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10/24/2006: On The Premises
Adam in West Hollywood has sent in an interesting question, Gentle Readers. He asks for clarification on whether or not spec pilots should be, can be, or must not be "premise pilots." He says he has received advice saying that premise pilot specs are problematical.
Hmm. I can't say I really see why. A premise pilot, for those of you who don't know, is a pilot in which the events occur that set up the dynamic of the show. A non-premise pilot has all the characters and relationships already in place.
Lost had a premise pilot. West Wing had a non-premise pilot as I recall, which is unusual, since most shows have at least some element of premise in their pilot. It was Carter's first day of work in the ER pilot, although the other elements were in place. Rachel ran away from her wedding, and into her Friends and all their pre-existing relationships, in the Friends pilot. Heroes spread their character intros and premise-setting-up over the first two episodes, extending the premise pilot concept to Heroic new lengths. Having something new happen in a pilot, something that requires all the characters to adjust and act or react, is a great way to explain characters, relationships and situations. At the very least, having even one "new guy" requires the old hands to explain things to them, which facilitates exposition.
The argument against premise pilots, I assume, is that you're not giving the readers a "typical episode." But this, it seems to me, is a more potent argument against actual network pilots than it is against spec pilots. You guys, presumably, need your spec pilot to function mainly as a writing sample and as a contest entry. You don't have to worry so much about whether or not viewers got a representative slice of the show that will bring them back next week. (And since shows that began with premise pilots seem to be the big hits right now, I'd say even this isn't really a serious concern.)
So I say premise it up! Hire people, fire people, move people across the country, have people fall in or out of love, shake up their lives! When you're specing an existing show, you don't have the opportunity to change the basic dynamics of the show. So a spec pilot is your chance to demonstrate this skill -- why not use it?
Lunch: scrambled eggs with cheddar cheese