(Another in the continuing series regarding writing program submissions)
A LA Webfest panel gathered representatives of network writing programs last month. Moderated by Kathie Yoneda, the panel was memorable because the information gleaned was usually not offered up so liberally. (See more of those tidbits in our previous article.)
What Carole Kirschner, head of the CBS Diversity Institute’s Writers Mentoring Program, offered was a game changer. She said not to wait for the season to end to start writing. Why?
Everyone Waits for the Season Finale
Most writers fear that the plot of their spec episode will be similar to that seen on the actual show. So they wait until they season finale. In that way, at least they have a jumping off point to be creative and not be disappointed that next week’s episode will have the same plot that you just spent eight weeks writing. In fact, I believe it was Emmy award winners David Isaacs and Ken Levine who said at a USC event said that that happened to them for a Mary Tyler Moore Show spec they wrote, but they continued to use it anyway to successfully procure gigs. Kirschner said the problem in waiting for the season finale to begin a spec is that since everyone does that, all the specs are similar. They all have the same jumping off point, all guess where the show is headed, and all sound the same. If you’re trying to stick out from 2000 scripts, sounding the same as every script won’t get you very far.
Executives/Readers Don’t Watch Every Episode
The panelists echoed the sentiment that even though there are elements in a submitted script similar to what has aired or what will eventually air by the time adjudication comes around, it most likely doesn’t matter. With as many shows as there are on the air, a reader or an executive has to spend more time watching television than reading scripts and doing the other ancillary stuff that comes with being employed as such. And they have to have a really good memory. Granted though, when I was a reader for a network program, I was specifically asked what shows I most watched and was given scripts according to what I listed. As my article regarding Austin Film Festival’s readers states, that was not always the case for their process. However my score sheet did not have any column that accounted for whether or not plot points overlapped with the actual show’s.
It’s antithetical to the devout fan of a television show to write something contrary to what occurs in the actual show. But being constrained by what other writers—the actual ones who are being paid to come up with those ideas–have thought up as far as the plot limits the range of risk-taking that the writer program representatives stated is so essential to advance. I’ve written an article about how other writers on a Facebook post got haughty when I posted not to spec a show that most likely will be cancelled—and it was advice given from a writing program director. So here is Kirschner recorded for everyone to hear (whether or not they listen is up to them and their egos) on Pilar Alessandra’s On the Page podcast #376:
You have to stand out in a sea of hundred if not thousands of spec scripts. So Good is not Good enough. It has to be, what I call, blazing hot which means it has to be incredibly memorable.
Consider this: your job is to come up with an idea that a room full of writers and producers, network and studio executives, and every writer of fan-fiction, entertainment news site, or minutiae-focused blog as well as every other applicant to the program has failed to consider. And you choose the point where most of the water-cooler talk is centered on? Don’t you think that narrows your options?
If you were a gambler, would you wager on the odds that in three months your idea will not be the same idea the show writers will not use? By waiting until the season finale, that’s what you’re doing.
You’ll have more opportunity to stand out if your episode fits somewhere between episodes and has an idea that those involved with the show didn’t consider. The fact that there are episodes after where you have chosen to jump off from that didn’t go the route you’ve chosen is proof that your idea was not thought of. Congratulations, you’re original. And even if your idea eventually is used, so what? It surely won’t be used in the way you have used it.
And if you’re waiting for the season to end, what were you doing the rest of the nine months? Surely I don’t have to find a quote somewhere to extract to prove that someone more notable than I said that writers should be writing. If writing is what you want to do, why are you waiting to do it?