Yes, it’s true. In the almost two decades that TVWriter™ has been online I’ve been emailed with more questions about writing and showbiz (and my personal life that’s none of your business, thank you) than I ever would have imagined possible – and yet I’ve never had a Q and A column.
Which is really silly because I’m sure that the questions and maybe even my answers would be interesting and helpful to more than just the questioners. So, at last, here’s the first of many weekly, LB answers your questions and you’re thrilled, awed, and deeply satisfied articles.
At least I hope it’s the first of many. And that even if you’re not thrilled or awed or even satisfied you at least finish reading knowing more about the Wonderful World of TV (what’s the smiley for sarcasm?) than you did before you began.
And now, today’s Question:
From Josh J:
Justin at Inktip referred me to you because I had a question he thought you’d be best equipped to answer.
I’ve written a [drama] pilot…I’ve made it into a half hour but am wondering if that’s a bad idea since I’m trying to break into the business and most dramas are an hour. The reason I made it into a half hour is because these types of dramas tend to get stale quickly at an hour.
What are your thoughts? Btw, this could be cable or network.
Thanks for getting in touch with me. I appreciate your – and Justin’s – confidence.
As you no doubt know, TV is primarily about new versions of the same old, same old, and something like a new format can be problematic. But considering the way things are changing, with cable and online networks moving in, creating a half-hour drama could be something that attracts just the kind of attention that you want.
The way I see it, when you’re writing anything for TV and aren’t an insider (WGA member with at least some TV writing credits, relative or in-law of a network exec or showrunner,etc.), you have to look at what you’re doing not as an attempt to sell your script/series and get it on the air but as the creation of a means of introducing yourself to the industry and its gatekeepers.
Very few series are created by writers without TV track records. Occasionally, an unknown breaks into the TV series game by coming up with a series that succeeds in another medium, as a graphic novel, say, or an online series. For the most part, though, spec pilots serve as calling cards to development execs/agents/managers. They’re ways of showing what you can do when you’re doing your absolute best, so that these pros will want to meet you and, even better, hire you to work on something else.
Years later, after you’ve succeeded by giving them what they want time and time again, your old series idea may become salable. But you probably won’t want to do it anymore because your sensibility as a writer will have moved on. Or should have because what’s life without growth?
If you look at the pilot script you’ve written from this perspective, it doesn’t really matter whether it’s a half-hour or one-hour drama. What matters is that it’s brilliant.
By this I mean that it’s written better than anything you’ve ever seen on TV, written so well that anyone who reads it immediately wants to get in touch with you to talk about ways you can make money together. Because if your script doesn’t have that appeal, why should anyone bother with it or you when they’ve got an entire stable of Old Pros to turn to?
If I were in your position, I’d go with what my heart was telling me to write and not worry about the length. I’d do what felt the best to me as a writer, with what gave me the most creative energy. At this point in your career, revising your work unprompted means you’ll end up with a compromised version that won’t reflect your sparkle as an undiscovered but shining star.
One of my former mentors always says, “Don’t write to sell a story, write to tell a story,” and he’s right, especially about the telling part. But I think anyone with ambition needs to consider the sales aspect – and that aspect boils down to Sell Yourself.
Hope I’ve helped. But now that I’ve done you a favor, will you do one for me? Keep me in the loop. Let me know what you decide to do and what happens when you do it, okay?
Best of luck,
That’s it for our 1st outing. For this to work we need a constant flow of questions and answers. I promise not to rip off your #$@% and shove it down your throat or take any other drastic action no matter what you ask (well, within reason) so send your questions and make everyone’s day.