What scripts do you have socked away that felt too “out there” or different to commit to paper, finish, or submit? With so many outlets for stories that veer from the beaten path (shoutout to shows such as Twin Peaks and Northern Exposure for paving the way), it’s time to drag that idea out of hiding.
Different, strange, oddball, weird, and wonderful are in and will stay in for as long as writers want to produce the work. Viewers enjoy being surprised. And they love new stuff. They’re waiting on your stuff.
Viewers didn’t know they wanted to follow a hoodie-wearing morphine-addicted hacker around New York as he tries to take down one of the largest conglomerates in the world, but here we are loving Rami Malek as Elliot Alderson on Sam Esmail’s Mr. Robot like nobody’s business.
Who knew we’d be mesmerized by those funky hot yoga moves in Brit Marling and Zal Batmanglij’s The OA even if we were scratching our heads at the finale like, “Wuuuut?” Or see ourselves reflected in Aziz Ansari’s Master of None. And no one knew they wanted a Crazy Ex-Girlfriend until Rachel Bloom burst onto the streets of West Covina in full song, riding a giant pretzel. Maybe none of those shows are your cup of tea, but they certainly were to large chunks of viewers. Tea was gulped.
Why is it important to zag? By leaving the road less trampled, you’ve got wide open terrain to create something no one has seen before. Or at the very least, your take on a theme and something you’d like to give life to. It’s feels good to run around in a world you’ve created without the constraints of trying to recreate an existing idea.
We are creating ideas in a time of Donald Glover who meshed Twin Peaks with rappers and set it all in his native Atlanta. Where a pot delivery guy (Ben Sinclair and Katja Blichfeld’s High Maintenance) is our modern day Mr. Katz, collecting stories from characters across New York City that can only exist in New York. Where Noah Hawley made Fargo into a crazy good TV show and by putting his own spin in it, lived up to the delicious you betcha near-perfection of the Coen brothers film.
Creators who step away from the expected are doing it for themselves, listening to their own drum beat. Letting their freak flag fly. Releasing the inner writing beast. Okay, I’ll stop. The patchouli is getting thick in here.
I began doing this last year. Returning to those ideas that seemed too much. Too… outsidery. I was reluctant to even workshop them with trusted colleagues for fear of getting a look. You know the one. The one where the person looks like they’re smelling feet under the dinner table. Every time I even thought about sharing something from my folder entitled “the really f*cking odd ones,” I’d clam up.
What triggered a change in my thinking came from watching one unique story after another coming from all kinds of different creators. I was transformed by the bold choices writers and showrunners were taking, from industry veterans to newcomers who put their material on the Internet before landing their TV deals. And if you’re an odd duck like me, that’s extremely comforting and inspiring.
I began to realize that a solid idea that is well crafted, no matter how far outside the norm, will find its audience. When I pulled out one of my unusual concepts, I saw some of them as actually working in this current climate. My little weirdo might just be able to sit at the fancy table one day, stinky feet and all.
It’s time to revisit that idea that was so personal/other/extra, you couldn’t imagine an audience relating to it. Chances are you’re going to ring so true with people, it’ll pleasantly shock you. As Rami Malek said when he accepted his Critics Choice Award, “It’s not just good to be different, it’s better to be different.”
Share in the comments below what you’re working on that might be a little out there.
17 Replies to "TV Writers, It’s Good to Be Different"
monet January 17, 2017 (4:29 pm)
Lisa Waugh January 17, 2017 (6:53 pm)
Thank you, monet. I’m new here so kindness is appreciated.
Robbert Smit January 17, 2017 (5:46 pm)
Not just good! It is ‘great’ to be different! It is also liberating, inspiring, energizing, innovating, thought provoking, challenging, daring, exhilarating, trend making, unique, admired, talked about, understood, misunderstood, copied, and so the list goes on.
Lisa Waugh January 17, 2017 (6:54 pm)
The Cape Cod girl January 17, 2017 (6:20 pm)
Indeed! I find I don’t think of my ideas as different when I’m working on them in my own little isolation booth…I simply think of them as mine. I don’t feel self-conscious until I’m in a meeting.
Lisa Waugh January 17, 2017 (6:52 pm)
I can relate. So relate.
Emmanuel January 17, 2017 (8:31 pm)
When a hardened hunter is captured in Africa and brought to 1810 America he escapes, inspires fear and myth across the South for his mystical power and crocodile-strength. He rips apart slaveowners and guides generations of captured Africans to a land of safety and abundance. The Crocodile Messiah.
Lisa Waugh January 18, 2017 (12:23 pm)
I’d watch it.
Diane January 17, 2017 (9:56 pm)
Nice article! The next step is to convince those recipients of the stinky feet pitch that what they’re smelling is the sweat of success.
Lisa Waugh January 18, 2017 (12:25 pm)
Yeah, that’s a whole other bag of gym socks.
Elizabeth N. Stinson January 19, 2017 (1:40 pm)
How do we get our out-there screenplays to possible producers? I have a contemporary Cinderella-inspired adventure with prequels and sequels in a variety of genres and time periods.
Lisa Waugh January 19, 2017 (2:31 pm)
I’m working on an article that might help answer that question. And I certainly would like to hear any wisdom from creators who’ve gotten through.
Kevin Stocklin March 29, 2017 (7:03 am)
Hi Lisa, great article – just to repeat Elizabeth’s question, how DO we get screenplays to TV producers, particularly historical dramas? Thanks!
PARKER CROSS January 23, 2017 (11:54 pm)
I enjoyed the article tremendously. As somebody who set a sitcom in an abortion clinic, I know about “different.”
Lisa Waugh January 24, 2017 (11:03 am)
Thanks, Parker. That’s some boldness there.
S.K. Gardner March 7, 2017 (9:38 am)
Hi, I found your post very inspiring as it relates to getting those “odd ones” out there. I needed to run across this!!
Lisa Waugh March 7, 2017 (1:23 pm)
Thank you, S.K.!