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Home » Archives » July 2006 » Totally Tonal
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07/30/2006: Totally Tonal

When I first moved to Los Angeles, there was a criminal of some sort – possibly a bank robber – who was working the valley. The police nicknamed him "Radar" because, the newscasters explained, "he looked like the character from M*A*S*H." I've always wondered how that was different from looking "like Gary Burghoff." And I've always wondered how Gary B felt about the whole thing in the first place. Did he get hassled by cops a lot that year? And, how lucky were the police that the same actor played the role in the movie and the series?! Anyway, you have to admit, it is just about the most effective way I can think of to describe someone quickly and evocatively.

There's a similar trick you can use when you're working on your spec pilot. Especially when you're pitching it to friends and advisors – anyone whom you want to have a quick feel for what you're intending. The trick is to think of a show with the same tone.

Here's what I mean. Right now, I'm getting ready to pitch an idea for a series. If the premise is described baldly, it sounds a bit silly -- like it's probably a broad comedy. But it isn't. So I find that it helps a lot to explain first that I'm going for the tone of "Alien Nation." Remember that? Aliens have integrated into our society and now live and work among us. Great stuff. And although there were lots of funny moments, the tone was very realistic. It could even be quite dark at times -- even with actors looking like they stepped out of a Coneheads sketch. If you've seen the show, you know the cool effect that was achieved by treating such a wild premise with such realism and respect. Hafta say, I feel a lot more confident that I can convey the show I have in my head if I evoke the other show first.

If you're working on a spec pilot, see if this helps you. It might even help in other ways, providing a guideline as to what has worked and what has not worked with a show that has something in common with yours. I feel like Alien Nation is providing me with a sort of tuning fork -- keeping my tone pure and true.

Lunch: triscuits and a candy bar

Correction: Not "evoke." I meant "invoke." Geez. [forehead slappy noise]


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