Saturday, July 5, 2008

Series conflicts

I had some lovely Jones Cafe pizza with a new TV writer friend last week and we talked about how pilots have to set up SERIES conflicts. This is one of the hardest thing about spec pilots; your script will probably never get produced, but you still have to write it with the idea that it is going to fuel an entire hit series. Your readers have to get a sense of what future, imaginary episodes would be like from reading your pilot. And even more importantly, you need to set up SERIES conflicts. I reread the Gossip Girl teaser, since my pilot is similar in that it's about a person reentering a world. In those jam-packed 11 pages, we find out that Serena's back, and it's a big deal. We also find out that Nate doesn't want to follow his father's wishes and go to Darmouth, but he can't stand up to him. Blair sleeps with Nate as a response to the news that Serena's back; Nate seems more interested in Serena. Jenny wants to be a rich Manhattanite. Alison is moving out, and Rufus, Dan and Jenny are all sad about it. Serena's brother is in a mental hospital. This is just the TEASER, and already we've got most of our series conflicts.

Here are some more examples we came up with, from shows with similar tones to my pilot:

Brothers & Sisters – Kitty has different political leanings from her family. William had a secret life - and his death will force Nora to find a new identity. Kitty and Nora will have to coexist. (These are just a couple. The B&S teaser is so packed with information, it's astounding.)

The OC – Ryan is from a different world. How can he fit in this world, or the family? How will it change Seth's life? Also, Marissa's family is imploding - and Jimmy Cooper will always be in love with Kiersten.

Veronica Mars – Papa Mars doesn't want Veronica to be a PI, but he can't stop her. Also, Veronica trusts no one, which makes her a great PI but poisons all of her relationships.

Greek – Casey is torn between the past (Cappy) and the perceived future (Evan). Rusty wants to devote time to both his studies and the frat - can he balance both? Rebecca slept with Evan, but Casey has to stay with Evan and get along with Rebecca so that she can become the sorority president.

Gilmore Girls – Lorelai has to cultivate a relationship with her estranged parents for her daughter's sake. She also has to walk the line of being mother and friend - and make any dating decisions carefully, since her first priority is Rory.

Grey's Anatomy – Meredith just slept with her new boss. She also must try to fit in when she will always stand out because of Derek and her mother.

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Ma Please said...

While I do agree that spec pilots should contain the necessary ingredients for a series feast, too much is made of "setting up conflict". First and foremost, a show should be relatable; whether it's about talk radio or living next door to your in-laws. It's easy to let producers instruct us (writers) on what works - because ultimately, they're greenlighting it. The truth is, all an audience really needs is one great conflict, and enticing/provocative/entertaining content. Over-blown set up is cheap.

That's my take anyway. Love your blog by the way.

samuel.x.killer said...

The question studio executives will ask regarding "setting up conflict" is "what's the week to week?" A pilot needs to set up the conflict that will drive the story from week to week. If a script doesn't establish what the next episode will be - or doesn't set up conflict that could last 100 episodes - consider it recycled.