Writing a TV Pilot Script

If your TV Pilot script doesn't strike a nerve within the first few paragraphs, you're simply reduced to the recycling bin.

For those that have never undertaken any role in the creation or production of a television Pilot, it is a painstaking process that has as many ups and downs as a roller coaster at Six Flags. But it also contains that same sheer thrill, as you watch your hard work, sacrifice and passion come to life.

Since the viewing audience of most, if not all television shows simply get to witness the finished product and not the meat and potatoes of bringing the script to life, I wanted to give you a glimpse into what it really takes from conception to screen. So follow along, and perhaps you’ll be motivated enough to shoot your own piece of cinematic work one day, or you’ll be simply glad you can just sit back and enjoy someone else’s. 

The script. Without this you have nothing. It’s the roadmap to success. Usually, if your story doesn’t strike a nerve in the reader within the first page, you are reduced to the recycling bin. As writers, we all love our own work. Hell, we’re super territorial and think our manuscript is ready for production from its first save as PDF. But as you get older/wiser, and continue to write scripts, you learn that re-writes are not only necessary but that they enhance the script because your story is always evolving.

For the script of “Full Circle, ” I pulled from my own life experiences, real world situations that some may question ever happening. Well, I got two words for you, IT DID! The best stories told are nine times out of ten based on actual events or true stories. I think that’s because it allows people to simply relate to the source material that much easier and sooner, letting the viewer find their favorite character, least favorite, who to root for, who to not.

Is there that character that comes off one way at first, but deep down you see yourself falling in love with, a la Ari Gold in ‘Entourage’. A writer not only has to be mindful of layering the Pilot with the right amount of wow to peak your interest, they at the same time must hold back the bulk of the goods so that you return week after week to see what's next. Sounds simple, but it's the furthest thing from the truth.

Pivotal character attractions need to flow seamlessly with a storyline that moves. This is especially true for a sitcom like we at Mantality Media are shooting. Sitcoms have evolved from multi-cam setups on sound stages (‘Friends,’ ‘Home Improvement,’ 'Cheers') to open-world free roaming single cam productions like ‘The Office,’ ‘Modern Family’ and 'Parks & Rec' which all thrive from being on location.

As an audience, when the shoot is on location, it simply allows us to go along for the ride. Raising the stakes in new and unique settings allows the storyline to venture to exciting places, often even allowing secondary characters to evolve in front of our very own eyes! Sub-plots are what make shows last! I'm sorry but Ross and Rachel almost broke up one too many times.

Timing and pace are everything for a comedy. Whether you’re talking about the acting or the writing, landing on a joke late or flat is a recipe for disaster. And lets face it, we all know that person who is absolutely hilarious, so much so, we implore them to try their hand at standup or improv theater. Well folks, much like the latter two, comedic screenplay writing is not for everyone.

Now it's one thing to be witty or cheeky towards others when the situation is apparent, it’s another beast all in itself when you are not only creating the situation, the environment, characters from scratch, actions, reactions, banter, and dialogue for a multitude of personalities and temperaments. It takes a very succinct person, almost on the break of psychosis to bring this all to life, and still find the funny. 

There are all different types of comedy; slapstick, crude, dark, deadpan, spoof, etc. For ‘Full Circle’ I made sure to keep the comedy grounded. Sure, there are moments of theatrics in the way our characters speak to one another, but it’s the fact that each one of them have a purpose; a background unto their own that makes you believe the sometimes crazy things that come out of their mouths could indeed be spoken.

Sure a lot of this has to do with the actor’s portrayal, but it all starts on paper. I liken a lot of my sitcom style of writing to a show that ran for a whopping 9 seasons, ‘Scrubs.’ Creator Bill Lawrence and his amazing team of writers were able to combine complicated and ever-evolving relationships, a remarkable central theme, absolute hilarity and the ability to walk away from each episode learning a life lesson.

This is no easy task. Sure ‘Mash’ did it. But how many other shows can you think of went this route? Dick and ball jokes are simple. They’ll get a laugh at first, sure, but then what? You become cliché. And that’s a sure fire way of getting canceled, or in our effort, not picked up by a network at all. So we’re doing something different.

The premise of ‘Full Circle’ is unique. It combines two high stakes worlds; one being the ultra competitive and unforgiving industry of music; and the other, the highly fast paced and cutthroat business of restaurants. Take a young good-looking guy with a world of talent on the cusp of success that has just had his life shattered by scandal and lies. Place him in Los Angeles, a town unlike any other, where people will step over a dead body in the street if it means getting to an audition before you.

Throw in the fact our lead is trying to start anew and find his rightful place in the universe when he unknowingly takes a job as a server in a restaurant that is also home to a reality television show, and you’ve got the platform for explosive situations. Our hero does his best to keep his talent and past a secret as to not be judged differently by anyone, but in a restaurant where sexual harassment is a term of endearment, his exploits soon come to light.

The restaurant needs him to put butts in seats, while the floundering reality TV show needs him to attract new viewers. All this occurs around a cast of characters, each with their own agenda and ideas on what the meaning life really is all about. 

For me, it really is a beautiful thing to watch these fictitious beings, which like I said, are taken from those I’ve encountered in my journey, come to be so much more. As the cast members of the fake reality show and staff of the restaurant come in contact with our lead, each benefit substantially.

Our hero’s greatest gift may not be his talent at all, but the way he inspires others to achieve more out of life. And while he is unknowingly doing so, the special interactions and bonds he makes are creating a long-lasting effect that will eventually set him on his true path of success and self-discovery.