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    June 7th, 2010Jane EspensonOn Writing, Pilots, Spec Scripts

    If you’re writing a spec pilot, then you’re taking on more than shaping a single story that’s worth telling. You have to decide why THE ENTIRE SERIES is worth making.

    A spec pilot has to work as an episode, but it also has to be plausible, even brilliant, as a template for a whole show. And one thing that makes a show brilliant is if it’s got a big macro reason to exist — if it’s got a point to make.

    You might find it helpful to think of your pilot as having a topic sentence, just like an essay. Here are some topic sentences that could fuel series: Sometimes crime can be justified in an unjust world. Intelligence is a social deficit that can be overcome by applying intelligence. Childlike beliefs keep us young, for good and bad. Justice needs the help of dedicated people in order to prevail. Outsiders can form a family that’s stronger than one connected by blood. Strong leaders pay an almost unbearable price. Competence can outweigh compassion. Immoral but necessary actions ultimately corrupt anyway. Times change, people don’t. Freedom and safety are opposites.

    Notice that many of these are very familiar. The number of shows that are about outsiders forming a family is staggering. It’s okay if your topic sentence has been used before. That probably just means that you know it works. It’s good if it’s something you really believe, too.

    This isn’t a task that has to be added to your already daunting list of pilot requirements. This is something that can help make the whole process easier. You might have started work on your spec pilot with nothing more in mind than a setting. Then you added characters. At some point, though, you want it to take on a shape. Having a topic sentence like this will really help you shape the story. Having something to say is better, and easier, than not having something to say.

    Lunch: home-made grilled cheese sandwich, but not grilled. Toast the bread. Apply mustard and slices of cheddar. Microwave very briefly. Perfect!