“Why is it that I’ve never heard of anyone writing a “Boston Legal” spec? (Or is it just me?)“
It’s funny, Fig– when I read your question, my first response was, “Oh, yeah– Boston Legal— that must be a spec-able show!” But of all the people I asked… agents, execs, writers… not one of them mentioned Boston Legal. Which is weird, I know, because it’s still a pretty popular show, and it seems– in theory– that a quirky, standalone show like that should be highly spec-able.
But it’s not… or, at least, it’s not considered a “hot spec.”
And here, I think, is why…
Reason #1) It’s old. It’s going into its fifth season this year, and most shows have lost their sexy new-kid-on-the-block status by then. And while you probably never want to spec a super-new show like, say, Eli Stone, or Aliens in America, you also don’t want to spec something that feels like yesterday’s news. And while I never really saw a glut of Boston Legal specs, there was definitely a time– a few years ago– when I saw many more than I do now. Which brings me to…
Reason #2) For whatever reason– and maybe this is just my own perception– Boston Legal has never really felt “cool.” Maybe because it was a spinoff of The Practice, which had been around forever, but Boston Legal just never felt like a fresh, new, groundbreaking show… which isn’t necessarily fair, because it’s very different than The Practice… and it’s really good… but still– it lives in that world, those characters were born on The Practice, and The Practice first premiered eleven years ago. This isn’t to knock Boston Legal… I think it’s so much better than many people give it credit for… I’m just saying that it has never felt like the show all the kids are watching.
Having said all that– if your heart is pounding to write a Boston Legal, my advice is: write a Boston Legal!
While one of the first rules of spec-writing is to write a hot spec that execs, agents, and showrunners are dying to read, the real first rule of spec-writing… or of writing anything… is to write what you’re most passionate about. Nothing will show off your true voice better than something your pour your heart into… whether it’s this year’s hot 30 Rock spec or a radio play about your mother. In other words, brilliant St. Elsewhere spec will get you farther than a mediocre Dexter.
Of course, having said all this, it doesn’t mean you should just damn the rules, write whatever you want, and expect to get staffed. The rules are there for a reason… every year, there are certain specs people like to read, and certain specs they don’t. And the specs people like to read tend to get read first, plain and simple. So the best case scenario for you, as a writer, is to find a story you’re deeply passionate about and implant it into one of the hot specs. Could your Boston Legal story work as a Dexter? How about a Mad Men? Maybe even a CSI (which is older than Boston Legal but still, somehow, manages to have a higher “cool factor”)?
If you can’t adapt your story… if you’re burning to tell a specific, heartfelt, personal tale that won’t work as a Dexter or The Office… then by all means– tell that story in whatever form it needs to be told, whether it’s a spec of L.A. Law, an epic poem, or a stage play in iambic pentameter. Your goal is to rock your reader to his core… and if Boston Legal‘s the only way to do that, Boston Legal it is.