by Ken Levine
I have read some bad specs in my time and now offer some suggestions of what not to do based on actual scripts I have read…or at least attempted to read.
Don’t view the show from the perspective of a fly. I once read a Wings spec as seen by a buzzing fly. I offer this as the first example because I know so many young writers fall into this same trap.
Don’t put yourself into the show and make yourself the lead character. I once read a Cheers where Alan had more lines than Sam & Diane combined. Alan? Who’s Alan? Alan was one of the extras. And so he remained.
And just because people tell you you look like Debra Messing doesn’t mean you should write a Will & Grace entitled “Grace’s Sister”. If I get a script with a photo attached I know I’m in trouble.
Don’t hand write your script, no matter how good your penmanship. Send your spec in a UCLA blue book and you’ll get an F.
Don’t invent a format.
Know the characters. I read a spec Mary Tyler Moore Show where Mary wondered what to get her husband for his birthday. Her “husband”???!
Keep in mind the production parameters. A M*A*S*H I once read featured this:
EXT. YANKEE STADIUM – DAY
Hawkeye is on the mound during the World Series. 60,000 people cheer.
Ask yourself the following question: Can anybody other than Peter Jackson or James Cameron make this? And if the answer is no, especially for a multi-camera show that takes place in a living room, then don’t do it.
Similarly, avoid dream sequences. The George Lopez Show is not looking for the next Fellini.
Don’t hinge your show on stunt casting. I read a Becker where former President Jimmy Carter came in for a check-up and offered dating advice. Yeah, President Carter gets his physicals in the Bronx. And yeah, President Carter is always available to guest on a sitcom and advise a character to say whatever is necessary to get laid.
Don’t change the characters’ reality to fit your story. Ray Barone is not Jewish. THAT’S why he can’t have a bar mitzvah.
I was going to recommend you don’t do like one aspiring writer and make a joke in a Cheers about Diane’s pussy because it’s crude, offensive, and inappropriate, but I saw the same joke two weeks ago on Stacked.
Still, I’d like to think there is some line of decorum and taste left. I once read a NewsRadio where the story was the Dave Foley character comes into his office in the morning and discovers a semen stain on his couch. Then the episode went downhill.
Don’t marry off any of the main characters.
Don’t kill off any of the main characters.
Don’t go the first ten pages before doing a joke. This even applies to many drama specs.
Don’t do the “supersize” hour episode.
The last sentence in your script should not be “To Be Continued”.
Don’t include a cover letter telling the producer that you sent him a copy of the script months ago and that he was shirking his responsibility by not reading it. Our agent did this once and trust me, David Lloyd was not amused.
And finally, avoid this ploy: I once received a spec M*A*S*H with a note that read “This script was written by my brother. On his way to the post office to mail it he was hit by a car and killed. I’m sure he would have wanted you to read it anyway. P.S. If you want any changes I can make them.” He received a touching rejection sympathy card.
Just remember this, when producers read your script they want to like it. They want to discover the next Larry Gelbart. It only helps them. Don’t shoot yourself in the foot by doing something stupid like relying on Jimmy Carter to get your laughs.