By Lee Hamilton.
Scripted half-hour TV shows are no longer limited to being either a sitcom, soap, children’s show, or comedy. Thanks to the rise of the many available streaming services 30-minute slots can now be filled with anything from crime dramas, adult animation, thrillers, or even horrors. But while this has opened the gates in terms of creativity, there are still some major points that you’ll need to know when deciding to write your own half-hour pilot, so let’s take a quick look at the top things to consider…
Not only do you need a strong core concept that has immediate appeal, but your idea also needs to be big enough to carry the series for as many seasons as possible, so the first thing you need to consider is whether your premise has enough conflict. While it’s possible to sell a limited series or a miniseries, the longer a producer can envisage your series lasting, the more revenue it can create, giving it much more appeal. One way to determine whether your idea has enough 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 tv series.
Your pilot episode must also firmly establish the premise of the show – what is this story all about. This should be done during the first act, not the last, and arguably, every episode after it must do the same too. Many shows contain an ongoing central storyline that runs throughout the series. Consider intertwining this with some strong themes. Often a show will explore one or two central themes from many different angles. If you can’t condense your premise into a compelling and memorable logline that encapsulates what your show is about AND hooks us at the same time, you may need to go back and develop your ideas a bit more.
Conflict is also key when creating your characters as the audience is going to be spending a lot more time with them than they would do when watching a movie. In a TV show characters need to be engaging enough to keep the viewers coming back each week. We’ve got to meet your protagonist during the first act, 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.
There’s scope for characters to have multiple arcs throughout a series, but sitcom characters tend not to change very much from one episode to the next. With only half an hour to fill, you should keep your cast small and manageable. Design your supporting cast to complement and conflict with your protagonist who they will either help or hinder along the way.