TV pilots have a special place in the world of TV writing. They serve a very specific purpose.
I’ve previously written about how to write a TV pilot that producers want to make. They must introduce the world of the TV series, the main characters, their dilemmas, the format, and some clue of the arc and trajectory of the TV show. So far, so good.
What about writing the second episode? Is it really just a follow-up, a continuation or a replication of the pilot episode? This haunting prospect daunts many TV writers.
Many artists face a similar feeling, akin to butterflies in their stomachs. Consider the hot director deciding on their follow up film, or a new band that needs to decide on their next album. Will they deliver an exceptional follow-up, or will they slump? Are they one trick wonders or do they having staying power?
TV writers face a similar dilemma. The second episode of your pilot must be of equally good quality as your TV pilot. TV producers and showrunners need to know that you can write well consistently.
TV Series Bible
Many emerging TV writers opt for a TV SERIES BIBLE instead of writing the second episode of their TV show. Both are important, but each serves a different purpose.
A TV series bible includes an overall series arc, the arc of the main characters and outlines of a few episodes, at the very least. A TV producer needs to know your concept can generate a large number of stories to sustain the show over several seasons.
Although a TV bible is helpful, it does not demonstrate a consistent TV writing skill.
Why Should You Write The Second Episode?
You’ve baited your audience with your TV pilot. Now you want them to come back for more to hook them. If they are unsure if they like the pilot episode, they may give you a second chance with another episode. But don’t count on it. The second episode must be stellar to lock your audience in for the whole ride. The pilot episode is only a preview.
Apart from flaunting your expert screenwriting skills, writing the second episode of your TV series illustrates your sense of series continuity in terms of style, voice and tone. These nuances are essential to make your TV show a success.
Every TV series contains some episodes written better than others. That’s the nature of the beast. In my view, the second episode is even more important than the pilot because this is when the audience gets hooked.
The second episode also shows how well you can transition from one episode to another. It shows how you develop characters and how well you know them.
Your second TV episode also shows how well you introduce secondary and guest characters into your TV series.
Many TV shows contain a main plot and one or two subplots. Some of these plots may unfold over several episodes. It is therefore vital that you as the writer, has a firm grasp of episode structure. This process also allows the audience to get a feel for the pacing of the overall TV series arc.
Finally, the second episode demonstrates how well screenwriters can set up and pay off cliffhangers at the beginning and ending of consecutive episodes.
So there you have it, fellow TV writers. Your second episode can never be second best.