TWIC/My What-to-Spec-for-Fellowships Guidelines
Week ending 2/21/20.
Having made my thoughts about whether or not you should write a spec TV episode this fellowship season and apply to those TV writing programs that are requiring them as part of their application process public in my blogpost TO SPEC OR NOT TO SPEC, this past week I found myself having a number of conversations with my writers about what to spec, once they’ve made a decision to do so.
There are specific guidelines you want to stick to when it comes to choosing the show that you are going to spec; as I am sharing these with my writers, I wanted to give you a quick overview of these as well:
Spec a show that you love
First, and most importantly, pick a show that is on the list but that is also, as importantly, a show that you LOVE. Making purely intellectual, strategic decisions is something that often backfires. Your love for the show, the world it is set in, the characters whose stories we follow, and the general storytelling style, is that extra, critical ingredient that will make your spec TV episode stand out.
Spec for current season
While I have, on rare occasion, seen writers get into programs with specs for TV shows that are fitted into previous seasons, the general belief is that you will fare best by writing a spec TV episode for the current TV season, and that most program administrators expect you to do as much. Speccing an episode for a show in its most current season shows that you are a fast writer; you were able to watch, break and spec an episode of TV within a limited amount of time rather than perfecting it over months and years; you are also continuing to develop your craft by generating a new spec TV episode with each TV fellowship season, both important factors when considering you for a program where writing schedules promise to be accelerated and rigid!
Spec a show that would pair well with your original pilot
While you should not spec an episode of a show that takes place in the exact same world or deals with exactly the same characters as your original pilot (you do want to show a bit of range, after all) you do want to generate a spec TV episode that lives in harmony with and compliments your pilot, speaks to your interests as they appear in themes, sensibilities and tone in a way that better explains to us who you are as a writer and where your writing “lives.” If you are submitting a 1-hour pilot, make sure that your spec episode is for a 1-hour show; if your original pilot is a 1/2-hour, be it comedy or drama, make sure to select a show to spec that lives within the same format.
Don’t spec a show that’s too long in the tooth
A show that has endless seasons to catch up on makes writing a spec TV episode for it harder to keep original or to make exciting, while a show that is in its first season may feel too experimental, without a well-established structure, to its reader. Therefore, it may be in your best interest to find a well regarded show in its 2nd or 3rd season to write a spec episode for. However, if there’s a show that you LOVE in its first or 6th season, and that’s the only thing you’re excited to spec, then, at least in my experience, that is more important than how long the show has been on the air and how many episodes you have to catch up on.
Don’t spec the same show twice
If you are a repeat submitter, as you would have to be if you are considering speccing an episode for the same show this year as you did last year, avoid speccing that same show twice. You don’t want to give the administrators of these programs any reason to think that there is only one TV show you’d actually want to write on, or that, worse, you just don’t have the chops to write on anything else.
Choose a show to spec that makes sense timing-wise
If you are planning on submitting an application to WB’s TV Writers Workshop, whose deadline is, traditionally, on or around June 1st, best not to plan on speccing an episode for a TV show that launches its new season (i.e. the most current one that you are expected to spec for) in, say, late April, and drops one episode a week, leaving you a very short window of time to see the direction of the season, study its episodes, and ultimately write your own episode in the hopes that your storylines won’t suddenly appear later in the season.
While presenting an amazing opportunity for those writers who are accepted into them, the TV writing programs are also incredibly competitive. Therefore, in order to give yourself the very best fighting chance, choose a show that you love, from a current season, that makes sense with the submission deadlines, and write the hell out of it!