Ken Levine on How to Begin a Series Pilot

The Big Man of sitcom and baseball announcing strikes again!

We know this is the wrong kinda pilot. But it's so damn cute....
We know this is the wrong kinda pilot. But it’s so damn cute….

by Ken Levine

Let’s say I’m given a pilot to write. And for whatever reason, this has to be my first scene: Young guy brings the girl he’s recently dated back to her place. She invites him in the for the first time. He’s excited because he figures he’s going to get laid. But when they step inside he learns that her ex-fiancé is on the couch. He still lives there.

Okay. That could be funny.

Actually, it better be. Pilots are much harder to write than normal episodes and the first scenes of pilots are the hardest of all. Why? Here’s what you have to do: Establish the premise, introduce the characters, begin a story, forge the tone, and make it really funny. As the expression goes: You only have one chance to make a first impression. That first scene has to hook the audience. Viewers have to feel they’re in good hands; that they will be rewarded for spending their precious time sampling your pilot for thirty minutes.

So that’s my assignment.

First, a disclaimer. I realize I’m old school, retro, out of touch, whatever. My approach is based on experience, a certain sensibility, and principles I believe to be universal and timeless. Feel free to seek other approaches.

My initial thought is: who are these characters? How can I make them interesting? How can I give them traits or behavior that is fun, identifiable, and sets up an intriguing dynamic between them? For now I’ll call the young couple Matt and Colleen.

And in concert with that, how can I make the situation as funny as possible? Not just amusing, not just wry – this is the opening scene of my pilot, maybe the only scene a viewer will watch – I can’t afford for it to be anything other than laugh out loud funny. It’s always best to give characters strong attitudes or goals and for this particular situation I would think it would heighten things if Matt really needs to get laid. He hasn’t had sex in awhile so he is champing at the bit. Guys will go to great comic lengths to get sex (so I’ve been told).  Now the scene becomes one of frustration and my job is the construct the funniest cock blocking scenario.

So I consider possibilities. What if…?

What if they get in the house, the ex-fiancé is there, and he’s really belligerent? “This is the ferret you left me for?” The couple get into a fight and the poor Matt is in the middle, all the while being belittled. Maybe. Matt could be somewhat insecure and this feeds into his neurosis. But he still tries to work things out and get the ex-fiancé to leave.

Or they get in the house and the ex is crying? Matt has to console him.

Or the ex goes on an on about what a bitch Colleen is. He shatters any illusion. Matt is torn between wanting desperately to sleep with her and to run.

Or the ex is not there when they get to the house. Things heat up quickly. Matt is practically undressed on the couch when the ex comes home. Puts Matt in the most compromising position possible. (Comedy writers are evil, aren’t we?)


Read it all at Ken Levine’s great blog

8 Tips for Writing for Children’s TV Shows

It’s Worldwide TV Writing Weekend here at TVWriter™ so let’s get started with this excellent advice from India:

writingbyhandInterviewed by
Sushmita Ghosh, Anuj Shukla and Aastha Dass

Writing for kids is one of the best and simple forms of storytelling as it is free of any incredulity. However, it is not an easy task, it requires the same amount of scriptwriting skill and craft as writing any other drama does. If you are able to write a script of a kids’ TV show, with a good turning point and meet the children’s requirement, then the kids are waiting eagerly to watch your show.

Here are eight tips suggested by Mr. Aviram (Content Director, head of creative team at Ceasikaletet, a company specializing in the production and distribution of videos and books for children) on scriptwriting for kids television series:

1. Be childish: If you are childish enough then you always enjoy doing things that kids do. You do not require any inspiration for writing for kids, you just need to be a child yourself to understand their level of needs and understanding.

2. Create a world of fantasy: Creating a magical world is a common denominator. It depends on what all characters you are introducing to the children, fantasies are larger than life things, which enamour and enchant  the kids.

3. Understand the capability of kids: There are certain rules of conversation which kids don’t understand. To be able to comprehend this, you need to have their level of understanding. For instance, if the kids understand just 900 words, then, you should use few words and inculcate various other aspects and activities in your script.

4. Provide real answers to the real needs of children: Kids have a lot of diverse needs, and if you know those needs you will be able to give an answer because there are a lot of different things that hold their interest.

Read it all at India Today

Kurt Vonnegut’s Rejected Master’s Thesis – on Writing

Now this is one cool infogram:

tumblr_mgv7hlbAF71r54xrko1_1280Found at Maya Eilam


One of the sad facts of television production is that not only do the best scripts often not make it to the screen, the best versions of scripts often don’t make it either. Which means that if you’re watching a lot of TV and thinking, “Hey, I can write like that. This gig’s for me,” odds are that more often than not you’re comparing yourself to competition that’s been watered down by network, star, and budget needs.

The following article will introduce you to seven of the best TV drama pilots ever written, as they were in fact written. Complete with links. Check ’em out!

wanted-pilot-scriptsby Stephanie Palmer

One of the best ways to learn how to write TV pilot scripts, is by reading pilot scripts. I gathered seven pilot scripts from some of the most talked-about drama pilots of the last three years.

Click on the pilot titles in blue below to open a PDF of that script. If you’d like to read the pilot scripts for Breaking Bad, Mad Men, Lost, The Sopranos, and more, check out the 10 Most Wanted TV Pilot Scripts.


Jon Bokenkamp is a screenwriter (Taking Lives, The Call) and he had a deal with Sony. In a interview with the WGA, Bokenkamp said: “The first time I ever pitched a TV show, I went in and talked to my agent at the time about the show. I said, ‘It’s going to be so great because in the end it’s going to be…’ and told him what was going to happen. He said, ‘Okay. First, don’t ever pitch an ending on TV.‘”

As for how The Blacklist came about, Bokenkamp said, “I was kicking around ideas with John Fox, a friend who’s also a producer on the show. He brought up an idea. Whitey Bulger (Boston organized-crime kingpin) was in the news then. What if a Whitey Bulger-type criminal was captured? What if you had a TV show that flashed back on where Hoffa was buried, who shot Kennedy? A bad guy who knew all the secrets, hopping around in time and place. I spent about three months developing it, coming up with a pitch.” Everybody passed on the show but NBC.

At the upfronts, Bob Greenblatt of NBC said Blacklist testing results were, “better than all other 125 NBC drama pilots in the past decade.”


Noah Hawley has written four novels and sold a spec screenplay. He wrote on Bones, and then got his own showThe Unusuals. He sold a pair of pilots to FX and then got the opportunity to pitch his take on reinventing the Coen brothers’ classic film Fargo. In an interview with the WGA, Hawley said: “What I liked about [Fargo] and their world in general is beyond the mystery and philosophy. I went into FX, and I said, ‘Alright, here; I’m pitching you this idea for the show but now I wanna talk about Mike Yanagita.’ He calls Marge from high school, and they meet, and he tells her a sob story about this girl from high school he married who died of leukemia, and he’s just so lonely.

Then it turns out that that’s totally made up and the girl has a restraining order against him. You’re watching it, and you’re like, ‘Why is this in the movie?’ The reason is – at least my takeaway from it is – that at the very beginning of the film, it says this is a true story. You include a detail like this because it’s so odd it has to be true, do you know what I mean?

Right, so my original pitch was, ‘What is our Mike Yanagita?’”

Read it all

Dennis O’Neal Watches His Character’s Translation from Comics to TV


Gotham’s Doctor, Batman’s Saint
by Dennis O’Neal

You may have seen it yourself: the scene a while back in which James Gordon and Dr. Leslie Thompkins stand in front of their police department colleagues getting very well acquainted. It happened during an episode of Gotham and although the television Leslie wasn’t the Leslie Dick Giordano and I introduced in Detective Comics #457, I didn’t mind. I know that television shows are not comic books: they have different techniques, strengths, weaknesses, and that the story being told there on the tube wasn’t our story and that serialized characters have to evolve if they are to survive for decades, as Leslie has.

In the weeks since the television Leslie was introduced, we’ve seen her become her own person – witty, intelligent, feisty. Independent. I’d happily watch her if her name were Honorifica Flabdiggle, especially if Bertha, like Leslie, were played by the talented and truly lovely Morena Baccarin.

She was created – Leslie, not Honorifica- to serve the plot of the particular story we were working on, to supplement Bruce Wayne’s biography, and to add an element to the Batman mythos.

I had a real person in mind when I was writing Detective #457, someone I’d once met named Dorothy Day. Dorothy began her professional life as a journalist, wrote a novel, lived the Greenwich Village life. In 1939, she cofounded The Catholic Worker, an organization located in a section of lower Manhattan not much frequented by the white shoe crowd. The Worker had three missions: to serve the poor by providing food, shelter and clothing; to help drunks get sober; and to protest war – all war, any war, and any violence.

We incorporated Dorothy’s pacifism into Leslie. There wasn’t much; I can’t recall any particular story in which it was a major element. But look for it and you could find it.

What the fictional Leslie did for Bruce Wayne was to serve as a surrogate for his murdered mother and to give him information; she told him that not everyone believed that violence solved problems. If Bruce had existed – these are fictions, remember – he might have been sympathized with Leslie’s convictions and regretted his own dependence on violence, while having nothing he considered to be another viable modus operandi.

I don’t expect to hear Dr. Leslie Thompkins endorsing Dorothy Day’s convictions. Gotham is a venue for action/melodrama, after all, and not a pulpit. And there are reasons why we respond to this sort of entertainment and they’re not too distant from the reasons our wonky species hasn’t gone the way of the dinosaurs. But still…what would be wrong with giving the video Leslie a pacifist leaning or two? She could maybe slip them into a subordinate clause where nobody would notice them anyway. And they would give the character Ms. Baccarin and her cohorts are so ably creating a nuance uniquely her own.

Just asking.