Friday, February 22, 2013

Does my sitcom pilot need a happy ending?


Mark writes: I have a question about TV pilots, though maybe there is no definitive. I'm writing a 30 minute spec pilot that's a dramedy (not a regular sitcom; it's more of a cable show like ENLIGHTENED, HUNG or GIRLS) and I want to end it on a down beat. However, most of these types of pilots seem to end on a little positive beat. What do you think? Do you think it depends entirely on the story told OR is it a necessity to appease readers/viewers of darker material?

Just my opinion: since it's your pilot, you can (and should) end it however you want; your script should show off your personal voice and perspective as a writer. Don't worry about appeasing people until you sell it to somebody. Once people are paying you, then you kinda have to do whatever they say. (It's not the worst problem to have...my favorite quote from EPISODES is when someone suggests to Matt LeBlanc that catchphrases are cheesy and he responds, "Tell that to my house in Malibu.")

I would just make sure that:
1. Your ending is in the tone of the rest of the episode. You don't want a moment that feels out of place in the world; we shouldn't think, "Whaa? That would never happen!"
2. Your ending still makes us feel like there is somewhere to go. If you kill off your main character, then what's the show? You have to get people excited about tuning in for episode two, so make sure your ending doesn't feel so much like a conclusion as it does an opening of a can of worms/Pandora's Box. A TV producer I've worked with often talks about "series journeys" - what your character is going to aim for/struggle with/learn over the course of the show.

Maybe think less about "positive" or "negative" and more about how your ending can be a twist that turns your story in a new direction and creates new conflict. I love how ENTOURAGE often ends on a little twist. It also couldn't hurt to watch a bunch of similarly-toned pilots and think about their endings, why you think the shows end that way, why the endings work or don't work, etc. Always be learning from the pros.

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