READER QUESTION: How Do I Spec a Serialized Show like "Damages?"

Today’s reader question comes from Chuck, who asks…

“I love
‘Damages’, the show.  How would you spec a show like Damages when the entire season is one long arc – like one long movie?  Same as ’24.’  Is that possible?”

Well, Chuck, the short (and unfortunate) answer is: I probably wouldn’t spec a “Damages”… because of the very problems you’re stumbling upon.  It’s nearly impossible, for a multitude of reasons…

1)  Highly serialized shows—like “Damages,” “24,” “Lost,” etc.—have constantly evolving plots and characters, so it’s very tough to write a spec that has any kind of shelf-life.  By the time you’ve finished it, the stories and people have often changed so much that your script—even if it’s only a few weeks old—already feels outdated.

2)  Because highly serialized shows rarely tell standalone stories (episodes that have their own satisfying beginning, middle, and end), writing a spec of that show is almost counter-productive.  After all, your job is to capture the tone and pace of the show… but also to show off your storytelling chops… but it’s tough to write a script that does both when the very nature of the show you’re speccing is antithetical to standalone storytelling.  In other words, you might right a terrific standalone spec of “Damages,” but you run the risk of having just written a brilliant story… that doesn’t feel like the show.

3)  Most serialized shows aren’t gigantic hits, and—even with those that are—many people aren’t up to speed on exactly where the show is each week.  Which means there’s a limited audience of people who can actually read or “get” your spec.  And even for genuine “Damages” fans, they may not be up to speed on exactly where the show is… which makes it hard for them to fully understand or appreciate your spec.  (I.e., I like “Damages,” but I tend to record a bunch of episodes, then watch them all at once… so as of right now, I’m not really caught up on this season.)

Having said all this, a couple pseudo-caveats…

I always say that if you’re incredibly, desperately passionate about something… you have to write it.  So if you have an awesome idea for a “Damages” story chewing its way out of you… WRITE IT!  If it’s brilliant, someone will read it and appreciate it.  And even if it’s not brilliant… or even if no one ever reads or appreciates it… you’ll have the fun of telling and exorcising that story—which, at the very least, will be a terrific exercise and make you a stronger writer.

Also, people occasionally write what I call “novelty specs,” or specs that less about mimicking a show and more about playing with the form of the program itself.  I talked about “novelty specs” a couple weeks ago, when I talked about the spec “Taxi” and “Two of a Kind” scripts I had read, in my response to Erica’s spec-writing question.

There’s always the possibility of writing a “novelty spec” of “Damages.”  For instance, you could write a spec that imagines what Ellen’s life would be like if David, her fiance, had never been murdered.  Or you could write your own “season three opener,” with a gripping teaser—several months in the future—that then flashes back six months.

I’m not necessarily recommending this route.  As I said to Erica, writing a novelty spec is a risky endeavor that can backfire and make you look foolish.  But if you’re passionate about a particular show, and can execute an interesting novelty story well, it can make a fun and intriguing sample script.

Hope that helps, Chuck… and if you—or anyone else reading—has other questions, please feel free to email me at… or simply post them in the comments section below!

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2 thoughts on “READER QUESTION: How Do I Spec a Serialized Show like "Damages?"

  1. Erica

    If you really still want to do a Damages spec, the new issue of Creative Screenwriting breaks it down for you. Still think that’s a tough one though. Plus if the ratings don’t pick up you could be wasting your time.