Happy New Year, Gentle Readers!
When people ask me how to write toward what an audience wants to see, I say, "Why would you want to do that?" I then apologize for being so abrupt. But, really. Forget the audience. Write what YOU want to see. Husbands is a pure example of that -- it was something that felt right, timely and funny to me and Brad Bell, so we made the show we wanted (with the invaluable help of a large number of amazing people) and trusted that others would agree.
But that's me. Let's talk about you! Let's say you're sitting down to write a spec script -- a feature or a pilot. The first thing you should think about is what you want the finished project to accomplish: do you want it to look like other shows that are already on the air (or movies on the screen) with proven track records, or do you want it to be an eyebrow-raising divergence? Both goals make sense. Both goals encourage you to work hard and be creative. Both might help you get an agent, get a job, get established. But my vote is for the brow-raiser.
If someone with the power to make things happen is looking for a show that's similar to what's already being done, they'll turn to an established writer. If you're just starting out, that's a card you don't have in your hand. What you do have is the potential to be seen as a new voice with something to say. So don't shy away from being different, new, and saying the things no one else is saying. With Husbands, we wanted to show a new kind of newlywed, bumbling through the same life-adventures as everyone else, so we did, and we managed to break through some of the noise. If we'd played it safe... who knows?
And this idea of writing for yourself is key even after you are established. I've been lucky enough to write for a number of shows with strong show runners who wrote the show they wanted to see. Buffy, Gilmore Girls, Battlestar, Torchwood, and now Once Upon a Time -- these are shows that stayed on course because they were created by men and women who were writing something a little different than what was out there, and who had the strength to stick with their initial vision and not let it get turned into a game of what's-worked-before.
So imagine that you're creating a fantasy viewing schedule for yourself. What would you want to watch if you could wish shows into existence? Norwegian Granny Fights Trolls? Scrabble Masters at Home? Cute Boy Runs Casino? Guess what. You can have those shows. On pages with your name on them.
Keep your eyes on your own muse, Gentle Readers, and your readers/viewers will sense your connection with the material and reward you with the gift of their eyeballs.