How to Write a TV Pilot: Free Drama Pilot Seminar (Week Five)
Time for your characters to get some closure...but not too much closure.
Oh man, we have entered the penultimate week of TV drama pilot writing. You have been cranking out the pages, and I have been here, cheering for you the whole way. Plus writing a bunch of articles for you to like and share. But that doesn't matter now. All that matter is that this week your goal is to get to page 50. And I know you can do it.
Mostly because you've done it every other week.
Welcome to week five of the Free Drama Pilot Writing Seminar. It's time to wrap up the plot points and give your readers a hint at what's going to happen if the series progresses. You need to sure up those pesky plotlines and get things ready for your final scene and tag.
Time to clean house and put it all on front street. What was this pilot about and what can be resolved?
If you're just joining us, go back to week one and write until you catch up.
If you've been following us every week, good for you.
Let's get going.
How to Write A TV Pilot (Drama) Mission Statement
Over the next six weeks, we're going to break down the TV drama pilot. Your commitment is to yourself and your story. I'm asking you to write ten pages a week. If you fall behind, take your time. If you want to work ahead, go for it. The whole point of this class is to just offer free information to writers.
We did a similar Free Screenwriting Seminar for features that worked out well.
I'm excited to have you join us every week for this journey.
Now let's get to it!
Writing Screenplay Pages 40-50 in your TV Pilot
As I mentioned in the opening, we're about to enter pages 40-50 of your script. That means you're going to spend these pages to close all the plot lines and set us up for a killer final scene and tag. You had the characters; you had their problems, now it's all about solving them.
But nothing can be tied up in a neat bow.
You need everyone to keep tuning in and to see why you deserve a second episode. So even as you want to close the big story loops, you need to keep small ones open. We'll get to that. But first, let's do our weekly structure check in. Where does 40-50 lie on the structure scale?
This is roughly Act V of your five-act structure. THE FINAL ACT!!!!
Let's reflect back on our five-act structure guide.
- Act 1: p1 to p6
- Act 2: p7 to p20
- Act 3: p21 to p32
- Act 4: p33 to p41
- Act 5: p42 to p55 (END)
As you work on the final act, I think it helps to look at how the masters handled it. Act V should feel like a relief. The world is built, and we all know it's easier to solve problems than to dream them up...right?
To dabble in what Act V can be when it's great, let's look at the pilot for one of the longest-running dramas of all time.
The Grey’s Anatomy pilot.
Here are the Grey's acts and their page counts.
- Teaser – 3 pages
- Act One – 11 pages
- Act Two – 11.5 pages
- Act Three – 8 pages
- Act Four – 9 pages
- Act Five – 8 pages
"Meredith Grey, Izzie Stevens, George O'Malley, Cristina Yang, and Alex Karev become interns at Seattle Grace Hospital. Meredith discovers that her one night stand was actually with one of her bosses and she and her new friends discover that being a surgeon isn't as easy or fun as they thought it would be."
But what happens in Act V?
Meredith and George, who have been questioning whether or not they belong in this world, decide that they DO belong at the hospital. This is proven when Meredith can answer the chief's questions Meredith also makes her peace with Derek, and learn that no matter what Izzie says, she's a good doctor. And everything will be alright.
Do we tie it all up?
There's still romantic tension, jealousy between the residents. And lots more sick people to take care of. But at this moment, we know this might be a group we want to hang with week-in and week-out.
And we know the voiceover will carry us each week too.
Let's look at a few other examples to see how Drama pilots use these pages to build out their plot and characters.
Pages 40-50 TV Pilot Examples
This week I wanted to bring you three completely different pilots to check out. All of them involve resolutions that close glaring problems for their characters but give us an excellent peek into where they'll go in future seasons.
First up, let's head to high school in a quiet town called Sunnydale and read through a pilot called HELLMOUTH. Buffy the Vampire Slayer (read the pilot here) was an exciting show. The pilot not only took us through the politics of cliques in a small town, but it also gave us the world and mythology of what it meant to be a slayer.
At the end of the episode, in Act V, Buffy and Giles discuss Angel, we get a glimpse of a future romance there, and we introduce Willow as her best friend. Plus, the Master is awoken, and we can see where our season will go as he decides to create new vampires ready to wage war.
Everything in the pilot has been leading here. We close personal stories but leave open the big hook of the show. This place needs a vampire hunter.
We go Buffy.
Speaking of singular heroes hellbent on making evil pay, let's take a look at Justified.
Justified (read the pilot here) has a brilliant pilot. It not only introduces a "crime of the week" procedural but also to Raylan and his world of people outside the law.
It uses its Act V to close the story between Raylan and Boyd - in a standoff. But emotional wounds can't heal as easily, as Raylan and Wynona talk about how he's become a killer now. We can see that his brand of justice will define this show and where it does in the future.
That justice by death is not for everyone. Especially not Superman.
Smallville (read the pilot here) was a huge part of my teen years. I am a massive Superman fan. And long before Alison Mack was a cult leader, Smallville ruled my evenings. The pilot for the show is so special because it helps invent Superman's origin story, and brings some baggage with it. The meteor shower cold open builds the possibility that that show will have a freak of the week.
But Act V shows that this will be much more about high school and hurdles for Clark.
Act V doesn't solve our bullying problem. It doesn't solve the love of Lana.
All it does is show that Clark knows he has to use his powers to stop some of these creatures from hurting the town.
And it leaves open the Lex Luthor question.
Will he be a friend or a foe?
Does he think Clark is special?
Summing Up How To Write A TV Pilot: Week Five
So there you have it - I hope you feel invigorated to tackle pages 40-50 in your drama pilot. You need to provide closure! And I know you can. If you truly know and understand the great characters you've created, you'll also know how to make their lives a better place. And to give your story some legs.
Getting ready to start another idea? Check out the Public Domain.
Stuck on that fight scene?
We got you covered. We want your scripts to sell and to get acquired!
If you have questions or need help, please let me know in the comments.
Writing can take you anywhere, and I'm excited to see what you come up with.
'Til next time...
TL;DR How To Write A TV Pilot: Week Five
- Begin to close storylines
- Certify what they can expect week to week
- Prepare us for the final scene and tag
The How to Write A TV Pilot Playlist: Week Five