Anatomy of a Winning One-Hour Pilot: The Berlin Agent

By: Laura Huie

Shore Scripts created the anatomy articles in response to repeated requests to share successful scripts from our contests so that other emerging screenwriters could learn from their examples. Placing in a screenplay contest can create value for a writer’s IP and so meeting this request presented a challenge. How do you share what needs to stay private – at least for a while?

Deconstructing what made our Judges and readers select a script for placement, rather than publishing the script in its entirety, was a way to meet this challenge. And, we think, it is even more, useful to writers considering entering our contests. We thank our former Winners and Finalists for sharing their scripts with us and allowing us to share our evaluations with a wider community. Read on to find out what, for us, makes a great one-hour pilot script.

A one-hour TV pilot is a fantastic calling card to show your unique writing style and voice to agents, managers, and other executives. Having a well-crafted one-hour pilot can help you find writing jobs, be accepted into fellowships, or gain representation by placing in well-established writing contests.

As mentioned in our Anatomy of a Great Half-Hour Pilot article, television executives are not only looking for a solid premise but also a series engine that can sustain your plot through several seasons. Today, we’re looking at THE BERLIN AGENT by Kevin Noonan, the grand-prize winner of our 2022 One-Hour TV Pilot contest.

LOGLINE: Set in 1956 during the Cold War, a murder in East Berlin draws a disgraced British intelligence officer and a cynical German detective into a conspiracy of espionage, scientific discovery, and the future (and the past) of world history.


Every great story begins with a strong core concept that intrigues an audience from the beginning but also entices them to keep watching past the initial pilot episode. When writing a TV pilot, the first thing you need to consider is whether your premise has a series engine, or what drives every single episode in your television series.

Remember, with a one-hour pilot, you have to create enough ideas and threads to sustain six, eight, ten, or more episodes in the first season alone. One way to determine if your premise has legs is to ask yourself if you can easily picture the ending or conclusion. If you can, your idea may be more suited to a movie, but if your concept contains lots of potential outcomes, and avenues, and creates new questions—then your idea could become a great match for a television series.

At first glance, THE BERLIN AGENT has a deceptively simple premise. What happens when a low-level British agent, Conor Keane, is caught up in a lethal skirmish with an enemy espionage service on their home turf? Answer: He is captured and then framed for the murders they perpetrated. He is not important enough to be rescued – or is he? As the story progresses, it becomes clear that there is more to this incident than the regular tit-for-tat between rival agencies.

From this brief plot summary, there are multiple ways that this story can twist and turn. It’s a great start to propel the rest of a successful, well-crafted series. Presumably, the audience will follow Conor as he works to prove his innocence while unraveling the mystery between espionage agencies.

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A teaser or cold open allows you to jump straight into the story without needing setup or backstory and it doesn’t necessarily need to feature your protagonist. Think of it as an immediate inciting incident that gets the viewers asking questions, creates conflict, builds suspense, and grabs our attention.

In THE BERLIN AGENT, the hook occurs with the incident of Conor tailing a professor with a fellow local operative, Hanna Linde, and walking straight into a Stasi ambush. Professor Engels and Hanna are killed, but Conor survives and is fitted up to take the blame for the incident. There is thus immediate jeopardy for Conor, with his life at stake, and only a week until he faces the executioner.

On a macro level, the technology Professor Engels was trying to pass off as his own is possibly a game changer, meaning victory in the Cold War is at stake. There are further layers of personal stakes, with Edna looking for a win that will restore her to her former rank and status and Kohler seemingly willing to put his career on the line and risk the lives of his family to get to the truth.


In a television show, your characters must be engaging enough to keep the viewers coming back each week. Introduce your protagonist during the first act—preferably by the first 1-2 pages, and you’ve got to make sure that we either want to root for them or that they’re intriguing enough to make us want to keep following their journey.

Unlike a half-hour pilot, you have more room to develop your characters’ strengths and flaws in a one-hour format. At the same time, you still want the supporting cast to complement and conflict with your protagonist who they will either help or hinder along the way.

THE BERLIN AGENT begins with Conor Keanes, a low-level British espionage agent, who immediately gets caught up in a crime he did not commit. Since the audience knows that Conor was framed, we immediately sympathize with his situation and his character.

Edna Cornwall, a disgraced but brilliant British intelligence officer believes Conor should be extracted from this dangerous predicament—and is only given five days to do so. Despite her stern aspect, her underdog status and the sense that she has suffered injustice make her compelling to the audience.

Here is a brief example from a scene between Edna and eager secretary Molly:


Most one-hour TV and cable shows are written using a four or five-act structure. Additionally, there’s also usually a teaser (or cold open) at the beginning and a tag scene at the end.

With the advent of streaming, most one-hour TV pilots clock in around 55-60 pages. However, if you’re writing specifically for broadcast or network television, 45 pages are traditional (to account for commercial breaks). THE BERLIN AGENT is at an advantageous 59 pages which suits the format and genre of this script.


Every script needs to carry a strong sense of voice. Voice is a compilation of how you write your action lines, descriptions, dialogue, etc. Two writers can write similar stories with similar characters and plot lines, but the key element that distinguishes one from the other is voice.

THE BERLIN AGENT has an action-forward, dramatic voice that harkens back to classic spy thrillers written by the likes of John Le Carre or Elmore Leonard, but with a modern twist. Furthermore, period espionage dramas with similar tones are often popular with audiences, such as The Americans (2013-2018), The Game (2014-2015), and Spy City (2021).


Overall, THE BERLIN AGENT is an excellent example of an hour-long, gripping period espionage thriller. With issues of integrity in politics fresh in the minds of the public, this is a series that explores issues of corruption and integrity set in the Cold War that feels quite timely. The writing meets the majority of essential elements needed for a one-hour television pilot: a strong story engine, distinct characters, central conflict, and a well-developed voice.

Learn more about THE BERLIN AGENT’s grand prize win from Kevin Noonan, writer of the script.

Our TV Half-Hour and Hour-Long Pilot contest is for screenwriters looking to get staffed on TV Shows, and have their pilots picked up by production companies.

This contest has a proven track record of helping emerging writers achieve their goals of becoming full-time working TV writers in the US & abroad. Writers through our TV Pilot contest have gained representation, and gone on to write and get staffed on shows for Netflix, HBO, HULU, Universal, SYFY, FOX, Sony, SkyTV, Peacock & Others.

Moreover, Shore Scripts never sends a script out to the industry without having first obtained permission from the writer(s) to do so.

We hope this breakdown of a winning one-hour TV script will encourage you to keep writing and write the best draft you can.

Laura Huie is an experienced writer and editor involved in comedy-drama screenwriting, fiction editing, and full-time marketing copy. Laura is also a freelance article writer for Shore Scripts and has worked with Script Pipeline on their live Symposium series. She is one-half of screenwriting duo, Bloom & Huie. Together, they have written multiple television series as well as a feature-length film. Their mission is to write honest and witty female stories wrapped up in unbelievable worlds. 

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