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Home » Archives » December 2007 » Previously In This Blog...
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12/19/2007: Previously In This Blog...

... I tackled a question about spec scripts for highly-serialized shows. A Gentle Reader wanted to know if they should include a sort of "previously on ___" for the top of their script, to help place the episode in context. I came down against anything but the briefest of place-setters, and threw open the question to anyone in a position to know the answer, especially someone who knew how the readers at a writing fellowship would approach the issue. And... ta da... someone stepped forward. This is the response I got from Friend-of-the-Blog Derek Olson, who is part of the team over at the ABC/Disney fellowship. Take it, Derek!

Hi Jane,

I was just catching up on your blog and I saw an open question you posted about the best way to inform readers of when a spec takes place in the world of a serialized show.

In speaking for our Fellowship readers, we do our best to make sure that readers only evaluate specs of shows they are very familiar with. So they are pretty good at stepping into a serialized spec and knowing exactly when it takes place. All it takes is a reference to a landmark event in the series or even just opening on a logical next step in a storyline. As I’m sure you know there are lots of cues you can give someone who follows the show.

It’s definitely a muddier situation when we are on the other side of the fence. Once Fellows enter the program, we begin submitting their work to executives, showrunners and agents. Of course they all have varying degrees of familiarity with specific shows.

The catch-all solution is to have the writer assume the reader has very little knowledge of the show. And as much as it might seem like a good idea to cheat the traditional format and slap on a “Previously On” segment or TV Guide-like blurb to get the reader up to speed, it just never really feels right. Somehow it always feels as if the prologue was meant to spackle over cracks in the script that weren’t addressed the first time through. So we avoid it altogether when sending out Fellows’ work. Not to say we’re 100% correct and it’s always the wrong idea, it’s just our philosophy that we never want a Fellow’s script to get a ding before the reader hits page one.

So most of the time we leave it up to our writers to use their normal devices. Slipping exposition into an argument between two characters, having a character bring a lesser-informed character up to speed, etc. It can be cumbersome but the best writers can pull it off beautifully.

One exception however, is that if I know the person we are submitting to is a fan of the show, I will let the writer know that they have the greenlight to submit an “expert” version of the script. The writer can then feel free to remove exposition from the top of storylines or trim some over-explaining that happens along the way.

Hope this helps…feel free to summarize, paraphrase, chop and mangle if you would like to post this.


No mangling necessary. I hope that answers any questions out there. Looks like you should ditch the "previouslies"!

Lunch: a Baby Ruth bar eaten during the substantial wait at City Hall today between meetings to discuss the financial impact of the AMPTP's absence from the negotiations. Baby Ruth is a fine product.


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UC Berkeley
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