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12/12/2006: You Really Should Visit My Unicorn Farm
Ever recommend something even though you know it's probably a mistake? (Anchovies? You'll love 'em! You don't? Oh.) Anyway, I recently heard an interesting idea for novel way to approach writing a spec script. It's challenging, fun, attention-getting and probably a really bad idea.
The idea is to do a crossover episode as your spec. You know what I mean -- Dr. House is brought in to help the young doctors of Grey's Anatomy with a tricky diagnosis! Or Ugly Betty's magazine hires the lawyers from Boston Legal!
It's a tempting notion because it cuts right through the confounding problem of spec scripts: they have to be both typical and extraordinary. How do you capture the *exact* feel of a produced episode of something, and still have the script stand out? Well, a crossover spec stands out by virtue of the concept, and gives you twice the opportunity to capture tone and voices, therefore showing off your ability to emulate. If it was done well, a script like this could be quite the showpiece.
But it would be SO HARD to do well that I just can't recommend it. Both shows would need their own emotional arcs (probably one as A-story, the other as B-story). So both, say, Gregory House and Meredith Grey have to be emotionally affected by their contact with the opposing team of characters. And they have to be affected in ways that feel natural and even inevitable. And they have to do it in such a way so that the two arcs don't fight each other, don't radically affect the status quo of either show, and aren't tonally discordant with their home show.
The idea is supposed to be that you can have guest stars who bring with them all of the beautiful baggage of established characters, but I fear that the effect will be the opposite: every single character you're writing will feel like a guest star. And you're likely to end up feeling like you're directing traffic, trying to give a double-sized cast their individual moments in the spotlight. And all of those introductions? No one wants to make an audience sit through that. And how DOES one stay true to the tone of both shows, anyway?
So, I'm not recommending it. And yet... it's worth thinking about if you're really confident in your skills. Which shows would you combine? Is there anything themic that connects them in an interesting way? If you were *creating* a show, would you ever have put these characters together? If you think you've found a story worth telling, some value in crossing the series other than novelty-value, then give it a try. Because, if I understand genetics at all, one out of every ten times you manage to breed a horse and a narwhal... you get a unicorn.
Lunch: A chicken and swiss cheese sandwich, hot and melty.