February 22, 2019

How to Write a TV Pilot: Free Drama Pilot Seminar (Week Six)

It's the end of the pilot as we know it...and I feel excited. 

Congratulations faithful reader, and hopefully writers. You're in the homestretch—the final pages. You're going to write out the words that make networks and streamers alike want to take your pilot to a season commitment. But only if you nail those last pages the way you nailed the rest of the script. 

Welcome to week six of the Free Drama Pilot Writing Seminar. It's time to wrap up the plot points and leave everyone wanting more with an inventive tag that sets up the series. 

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 50-60 in your TV Pilot 

This is your race to the finish. You should wrap everything up here and have the characters form some sort of closure on what happened in this week's episode. Still, it's all about balancing future storylines. If you wrap things up too neatly, there's no incentive for people to keep watching. 

As we do every week, let's reflect on our five-act structure guide. 

  • Teaser
  • 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)
  • Tag

Let's take this all in context and look at the Empire pilot (download the script here) real quick. The pilot is about Cookie rejoining her family's music empire after a 17-year stint in prison.  Her husband, Lucious, is now the mogul and times have changed. She wants her company back. He wants to keep her in her place. 

The pilot ends with them in bed, talking like an old married couple (and bickering like one too). Cookie wants Jamal to succeed, Lucious wants him not to be gay. Then we FLASHBACK to before Cookie went to prison. And we see them talking about her maybe being exposed to criminal activity and Lucious promising nothing will tear apart his family. 

We see that the family drama moving forward will be about money versus image. And we know the investigation left Cookie upset and wanting vengeance and maybe Lucious sold her out. 

Your pilot needs to leave the audience with a question. For Empire, that's "What will tear this family apart?"

It's a strong enough question that keeps us watching for many more seasons... 

Let's take a look at a few more pilot tag examples to learn a few more big questions. 

Pages 50-60 TV Pilot Examples

The ends of pilots are always the most fun. If you've taken the audience on a good journey, then this should leave them wanting more. People tune into future episodes because they were hooked. This is your final chance to let them know why they should stick with your story.

At least for a season. Or most of one season. Like what happened with Freaks and Geeks (read the pilot here). 

Freaks and Geeks is one of those shows that would have gotten a fair shake if the onset of digital and streaming had existed back when it debuted. It was truly ahead of its time, and we didn't get the opportunity to appreciate it when it debuted. Throughout the pilot, we see Lindsay and Sam try to become parts of different sectors. 

In the end, we see them both fail. But we know what the show will be asking us.

"How can I be someone else?"

This is high school, and everyone's trying to figure it out. That question taps into who we are as people. 

In the tag, we see that Lindsay, as much as she wants to be a freak, has a huge heart. And that's going to be hard to look past as she continues to figure out who she wants to be in this life. 

Speaking of being someone else, let's talk about Alias

Alias (read the pilot here) is a show about being a spy, quite literally being someone else for a living. 

In the pilot, we meet Sydney, who does college by day and spy stuff by night. But things get complicated when she realizes her Dad is a double agent and her fiance is dead. 

As the pilot ends, our tag tells us that there will be tension as Sydney now has to try and trust the man who she realizes has been lying to her over and over again. 

But what's the big question? It ties back into the shows theme and the final words Sydney hears her dad utter. 

"Who can you trust?"

Shows like this hook people because of the speculation tied to them. And we know JJ Abrams is a master of those sorts of shows...

What about a show that leads with its big question? 

"The truth is out there..."

I was a fan of the X-Files (read the pilot here) when I was growing up. It was one of those late-night shows that made you feel like a cool kid. You were questioning society and looking for the deeper meaning behind things in this procedural. It made you ask the big questions. 

And the end pages of the pilot set up the dichotomy between these two agents. One believes. The other is a skeptic. Each week they search for the truth. 

And there's excitement in that. 

Let's wrap it all up. 

Summing Up How To Write A TV Pilot: Week Six 

Did you figure out your pilot's tag a big question? 

Good for you! 

These are the hardest pages in the script, but you're going to be able to use every resource No Film School has to offer. Need a better antagonist? What about tips to make your protagonist pop? 

Any work you do will make your tag even better. 

I can't wait to see what you put on the page! 

TL;DR How To Write A TV Pilot: Week Six 

- Tie up the main plots 

- Ask questions that can be answered in future episodes 

- Leave the audience with a question or thesis statement

The How to Write A TV Pilot Playlist: Week Six 

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