How To Write A TV Pilot Script

Do you want to write for television? You can start by writing a TV script. It can either be for an existing TV show or your original idea. Writing TV scripts for existing shows are only used as samples and for submissions to contests and TV writers workshops or fellowships.

TV writers should never try to submit a spec TV script to the producers of the TV show they want to work on.

However, you should have both original pilot and spec TV scripts in your portfolio.

There are two main types of TV pilots you can write.

TV Pilot Scripts: Genesis or Prototype

Traditionally, a TV pilot is either a GENESIS pilot or a PROTOTYPE.

A genesis pilot, is a stand alone episode which introduces the world, the characters or the franchise of a new TV show.

A prototype pilot is a typical episode. I’ve heard industry quote episode 6 as a good episode to submit as a sample, because the show has found its feet by this time. In contemporary TV, pilots are often a hybrid of the two.

The key function of the pilot is to establish what the series is about and its trajectory through the season and beyond.

TV plots typically fall into either 60 minute time slots for dramas and procedurals or 30 minute slots for comedies. USA network is unique in that it still accepts 90 minute pilots, which are more difficult to sell into syndication.

The pilot also establishes the format and tone of the show. Ensure you end on a climax so that audience will come back for more next week. Pilots must have an element of uniqueness that sells them. For instance, “The Big Bang Theory” is based on the familiar urban tribe with scientific geniuses (hook).

Don’t oversaturate your TV pilot script with excessive description, dialogue or complicated story. Don’t say what isn’t vital. Audiences respond to characters rather than context. In the current TV climate, it’s advisable to write both a spec script for an existing show to prove you can emulate its tone and voice, as well as an original spec pilot that captures your essence as a writer. So go and write that passion project.

TV Series Bibles

It’s also a good time to write a BIBLE for your series. Bibles are more comprehensive documents with extensive character descriptions, character relationships and arcs, backstories and story strands. Bibles often contain synopses of the first six episodes in the series, the series story arc, character breakdowns, arcs and more.

It’s an exciting time for TV writers.  The WGA announced that TV writers consistently earned more than feature writers during 2010-2011. Given that the network stranglehold is being loosened by cable and on demand TV, there are more opportunities than ever for TV writers both in scripted and non-scripted TV series to bridge this gap.

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