First, a success story! Stephen disovered the Independent TV Festival on the blog and he just found out that his online series, "My Life at 26," has been accepted into the festival (which takes place August 1-7 in LA). Congrats! Feel free to share any success stories that begin with my humble blog!
Next, a question from Paul about spec length: It seems like everybody says that my half hour sitcom spec should only be 22 pages. All those same people also advise you find an actual script from the show you're specing so that you can make your spec look like theirs. I did that, but the script I got is a shooting script, 42 pages for a half-hour episode. Should my spec look like that or should I scale it back to the 22 page range? I've tried to do my homework, but I'm really confused by the contradicting info.
Yeesh. First off, is the show single-camera or multi-camera? Multi-camera sitcoms have a different format: the dialogue is double spaced, the action is written in all caps and the scenes are labeled with letters - and these changes will add pages. I don't have a ton of familiarity with this format since I've never written a multi-camera spec...but I just looked at a few How I Met Your Mothers and they're closer to the 42 pages you mentioned. For single-camera shows (which includes all hourloung shows), the format is the same as basic screenplay format, except that you label each act, unlike in a feature. As for length, half hours should be anywhere from 22-35 pages. For a half-hour pilot I think it's more acceptable to be around 30-35...but for a spec I would be wary of doing more than 26 or so. Overall it's probably best to stay shorter - since your script is going to be in a huge pile of other scripts, and people might look for reasons (like: IT'S TOO LONG!) to toss yours aside. Similarly, screenplays should never be more than 120 pages; it's like giving your script a shiny cover that says DON'T READ ME. (John August recently posted about this.) That being said, writing a 17-page spec won't make you look clever, it'll make you look like you don't understand how television works.
Of course, premium cable shows are a bit of an exception (Jane Espenson recently wrote a post about how the lack of act breaks also makes them different). When I wrote my Weeds I got my hands on two of the show's scripts; one was 38 and the other was 43. An Entourage I found came in at 35.