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09/20/2006: When Hits are Misses
I'm more invested, this year, in the new television season than I have been in recent years. I'm hopeful about a number of shows, and I feel like I'm in the market for a new favorite scripted drama. I hope I reflect America in this way.
I'll be really interested to see which shows click instantly with audiences. Some shows really do seem to just lock in right away. They don't always stay locked in, but a strong start guarantees that they at least are given a chance to get going, to find their voice.
Now, let's imagine that, say, Shark or Heroes or whatever, is a hit. Should you start writing a spec for it? Kira from Santa Monica wrote me a letter with, essentially, this question in it. She has been told not to write a spec for any show in its first season, and yet she points out that some shows, like Lost and Desperate Housewives, are so quickly hits that there doesn't seem to be any reason to wait.
Hmm. A good and timely question. I'd say it wouldn't hurt to sit up and pay attention when an instant hit is annointed. Start looking around for produced scripts to study, and read recaps and do all that good research. But if it was me, I'd probably wait until that first season was at the very least half over -- probably even entirely over -- before I started actually writing. This isn't so much because the show might disappear, as it is that most shows are still in flux during season one. It's still finding its tone, and figuring out which kinds of episodes serve it best. Heck, it could still be firing and hiring actors and changing all its locations around and all kinds of things -- "Ellen" even changed its title after season one! (Remember, it was "These Friends of Mine"?) Anyway, it's best to let a show settle down, find a rhythm, before you jump in. You don't want to have to shoot at a moving target.
Also, being a hit isn't enough to make a show specable. It has to be watched and respected not just by America, but by agents and show runners -- the people you want to have read your script. And, besides that, you don't know if it's going to *remain* a hit. Some shows quickly fade. Remember Commander-in-Chief? Huge pilot tune-in numbers. But gosh, not a good spec to have now.
More and more, I find myself seeing the wisdom in writing a spec pilot. So many hit shows are serialized, which makes them tough (though not impossible) to spec. And others are such niche fare (Nip/Tuck, The Shield), that it's hard to know if enough of your readers will really know the show. You'll want at least one spec of a real, existing show, I think, but beyond that... I really have to say, write a pilot.
I'm writing one myself, right now. Come on. We'll do it together.
Lunch: Nibbled on a burrito at the Farmer's Market.