The Do’s and Don’ts of Writing an Original TV Pilot
By Martie Cook
In the coming months, TV execs will read hundreds of pilot scripts and hear at least that many ideas for new shows. If you are an aspiring television writer, now more than ever, it’s important to have an original script in your portfolio. Be it comedy or drama, a good pilot can jumpstart your career by attracting the attention of agents, producers, and executives.
Do find a premise that’s fresh and original. Mimicking what’s already on television will not make you stand out in the writing crowd.
Do choose a premise that has infinite story possibilities. Networks crave long-running series like Law & Order and Friends.
Do set up the series franchise. Your pilot script should act as a blueprint for the entire series. It should introduce the premise, characters and structure that will come into play on a weekly basis. Only use flashbacks, voiceovers, or other clever storytelling devices if you envision them in future episodes.
Do be sure your characters talk in distinct, consistent voices. If a character speaks in slang he must always speak in slang. Once your pilot is finished, go through and read aloud each character’s dialogue separately from start to finish to hear if your voices need tweaking.
Don’t hold back too much information. If you’re thinking about dropping a big bomb in Season 5, episode 10, and then everyone will “get it”, think again. When readers are confused by a lack of information in your pilot script, there won’t be a season 1.
Don’t make the pilot episode all about backstory. The characters should be in motion when we meet them, and backstories should emerge in natural, character specific dialogue.
Don’t write a pilot that will only be of interest to a limited audience. Tapping into universal themes and future trends will insure more viewers, which, for networks translates into more advertising dollars.
Don’t be shy. In this racy age of television, bold and daring will take you a lot further than bland. Executives would much rather read an edgier sample that proves you have the ability to take chances and push the envelope. A risqué script can always be cut back. A run-of the mill script will only be indicative of a run-of the mill-writer.
Excerpted from Write to TV: Out of Your Head and onto the Screen, 2nd Edition by Martie Cook © 2014 Taylor and Francis Group. All Rights Reserved
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