Spec Scriptacular Winner’s CHICAGO FIRE Episode on NBC Tonight

Chicago Fire Capture

As we say in the newz biz, this just in:

UNDER THE KNIFE, The first of CHICAGO FIRE staffer Ryan Harris’s co-written episodes for the show airs tonight, January 9th.

Ryan’s specs for THE GLADES and JUSTIFIED came in 1st and 3rd, respectively, in the Action/Drama/Dramedy Division of the 2011 Spec Scriptacular. Now that he has a little, um, “seasoning” under his belt, we’re sure his current work is even better!

And here’s NBC’s CHICAGO FIRE page.

TVWriter™ October Newsletter

TVWriter™ Newsletter – October 2012

Um, more or less. The exact date on which we’ll start accepting entries is January 1, 2013, and we’ll have a short period – probably that magic number of 2 months – in which you can do the Early Bird Entry thing for $30 instead of the usual $40.

We’re still deciding whether or not to offer any kind of Feedback. Right now LB is leaning in the direction of sending the judges’ score to each entrant after the Winners have been announced, along with a general definition of what the various numbers mean. so you can use that as a guide to what about your work needs to be improved – if anything, because of course the Winners are going to be near-perfect, right?

We’re also trying to decide on a fairer category system for the People’s Pilot. As of this writing the thinking is that instead of just one overall winner we would have two categories and two sets of Semi-Finalists, Finalists, and Winners. We’re not sure what to call the categories. Maybe 1-hour and half-hour series?

For all practical purposes, this would mean an action/drama category and another for sitcoms, paralleling the broadcast and cable network development process for scripted shows. We’d still like to keep most of the sub-categories, though, like children’s show, animation, etc., but mostly for informational purposes.

Our question to you: Does this sound fair? Does it sound easier/simpler for you to deal with as entrants? Nothing’s set in stone yet, and your input is vital so please give us a shout on the subject.

You can learn more about the People’s Pilot here.
The Spec Scriptacular details are here.

Or just go to TVWriter™ and click on the contest of your choice in the righthand index.



What’s At Stake?


Long before I got into the television business, back when I was a television viewer, I would go off on a rant about cop shows at a moment’s notice. “Why are people’s lives always in danger?” I would shout. “Why does TV always have someone looking down the business end of a gun?”

Now that I’ve been writing for what seems like 8000 years, I know the answer. The reason television gives us so many cop shows and medical shows and lawyer shows is that in those situations something very important is always at stake – usually someone’s life. You don’t get higher stakes than that, and without the risk of a very big loss, all the audience can do when it sees your hero being agitated is yawn and say, “Who cares?”

Drama occurs when someone has a need that must be filled and must work like hell to overcome obstacles standing in the way of filling it. Notice that I said “need.” Merely “wanting” something isn’t enough. The situation has to be an absolute “must have or else” or the audience clicks that remote.

This is THE basic story. In a sense it’s the ONLY story, and to make it work effectively not only does the need have to be great, so do the consequences of failure – and the obstacles in the way of success. When you design your story, remember that the more serious the danger, the more involved the audience will become. If your hero is a millionaire, and he stands to lose a thousand-dollar bet, that ain’t enough. But if your hero is broke and stands to lose his wife and kids unless he comes up with a hundred bucks to save the day – well, now you’ve got something that will hold the viewers’ attention – and yours as the writer as well.



We’re currently in Week 2 of the latest Basic Online Workshop, but we’re thinking of holding another one in a few months – probably in March – instead of waiting the usual year. Sound good to y’all? Let us know!

Basic Workshop info and sign-up form

The next TVWriter™ Advanced Online Workshop starts November 1, 2012, and right now we have three openings. The Advanced Workshop always fills up, so we ever-so-respectfully suggest that you hurry to:

Advanced Workshop info and sign-up form

Or find out more about everything TVWriter University is currently offering here.




Learn what’s happening at TVWriter™ in real-time on Facebook.

Ditto by following us on Twitter.

Larry Brody – Head Dood
Tim Muncher – Keeper of the Faith
Various Volunteers – Mucho Appreciated Scapegoats
Gwen Brody – Beautiful Dreamer

SPEC SCRIPTACULAR Finalists Will Be Announced Monday

That’s Monday, September 3rd. As soon as we wake up and have our coffee Bright and early.

Join us here and contribute your own shout of glee.


PEOPLE’S PILOT Finalists Will Be Announced Monday


That’s Monday, August 27th.

You really oughta be there here. We know we will.

Bright and early even.


“Dammit, Why Didn’t my PEOPLE’S PILOT Script Make it to the Semi-Finals?”

Tuesday, the day TVWriter™  announced the Semi-Finalists in the 21st running of the People’s Pilot Contest, this site  had more visitors and page views than ever before in its decade-and-a-half-year-long history.

Just short of 80% of the visits/views related to the PP, and for the first time, one post, “PEOPLE’S PILOT Semi-Finalists are Here,” had 33% more visitors than our landing page. In fact, 4 times as many people visited that post as actually entered the contest.

So I guess that means you’re interested, right? For which, btw, I’m very, very thankful.

And what you seem to be most interested in right now, judging not only from page views but also from the emails we’ve received about the Semi-Finalist selections, boils down to “Why did some entries make the Semi’s and others not? What did we do wrong? What did we do right?”

Major concerns. Proper questions. And while I can’t answer regarding the specifics of any individual entries, I’m more than prepared to make some general observations about how things went down – and are continuing to go down as we enter the Finalist and Winners phases – this time around.

Firstly, I think it’s important than everyone who comes to this site, whether you entered or not, know that this really was the best crop of entries we’ve ever received. The level of writing has gone up with every running, as has the ingeniousness of the series concepts themselves. This was an extraordinary bunch of entries, and as far as I’m concerned, every single one of them could become a successful TV series.

Inevitably, however, some were more impressive (I’m loathe to say “better” because that could lead to an endless discussion of the very definition of the word) than others. The entries that became Semi-Finalists were stand-outs, and, because all writers need to know what works in order to make it work for them, those stand-outs had the following in common:

  • Great characterization – interesting, believable “people” from the largest to the smallest roles
  • Great dialog – interesting, believable and clever speech with varying speech patterns depending on the character
  • Fast-paced stories that didn’t feel like “pilots” per se because they did much more than introduce us to the characters and setting they plunged us into a problem and/or a need and made us care about solving the problem and/or fulfilling the need
    (Special note: The most successful of the Semi-Finalist scripts began with at least 5 pages it was impossible to put down, and the majority of those both the protagonist (s) and the main problem were introduced by the fifth page
  • Streamlined teleplay format that gave us all the information we needed in order to go with the flow, and did it so tightly that every page was clean, simple and a pleasure to read

Another way to look at this is to talk about what didn’t work, as in, “Why didn’t certain scripts make the cut?” So:

  • The most common flaw in scripts that didn’t make it in this running of the contest was the lack of a central problem for the protagonist (s). Even comedies need stories, as in situations in which the hero has to rise to occasion in order to succeed because if s/he doesn’t there’s going to be hell – maybe personal, maybe professional, maybe literal – to pay. The scripts that didn’t work had events and incidents…but no forward drive
  • The second most common flaw was too much talk. As in long speeches. And long scenes. Good writing=strong cutting.
  • A sitcom that isn’t funny isn’t a sitcom (“Could be shorter, could be funnier” was the most common complaint about sitcom entries)
  • A drama without conflict isn’t a drama (“Could be shorter, could be angrier” was the most common complaint about action/drama entries)

A couple more suggestions:

  • Format-wise, when in doubt go with master scenes instead of giving us individual shots – it’s so much easier to read
  • Do everything in your power as a writer to make the reader turn the page – don’t count on something being intrinsically interesting, write it so it’s even more interesting

And a final thing to remember (I have to say that to remind myself that it’s time to stop because I keep thinking of more to say…sound familiar?): Good writing and a good script aren’t the same thing. When friends and family read your work, they’re going to be mightily impressed by your ability to communicate and turn a phrase. When pros read your work, they’re going to take that ability as a given, so the only things that can impress them are characters so interesting (and funny, if it’s a comedy), and events so exciting that they can’t stop themselves from reading through to the end.

Next week: The SPEC SCRIPTACULAR SEMI-FINALISTS, and the burning question: “Dammit, why didn’t my Spec Scriptacular script make it to the Semi-Finals?”

If you’ve been reading closely, you probably already know the answer.