Monday, June 15, 2009

Including "Previously On" in your spec

Josephine writes: Do you have any advice on writing specs for TV shows with long storylines? I'm writing a Grey's Anatomy spec and a lot of their storylines overlap into several episodes. Do I write a "Previously On" montage? Or should I just hint at previous storylines in my dialogue?

That's a very good question. You'll probably hear differing opinions on this, but the heads of the ABC/Disney Fellowship recommended that you include a page at the beginning of your script (that's not part of the script itself) that quickly lays out what's going on with the plots & characters. I would imagine it would be as simple as:

Previously on Grey's Anatomy:
Izzie and Meredith are secretly dating
The Chief died in a mysterious accident
Bailey finally sought help for videogame addiction
Karev and McDreamy broke off their engagement

(I haven't watched in a couple seasons, but I imagine that's what's happening.)

So, no - don't write a montage (I think it would be pretty cheesy/clunky), and don't go out of your way to make the dialogue informative (I don't think it'll sound natural). Give us a little guide and then write the way you would write for someone who knows what's going on.

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Kristan said...

I DO watch, and I wish that's what was happening... :P

GregM said...

I would like to see that episode. And I don't even watch Grey's Anatomy.

MTB said...

Best advice I got for any spec is to write it as if it is the season opener for the following season. The preverbial "#_01". That way you have the freedom to be creative but still within the constraints of that shows world.

Also, don't kill main characters, have the ep's focus be about a guest character, and keep the location count low.

Chad Gervich - Script Notes said...

Just a quick response to MTB's comment above...

One of the WORST, ABSOLUTE WORST mistakes you can make with your spec is to have it be about a guest character. REPEAT: DO NOT DO THIS.

The point of a spec is to illustrate how you explore and play with the characters and relationships that are already there, how you capture their voices and the voice of the show's creator/storyteller.

Focusing on a guest character exempts you from this.

In fact, guest characters in specs are generally seen as one of the primary red flegs of spotting an amateur, a newbie to television.

(Having said this, I'm sure there are plenty of exceptions to this rule. But as a "rule" - DON'T DO IT!)

Z said...

Scott (or Amanda): Would you classify using a character like William Bell on FRINGE or Dan and Lily's love child Scott on GOSSIP GIRL as a guest character?

I always considered the "no guest" rule to be about creating someone completely new in the show's universe and making it all about them... but if the show brought in someone who's going to be a major part of the new season, do you think that's fair game?