Original vs. Spec

Original Script: This is a script that a production company, studio or network has hired you to write. Whether it is based on a pitch you gave, or on some other intellectual property that was brought to you by the company, or for an exisiting show, you have been hired, hopefully under a Writers Guild of America contract, to write the pilot or episode.

Spec Script: Whenever you write a script on your own, that has not (yet) been commissioned by a production company, studio or network, then you’re writing what is known as a “spec” script. The spec (“speculative”) script is basically you writing the script you want to write. Whether it’s a new show pilot or an existing show’s sample episode (to use as your writing sample), you are still undertaking the writing on your own.

Two Kinds of Spec Scripts

The Spec Pilot Script: The spec pilot is an original show you have created. Many things need to happen in a spec pilot script. You have to show us the “world” of the show, introduce us cleverly to the main and recurring characters, set up the conflicts and needs of the character, and also tell a great story along the way. Everything is new to the reader/viewer, and you are the only one (at least at this point) in charge of everything.

The Spec Sample Episode: The spec sample episode is a whole different thing. You are writing what could be viewed as a “typical” episode of your favorite show. If you love “Big Bang Theory” or “Game of Thrones”, you may be writing an episode of one of these. The purpose of the spec sample episode is to show readers that you A) know the show well, B) can emulate the style and feel of the show, C) have some great ideas about what could work for the show.

Now, the weird part about this is that once you have that killer sample episode of your favorite show… you’ll never use it to try to get an “in” with that show. First off, if you did magically get it into the hands of one of the producers of that show, it would not serve you well. They know their show a lot better than you ever will. (On one of the comedies I worked on, many people sent us sample scripts (through agents, managers or friends of producers) and they never seemed right. They were “off” enough that it was awkward to read.)

You use the spec episode to send to other shows. Those producers will most likely not know the show and its unique writing style any better than you. But if it’s a good script, they’ll see you can write.