How to write a spec(tacular) pilot: Step two

It’s been a little while. Sorry. I’ve been wrestling with looking for a job, then interviewing for a job (five interviews for one job)*, then starting the job (I interview well), and trying to buy a car which will take me to said job. Which means less time to blog and less time to write.

It’s only been three days since I wrote anything, and two since I worked out, but I already feel... weird... displaced... yucky.

But, as Emerson Cod would say, that ain't none of your concern. You just want to know:

How to write a spec(tacular) pilot

Step one: Join a writers' group**

Step Two: Have a great idea

Most writers I know are having ideas all over the place. We all have our little portable notebooks filled with scratchings that we made during a dire dinner with the in-laws or while we’re supposed to be finding that perfect bouquet of donuts for our boss's latest conquest.

So I’m gonna go ahead and guess that ideas are not a problem.

But what about great ideas? Ones that will make a great spec pilot? Those can be slightly harder to come by.

Now, I’m no expert on what makes a great pilot. (Then again, neither are the people who decide which pilots get made and which get torched. The whole thing is basically a crapshoot.) But I can suggest a few ways to make your pilot easier to write, while also making it a stronger idea should you win the Let's-make-your-pilot Lottery and suddenly be faced with the need to write 12 more episodes.

1. Create a finite world
Where oh where is your pilot going to be set? Want to use your location to create conflict? Then make it a place your characters can’t escape. They need to be stuck with their annoying neighbors, the mysterious black smoke cloud, or Buddy Garrity. That’s why the housewives are so desperate, and the Lost-ers are so, uh, lost. They can’t leave their finite world (the island won’t let - cue spooky music).

Let’s think about this from a different perspective. The Heroes perspective. That show is all over the map – literally. When things get bad the characters can just fly away or time travel to somewhere less dangerous. What fun is that?

2. Flaw-up your characters
It’s tempting to write a nice story about some nice people doing nice things. I mean, you want to like your characters, right? You want to think they could be your friends. Which is cool. You should want to be friends with your characters.

Just make them the kind of friends that end up getting you arrested, or hitched in Vegas, or on the red-eye to Europe without any luggage. Or all three. Don't make them the kind of friends who encourage you to save for retirement and increase your mortgage payments in order to decrease your… yawn! No one on TV thinks about their mortgage. They’re too busy having sex with their paralyzed best friend’s girlfriend.

3. Find your football
In my writers’ group, we like to say that a pilot needs its football. It’s a Friday Night Lights reference – duh! Your football is not, strictly speaking, what your show is about, but it is the framework upon which your whole show hangs. Call it your Vampires and Demons (Buffy), your Sex (Sex in the City), your Rich vs Poor (The OC), your Murder and Mayhem (every police procedural and Pushing Daisies), your Political Adventures (West Wing), or your Sororities and Frats (Greek). It all amounts to the same thing.

You’ve gotta find your football.

Well, actually, you don’t. But your life will be a whole lot easier if you do. Football will transform your idea from:

Small town boy unhappy in small town


Small town boy unhappy in small town when invisible potatoes start to reveal to him the deepest, darkest secrets of the townspeople. In code. Tuber code.

Which one would you rather watch?

10-Second Restaurant Reviews
Porto’s Bakery, 315 North Brand Blvd., Glendale, CA

You’d think Porto's was the only lunch place in Glendale
nay, in Los Angeles
The way the patrons swarm like flies around a particularly
potent compost heap
But the food's not like compost, in that it's not rotting and it
tastes rather yummy
Even if you're sitting on the sidewalk, roasting like an invisible tuber
in 104 degree heat

*I've stolen Josh's method of putting bracketed comments in small text, because I like it. Thanks Josh.

**For writers in LA, you can join a new networking/social group for TV writers and their friends. It's going to be the best group in LA, and I'm not just saying that cuz I started it. When you come to the first networking event, you’ll surely meet others who need some critiquing partners.

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