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07/06/2006: A Show About Anything Atoll
So, I spoke to the ABC Fellows this morning. A good group – cheerful, engaging, full of good questions. And I did a little intelligence-gathering, too; finding out what specs *they're* writing so I could run back here and tell all of you. I have to say, there were a couple of surprises. A lot of "Criminal Minds" – that one wasn’t even on my radar. And there was at least one "The Closer." No "House"s – "Grey's" seemed to be winning the battle of the medical specs. "Medium" was in there, too. In half-hour, it was "Earl" and "The Office," just as you might expect.
I got the impression they were feeling the lack of specable shows, just like I think many of you are. I bet lots of them will end up writing spec pilots to round out their portfolios. So I talked a little bit with them about spec pilots. About the importance of finding something for the show to be *about.*
You might feel like it's already about something. You know, it's about your childhood on the Bikini Atoll, watching the nuclear testing and wearing a two-piece swimsuit. Well, that suggests some events, but it doesn't really tell me what the show is about. What is that main character going through? Is this a show about the lessons of adolescence? About feeling different? About losing touch with old friends and finding new ones? About the strength of family? About making a family that isn't your birth family? About redemption? Self-learning? Reaching out? Looking in? Stuff like that – that's the heart of the show. Figure that out, and then suddenly the nuclear testing ground isn't just a pretty setting – it can be an illustration of the show's real content – maybe a metaphorical symbol of how things can change in an instant, or about how we don't always recognize destructive forces when we first see them, or simply about emotional outbursts…
Your story is still original. But once it has an emotional heart, it's also universal, because you found the common ground that every reader can identify with. It might help to practice pitching your pilot idea as if you had to sell it to a network. Don’t just tell the story, but think about how to present it as something identifiable for an audience. I pitched a pilot two years ago that I eventually wrote, although it never made it to the air. Here's how the pitch began:
"Every teenager is convinced that every adult in the world is lying to him, keeping huge important secrets from him. In my show, that teenager is right."
I was hoping to hook the listener right there, before they heard about when and where the show was set or what the secrets would turn out to be. I made sure they knew this was a story about teen paranoia, suspicion and alienation… before they knew anything else.
Lunch: big salad with avocado and warm chicken.