Wednesday, March 14, 2012

My question: Do I dare submit a "wacky" spec for the Warner Bros Writers' Workshop

I've been informed that the WB Writers' Workshop has announced that they will be accepting submissions from May 1 - June 1.  This is one of the more sought-after TV writing programs and it includes lectures and simulated writing rooms.  At the end of the program, studio executives help the participants get staffed on Warner Bros. shows.  When I interviewed Margaux Froley, she talked about some of this.

So I'm thinking of entering, but I've got some hesitation because the spec I'm working on is what you'd call a "gimmick spec."  I could define what that is, or I could let TV writer/fellow blogger Irwin Handleman do it for me:

That's where someone will write an original episode of "Family Ties", or an episode of "Two and a Half Men" where Charlie Sheen's character stabs Alan or gets addicted to crack. In other words, it's something that would never be on TV, but it's funny and a little more creative.

I think of this kind of spec as cheating. Anyone can do this nonsense. The hard thing to do is write a real episode of "Two and a Half Men" and make that funny and original. That takes talent! It's easy to step outside CBS and make a crazy episode that doesn't have to conform to the restrictions of TV.

But as time went on, assholes kept getting work off this bullshit. So I decided, if you can't beat them, join them. And I wrote a gimmick spec.

Aaron Sorkin's "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip" had just started up. Thus, I wrote a spec called "Studio 69 on her Landing Strip", which was the porn version of that show.

I sent it to a friend to read. Unbeknownst to me, he gave it to a manager at Brillstein Entertainment. The manager loved it, and called me in.

Irwin ended up having a manager sign him off that script.  So you see why I might some merit in the idea, even though I kind of agree with him that going the gimmick route is cheating somewhat.

I've heard of other infamous examples of gimmick scripts, such as an episode of I Love Lucy where Lucy gets an abortion, or an episode of Friends where they all get AIDS, or an episode of Saved By the Bell where Lisa and Screech have sex. 

Bottom line: I'm working on one such spec of a hit show, but I'm concerned it might be too much of a risk to submit it to WB.  While I mull that over during the next month and a half, I figured I'd toss the question out here in the hopes that someone might have some insight.


  1. We're going to be entering WB too. It's a good question. I could see people being swayed by that kind of thing and yeah, I'd say it's kind of cheating because it IS easier. The spec we submitted last year, I think it was too much like a regular show episode so it didn't stand out. Plus I think the show we picked last year was heavily specced. So this year we picked a less common show. I don't know if I'd do what you're doing but... If you make it memorable, maybe it's worth a shot.

  2. Not one to typically comment, but I have your answer. I was lucky enough to get into the top 5% of the WB 2 years ago, and subsequently attended a seminar on the lot that focused on what we could do to make our specs stronger for the following year.

    I initially wrote a verrrryyyyy long comment, but in the interest of brevity, your answer is "no."

    From my notes: "Stay away from the odd show, the episodic show, the car pooling show, the black & white show, the dream show, the variety show, and the very special episode."

    I can't speak to how effective the "wacky" approach is in terms of securing representation or a staffing position, but I can say that it's not what the WB readers are looking for in terms of consideration for the workshop.

    1. Thanks, Dakin! And congrats on making the top 5% that year!

    2. you're welcome! and thank you - though looking back through my notes from that meeting i see a number of the rules that i subsequently ignored this past year, and understand why my last submission didn't do as well.

  3. I think it's worth considering. Do you have a mentor in the industry you could run the idea by? They might have a better handle on if that practice is still in vogue.

  4. Tough question... It would also depend if you also have a "non-wacky" spec that you're considering entering. If it's either wacky spec vs. no submission, you might as well submit. However, if you have another spec that you'd be submitting in lieu of the gimmick script, maybe you give them both to a few friends and see which one they think would best represent you and your writing. Also, there are other fellowships out there; you could submit a normal spec to one fellowship and the gimmick to another and see which one lasts longer.

    Gun to my head, take the risk and just submit the wacky spec. And if you don't make it into the fellowship, at least you can post it here so we can all enjoy it!

  5. i don't know much about these types of competitions, so i really don't know what i'm talking about. but i've found that the powers that be always SAY they don't like that stuff, but when it comes down to it, they can't help themselves and the wacky script (if well done) can't help but amuse people and stand out.

    but keep in mind, the manager i did get through this type of script SUCKED!

  6. This is belated, obviously, but I find that there's a lot of people reading the comedy scripts who don't have a wacky sense of humor, at least at the executive level, because, and I'm not being glib here, comedy is serious business. If anything is out of line with the voice or world of the show, it's not gonna fly. They're not looking for someone who's messing around. They want someone who's serious, awesome at structure, and can mimic the style and tone of whichever series while creating a completely original story (that's not over-the-top original)--ultimately balance.

  7. Hi! I'm from Argentina, and I would like to know if I can apply to the program despite not being a U. S. citizen. Thanks!