Why You Should Write a Spec Script For Television
December 19, 2013
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Most young writers have a feature film spec script tucked away in their portfolio. Writing "on spec," which means writing something in your own time (not as a paid assignment) in the hope of selling it to a studio, is one way screenwriters break into the industry. But you rarely see new writers selling original ideas in television.
That could change soon because television continues to undergo a metamorphosis from the last hope of faded stars to the first choice of some of the world's best performers. Television is hot right now, and traditional networks as well as Internet broadcasters are screaming for quality scripts to turn into the next hit. There's never been a better time to write pilot spec scripts for television. Here are a few of the reasons why television is currently a hot property.
The New Golden Age of Television
Television has hit a new golden age. Shows such as Homeland, Breaking Bad and Game of Thrones, which offer challenging and ambitious storytelling, have elevated the quality of the television market. Series after series is receiving the critical acclaim once reserved only for feature films. Dramas are even starting to take over the ratings race, with The Walking Dead recently out rating the powerhouse Sunday Night Football broadcast.
The groundbreaking series The Sopranos heralded a new era of drama, and television has continually pushed the envelope since. A-list actors, writers and directors are all making the leap to television, pushing the quality to even bigger heights. The fall 2013 season saw the return of comedic legend Robin Williams to his original home on the small screen. In an interview with the Sioux City Journal, the actor explained that going back to television gave him the stability of a steady gig, as well as enjoyment of being part of a collaborative process: "It's exciting. Being part of the process is wonderful."
More Ways to Watch
There have never been more ways to view television, and audiences no longer even need a television set to watch. With companies such as Netflix and Amazon expanding into original programming, the demand for content has never been higher. The growing outlets have also helped expand the market of quality programming. HBO was the go-to for upscale scripted series, but now cable networks, such as AMC, and digital programmers, such as Netflix, have given the cable giant some stiff competition.
Netflix picked up 14 nominations and three wins at the 2013 Emmys for its hit series House of Cards, making it the first online-only series ever to win. Netflix is not the only Internet-based company making ripples in the industry. Amazon Studios hasn't yet reached the same success as Netflix, but the company continues to push forward with high-profile projects such as a new series from The X-Files creator Chris Carter.
The Widening Genre Scope
Game of Thrones has been a game changer for HBO. With an average of 13.6 million viewers in its third season, the show consistently puts up big numbers, making it the cable channel's second most watched series ever, behind The Sopranos. Yet the show is one of the most complex series ever produced, both from a story and production standpoint. With a sprawling cast, equally sprawling plots, and shooting locations in multiple countries, the breadth of the production is akin to shooting several one-hour films.
Making Game of Thrones was a risk for HBO, both financially and creatively. An adult fantasy television series wasn't exactly in line with their typical programming, but the risk paid off and opened the door for other networks to expand beyond the typical dramatic genres that crowd the field.
Once, writing television pilot specs wouldn't get an aspiring script writer noticed, but Ellen Sandler, co-executive producer of Everybody Loves Raymond, explains that today "everybody wants to read an original pilot."
With the landscape of television continually evolving, and with more ways for shows to be seen, showcasing your writing skills and creative talent with a television spec script is a smart way to increase your chances of success as a screenwriter.
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