Larry Brody: “What’s the point of entering PEOPLE’S PILOT 2018?”

by Larry Brody

As far back as twenty years ago, when I first started the PEOPLE’S PILOT, people have been asking me not only about the specifics of this contest but about the overall premise from which it originates:

“LB! Dood! Level with me. What’s the point of writing contests? What can they really do for me and my career? Does winning the PEOPLE’S PILOT mean I’m going to sell my series and become rich, famous, and irresistible to the opposite sex? Will it make my mother love me and my father flash at least a half-smile?”

My answer to this question always has boiled down to, “No. Winning this contest – or any writing contest – isn’t going to solve any of your personal problems and in all likelihood won’t make you an A list showbiz legend. You will not emerge with the cachay to swagger or stagger around Beverly Hills with impunity, stoned to the gills.

“But, dammit, it’ll get you on the right track.”

Here’s the thing.

Over the course of my career I’ve written one Acme Ton ‘0’ Pilot Scripts for Big Media TV. You’ve never heard of most of the shows they were for  because even though the scripts were bought and paid for by NBC, CBS, , ABC, HBO, Showtime, Viacom, and various other outlets in the U.S. and abroad, the majority of them never made it to series.

Looking back at the whole kit and caboodle, one thing stands out: The scripts that became series and those that didn’t, were, for all practical purposes pretty much equal in quality.

The pilot scripts for Mike Hammer (or maybe it was The Return of Mike Hammer or The New Mike Hammer. It’s hard to remember because there were so many permutations of the Stacy Keach-starring show), Man Undercover (or was it David Cassidy: Man Undercover? That one’s hard to remember because I had a heart attack shortly after we finished shooting the pilot and spent the next several months recovering via various meds and total dedication to pretending that showbiz didn’t exist), or Super Force (which I do remember because it started out as Super Cop but then along came the Robocop lawyers and, oops, back to the drawing board), or any of the others that you, your parents, or your grandparents might have seen were no better than the pilot scripts that stayed on the shelf.

As a matter of fact, in one verifiable instance, they were worse.

A co-writer and I once wrote a pilot for a show about the Manhattan District Attorney’s office to be called Farrell for the People. Wonder of wonders! Miracle of Miracles! The pilot, which was written to star Valerie Harper, of Mary Tyler Moore Show and Rhoda fame, was shot and aired as a TV movie. Its ratings were good. Critics loved it. We, the writers, won a Women in TV & Film Award for our efforts and looked forward to writing and producing many more episodes of the expected series.

But in spite of all that there was no series.  No episodes followed.

Was I disappointed?

Nah, not really. I was crushed.

In other words, selling a TV series involves much, much more than bringing a wonderfully written script to the party. The tenor and politics of the times play a big part. So does whether the concept originated with the target network/streaming site or a packaging agency or the production company or the writer, etc.

And, then there’s the matter of the package as a whole.

By which I mean:

  • Who are the stars?
  • Who will be directing?
  • Who will be running the show?
  • What company will be producing the show?
  • How much does the target network (or streaming site, whatever) want to work with the producing company and the other personnel involved?
  • Will the network/site/whatever own the show outright?
  • If the network/site/whatever doesn’t own the show, will it have at least a piece of it?
  • How big will that piece be?
  • What’s the budget?
  • The corollary to the budget question: What’s the license fee?

And, perhaps most importantly:

  • How brilliant, insightful, and lovable is the lead salesperson on the project? By which I mean the man or woman who hangs with and schmoozes the hell out of the network development people and their superiors from pitch meeting to decision day. Depending on the size of the production company, that can be anyone from the CEO to the writer-creator’s assistant, and, yeah, I’m talking about a downwardly sliding scale.

Pretty damn daunting, right? In my experience, most writers are introverts by nature, and introverts normally don’t do very well in this kind of game.

But the good news about writing contests in general and this year’s PEOPLE’S PILOT 2018 is that writing for a contest is a whole ‘nuther thing.

Instead of being surrounded by circumstances you can’t possibly control, of being just a cog in the wheel of the showbiz mill, doing your bit and then hoping against hope that people and circumstances over which you have no control won’t upset everything and fling you down from creator heaven to no-sale hell, your writing talent and skill speak for themselves, with nothing to weigh them down.

it’s all about you not as a fish-out-of-water tactician but as an in-your-element writer.

Your contest entry represents the undiluted best you can do, and regardless of where you place you’ll be able to take pride in the fact that you had the wherewithal to sit down and bring your dream/vision/soul to life for all to read and potentially love.

Even if you don’t win, you’ll be getting vital information about how your measures up in the eyes of judges who are veterans of decades of “TV wars,” who have absolutely no horse in the race but their desire to discover writers who will bring tears, laughter, and amazement to the viewers we, the judges, and you, the writers love. Positive feedback, so you know how to make your script and your writing in general, even better.

(Here’s where I stand up, put my hand atop a stack of bibles of all religions and swear in all directions that my feedback will never – that’s never – be based on what I would have written if I were you, or how I would have developed your premise. My suggestions (I’m trying to avoid the word “notes” because so many writers associate that with so much pain) are always predicated on how you can make your vision, as exemplified by what you’re written, stronger and more effectively than you have.)

And if you do win, not only do you have clear and true reinforcement of your potential and a reason to believe as strongly as possible in yourself, to take pride in your heard work and sacrifice, you also have the opportunity to be mentored by, well, by me, in a way that will help you navigate those rough waters I’ve already described as well as my recommendation to those in the Industry.

Plus you have a solid credit that means Industry folks will take you much more seriously than they would have before our winners were announced. The PEOPLE’S PILOT 2018 landing page has a list of the shows former Winners, Finalists, and Semi-Finalists of previous PEOPLE’S PILOTs have been working on. That means something to buyers, agents, managers, et al. And it should mean even more to you.

Damn, did you read what I just wrote? Why couldn’t I speak up like that back when I was writing all those pilots? Why didn’t I have the confidence to dance the dance all through the night?

One reason is that I didn’t have the PEOPLE’S PILOT behind me.

But you will.

Early Bird Entries Close August 1
Final Closing Date November 1

Details about PEOPLE’S PILOT 2018 are HERE

Larry Brody: Entering PEOPLE’S PILOT 2018? Here’s What You Need to Know

by Larry Brody

Friday, June 1st, was the opening day for entries in this year’s PEOPLE’S PILOT AKA PEOPLE’S PILOT 2018, which some of you may already know about as a result of our typically modest, almost reticent announcement in your email box and, of course, HERE.

This is the 27th running of the contest in 20 years. When we started it back in 2018, it was for broadcast and TV series that would only be on everyone’s television set (because there wasn’t anywhere else to watch TV) and all an entrant had to submit was series proposal of about 3 to 5 pages.

We also ran the contest a couple of times a year for the first few years, which is why this is the 27th time around the track and not the 20th. Fewer pages to read, fewer entries…those were simpler times so the frequency made sense.

Now, however, we live in a different world, which means, as we say on the PEOPLE’S PILOT landing page, that complete pilot teleplays are a requirement and that they can be intended for any electronic media you can think of (because not only are there a multitude of choices other than TV sets, there also are media where you don’t even have to watch the show. You can just listen to a web series or podcast or any variations thereof).

So here we are, living in the wild and woolly future, which means that entrants and judges alike need to be open to all kinds of writing, and all kinds of pilot scripts as well.

Back in the day, a “good pilot script” was clearly and pragmatically defined as “the kind of script my boss will like” – if you worked at a studio or a network – and “the kind of script the network development team will buy” – if you were a working writer who had to get something on the air or  teeter on the edge of bankruptcy – and – if you were a contest entrant – “the kind of script that will make anyone who reads it sit up and take notice.”

These days, I think, the definition is more subtle and complex. Ultimately, the point is to “make anyone who reads it sit up and take notice,” but it’s much more difficult to know what will make readers, in effect, go “Wow!” because – niches.

My perspective, as a guy who’s written more produced scripts than I can count, and who founded and remains Head Judge of the PEOPLE’S PILOT, is that writers in general as well as PP entrants and judges need to simultaneously broaden and also tighten their concepts of what a good pilot script is.

For me, the kind of script that works best is one with a concept that explores the boundaries of what has gone before and isn’t afraid to break them. It’s a script that, to quote a certain Mr. Roddenberry, “boldly goes where no one has gone before.”

I want to read and watch shows that entertain me, that make me glad I spent time with them and look forward to the next episode. (Yeah, I’m a compulsive binge-watcher. So it goes.)

Which leads us to this:

  • The series premise always comes first. It’s got to be understandable and exciting regardless of genre, and so perfect for its time and place that it makes everyone who hears it wish they were the ones who’d come up with it first.
  • The pilot script story must be as the most powerful statement of the premise possible, a thoroughly delightful blend of plot, characterization, and dialog. In pop music, the story told here should be the perfect hook for a hit song.
  • The most exciting pilot scripts are filled with surprises that reach out and grab the audience in unexpected ways, giving readers and viewers a sense of reality that avoids stereotypes and cliches.
  • While you’re writing your pilot, never impose false constraints on your creativity. Let your love of what you’re creating free you to express your point of view about life and the universe. Let it flow.
  • Don’t be afraid to skillfully and subtly influence your readers’ and viewers’ thoughts and feelings, making them laugh, cry, become angry, or – best yet – move them to think about their lives and times. (Just be sure you keep it “skillful and subtle.” No pounding readers/viewers over the head.)

In other words, pilot scripts are first and foremost about entertainment.

Who’d have thought?

Entertainment exists in a myriad of forms, of course. Some seem more meaningful than others. Some less. Sometimes the meaning is deliberate. Sometimes not. Ditto its lack.

One of the cool things about being a human being is that if you have a point of view about life – and that’s pretty much inevitable – any story you tell automatically will reflect it to some degree. If you want your series to change the world, believe me, you’ll have a ton of people rooting for you. And if you don’t, good news – you’ll have another ton with you on that as well.

As long as your pilot script is entertaining.

Bottom line for today. When I think about the writers who have influenced and entertained me, I think of writers working in different media and genres, with different styles and perspectives and purposes.

Writers like Shakespeare. Cervantes. Tennessee Williams, Joseph Heller. Kurt Vonnegut. Arthur Miller. Rod Serling. Stan Lee. Aaron Sorkin. The Coen Brothers. Michael Schur. Michelle and Robert King. Phoebe Waller-Bridge. Chuck Lorre. Dan Harmon. Robert Kirkman…and so many more.

Writers both elegant and coarse,  organized and chaotic, profound and absurd, all have succeeded and still succeed,  by making audiences go “Wow.”

Over the years, the PEOPLE’S PILOT has had many wonderful entries, the memories of which I still enjoy. I’m looking forward to all of you, as entrants in PEOPLE’S PILOT 2018, entertaining the hell out of the judges and myself so that we – and readers/viewers everywhere – continue going, “Wow.”

I’ll be back soon with more specific suggestions for pilot writing. Yep, you heard me right. We’re talking Pilot Writing Do’s and Don’t’s.


Early Bird Entries Close August 1
Final Closing Date November 1

Details about PEOPLE’S PILOT 2018 are HERE

PEOPLE’S PILOT 2018 is Now Open!

And, man, we really want you to enter.

We love making this announcement.

Early Bird Entries Close August 1

Final Closing Date November 1!