Saturday, February 5, 2011

Hot shows that really aren't that hot.

I don't know if there's a better example of cluelessness in the screenwriting "business" than the following one.

Not naming any names but there was a discussion about what tv shows are the hottest for a "spec" writer. A guy supposedly in-the-know said that those are Modern Family, Community and Parks & Recreation.

Obviously Modern Family is one. Emmy award for best comedy series and also a pretty big ratings hit. So no problems there.

But what on earth are Community and Parks & Recreation doing on this list?

When you think about writing a spec for an existing show, you have to think about three different things:

1) Is the show a ratings hit?
2) Does the show get awards or at least nominations?
3) Do showrunners like this particular tv-series?

So "Community" is the big thing right now? Online raves about it. Film school enthusiasts can't seem to get enough of the show.

Here's the reality check:
1) Community gets horrible ratings.
2) It doesn't win any awards or even get nominations.
3) Showrunners do not apparently think much of it.

One that I know called it simply "a tired show".

Steven Levitan, a showrunner for Modern Family said that Community "has some strong dialogue", which in reality means that it doesn't have character or storytelling strengths. So I guess it's not that good.

But the "online" loves it. And the film school people...

As for Parks & Recreation, it didn't get ratings, any awards or nominations and in fact, wasn't even on. Yet it's a "hot" show.

Somebody is simply not telling the truth here.

The hot shows to spec are still those that get awards or the audience. These are shows like 30 Rock, The Big Bang Theory, Modern Family... perhaps even 2 1/2 Men.

Oh, and South Park. Let's not forget that one.


  1. "Hot" in this scenario has nothing to do with what gets good ratings - your audience with a spec script isn't the viewing public. It's the showrunner/network exec who's reading it and considering hiring you.

    Which means you're catering to Hollywood's artistic sensibilities. And "Community" & "Parks & Recreation" are considered smart, well written shows in LA - hence their place on *every* list of which shows to spec.

    If you don't believe me, DO spec "Two And A Half Men" and see how far it gets you during staffing season. Or try to push a ratings-powerhouse like "CSI". You'd be dead in the water. Seriously.

    "Mad Men" is one of the hottest specs around and it gets miniscule ratings outside LA & NYC. My "Californication" gets read constantly and that show flatlines outside 310/323/212.

    Of course, I'm only one working TV writer. Maybe my agents and the showrunners I've met with are in the minority about which shows light them up. But you're making absolute statements that simply don't hold up on the ground.

  2. Well, I don't exactly have high opinions of shows like 2 1/2 Men or CSI. So I guess we can agree about those.

    At the same time I can't really understand why any quality showrunner would like to read a Community or Parks & Rec spec. No amount of spin can make them good or smart shows.

    If and when these two are actually 'hot' shows, I would expect that they are hot for people like Seth Macfarlane etc.

    I find it really hard to believe that a showrunner like Christopher Lloyd would ever get excited over a Community spec.

    I mean, why would he read a spec that by default has nothing to do with character or truth? Makes no sense to me.

    Mad Men of course gets read because it's an award winning show after all. I don't have a problem with that premise - even though in my opinion the show isn't that well written.

    Nevertheless, there's still the question of why certain showrunners want to read specs like Community and Parks & Rec.

    I would speculate that the reason for that might be that mediocre showrunners in many cases aren't actually interested in reading quality scripts. Because if they read quality specs of quality shows, it might make their own product look bad in comparison.

    The Charlie Sheen incident has shown us how fragile showrunners are. 2 1/2 Men didn't get shut no matter what Sheen did. It got cancelled only after Sheen told us that Chuck Lorre is a hack.

    The last thing a showrunner wants to hear is that they're "hacks", "clowns" or that their show is "a pukefest".

    But that's the unfortunate reality and the truth here. At any given time you have maybe 3-4 good shows on air. The rest are simply awful. It's not fun to live with that fact. So perhaps you "adjust".

    The bottom line here - and I want to say that this is only my personal opinion - is that if you want to be a writer for an Emmy award winning show, one of the better ways to achieve that is to write a spec for a show that has won those awards.

    On the other hand, if your dream is to work with Seth Macfarlane, go ahead and write that Parks and Rec spec.

    Ps. Sorry that I'm being so negative here.