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10/25/2006: Keeping House at Home
You know how, when you're trying to fit in with a new bunch of friends, how you know they've accepted you when they begin insulting you? It's that thing where they can start teasing you because they've assured themselves that you know they have affection for you. So the tease itself becomes proof of the affection. But if a stranger walked up to you and said some of the same things, they'd be railing for a nailing, if you know what I mean.
Well, there's something kind of similar in writing a spec for an established show. The people who are on the inside of the clique -- the employed writers -- are allowed to take some liberties with the show that you, as an outsider, aren't allowed to do. Until you're hired.
Keep this in mind as you pick your spec stories. The writers of House can do an unusual episode in which Dr. House is trapped in an airport far from the hospital and has to do his diagnosis long distance. In their hands, this is clearly a creative choice to mix things up. But as a spec writer, I would strongly recommend against this story. It's just too different from a typical episode. Instead of demonstrating an imaginative mind, you look too much like you simply don't get that the heart of the show is about House's face-to-face interactions with the other characters.
This leaves you, of course, with a tricky road to walk. You want to stand out. But how can you stand out with a typical episode?!
My instinct is that you CAN do exactly that. You can do it by mining a new emotional layer, not a new physical configuration. You can make an amazing House spec by finding some thrilling (though in character) emotional moment for him, far more effectively than you can by using a trick of atypical plotting.
So I would suggest no episode-long road trips, please, for the Grey's Anatomy surgeons, no extended trips to Pam's new apartment in your spec The Office, no Battlestar spec that consists entirely of a pre-disaster afternoon on Caprica… EVEN IF these are episodes that could easily be done by the show's own staff.
(Now, I will point out here that every now and then, some spec will come along that breaks all the rules and somehow works anyway. If you feel like you've got one of those, ignore me. When giving advice about something this subjective, you should all assume the privilege of ignoring me comes built into every post.)
But all else being equal… keep your characters at home!
Lunch: Pizza from California Pizza Kitchen followed by cookies at the first Andy Barker, P.I. table read. I got to see Tony Hale being funny, guys. So much fun!