Saturday, June 5, 2010

Creating TV series ideas on spec

(Guest Blogger Erik Bork explains creating a new TV series. Erik has a free initial consult offer right now. The half hour/one page is great to brainstorm BEFORE you write it, saving you many drafts. Please mention I referred you. Thanks.)

Here’s something that comes up a lot when I work with writers who have original series ideas, and spend time mapping out multiple episodes, character breakdowns and “show bibles”…
If you’re not yet established and not yet represented, your spec pilot is primarily a WRITING SAMPLE. Yes, of course you hope that the idea sells and gets produced and becomes a series, but that is such a million-to-one shot (even for those of us who do this for a living and sell pitches to networks on a regular basis), that it’s more realistic to focus on first things first — which is for this pilot script to get you noticed, advance your career, possibly get you representation and meetings. Beyond that, who knows? But the networks aren’t looking for spec pilots from unknown writers that they might produce, nor is the possibility of producing it independently as realistic as in features (although with web series, that is changing somewhat).

This is not to be discouraging at all — a spec pilot can be a very viable writing sample, and you never know what could happen beyond that. Make it the best writing sample you can, that achieves what a good pilot script should achieve. Which is what?
Well, the script needs to stand on its own. You will not be asked about what will happen in future episodes, or have the opportunity to illustrate that through a separate document. Your job is to make sure that the pilot script suggests and implies that there are endless great future episodes in this SERIES CONCEPT, because what you’re presenting in the pilot illustrates an ENDLESSLY REPEATABLE “FRANCHISE” for what happens in an episode.

“What’s the franchise?” is a common thing you hear T.V. agents, producers, and executives asking. Look at any successful series, and you can probably explain in a paragraph the template for what an episode always includes, in terms of story structure — hopefully a template that’s compelling, entertaining, believable, and somewhat fresh. Think of LAW AND ORDER, BUFFY, STAR TREK, EVERYBODY LOVES RAYMOND, etc. A typical episode’s story usually involves “X” kind of problematic situations that resolve through “Y” kinds of actions and “Z” kinds of conflicts for your characters.

Your pilot script should clearly illustrate what “XYZ” are for your concept.
Understand that no matter how serialized the overall series will be, and how much the pilot needs to set up the basic concept (and how these characters and situation come together), the pilot should also contain within it a sample of the kind of story we’ll see each week — the kind of case, or finite example of the conflicts and problems this series will showcase, with a clear beginning, middle and end.

Buyers don’t usually like what they call a “premise pilot,” where the entire pilot episode only focuses on setting up the series, but doesn’t include a “sample story” that shows them what future episodes will look like. Most pilots now set up the basic series premise stuff quickly in the first act, then get to a sample story that takes the rest of the pilot to play out. OR, they interweave “premise” elements within such a sample story.

I could go on, but these are the basic thoughts I wanted to put out there. Please feel free to comment or ask questions if you have any!

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