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Good News for Scribes, for a Change

Abrams/Reims spec script sale, ratings decline for reality show augur well for future.

There was joy in Mudville (also known as Writers-ville) last week with two announcements.

First there was the J.J. Abrams/Josh Reims spy spec bidding war among the networks. Abrams has been on a roll, with the summer’s blockbuster “Star Trek” movie and the kind of TV success that makes Joss Whedon green with envy. And the last TV spec script he trotted out was the subject of a bidding war – but that was 2007. Before this recession thing kicked in.

For the past few months the networks have been acting like 1930s Skid Row denizens, walking around with hat in hand as they laid off hundreds of workers. Now they finally seem to have remembered that they’re some of the largest, wealthiest conglomerates in the world and that the only cheap way to play the entertainment game is not to play.

It’s too early to speculate whether this is a one-time freak occurrence – an exception made to one of the few guys who has proven he can deliver the big numbers at the box office and on the small screen – or the start of a trend. But we’re writers: Imagination and, by extension, speculation are our stock in trade.

The second piece of good news was an article in Variety about the disappointing ratings for reality series “Dancing With the Stars” compared with the new scripted shows debuting this fall. Sure, you see plenty of writers in the credits of “Survivor” and “The Amazing Race,” but by and large the reality TV trend has been the bane of the writer’s existence for the past decade. Now one of the main reality juggernauts is reporting trouble for the first time ever while new scripted shows grab the glory.

Again, it’s too early to dare dream that the reality trend is played out. But we’re allowed to dream a little bit.

Every writer out there can imagine, for a little while anyway, a Hollywood where the networks spend big bucks for new scripted shows and William Morris Endeavor reps prowl the cafes and coffeehouses hungry for new pilots and new writers.

It gives a writer an excuse to dig that old pilot script out of the closet. The one he stuck in a knapsack between the clean underwear and the toothbrush. The one about the alien private eye. The one that was going to make him an overnight sensation.

We all dream that the fame and fortune is still out there to be had and is just one read away.

It just took 10 years.

Michael Lee is a novel writer, blogger and freelance journalist living in L.A. He's been a judge for the prestigious PAGE Awards and blogs about his two biggest passions, screenwriting and food, at Screenwriting Foxhole and To Cook and Eat in L.A., respectively. Lee is also a co-author of "The Insider's Guide to Screenwriting" and has just published his first novel, "My Frankenstein."