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01/22/2007: Everyone Has an Office
That recent post about the importance of having original specs, as opposed to specs for existing shows, cited one important exception. The Office. It is, right now, the ubiquitous comedy spec, so I want to talk about the special problems that accompany writing the same show as everyone else.
First, I want to mention that this all takes me back to when I was starting out. I attended a UCLA extension course on television writing during my first year in LA. The guy running the course asked us how many of us had Seinfeld specs. Every single hand went up -- at least a hundred Seinfeld specs were represented in that room that night. I myself had *two* Seinfeld specs and should have raised both my hands. As The Office is now, it was simply the spec that every single comedy writer had. You know what I would love to see? A collection of the old Seinfeld specs of every high-level comedy writer working today. Because they all had them.
Anyway, keep the ubiquity in mind as you write your spec Office. Remember that it has to stand out from its siblings. And yet, it can't be so outrageous, so unexpected, that it suggests that you've misread the source material. Big stories in spec scripts worry me, particularly for a show like this one that is about capturing small moments of personality. If a bus crashes into the building, I'm not seeing small moments anymore; they've been trumped by the Big Event. And I've lost the heart of the show. So make the emotions big -- break someone's heart, expose someone to ridicule, reignite joyous hope -- but keep the events in the neighborhood of realism. Having to contain your sadness or your joy because you're in the workplace doing something mundane... that's powerful, it's very "The Office," and it doesn't work if the workplace has been occupied by terrorists. (Remember that this doesn't mean the actual show can't tell these big stories -- they get special leeway because they own the cameras.)
Not that you would do that. I'm just sayin' that it can tend to be an impulse, when you know you're writing a popular spec, to juice it up. Fine. Juice up the emotional content, not the event content. At least, that's what I would do.
And, as long as we're in the area, it occurs to me that some of you were undoubtedly in the middle of writing specs for existing drama shows when I put up that post about writing original pieces. Don't stop what you were doing, please! Carry on. There is no reason to think that a spec for an existing show won't be useful. There are certainly show runners who want to see exactly that. It's simply that, right now, it probably shouldn't be the only arrow in your quiver.
Lunch: leftover rice from the Persian place, with beans on top