WRITING: Writing Specs I

Spec scripts are one of the most important forms of writing to an aspiring TV writer trying to get their first job, particularly in Hollywood. These are how one gets agents, and how those agents get you jobs. Not only that, though, they’re immensely fun to write if you’re a fan of the genre you’re tackling.

What’s a spec script? It’s a ‘speculative script’, and in the context of the television industry it’s typically a speculative episode of a television series that you’re not affiliated with. Writing one proves that you can take on another person’s format and characters and pull them off flawlessly, and also typically showcases your work in a specific genre.

You can’t write a spec for How I Met Your Mother to get onto How I Met Your Mother due to legal liability issues, but I’d bet a decent HIMYM script would definitely score you a job on this season’s Better With You, Happy Endings, Mike & Molly, Mixed Signals, Friends With Benefits, Love Bites or Mad Love, all new shows with romance and friendship at the centre of them. A good Chuck might get you on Covert Affairs and vice versa. And I’m betting Boardwalk Empire is staffed with people who had that killer Mad Men or Breaking Bad in their back pocket.

Though I’ve prepped mini-outlines for a bunch of these (including a Supernatural spec outline that’s four years old that I still regret never writing), I’ve actually technically only written one: a Community spec for Comedy Writing class last year called “Computer Science”. It was great fun digging into the voices and the format of a show I love, and I’m still looking forward to rewriting it and beating it into shape.

Here’s some of the specs I’m working on. Note that typically, as the kernel of a spec’s idea is sometimes just as valuable as the script itself, you typically don’t do this. That said, I’m years away from ever using one of these as an actual sample and am tackling them for practice, so I can’t see any of these being used against me when I actually do try and break in.

Community – “Computer Science”: My Comedy Writing final project. This episode had three plots – A, Jeff becomes concerned when reinitiating contact with her father sends Britta into a tailspin; B – Annie helps Pierce with a class project about online dating profiles; and C – when Troy begins babysitting for Shirley’s kids, they begin to fall into a husband/wife pattern of communication. The A plot worked pretty well, but I’ve got a plan to completely rewrite it to work much better (and I really enjoy the Britta backstory cooked up for the script). The B plot was alright, but I think I need to take another look at it. The C plot was a complete dud; a funny idea that I think just doesn’t work, at least not how I was tackling it. The script is very mid-season one, and considering how S2 feels its already a little dated, but I still want to tackle it.

Glee – “Image”: Initial season two spoilers involved Quinn becoming Head Cheerleader again, and the idea at the centre of this one is the idea of image crisis. The A Plot was Quinn searching for a new angle, as ‘virgin Queen’ no longer applied to her and Santana already captured ‘sexually free Empress’ during her reign. The key moment was Quinn and Tina (with the other girls as backup) singing Garbage‘s “I’m Only Happy When it Rains”, as Quinn ponders the idea of becoming the volatile, dangerous type of queen. It would also have probably included Shue dealing with the image problem of New Directions (wth the theme of the episode being ‘public image’, and another plot involving Finn and Rachel, of course.

Glee – “Real Life”: My depressing life-after-Glee spec. After Santana gives an interview that paints Sue as a monster who throws money at all her problems and steals ideas from Shue, which leads to a Cheerios budget cut, Sue destroys the club by convincing Santana and Kurt’s parents to pull them from the club only a week before Regionals. This being one disheartening setback too many, Rachel and Finn as co-Captains disband the club over Shue’s protests, and the episode involves the kids trying to fill the hole Glee club filled in their lives. The big numbers planned are the kids prepping Lou Reed‘s “Perfect Day” as a potential Regionals opener when Shue comes to tell them the news; Rachel (w/ Finn) singing Rihanna‘s “Rehab” about her decision to leave Glee rather than watch it constantly be yanked out from under her (over a montage of post-Glee kids); and Shue and Kurt singing “Empty Chairs and Empty Tables” from Les Miserables. I’m sure there’d be some gleeful songs too, but these were the ones I was excited about seeing when I was plotting this.

How I Met Your Mother – “Experiments”: I have a lot of gags plotted out for this episode of HIMYM, where Robin accidentally goes out on a date with a lady and inadvertently starts a long group conversation about their misadventures, intended and (mostly) unintended, with the same sex. Was planned before “Wrestlers vs. Robots” to include the Ted clone – a smooth-talking player who happened to be gay, giving Ted the teachings that he would never take from Barney (and, of course, making Barney insanely jealous). Would still love to write this, as it would be a lot of fun.

Writing specs is kind of like writing fanfiction, but with more rules and more of a specific purpose (to get you a job). I’m hoping to have some fun with them, as fleshing out the characters on my TV is something I’ve been doing on my own for years. Now I can say it’s something I’m doing for my career!

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