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!
by 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?