Jon's question: Will showrunners read spec scripts of their own show?

Today’s question comes from Jon H., who writes…

Q:  In browsing through the magazine stand at Barnes & Noble, I noticed both Creative Screenwriting magazine and Script magazine this month have detailed articles on particular TV shows, with info on format, backstories, etc. to help readers pitch spec scripts to these shows.  I had always been told this is a lost cause, as TV shows won’t even look at a spec script from outsiders, they are all staff written and they never buy specs or hire writers based on a spec. A spec script was only feasible for a feature film, and even then the odds were long but they were non-existent for TV.  Also, no show would look at a spec script for its own show for fear of lawsuits over plagiarism if they later did something remotely similar. They would only look at spec scripts for other, similar shows.  Has all that changed, or are the magazines being somewhat misleading to their readers?

A:  Hey, Jon– you are completely right… TV shows generally won’t look at a spec script of their own show, and it’s traditionally not a good idea to write a spec in hopes of getting on that exact show (i.e., you should never write a “Criminal Minds” spec in hopes of getting on “Criminal Minds,” but it might be a good spec to land you a job on “CSI: New York” or “Law & Order: SVU.”

Having said that, I didn’t see the specific issues of “Script” and “Creative
Screenwriting
” you were looking at, so I don’t know exactly how these
articles were framed… or if they were genuinely “misleading”.  I have, however, seen pieces like these before (“Creative Screenwriting” did one a few months ago on how to write “The Closer,” and they recently did one about “How I Met Your Mother“), and I don’t remember them being framed as tools to help “PITCH spec scripts to these shows;” they’re usually couched as “how to WRITE spec scripts for the show”– meaning, they’re guides to help people write scripts they can use to get on OTHER shows (like the above “Criminal Minds”/”CSI: New York” example).

But these articles have other helpful uses as well.  They’re great research tools if you’re going in for a general meeting, or a staffing meeting, on one of those shows… especially if you haven’t seen every episode.  They’re also great brush-up to know what’s happening on shows; it’s always great to be able to talk knowledgeably and articulately about other programs.

So while I don’t know how misleading those specific articles may or may not have been, you’re right in pointing out that shows won’t usually read spec scripts of themselves… and I’m *guessing* those articles weren’t intended to help pitchers, but people writing specs in hope of staffing.

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