Write Stuff: The Spec Script

In which I talk about writing a fictional episode for an existing TV series

Chet Haase
4 min readJun 3, 2024

Last term, I wrote a spec script. A spec script is really anything you write “on spec” (for free), which is done to demonstrate your writing to people who might eventually read it and want to hire you. But I’ve heard it used most often to mean, essentially, “a pretend episode in an existing series.”

I’ve always wondered about spec scripts. How do you choose them? How are they structured? How do you create the storyline? (partial answer: it turns out they often have multiple storylines). And who actually reads these things and how do you get the scripts to them? (I haven’t answered that last one yet; I’m in a writing program, not a “get a job” program).

I know many people write spec scripts on their own, and it seemed like something I should do, but somehow didn’t know enough (or know how to search for that knowledge) to get started. This is the great thing about school; when there’s a homework assignment due, you figure it out. Even better: the class taught the basics to get me started.

When choosing a series to write the spec script, pick a series you like and know well. For one thing, you presumably want to write in a genre that you actually enjoy. You may use the spec script to try to get a job on a show in that same genre, so make sure it’s one you actually want to write for. Also, you need to demonstrate that you can write for that series; if you don’t know the series well, you might not capture the right tone and will fail to convince anyone that you’d be right for that show (or, by the transitive property of screenwriting, for any show you were asked to write for). Even if you don’t know a series completely, you should at least watch, or rewatch, a bunch of episodes to get it into your mind as you create your script.

You should also generally choose a current show, as opposed to one in the past (especially one in the distant past). That way, whoever reads it to has a better chance of knowing it, since it’s currently on the air. Also, it shows that you are offering new work and not something you could have written many years ago. And they might want to know what you could write for a current audience, instead of, say, an audience watching All in the Family in the 70s.

Note that you will never submit a spec script to the show that the script is for. This was a surprise to me, but it makes sense if you think about the fact that lawyers exist. Suppose you submit a spec script about some show to writers for that show. Then suppose that one of their future episodes happens to have a character, storyline, or any other element that was in your script. Even if that occurrence was completely coincidental, it could cause legal problems. So the people on a given show will not read a spec script for that show because they just don’t want to open that can of worms. Instead, if you want to get a job on Show A, write a spec script about Show B in the same genre and then try to get it read by people on Show A. That script will demonstrate to the team of Show A that you can write for a similar show… and thus maybe for their show as well, avoiding all of those pesky liability issues with spec scripts for Show A.

For my spec script, I chose the series Only Murders in the Building (OMitB), because:

  • It’s a comedy, which is my preferred genre. If you made me write a relationship drama, I might write a suicide note instead.
  • The show is current.
  • I know the show and characters well, having watched all seasons and episodes. I’m anxiously awaiting Season 4. Aren’t you?

… and then I got to work. I won’t go into all of the details in developing it (it took me ten weeks to produce the script and I don’t want this article to take that long to read). But in a nutshell: I came up with loglines (summaries) of several potential episodes. Feedback from classmates and the professor helped me choose one that had the most promise. I developed three storylines for the episode, interleaved pieces of those stories in an outline, and then wrote the script for that outline.

Writing the script ended up being the easiest, and most enjoyable, part of the whole process. I ascribe that to one critical factor: strong characters. More on characters in the next installment, Strong Characters.



Chet Haase

Past: Android development Present: Student, comedy writer Future: ???