reader question: spec stuff

fellowship deadlines are around the corner, and someone had a few questions about specs.

Hi Kiyong,

I’m currently on my 3rd draft for my Happy Endings spec and have a few questions about it.

1.) I have a main character drifting aimlessly through the B & C plots and not really contributing anything to the story should I even bother including them? Outside of a few lines in the cold open.

I feel like these programs want you to demonstrate your understanding of the show’s voice, which means incorporating every main character into an A-B-C storyline. Shows like Community have characters barely appear in an episode and it works. I’m also not Dan Harmon though.

2.) I’ve heard that you’re not supposed to introduce new characters into a spec. I understand not creating new characters where the entire episode revolves around them, but what about a minor character that serves the plot? For instance I included Penny’s boss, a character never mentioned before, but fits into the show’s universe.

3.)Is it ok to introduce new locations? I’ve only been using established sets so far.

4.) What do judges want more in a sitcom spec? One bursting with jokes or funny plots that are tightly constructed? I guess this depends on the sitcom as well.

good questions. here are my thoughts:

1) all of the main characters definitely need to be in the script, and they should contribute to the story. even if a character isn’t the focus of the B or C storyline, i think the characters should have a goal and a point of view, whether to help or hinder another character’s goal. for happy endings, i find that they usually pair off 2 characters per storyline.

2) i think creating new minor characters is ok, as long as, like you said, you don’t make the episode revolve around them.

one thing i try to avoid is creating characters that would become part of the show’s mythology, like parents or relatives. i think it’s fine to expand on small characters from previous episodes, though. for penny’s boss, not sure where that would fall.

when i introduce new characters, i try to focus the main conflict between the show’s existing characters, and not have the new character engage in the main conflict. so if you’re writing a spec of happy endings and create penny’s boss, i’d try to have the boss create a situation that creates conflict between penny and the gang, rather than having all of the conflict be between penny and the boss.

3) i think there’s more leeway with single cam shows than multi cam shows. as with introducing new characters, i would try not to make the story revolve around the new location.

4) as for what judges and readers want, read my interview with karen kirkland and my notes from a writing programs panel.

here are a few of the things i remember various people telling me over the years:

  • if it’s a comedy,  it has to be funny.
  • have a unique premise.
  • have clear A, B, and C stories.
  • show that you can match the voice of the characters.
  • also, match the tone of the show.

hope that helps, and good luck!

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  1. I’m also writing a Happy Endings right now, and this was incredibly helpful. I’m a little worried since the show is “on the bubble,” would you have any advice on considering specs for series that may be cancelled?

    1. i’m worried about happy endings too, since that’s my recent spec. however, if abc doesn’t renew, i read that usa would be interested in picking it up, kind of how like cougar town is now on tbs. i wouldn’t write a spec for something that could be cancelled, like community.

  2. #1 If you have a character who’s not involved in either story, give them a “runner” – basically, we check in with them and their story a few times throughout the episode. It can be a simple thing where they come in with a joke, but doesn’t necessarily have to be a full on story (even though it does have a beginning, middle and end).

    #2 I agree with your point in #2 that if you introduce a guest character, it should be someone who creates conflict among the group, not just with the guest character. CHEERS did this very well.

    #3 I’d try to limit to 1-2 sets max. If you don’t need the outside set, then you don’t need it.

  3. Thank you so much for answering my questions Kiyong!

    This really helps me out with my spec. I really appreciate that you took the time to answer everything. You helped me and I’m sure a bunch of other readers out too.

  4. Ok, don’t need to be greedy but I also have a few more questions.

    1.) Is it ok to involve reoccurring characters? Such as Derrick in Happy Endings. The plot doesn’t revolve around them, but is it ok if I just use Derrick to introduce to set up the events of the A plot?

    2.) Voice, is a tricky concept in these programs. I want my own, unique voice to be heard, but I don’t want it to conflict with the voice of Happy Endings.

    I know its more important for my voice to heard in the spec, but my humor is a bit more slower, subdued then Happy Ending’s. Is it ok to have a voice/tone that is somewhat different than the show’s?

    1. I dont want to speak for Kiyong, but personally I always try to match the voice of the individual show. I’d consider rethinking Happy Endings if your own personal humor is more subdued than the fast paced rhythm that’s on the show.

      On the flip side, it is important to challenge yourself by trying different techniques..whether in tone or voice. You may be surprised by the outcome of stepping out of your comfort zone if zany comedy isn’t exactly your thing. Go for it! Write the spec! There’s only room to learn!

  5. Hi Kiyong! Thank you for your blog. I’ve been following it for awhile now, and it has been incredibly helpful. I was hoping you could answer a question for me. I’m in the process of finishing the spec script I’m using to enter the fellowships this year (WB, ABC, and WOTV). I have one huge problem, the show I’m writing for used my idea in their season finale. I’m really bummed. My idea focuses on a character who is part of the main cast but, tends to be on the sidelines so I thought I was pretty safe. I knew the show was headed in a particular direction with this character but, I thought they would wait until next season to really explore his arc. As you know, I have no time to write a new spec. Any suggestions? Are they going to think I copied the idea?

    Thanks, I appreciate any advice you can give me.

    1. that’s frustrating the show had a similar idea to your spec, but it’s bound to happen. i think your script is fine for the various contests and fellowships this year, especially since the show did that at the end of the season, but it probably limits the shelf life of your spec beyond that.

      1. Oh good! I’m relieved to hear it should be fine to use my spec for the fellowships. I’m okay with working on another one for the future too….I could definitely use the practice!!

        Thanks for the help!!

  6. Sorry, I should let you know…I write drama, and the show I’m writing for is heavily serialized but, is unique in that it does well with stand alone episodes.


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