry: "Keeping It Fresh (Why Not To)"] [Next entry: "Specs From Beyond the Grave"]

02/08/2006: Danger Ahead

Hi. I have received a special request (from friend-of-the-blog Maggie) to talk about what I call "novelty specs." What I'm referring to are specs written for shows not currently on the air. For example, a spec I Love Lucy or Mary Tyler Moore Show or Taxi or Dragnet or Hill Street Blues. The first thing to note, is that these cannot be used to apply for the ABC Writers' Fellowship. Their rules clearly state that your spec has to be for a show currently on the air. But the fellowship isn't the only fish in the supermarket. Specs are also used to get actual writing jobs.

I have yet to be in the position of reading spec scripts with an eye to hiring a writing staff. But a lot of people whom I know have done exactly that. So I sent out an email to a selection of show-runner types, asking for their opinion of novelty specs. Their answers were so interesting and thought-provoking that this is going to be a multi-posting discussion. It's just so fun!

First up, (ta-da!) Joss Whedon! Joss, what's your opinion on novelty specs?

Joss: "The problem is, no matter how good the show might have been, it's bound to be a bit archaic in its dialogue (and possibly subject) which leads to the question: is this person just aping an era that's over, or are they writing a postmodern reaction to their perception of what that show (and era) was like? The first is just a stunt, and the second could be interesting but requires explanation. Most show-runners don't have time for explanations. So while it's always fun to read something that's not what everyone else is writing, this scenario is dangerous for anyone who's not damn sure of themselves."

It's crucial to understand the two approaches that he's talking about. Suppose you decide to write a Mary Tyler Moore Show episode. You could write a sort of "lost episode" (this is the "stunt" option). The story could be something like, "Mary and Lou temporarily change jobs, creating a hilarious shift in power in the newsroom." Or maybe something better. That was off the top of my head. The point is, this is an episode the original staff COULD have done, but did not (unless they did and I missed it). This would demonstrate your abilities, but not in as relevant a way as if you'd just done the same thing for a contemporary show.

It's the second option that makes things interesting. The postmodern option. It's not for the faint of brain. It's a risk. It's a challenge. It is, as Joss points out, "dangerous." And even if you pull it off, it couldn't be your primary spec. And yet... mmm... there is allure.

Maybe you're wondering what such an effort would even look like. You will find out in my next blog entry, which will have other show-runner insights and which will contain a description of a scene from a very dirty spec episode of "That Girl." You know you don't want to miss that.

Lunch: a veggie burger. Not bad. It wasn't trying to pretend to be meat. It was doing its own thing.


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