More than anything else, the very successful pilots discussed in this article all had a certain wonderful magic at their very core – which is to say, in the writing.
by Steve Greene, Ann Danahue, LaToya Ferguson, Libby Hill, Ben Travers, Leo Garcia
Each of these 20 series expertly built worlds of their own, breaking the rules to make them feel all the more relevant to ours.
The only rule about TV pilots is that you have to make your audience care.
The last 10 years of opening episodes have proved that there is certainly a template for making that happen. Have an audience surrogate character introduce the world and have the viewers see a new set of circumstances through their eyes. Have a central character deliver a not-so-disguised monologue laying out the broad themes of the series. Have the action cut out for one perfectly calibrated needle drop to show how the series connects in a specific cultural time and place.
Or do none of those at all.
In our ongoing quest to put the past decade in perspective, we collected 20 of the best pilots that either used those conventions to their advantage or gleefully tossed them into an incinerator. These shows span cable, streaming, and broadcast. Some shows aired only a dozen episodes, while others went on to become massive institutions that transcended TV itself. All of them managed to start off with a story worth remembering.
The title of the pilot says it all: After 15 years in a doomsday cult, Kimmy Schmidt (Ellie Kemper) is free to experience the fetid, rat-tinged miasma of New York City. (In hindsight, what really drives home the point in the pilot that New York is a savage concrete jungle isn’t the real estate jokes, but a terrible, gross cameo from Matt Lauer.) The pilot has quickfire jokes aplenty – this is a Tina Fey and Robert Carlock joint, after all – but what resonates in the pilot is the steely certainty behind Kimmy’s perpetual sun. It’s “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” in a blender, and you want to see more. —Ann Donahue….
For reasons so personal that it’s embarrassing, I admit to being thrilled to learn that startrek.com, which is a genuine, real life CBS-owned official Star Trek site, has issued a timeline for the entire Trek universe, including all its alternate dimensions and casts.
This in itself is a very cool thing for Trekkers and even casual fans, but here’s what’s so wonderful to me:
STAR TREK: THE ANIMATED SERIES
IS NOW CANON!!!
And as canon, its stories now are genuine records of events that happened during the last year of the 5 year mission to go where no man one had ever gone before of a certain star ship called The Enterprise, commanded by this dimension’s Capt. James T. Kirk.
And the icing on the cake here is that although over the years I’ve been employed (that means paid) to write several episodes of different versions of ST, the only one that ended up getting shot with me being the sole writer was an episode of ST:TAS called “The Magicks of Megas-Tu.”
And, yeah, I fucking love that!
All my thanks to the CBS/StarTrek.Com powers-that-be.
We disagree with the choices below, but we love it when critics pay attention to the importance of writing and writers and their contributions to the quality of TV. And the writers of the shows below definitely had their shit together.
by Tim Surette
The last 10 years have been pretty weird for almost everyone, but nothing had a better decade than television. From the advent of streaming to finally competing with (and, in some cases, overtaking) the film industry, TV experienced a rate of growth and maturity usually reserved for scrawny junior high school kids over summer break.
And while television undoubtedly left an impact on all of us, its greatest impact was on itself. New trends, new technologies, and new standards all made the decade starting in 2010 massive for TV, and those marks have already started shaping what and how we’ll watch over the next decade.
Below, we’re taking a look at the most influential shows of the past decade that left the biggest impact in the industry. This isn’t a list of the best shows of the decade — we have another list for that — hence you won’t see big-name shows like Better Call Saul or Veepon here. Instead, you’ll find the shows whose influence was felt over the last 10 years and will be felt for the next 10 years.
American Horror Story Invoked the Anthology
Ryan Murphy‘s worst enemy must be boredom. The prolific producer’s head is swelling with ideas for new shows, and the pressure can only be relieved by making them. After dallying with the traditional television format with Nip/Tuck and Glee, Murphy made a decision with a horror series that would regularly allow him to flex his creative muscles and change the way we watch television: he anthologized it. American Horror Story revived the format that was popularized in the 1950s and 1960s but abandoned until 2011, when he delivered a single season of television that told a whole story, and then brought back many of its actors for a second season that told an entirely new, but quasi-related, story.
The results were immediate; the series was an instant hit, the actors felt rejuvenated each season and got to show off range (Dylan McDermott went from crying masturbator in Murder House to homicidal maniac in Asylum, that’s range), and viewers could watch any season without concern with what happened in seasons before. Why weren’t we always making television this way…?
Promotion-wise, one of the cleverest things CBS All-Access streamer has come up with is a series of short (15 minutes +/-) episodes giving us new glimpses along the Star Trek timeline. Not only does this give trekkers new info about the Trek Universe, it also explains some early inconsistencies, like Spock’s tendency to smile – sometimes inappropriately – back in ST:TOS season 1.
Can fans live without this info and stay fans? Probably, but this TVWriter™ minion has a confession to make: I love feeling like I’m being catered too. And the Short Treks definitely give me that warm buzz. Especially the one about the Spockmeister:
MICHAEL CHABON EXPLAINS HIS NEW STAR TREK SHORT’S CONNECTIONS TO THE NEXT GENERATION AND PICARD
by Ryan Britt
The showrunner of Star Trek: Picard and writer of the recent Spock and Number One-centric Short Treks episode “Q&A” could very well be the most talented fanfiction writer on the planet. Though he’s won a slew of big-time awards (from the Pultizer to the Hugo) for his novels and works of nonfiction, Michael Chabon considers his writing on Star Trek to be no different than any other fanfiction writer.
“I mean, this is licensed and approved and maybe that invalidates its status as fanfiction,” Chabon tells SYFY WIRE. “But I don’t think so. I’m just sharing this with all my fellow fans out there who have always wondered about these questions.”
The questions Chabon alludes to are front and center in the Short Treks episode “Q&A.” First: why the heck did Spock smile in the originally unaired Star Trek Original Series episode “The Cage?” Second, after “The Cage,” how come Spock seemed to borrow his entire personality from Number One?
In writing “Q&A” Chabon says he directly crafted a fictional response to these specific contradictions of old school Trek canon. SYFY WIRE talked with Chabon at length about writing “Q&A,” reconciling “The Cage” canon, homages to a very famous Next Generation episode, and what it all means for Star Trek: Picard.
**SPOILER WARNING: Spoilers ahead for the Short Treks episode “Q&A.”**
“There might not be another character quite like Number One in any other fandom, that I can think of,” Chabon says of the steely USS Enterprise First Officer and navigator, circa the 2250s. “The subject of how to treat her canonicity is a subject that could probably only interest fans. I mean, you have to be more than a slightly casual fan to even know about her up until the second season of Discovery….”