…So that you’ll all know exactly what’s hot and what’s not, what to pitch and what to not pitch, what you’ve been writing that’s a solidly good usage of your time and what…oh, we’re so sorry…not:
Development Season 2013: Fewer Dramas, Bigger (And Overblown) Commitments,
Early Orders, Spinoffs, Adaptations & Remakes
by Nellie Andreeva
Network drama has been on a roll with a string of strong premieres the last two seasons — Revolution, The Following and Arrow last season and The Blacklist, Sleepy Hollow and Marvel’s Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. and The Originals this fall.
But the genre will have to rely heavily on the quality vs. quantity principal if its wants to continue its hot streak as the volume is definitely not there for nprimetime-panic-2ext season. The drama buying got off to a very sluggish start in the summer and never found a higher gear. Drama pitches were down across the board.
For instance, I hear NBC took in 280 hourlong pitches, down from 330 last season. It eventually ordered 20-30 fewer drama scripts this year vs. 2012. “It was like Halloween with the networks living on a street where no one came to trick or treat,” one industry insider lamented. “They were open for months but no one was knocking on their doors.” Why was that? Likely because network dramas are not that special any more.
For decades, the broadcast networks were the home of drama series everyone was watching and critics loved. Then in 1999, David E. Kelley almost didn’t go out on stage to receive a best drama series Emmy for his ABC series The Practice. In his defense, he said he “thought they had made a mistake, and that The Sopranos had won.” It hadn’t, and broadcast dramas held their grip on the top a category for four more years until HBO’s mob drama in 2004 became the first cable show ever to win the best series Emmy in a precursor of the tidal shift to come.
Cable dramas now have won the top Emmy for the past seven years, with no signs of them letting up, while the U.S. commercial broadcasters were shut out completely from the category the last two years. Right now, working on a cable drama is more prestigious that writing on a broadcast one. With broadcast dramas no longer the syndication cash cows they once were, studios don’t pay a premium for writers to develop such shows anymore. “If they are not getting real money to develop for broadcast, writers may as well do cable for the creative freedom,” one observer noted.
Besides the prestige and awards recognition, cable dramas also are becoming more lucrative financially because of services like Netflix where serialized series are a top draw. And let’s not forget that the highest-rated scripted series on television for the past two years is a cable drama, AMC’s The Walking Dead. All that has led to an exodus of broadcast showrunners to cable. The writers room of Emmy-winning first season of Showtime’s Homeland alone featured enough showrunner-level writers to service several broadcast dramas.
Read it all
So much is changing and evolving in the world of spec screenplays that it’s hard to keep up with what to do and what not to do. However, throughout my research and monitoring of the industry I’ve found there are basically three types of screenplays you should have in your arsenal, polished and ready to go. With these three screenplays it’s likely that you’ll have something “in the ballpark” of what a producer, studio or director is looking for.
No guarantees. But as they say, “Luck is where preparation meets opportunity.”
Commercial Screenplay (aka Studio screenplay or marketable/saleable screenplay) - the headline and logline for this screenplay should read like a news article in Deadline.com, a listing in the Hollywood Reporter or Variety Magazine. Leading roles should be characters any of the top ten actors in Hollywood would want to play (adjusting for age, of course). There should also be a role for a strong up-and-coming twentysomething actress and/or a strong character actress. This screenplay can be in any genre but arthouse. Write without any budgetary constraints. If you think the finished film requires $1M a day, write it!
Arthouse Screenplay – this should be a screenplay with strong dramatic elements that an unknown actor or actress can truly sink his/her teeth into. Ideally, this screenplay should showcase your ability to capture and invent fresh dialog while reaffirming your flair for the melodramatic. Study up on budgets because the budgetary constraints for this projects do not exceed $500k, and typically come in under $250k. Think minimal characters, lots of talking, and 100% character driven (the character’s choices lead the story). This is the purpose-driven, well-crafted screenplay that is ideal for screenwriting contests or as festival fodder in its feature film incarnation.
The YOU Screenplay – this screenplay should showcase your unique voice, unique flair for dialog, and your unique storytelling ability. Throw the three- or five-act structure out the window if you must. Does it require a nonlinear or POV format? How about an experimental format? Go for it. Writing this screenplay is not about conforming to industry standards at all. The YOU Screenplay is that story that you must tell because it’s been burning a hole in your brain for decades.
Now here’s a workout video we can get down with:
Find out more about animator Lolly Anderson
Busy seasonal stuff for Writers Guild of America, West members:
Good times, baby! Good times! (Just a few more good reasons to support the labor movement in L.A.!)
After seeing our post last Monday about a great place to find/read/download produced teleplays, TVWriter™ contributor Bob Tinsley commented on another TV writing treasure trove.
(Oh, and yep, we really mean “commented,” as in he informed us of the site as a comment on the post. Proving, we suppose, that the little “Comments” link is worth clicking on at least once in awhile, you know?)
Anyway, it’s with great pleasure that we announce that you can find scripts including episodes of
- L.A. LAW
- THE PRISONER
- THE WALKING DEAD
- WHITE COLLAR
and a whole lot more right HERE.
Have at ‘em while the site’s still up!