Should you write a spec script of the show you want to get staffed on?

Aspiring writers often ask me if they should write a spec script of the show they want to get staffed on. The answer is: “No. Absolutely not.”

Even if you carefully study that show, taking notes on the types of stories they tell and how the characters talk, I guarantee you something will be a little off. Maybe you won’t quite nail how the characters interact with each other. This could very minor, and an outside observer might not see this flaw at all. But to an insider, your mistake will be glaringly obvious. If you were to show your spec script to a writer or producer of that show, that tiny flaw will jump out at them. Writing a spec script of a show you’re trying to get staffed on almost guarantees they won’t hire you.

Years ago I was writing on Just Shoot Me. At the time, everyone was writing Just Shoot Me specs. I remember reading a handful of scripts from outside writers and being shocked by how far they missed the mark. And these were from professional writers with years of experience. But their perception of the characters on our show was off. I remember thinking, “No, that’s not how Nina talks at all!” It almost felt like they were parodying our show.

If given the opportunity to apply for a show that’s on the air, instead of submitting a sample script for that show, you should submit a script of a show that’s similar in tone. Like a companion show. An example of that might be The Office and Parks and Recreation. If you can write for one, then you can write for the other. Contrastingly, you wouldn’t want to submit your spec script of Bojack Horseman to get a job on Family Guy. Yes, they’re both cartoons but that’s where the similarity ends. One show is real and dark (even if it’s about a talking horse that used to be a celebrity) and the other is more broad and jokey. That’s not to say that one show is better than the other. They’re just different.

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All this makes the case for having not one spec script, but a wide variety of scripts in your arsenal. Even if you think the script that you have is amazingly perfect in every way, the person in charge of hiring is going to want to read a second writing sample. This assures them that your talent isn’t a fluke.

And finally, first impressions are everything. You never want to show your script to an agent, manager, television executive, or showrunner until it’s ready. If they’re not impressed with it, they’re not going to bother reading your next writing sample. There’s no demand for mediocre writers in Hollywood, but writers who know how to properly construct a story are in high demand. That’s the kind of writer you want to be. So study hard and learn from someone whose talent you trust.

Questions? Feel free to post them below.

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Author Details
For the past 25 years, Michael Jamin has been a professional television writer/showrunner. His credits include King of the Hill, Beavis & Butthead, Wilfred, Maron, Just Shoot Me, Rules of Engagement, Brickleberry, Tacoma FD and many more.